Worrell and Ward – Vampire Women Go Fishing

Leonard Nimoy’s directorial debut, Robert E Howard trivia and Weird Tales magazine, but most importantly, women in horror. For our last post during Women in Horror Month, we visit two female authors from very different times. Welcome to Everil Worrell, a major contributor to Weird Tales magazine from 1926 onwards, and Cynthia Ward, a writer in the Here and Now. Today we’ll be mostly musing on Worrell’s ‘Canal’, and on Cynthia’s new novella Adventure of the Incognita Countess, with some of our usual odds and sod thrown in. And yes, there are female vampires (and water) involved in both…


We love many contemporary authors of weird literature and dark fantasy, However, you may have noticed that we have a mild obsession with early strange, supernatural and detective fiction. The interesting thing about hunting out women writers in the early part of the Twentieth Century is that they are there, but many are overshadowed now. Key novels and novellas by men have entered the hallowed lists as markers in the development of the weird. A number of the women in question wrote short stories which are spread out across time and different publications. Many never made single author collections, or had novels published.


We’ve picked Everil Worrell (1893-1969) to mention, as she was well-regarded at the time, and a key player in Weird Tales. She was born on November 3, 1893 in Nebraska, though her family moved a number of times. A biography of Worrell, by her daughter Jeanne Eileen Murphy, was included in the first edition of Robert Weinberg’s Weird Tales Collector in 1977.


You can find more biographical details at the informative Tellers of Weird Tales site here:


everil worrell

She married in 1926, and in the same year began regular appearances in Weird Tales. It’s hard to verify how many stories she wrote in total – at least twenty four titles can be found. Nineteen of them certainly appeared in Weird Tales between 1926 and 1954, one under the pen-name Lireve Monet. As Everil W Murphy she also contributed two stories to Ghost Stories, a US pulp magazine which came out between 1926 and 1932.

Trivia: Ghost Stories, if you don’t know it, ran a number of original tales and reprints, including reprints of stories by Mrs Oliphant, Agatha Christie and Charles Dickens. They even ran a Robert E Howard story, ‘The Apparition in the Prize Ring’, under the name John Taverel. This story is also known as ‘The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux’, and is one of two Howard stories about black boxer Ace Jessel, the ‘ebony giant’.

It’s a shame that you can’t get a collection of her stories. You have to search for them one by one, mostly as magazine scans or old archives, or through her infrequent presence in anthologies. Eric Davin, in his book Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965, points out:

“Some of the highest reader-voted stories in the entire existence of Weird Tales were by female authors Greye La Spinya… and Everil Worrell (The Bird of Space 1926)”

Davin, 2005

She made the cover of Weird Tales three times, starting with that September 1926 story ‘The Bird of Space’, which isn’t bad considering this was in the first year she was with Weird Tales.


Her last appearance was in the March 1954 issue, only a few months before Weird Tales gave up the ghost, thus giving her one of the longest involvement with the magazine of all their regular writers.

Rather neatly, her appearance in September 1926 was twinned with ‘The Projection of Armand Dubois’ by Henry S Whitehead, one of our favourite of the ‘period weird’ writers. And a month later, her story ‘Cattle of Furos’ was in print along with ‘Jumbee’, another well-known tale by Whitehead.


Her work was spread across various speculative genres or sub-genres – supernatural and ghostly, science fiction, fantasy and horror. Our particular interest here is in her story ‘The Canal’, which is an unashamed vampire horror story, and quite a neat one.

“Past the sleeping city the river sweeps; along its left bank the old canal creeps. I did not intend that to be poetry, although the scene is poetic—somberly, gruesomely poetic, like the poems of Poe. I know it too well—I have walked too often over the grass-grown path beside the reflections of black trees and tumble-down shacks and distant factory chimneys in the sluggish waters that moved so slowly, and ceased to move at all. I have always had a taste for nocturnal prowling.”

This night-time wanderer encounters a half-sunken barge, and its strange occupants, only to find that a passing fancy becomes more complicated and horrifying than expected. If he follows his initial instincts, he may unleash something on the world beyond the canal.

