Monday, June 12, 2006

Monsters Galore, edited by Bernhardt J. Hurwood

(pb; 1965: story anthology)

From the back cover:

“A visit to the Garden of Forbidden Delights... Intimate glimpses into the ‘lives’ of creatures that go shriek in the night... A feast at the Banquet of Satan... And the terrifying truth about other monsters – including absolutely authenticated ones – who may be stalking you at this very moment.”

Overall review:

Worthwhile (if cheaply bought) anthology, with some especially cool, older Asian stories and some real clunkers spicing up the mix.

Review, story by story:

1.) “Eyes of the Panther” – Ambrose Bierce: Wordy, occasionally clever tale about a woman who refuses to marry her amour. Two flaws sink this tale: (1) the word choices Bierce employs – and how he frames them – are overly-analytical; (2) it’s predictable – the reader can guess what’s going to happen two paragraphs in.

2.) “The Dreadful Visitor” – Thomas Preskett Prest: This excerpt from Prest’s book, Varney the Vampire is wordy like the tale that precedes it; however, its effectively-rendered atmosphere makes its length a moot point. An absorbing read, this.

3.) “The Monster Maker” – William C. Morrow: A morbid tale of scientific experimentation, betrayal and revenge, well-written and satisfying. This would make a great B-movie.

4.) “Mohammed Bux and the Demon” – adapted by Bernhardt J. Hurwood: Fun, clever tale about the titular Bux, his shrewish wife and his encounters with an easily-fooled demon.

5.) “Count Magnus” – M.R. James: An unidentified narrator tells about the last days of Mr. Wraxall, who, in the course of researching a book, winds up in Scandinavia, where he (Wraxall) discovers a mysterious church...

The language and sentence structures that James uses are initially convoluted, but eventually they become easier to follow as the fascinating, creepy and gory tale progresses. The ending is almost anticlimactic (it runs several paragraphs too long), but what precedes it is memorable.

6.) “The Purple Terror” – Fred M. White: American military men delivering an important letter pass through a dangerous jungle, led by their mysterious Cuban guide (Tito). This engaging story, at once political and creepy, is marred by a tacked-on, generic cops-and-robbers ending. Given the darkness of the rest of the tale, it’s too white-washed... too Hollywood. Worth reading, if you can forgive the ending.

7.) “The Werewolf” – Frederick Marryat: Taken from Marryat’s novel, The Phantom Ship, this is an atmospheric, well-told (if predictable) tale about a serf who takes a werewolf for a bride, and the consequences of that action. Highly recommended, this.

8.) “The Wer-Bear” – as told by Sir Walter Scott: A young prince spurns the amorous advances of his witch-queen stepmother, and is transformed into a wer-bear. Gore, sadness and vengeance ensues. This relatively short story is told rather than shown, so it feels rushed. While not terribly engaging, it’s a great outline for what could be an enchanting, grisly work. Taken from Scott’s book, The History of Hrolfekraka.

9.) “Jikininki” – Lafcadio Hearn: A priest encounters a ghost (or “Shape”) who devours the newly-dead of a nearby village. Promising tale, marred by an abrupt ending that leaves the tale half-told.

10.) “The Vampire Cat of Nabeshima” – Adapted from the Japanese: A low-ranking soldier (Ito Soda) protects his prince from a sleep-inducing vampiric demon (who’s taken the form of the prince’s concubine, Otoyo). Well-told, memorable tale, possibly one of the best in this collection.

11.) “The Corpse At The Inn” – Pu Sung Ling (from the book Liao Chai): Travelers staying at an inn meet the ferocious ghost of a recently-deceased woman. Solid story, where knowledge of Asian culture is helpful.

12.) “The Demon Who Changed Its Skin” – Pu Sung Ling (from the book Liao Chai): When a Taiwanese man (Wang) takes in a homeless girl from the street, he sets into motion a cycle of grisly deaths, strange abasement and resurrection. Again, good story, where knowledge of Asian culture is helpful.

13.) “The Guest and the Striges” – Adapted from the Greek: While visiting a married friend, a bachelor saves himself and his friend from two Striges (female demons who crave blood) who’ve taken the form of the friend’s wife and mother-in-law. Interesting tale, flawed by an obvious instance of illogicality.

14.) “A Vatanuan Cannibal Tale” – Adapted from the Melanesian: Several young warrior-brothers set out from their village to discover why their fellow tribesmen have disappeared. Satisfying, brief tale.

15.) “Four Siberian Demon Tales” – Adapted from the Siberian: Straightforward half-page stories about how hacked-up demons birthed modern mosquitoes. Each of the four stories offers an interesting variation on the theme.

16.) “An Irish Vampire” -- R.S. Breene: Lackluster work, told in a post-script, oh, by the way tone. Waste of time, paper and effort.

17.) “Peter Kurten, The Monster of Dusseldorf” -- Bernardt J. Hurwood: The author salaciously recounts the twenty-year crime spree of the titular character, whose offenses included burglary, arson, rape, and murder. Fascinating tale, especially when the reader considers the time and place of Kurten's crimes (1910-1930, Germany), and the grim humor accompanying Kurten's actions.

18.) “The Mark of the Beast” -- Rudyard Kipling: Overly long and predictable but otherwise okay cautionary story about a drunken English lout in India who defiles the statue of Hanuman, the Monkey-god, in Hanuman's temple.

19.) “The Were-Tiger” -- Sir Hugh Clifford: Pedantic tone, high-falutin' language and a lengthy unnecessary preface made me stop reading this immediately... i.e., I have no idea what this bloated piece of crap is about.

20.) “Johannes Cuntius, Citizen of Pentsch” -- Henry More: Cuntius, a sixty-year old man, dies of a mysterious illness, only to return to visit constant supernatural violence upon his former fellow villagers. Wordy, in an Old World way, but worthwhile.

21.) “Hungary's Female Vampire” -- Dean Lipton: The bloodthirsty history of Elizabeth Bathory, a medieval Countess who's estimated to have killed 600 servant girls and female virgins, is briefly reiterated. Fun (if this sort of stuff can be said to be “fun”), intriguing read.

22.) “Sawney Beane, The Man Eater of Eastlothian” -- Captain Jack Johnson: The infamous fifteenth century cave-dwelling cannibal clan is recounted in this solid, no-frills tale, which made me consider, once again, becoming a vegetarian.

23.) “Stubbe Peeter” – Adapted from the Gallic: Over the course of twenty-five years, from 1564 to 1589, Peeter (who takes the form of a wolf, via a girdle given to him by Satan) slaughters countless villagers, before being caught and executed. Another gory story, not for the faint of stomach.

Check out another review for this anthology.

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