REVIEWED: Devils & Demons

devils

Devils & Demons edited by Marvin Kaye. (Horror Anthology, 1987).

Putting myself in a Halloween mood, I checked this thick (586 pages) anthology out of my local library. The book contains 52 works–mostly short to medium-length horrific fiction, but with a sprinkling of poems and even one short play script. The contents range from old classics by genre stalwarts and people not usually thought of as horror writers to comparatively recent works, including several written specifically for this volume in 1987.

Like most anthologies the effectiveness of the works vary somewhat. Many of the pieces have a darkly humorous aspect, while others are more sad and poignant, and still others simply deliver a good scare or two. In short, there’s truly something to appeal to most any horror-oriented taste–with one exception, which may seem odd but is surely a reflection of the editor’s personal mind-set.

For, though 1987 was smack in the heyday of the gore-intensive sub-genre known as Splatterpunk, you’ll find nothing in that vein here. Nor, of course, will you encounter anything by those most associated with that particular mini-movement (hence no Skipp, Spector or Schow). There are of course plenty of other places in which the “3 S’s” (and the many others who dabbled in their special brand of shock-horror) can be found. While not specifically a ‘Splatterpunk  writer,’ the even more renowned Clive Barker is also among the missing.

But the range of Kaye’s selections is indeed impressive, and I can’t fault him for putting together a book in-line with his personal tastes. Among the more startling inclusions are stories by such literary heavyweights as Bertrand Russell, H. G. Wells, William Makepeace Thackeray, Robert Louis Stevenson (with a startling counterpoint to his more famous “Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde”), Somerset Maugham, mystery superstar Leslie Charteris (with a Saint story) and even the redoubtable Isaac Asimov (with a devilish locked room story). The great Isaac Bashevis Singer shows up late in the volume with a delightfully wry demon tale revolving around the traditions of Polish Jewry, while early 20th century humorous John Kendrick Bangs contributes a relentlessly laugh-out-loud funny effort. The stage play mentioned above is an interesting look at the fate of the infamous Don Juan from Cyrano playwright Edmond Rostand, ably adapted by Kaye himself.

The book also includes work by such more typical classic horror authors as Lovecraft (“The Hound” is a quite effective mood piece), Sheridan Le Fanu (with a good story completely new to me), Bram Stoker, Lafcadio Hearn (with a Japan-myth-based chiller, of course), Algernon Blackwood (a devil-worship story that struck me as just a touch longer than needed, but still well-written), a brilliant short-short by Baudelaire and an oddly effective, drug-oriented novella by Arthur Machen. Poe is here, of course, with his odd tragic poem “Ulalume” (which I, unlike Kaye, don’t find quite as impressive as “The Raven”–but again, that’s a matter of personal taste).

More recent (from the pulp era up to just a few years ago) yet now deceased authors represented here include Henry Kuttner (with his grand debut shocker “The Graveyard Rats”), Ray Russell, Poul Anderson (normally an SF writer, but doing very solid work here with a deal-with-the-devil one called “Rachaela”)  and Fredric Brown (imparting his trademark oddbeat humor). The great Robert Bloch holds forth in “Enoch” and Tanith Lee does well with her rather cynical “The Princess and Her Future.”

Among the genre writers still productively with us Jessica Amanda Salmonson offers an unnerving new-to-this-book story (“The Thrilling Princess”), Tappan King tells of a decidedly hellish blues musician and Darrell Schweitzer gives us a fascinating sequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest (“Caliban’s Revenge”).

Other highlights include a  stunningly unexpected story by a writer utterly unknown to me (Morgan Llywelyn’s “Me, Tree”), Parke Godwin’s “Influencing the Hell Out of Time and Teresa Golowitz” and Jay Sheckley’s “Lost Soul.” And did I fail to mention the likes of Joan Vander Putten, Robert Sheckley, Russell Baker and/or Edward D. Hoch?

There’s truly something for (almost) everyone here–all but the most dedicated gore-hounds will be quite happy with this “…Treasury of Fiendish Tales Old & New” (as the book’s subtitle reads).

This one was a very pleasing run-up to Halloween for me. Recommended.

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