First published in December 1927, ‘The Canal’ was adapted for television in an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. Rewritten a tad, the episode was called ‘Death on a Barge’, and released in March 1973. The strapline they used is a touch peculiar:

“A fishmonger ignores his friends’ warnings when he falls for a wraith-like young woman.”

More Trivia: It’s fun to note that ‘Death on a Barge was Leonard Nimoy’s directorial debut. Nimoy didn’t direct again until Vincent (1981) a one-man filmed play of his adaptation of “Van Gogh” (1979) by Phillip Stephens. The young woman was played by Lesley Ann Warren, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the 1982 film Victor/Victoria. No vampires in that, though.

lesley ann warren in night gallery
lesley ann downs in night gallery

‘The Canal’ story  seems to be in the public domain, and you can read the whole story here:


You can also find it in Weird Vampire Tales: 30 Blood-Chilling Stories from the Weird Fiction Pulps (1992), which is available second-hand from various sources. This great thick collection happens to include “The Antimacassar” by Greye La Spina, another female author we mentioned briefly above.



Right, let’s salute Everil Worrell, skip a lot of decades and come to our other work for the day. Cynthia Ward actually first came to our attention via a book she and fellow-writer Nisi Shawl wrote, Writing the Other. This is an interesting set of meditations on approaching writing and diversity:

‘Nisi and Cynthia collaborated to develop a workshop… with the aim of both increasing writers’ skill and sensitivity in portraying difference in their fiction as well as allaying their anxieties about “getting it wrong.” Writing the Other: A Practical Approach is the manual that grew out of their workshop. It discusses basic aspects of characterization and offers elementary techniques, practical exercises, and examples for helping writers create richer and more accurate characters with “differences.”‘

Cynthia herself has published a number of fantastical tales in various anthologies such as Athena’s Daughters, Wax and Wane and Sword and Sorceress.


This February, Aqueduct Press released her new novella, The Adventure of the Incognita Countess. As the novella has vampires and is set on the waters (albeit the Atlantic rather than canals and rivers), we thought we should pair her with Everil Worrell. How’s that for tenuous?

We admit to being fans of period espionage, occult and the whole caboodle, so we may not be unbiased over this one. Just read the blurb:

“It’s the easiest assignment a British intelligence agent could hope for. Lucy Harker needs only see the secret plans of the Nautilus safely across the Atlantic. As German spies are largely a fantasy of newspapers, she anticipates no activities more strenuous than hiding her heritage as Dracula’s dhampir daughter. Then among her fellow Titanic passengers she discovers the incognita Countess Karnstein—and it seems the seductive vampire is in Germany’s service. Can Agent Harker stake Carmilla before her own heart—and her loyalty to the British Empire—are subverted by questions as treacherous as a night-cloaked iceberg?”

(A dhampir or dhampyre, incidentally, is a half-breed cross between a vampire and a human, who can bear the light of the sun, and so forth, but has certain extraordinary abilities. The term comes originally from Balkan folk-stories.)

We are indeed in classic Carmilla territory – treachery, hidden secrets and lesbian vampires, but with a difference, and with some nice nods to other period sources. This is not quite Sheridan Le Fanu’s take on things. We particularly enjoyed the connections with H G Wells’s War of the Worlds, and the use of recovered Martian technology by the British Empire. Heat-rays up, girls, and at ’em.

Lucy Harker here is a rather likeable character, though ready to do what British Intelligence demands of her despite her own feelings. We were also amused by the addition of one Lord Greyborough, who may have an affection for apes in his background. We leave you to work out the links there.

“From the sudden flaring of the viscount’s nostrils and tensing of his body, it’s clear Lord Greyborough has also caught her scent. Has he recognised she’s a type of vampire? Perhaps more importantly, how did he detect her scent at all? He’s human; his scent makes that clear. And humans, compared to monsters and animals, essentially have no sense of smell.”

