October 3, 2002
By Franklin Harris
October is finally here. It's about time. I've been thinking thoughts of Halloween for weeks, probably because I've been watching a lot of old horror movies lately. I'll offer up some viewing recommendations in a couple of weeks. This week, however, I have your Halloween reading assignments.
Don't give me that sour face. These assignments are fun, if you're not faint of heart, that is. (Cue evil laughter.)
First up is the award-winning anthology, "October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween," edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish (Roc, $16.00), newly available in an affordable softcover edition.
"October Dreams" is more than just a collection of short stories, both spooky and chilling. It also includes Halloween remembrances by some of America's most celebrated dark-fantasy authors.
For instance, Poppy Z. Brite recalls a Halloween when she was 10 and she and a friend went trick or treating, Poppy dressed as Satan and the friend as Farrah Fawcett-Majors (a devil and an angel — get it?), and got into a fight with some junior-high bullies. And Ray Bradbury offers a more somber recollection of the Halloween when he received a phone call telling him his friend Federico Fellini, the Italian filmmaker, had died.
The stories — there isn't a dud in the bunch — are a mix of classics, like Bradbury's "Heavy Set" and newer tales, like Caitlín R. Kiernan's haunting "A Redress of Andromeda," which mixes Lovecraft and Greek mythology.
Also included is Gary Braunbeck's useful overview of Halloween films. Anyone who has a proper appreciation for the demented silliness of "Ernest Scared Stupid" is OK with me.
Of all the Halloween-themed anthologies I've seen over the years, "October Dreams" is undoubtedly the best.
My second book recommendation probably could be used as a textbook in a college-level literature course, but don't let that scare you off. (Cue evil laughter again.)
Strictly speaking, "The American Fantasy Tradition," edited by Brian M. Thomsen (Tor, $27.95), isn't a horror collection. Its stories span several sub-genres of fantasy, not all of it dark. But there are more than enough chills here to keep you shivering until Oct. 31.
"The American Fantasy Tradition" collects nothing but bona fide classics, including Stephen King's "Children of the Corn" (an excellent story that, unfortunately, spawned several bad movies), Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and H.P. Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."
There are also stories by some of America's undisputed literary giants: Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James.
But the best entries are by some of the lower-profile writers. One is Charles Beaumont's "The Howling Man," which Rod Serling turned into one of the two of three best episodes of the original "Twilight Zone." Another is "Twenty-Three," an old-fashioned "weird tale" by the greatest writer no one has heard of, Avram Davidson.
Lastly, speaking of H.P. Lovecraft, no one other than Edgar Allan Poe has had a greater influence on American horror fiction. That influence is ably displayed in "The Children of Cthulhu: Chilling New Tales Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft," edited by John Pelan and Benjamin Adams (Del Rey, $23.95).
Here, writers like Brite, Kiernan, Richard Laymon, China Miéville and Alan Dean Foster play in Lovecraft's sandbox — a sandbox that is actually full of water, containing untold and ancient horrors beneath it's murky depths. (It's not really a sandbox at all, is it? Never mind.)
This is probably the first Lovecraft anthology to include a story about Elvis Presley, Brite's "Are You Loathsome Tonight?"
I must remember to ask her: Which came first, the story or the title?