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Peter Haining – Deadly Nightshade

Posted by demonik on September 7, 2007

Peter Haining (ed.) – Deadly Nightshade: Strange Tales Of The Dark (Gollancz, 1977)

Philip Hood

Introduction – Peter Haining

M. R. James – Lost Hearts
F. Marion Crawford – The Doll’s House
H. R. Wakefield – Nurses Tale
Algernon Blackwood – The Attic
David H. Keller – The Thing In The Cellar
W. F. Harvey – The Dabblers
Greye La Spina – The Tortoise-Shell Cat
Joan Aiken – The Looking Glass Tree
William Tenn – The Human Angle
Saki – Gabriel-Ernest
Robert Bloch – Sweets To The Sweet
Mark Van Doren – The Witch Of Ramoth
August Derleth – Twilight Play
Anthony Butcher – Mr. Lupescu
Conrad Aiken – Silent Snow, Secret Snow
Alfred Noyes – Midnight Express
Ray Bradbury – The October Game

A collection of stories featuring children, obviously intended for a young audience but dark enough in places to make it attractive us old bastards too. There were at least three more books in the series – The Ghost’s Companion, The Monster-Makers and Night Frights – each of them worth a once-over.

M. R. James – Lost Hearts: Arguably James’ most conventional supernatural horror story. Aswarby Hall, Lincolnshire. 1812. After the death of his parents, eleven year old Stephen Elliott is adopted by his reclusive elderly cousin Mr. Abney, a kindly gesture but then the old scholar has a habit of taking in young waifs and strays. There was the little girl who disappeared so mysteriously – “ran off with the gypsies” most likely – and the boy with the hurdy-gurdy: nobody seems to know where he went.
The servants are good to Stephen and he’s relatively contented … until he has that unpleasant dream of a little girl’s decomposing corpse floating in the bath. And why is Mr. Abney so insistent that the boy should meet him in the study at eleven on March 12th and not a word to the servants?

F. Marion Crawford – The Doll’s Ghost: Belgravia. Lady Gwendoline Lancaster-Douglas-Scroop disfigures Nina her favourite doll in a fall downstairs. Being a practical child she sets to digging her a grave but the under-nurse has other ideas and drops off the casualty at Mr. Pucker the doll doctor. The gentle old German performs a magnificent emergency salvage operation but grows so attached to Nina – she reminds him of his beloved daughter Else – that he finds parting with her too painful. Else is assigned the job of returning the doll to Cranston House but come midnight she’s still not returned home. Understandably distraught, Mr. Pucker scours the city for her, convinced that she’s been murdered. The doll’s ghost comes to his assistance ….

Alfred Noyes – Midnight Express: As a twelve year old, Mortimer was terrified of an illustration in one of his father’s books depicting a man standing under a dreary lamp on a desolate railway platform, staring into a pitch black tunnel. This makes such an impression on the boy that he pins it to the facing page so as never to see it again.
Thirty eight years later, he finds himself on that same railway platform after dark, and there is that ominous figure stood before the tunnel mouth. He approaches, desperate to get a look at the man’s face …

To comment further would ruin it, but to my way of thinking, Midnight Express is a minor classic and for once I am not alone in my estimation. The weird thing is ….

I hated this story when I first read it – probably as a teen – partly because it didn’t feature Dracula, Frankenstein or the spectre a decomposing Nun, but mostly I suspect because there was an illustration in a book that terrified me as a child and I had to stick the pages together to avoid it: the glaring face of one of the trains in a Thomas The Tank Engine book! There’s a heartbreaking sequel but it really ain’t the sort of thing I’m gonna commit to a forum.

William Tenn – The Human Angle: A posse is formed among a farming community after three children have been “got at” by a vampire. John Shillinger is told by his editor to get the human angle on the story. His problems begin when he offers a strange little girl a lift home.

Greye La Spina – The Tortoise-Shell Cat: In her youth Mammy Jinny had loved a fellow slave who was falsely accused of theft and banished by their master. Mammy knew that there had been no theft and the missing jewelery had been given to a girl by the master’s son, but he laughed in her face when she begged him to confess.

To avenge herself, Manny uses voodoo to transform the transgressors innocent young daughter, Vida de Monserreau, into a yellow and black striped cat. Unwittingly, Vida girl goes on a crime spree at the Pine Valley Academy Of Young Ladies, nightly pilfering the other girls’ trinkets.

Saki – Gabriel-Ernest: Van Cheele learns the inadvisability of inviting a feral child of the woods into your nice suburban home – particularly one who who brags of hunting on all fours and living on child flesh. His aunt makes an even greater miscalculation when she asks ‘Gabriel-Ernest’ to escort the Toop kids home from Sunday School classes. Saki’s typically sarcy take on the werewolf theme continues his gleeful persecution of the middle classes.

Anthony Boucher – Mr. Lupescu: (Weird Tales, Sept 1945). Little Bobby’s ‘imaginary friend’ Mr. Lupescu turns out to be real enough: the man with the big red nose, red gloves and red eyes is actually Uncle Alan with a monster makeover. Alan’s decided to kill Bobby’s dad Robert because he wants to get back with his former lover Marjorie, who only married Robert for his money. Unfortunately for Alan, the terrifying Gorgo proves to be no figment either …

Robert Bloch – Sweets To The Sweet: Very different to the dramatised adaptation (The House That Dripped Blood) in that it’s impossible to sympathise with the bereaved father, John Steever, a brutal drunk and child-beater who is so insistent little Irma is a witch, she comes to believe it herself. The voodoo dolly doesn’t wind up in the fire either but never fear, the ending is equally nasty.

David H. Keller – The Thing In The Cellar: From the age of three months, young Tommy Tucker has been terrified of the cellar. His parents take him to see Dr. Hawthorne who learns that the child’s fear is rooted in his belief that there’s something lurking down there. Hawthorne advises the Tuckers as to what they should do to disillusion the boy of his ridiculous fancy.

Ray Bradbury – The October Game: Mich, the disgruntled and deeply disturbed husband, determines that wife Louis is going to pay for ‘depriving’ him of a son. He isn’t going to shoot her, though – he wants her to really suffer, and he reckons the only way he can get back at her is through their one daughter, eight year old Marion. The Halloween party provides him with his opportunity. Truly horrible.

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