Add in mention of the Nautilus, international political intrigue and the fateful voyage of the Titanic, and you have plenty with which to play.

The Adventure of the Incognita Countess is available now, in paperback and Kindle formats – link below:

the incognita countess on amazon uk

the incognita countess on amazon us


Women in Horror Month may be closing down for this year, but we at greydogtales don’t worry about that sort of thing too much. We will continue to salute other female writers of horror and the weird as we bumble our way along. As you do. Join us in a few days for more of our dubious scholarship, trivia and features…

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Come Face the Raven and the Viking

Have you ever been on a viking? Or is that a delicate question? We’re all Norse today, dear listener, because of an excellent new collection of tales, The Raven’s Table, by Christine Morgan. Also, we come from the Nordic North of England – most of the family are from around the old Viking capital of Jorvik (York, if you must). And we grew up by the North Sea, steeped in this stuff, which is something we’ve talked about before. Our rune-roots are strong, so let the rowers put their backs into it…


If you have ever felt like you wanted to fara í viking, you would have been driving your longship through the spray, and dreaming of rich pickings. You would be a vikingr, a Norse raider and trader, but not exactly the revived romantic of the 18th and 19th centuries. You wouldn’t have had too many cow horns stuck to your helmet, either.

If you doubt our expertise, by the way, here’s a genuine photograph of John Linwood Grant. Here he is dressed in his usual day clothes, taken in the late 60s in East Yorkshire.


Christine Morgan is a North American writer of many years’ experience, with a varied output from her Elf Lore books to The Horned Ones: Cornucopia and Murder Girls, shifting between fantasy, other speculative forms and horror. Perhaps most importantly, she’s been a prolific short story writer, and might be said to major in twisting history.

Now she is about to release a collection of her short stories, but this isn’t a slice through her multi-genre range. Instead, The Raven’s Table is very specifically tales of the vikings or Norsefolk. We say folk, rather than men, because the book is generously spattered with women, men and monsters. It’s an excellent read, and we really do recommend it – brutal, lyrical and fantastical. No sitting on the fence with vague plaudits. Let’s find out more…

viking writer

greydog: Christine, Welcome to greydogtales. Your new book The Raven’s Table is a must-have for anyone with an interest in stories based on Nordic mythology and lore. Reading it was a great pleasure, so first of all, congratulations!

cm: Thanks so much! This whole thing, for all it’s been years in the making, still seems like a rather stunning and sudden surprise, but I’m loving it!

greydog: We know that you write horror. We know that you write fantasy. We even know snippets of your work from stories like ‘Her Father’s Skin’, in Flesh Like Smoke, from April Moon Books (ed. Brian Sammons). What we hadn’t expected was this major collection of Nordic tales. So we’d better ask a few questions. When did the idea for Raven’s Table first come to mind?

cm: Sort of light-heartedly, when I realized I was getting quite a stockpile of Viking stories… “enough for a collection already” was the thought that went through my head. But once it was in there, I couldn’t shake it, and in the meantime I kept writing and selling yet more Viking stories. I figured hey, I must be doing something right, as well as this being something people like to read. Then some of those people started asking when it was going to happen. I half-jokingly pitched the notion to Ross at Word Horde, and he went for it! Now, here we are!


greydog: We imagine there’s some serious research behind Raven’s Table. A necessity or a pleasure?

cm: Both, definitely lots of both. Including a family vacation Norwegian cruise, which gave me the chance to soak in the spectacular scenery from the comfort of a cruise ship — I am not in person rugged or outdoorsy; I’m a bad camper; the idea of doing the actual living history or re-enacting is one I love and admire but am totally unsuited for.

On that trip, we did visit an Iron Age farm, and the Viking Ship Museum, and both were amazing experiences. Being able to stand there within feet of those ships, absorbing the history and taking it all in… wow. For book-type research, it gets a little trickier because so much never got written down, but even that makes for some fascinating puzzle-piecing and extrapolation.

greydog: The collection is a mixture of previously published and new stories, but you wouldn’t know it. They read as a fairly seamless set of tales. Did you have to tinker, or did you find that they flowed nicely as they were?

cm: To my surprise, not much tinkering was required. I gathered them up mostly in chronological order of publication, which was also mostly the order in which they’d been written — many for themed anthology calls, which I adore! — and that made for an interesting variety. The others got added in wherever, finishing with the longest, the novella ‘Brynja’s Beacon.’

I’d started writing that one and realized partway in that it was, in a weird sort of way, a Viking take on the brooding gothic, where the young governess arrives at the mansion of dark intrigue and family secrets, with the mysterious handsome master and the children and the sinister relatives … except, instead of a governess, it’s Unn the slave girl, and instead of a mansion, it’s a longhouse.


greydog: Norse Gothic sounds a good route to go. There’s quite a lot of song/verse sprinkled here and there in the collection. Was this all your own creation, or a reworking of traditional lays to fit the mood of the stories?

cm: The one in ‘The Vulgarity of Giants’ is a reworking of the saga about Thor in the giant Gierrod’s hall, and the one in ‘With Honey Dripping’ is a … well … goat-smutted up variation on another traditional Thor story … the rest are pretty much mine, though some also draw heavily upon fairy tales and other influences. The thing about sagas that I find most appealing is, I love poetry but am not good at it in most other forms. Whenever I try, it locks into Dr. Seuss rhyming structure. The sagas get me away from that.

greydog: Viking and Nordic fantasy can be very cliched – a longship and some hack’n’slash raids. You seem to have teased out much richer elements, showing many different sides of their life, including domestic issues – ‘The Fate-Spinners’, as one example. Can we take it that this was quite deliberate?

cm: Oh, definitely; I wanted to look at those other aspects of life, those other perspectives. In addition to the hack’n’slash, of course; I do always love me a good battle too. When I was working on ‘Sven Bloodhair’, I seem to recall posting something about how any day I can write about grisly decapitations is a good day. But yes, I also wanted to bring in a lot of female point-of-view, as well as those of children and elders, not all the big burly warriors.

This also tied in to my love of fairy tales, a lot of which originally came from the mothers and grandmothers and grandfathers. It helped, though, that there were also a lot of strong women in Viking history and culture. They had to be, and it showed.


greydog: It would be pointless to separate these into fantasy or horror tales – many embody elements of both genres. And some are intensely dark and serious, with endings which bring a shiver. At the same time you have a touch for the earthy, rather than the high-falutin’. Troll piss springs to mind, and shockingly, people have to empty bladder or bowels. Does the mix reflect a personal preference for stories rooted in reality, rather than high fantasy?

cm: My preferences as a reader range widely, from the high-falutin’ literary artistic to the gonzo bizarro and gross-out extreme, so it just naturally goes the same in my writing. And it’s particularly apt for the Viking stuff … the stories of their gods got crass and raunchy too … Loki zinging Freya about farting during sex with her brother, or tying his testicles to a goat’s beard … Odin drinking the magic mead of poetry and then escaping in eagle form and pooping some of it out onto mortals … Thor having to put on a bridal dress to get his hammer back … the people of that time liked their ribald earthy humor as much as anyone else in history. Shakespeare and Chaucer certainly had their share.


greydog: Very true. Now, we have to mention your tale ‘Nails of the Dead’, which must be the best take on Naglfar and its role in Norse myth we’ve seen. Can you share something about that story?

cm: I’m so glad you brought that up; ‘Nails of the Dead’ is a personal favorite and I really wanted to do justice to a myth that is this fantastic evocative spooky thing of which we’re left with hardly any information. At the time, the tellers could just toss the mention out there because it was part of the general lore their audiences knew — my academic hero Professor Drout has a whole bit about this in one of his lectures — but by the time anybody got around to writing it down, the details somehow never made it.

So here’s this bit of wisdom about trimming your nails, and why, and this ship … and that’s all we get. I wanted more. What would this ship look like? How did they get the fingernails? I started thinking someone or something had to collect them, and got this image in my head of a kind of tooth fairy graverobber ghoul-type figure, going around with little pliers; from there it just wrote itself.

viking-30454_960_720greydog: It is a fantastic story. And is this collection the masterwork, or mistresswork, for your Nordic plans? Do you have more in store?

cm: More, more, more! I’ve continued submitting Viking stories to anthologies; probably close to enough for another collection before too long. I’m about thirty thousand words into a Viking horror novel called ‘The Slaughter’, which I elevator pitch as Dexter-meets-Beowulf. I love historical fiction, mythology, and ancient cultures of all types, so I also dabble with Greek/Roman, Egyptian, Aztec/Maya, and others… but the Vikings is where my heart’s truly happiest. Probably because I can get away with the most outrageous purple prose; that’d earn me an editorial swat in any other genre, but over-the-top descriptions and poetic language and alliteration is all good here!

greydog: Finally, we grew up on Viking stories and films which varied from utterly naff to inspiring. What fictional treatments – film, TV or books – are you most fond of?

cm: My first Viking-type memory, like so many others of us I’m sure, would have to be What’s Opera, Doc… kill da wabbit, spear and magic helmet, Bugs Bunny as sexy Brunhilde. I learned early on that the horned helmet thing was Wagnerian license taken too far, so I’ve developed a bit of a peeve about that.

My hands-down fave for best depiction in film is The 13th Warrior; I thought the Lord of the Rings movies did a great job with the Riders of Rohan as drawn on Tolkien’s take on the Norsemen. Book-wise, Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series is part of what woke my own inner Viking in the first place, and I enjoyed the TV adaptation of The Last Kingdom. And I must give a huge shout-out to the animated series Gargoyles, not only for its many major impacts on my life but because their Vikings were proper Vikings, they brought in Odin, they did a lot very, very right.

greydog: A lovely range of choices. Many thanks for joining us, and the very best with your next project.

cm: Thank you for having me, for the great questions, and giving me space to ramble!

rt_cover_sm-672x1024The Raven’s Table is out on 28th February 2017, and you can order here (UK)


Or here (US)


We couldn’t end without the classic theme tune from The Vikings (1958). It wouldn’t be right.

You can find more Nordic stuff kicking around the site, including this post here:   whale-road, widow-maker


In two or three days on greydogtales, O best beloved, – something with less vikinger in it, we imagine…

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The Orishas, and Shango Unchained

There is an old man in Africa. You might find him interesting, especially as this is Black History Month. Today we’re talking African myth and lore. And we’re visiting the Yoruba and the Orishas, which means we have to mention Shango. We’re also joined by Ziki Nelson, who shares a media take on orishas later on below. And we throw in some black superhero thrills.

That old man’s name is Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, and he is said to be the traditional ruler of the Oyo Empire, in south-west Nigeria. As an alaafin, he is the inheritor of Oranmiyan, Great Prince of Ife, who found the Oyo Empire some time early in the 14th Century (CE).

What has this to do with the price of salt-cod? Hang in there…


There are about 44 million Yoruba people(which is about the same as the population of Spain if you need a European reference point), most of them living in Nigeria. That might be enough to talk about in itself, but what catches the attention is way in which the Yoruba belief system spread much wider than that. During the transatlantic slave trade, some black peoples, including the Yoruba, managed to preserve something of their native religions and lore.

One aspect of this is the continued reverence of orishas (oricha or orixá in Brazil). Put simply, orishas are spirit beings who may be anywhere from intangible to fully manifest in the flesh. They represent facets of God, the Supreme Deity – manifestation of God’s many faces and natures, if you like.

To some they are demi-gods or gods in their own right. They are key in various religious movements, often worshipped or prayed to for their particular areas of patronage – war, justice, fertility, healing and so forth.

We’re not Yoruba experts here at greydogtales (in fact we know more about the Igbo, from eastern Nigeria, oddly enough). However, we do know that orisha worship continued across various parts of the United States, the Caribbean and South America, especially Brazil. Santeria and Candomblé are two variants, and as so often happened in and around the Caribbean, Roman Catholicism got mixed in there as well.

yansa, by eurico zimbres
yansa, by eurico zimbres

So who are the Orishas themselves? There are a lot  – anywhere from 401 to 17,000, and their exact names vary over time, and between Yorubaland and the branches of belief developed in the Americas. Different branches have slightly different interpretations. These are a few examples, to give you a taste:

  • Ellegua/Eshu is the male Orisha of roads and the crossroads, probably the basis of Legba in Haiitian vodu.
  • Oya/Yansa, female Orisha of winds and lightning, change and rebirth.
  • Oshosi/Oxóssi, male Orisha associated with the hunt, forests, animals, and wealth.
  • Oba, female Orisha of marriage and domesticity, supposedly once the wife of Shango.

Each orisha has an associated colour, an appropriate offering and other associations. Some have a number of secondary areas of power or concern. Oxóssi, for example, is associated with blue or green, and suitable sacrifices include goat and guinea-fowl. He’s also linked to contemplation and the arts.

Which brings us to maybe the most ‘popular’ of the Orishas, Shango or Shaango. If people know only one orisha, it’s usually him. And the reason we introduced you to Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III at the start is this – Shango was once the alaafin of the Oyo Kingdom, the third or fourth alaafin depending on who you read. We’re back in the 14th Century again, by the way.

shango, canvas art from ifareo.com

more from ifareo here

A mortal man, he became an orisha because of his deeds. Shango rules over lightning, thunder, fire, the drums and dance. He’s a fighter, a warrior orisha with quick wits, a quick temper and is the epitomy of virility. In Santeria he is the master of dance and a sorcerer who spits fire. He is often depicted as a powerful young man with a double headed axe, or with two axes. He can also be called Sango (in Nigeria), Chango and Xango.

We’re mentioning the Orishas now because recently, along with a rise in the production of black speculative fiction, there’s been an upsurge of interest in the Orishas – incomic books, games and writing. Which is cool.

So now, not being black ourselves, we hand over to Ziki Nelson, who kindly put together a few examples of orishas in action for greydogtales (the section titles should give you extra links as well).

Five modern depictions of the Orishas you need to see

When it comes to African mythology, most writers and filmmakers never seem to look past Egypt. However, a group of Yoruba deities known as the Orishas are starting to give the likes of Set and Anubis a run for their money. The Orishas are a group of divine spirits that represent different aspects of reality and nature. From Brazil to Nigeria, the Orishas are loved and revered across the world and this has inspired a number of independent creators to reimagine these deities in a modern context.


Shaango is an urban fantasy comic created by Los Brignoles, an indie comic book publisher based in France. The story is inspired by Shango, the Orisha of thunder and lighting. We follows Ishan Goran, a youth worker who discovers that he’s the modern incarnation of Shango. The story explores the blurry line between defending the innocent and punishing the wicked as Ishan fluctuates between being a hero to a vigilante. On a side note, Shango is by far the most popular Orisha, he has appeared in both DC and Marvel comics as well as a number of independent publications.

2) Besuoro

It’s not very often you hear African Martial Arts Fantasy in the same sentence but Besouro (aka The Assailant) is the rare (perhaps only) exception. Inspired by the real life exploits of of legendary capoeira fighter, Besouro Mangangá, this film spins a fantastic tale of an Afro-Brazilian fighter bestowed with mystical powers. One of the film’s main characters is Eshu, the Orisha of the crossroad who guides Besuoro on his spiritual journey.


Created by Comic Republic Nigeria, Visionary is another urban fantasy centred on a blood feud between Shango and Oxossi, the Orisha of the forest. Not much has been revealed about the story yet however, last year Comic Republic released a prequel issue (#0). The prequel begins with an intense battle between Shango and Oxossi and then we’re transported to modern day Lagos.

4)Oya: Rise of the Orisha

Oya: Rise of the Orisha was probably one of the first attempts to reimagine the Orishas in a modern context. Created by Nosa Igbinedion, this short film follows Oya: orisha of the wind. Oya enters the modern world in human form and goes on a mission to stop Eshu, another orisha seeking to plunge the world into Chaos.

5)Yemoja: Rise of the Orisha

Because of the success of this initial Oya, Igbinedion was able to build enough traction to fund a follow up series Yemoja: Rise of the Orisha. This series is another urban fantasy that follows the story of Amina, a young doctor living in Brazil whose life turns upside down when she becomes possessed by Yemoja, the orisha of the sea.

While most of these projects have been relatively small scale productions one can’t help but feel this is just the beginning. Whether it’s comics, movies or books expect to see more of the Orishas. However, it’s also important to recognise that the Orishas are only a small part of a larger body of traditional African stories.

This article was brought to you by Kugali, a database for African narratives. If you want to discover more modern depictions of the Orishas or other African myths Kugali has curated dozens of films, TV shows and comic.

Our thanks to Ziki, who says of himself: “Ziki is a London based entrepreneur and one of the founders of Kugali. When he’s not stressing out about his company Ziki can be found flying across space and fighting crime … in his dreams of course. Actually, Ziki is working on his first comic book which is due for release later this year.”

You can find Kugali here:


We hope to bring you more in the future. In the meantime we should mention a new comics anthology put together by writer Balogun Ojetade. Balogun is deeply into Afro-retroism – film, fashion or fiction that combines African and/or African American culture with a blend of “retro” styles and futuristic technology.


He’s worked with a number of other black creators, including Milton Davis, who we interviewed last year ( see  the rise of sword and soul), on a wide range of exciting projects. Black Power: The Superhero Anthology is just out. It’s over 300 pages of action, where twenty authors bring new perspectives to the superhero concept in original short superhero stories.

You can check it out for purchase here:

http://amzn.eu/5x6dFbg (UK)

http://a.co/hycG6WQ (US)

Ellegua orishas
ellegua – by Happycheetha32

See, that made a nice change from Edwardian supernatural stories, scary novels, detectives and lurchers, didn’t it? Never hurts to broaden your mind – unless you use a hammer. If you want to be warned  where we’re lurching next time, don’t forget to subscribe (top left). Then you can hide in time…

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Edith Wharton hears a Whooo!

Female writers are a bit like male ones, really. Some of them are outstanding, and some of them produce tosh. So one of the more sensible things to do during Women in Horror Month is to look at the actual works, and point out the many striking dark stories you can find by women. Today, we bring you Edith Wharton, Katharine Fullerton Gerould, and Mary E Wilkins Freeman. And some of what follows includes a serious look at the changing nature of supernatural fiction.

Yes, here we are with Part Three of The History of Women in Horror, exploring some scary writing by women in the early Twentieth Century…

edith wharton hears a whooo!
the history of women in horror

The first decades of the century were a difficult time for women (as opposed to all the laid back, easy times they’d had before). Men were busy making important political and military decisions, and killing each other. Women, meanwhile, idled away their time with such frivolities as keeping their children alive, repopulating devastated countries, nursing wounded men, and working in munitions factories.

“Definitions of femininity and of women’s social roles were in flux. During World War I, women had gained jobs that had hitherto been held only by men; afterward, women’s job options again narrowed. England’s two million “surplus women” were newly identified as a social problem, suffragettes were demonstrating, Freud’s works were in the bookshops, and hems were on the rise. “

Katherine Bischoping & Riley Olstead, The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies (2013)

Some women went all literary, and charged their writing with hidden meanings which could only be decoded by boys who knew the secret handshake. A few broke out in attacks of initials (see also Part 1) and pretended to be men for publishing purposes. But many female writers produced works of distinctive supernatural and weird fiction under their own names. We’ve picked three of the earlier writers, with illustrative stories, to show what you may be missing.

Mary E Wilkins Freeman

Mary E Wilkins Freeman is our first pick, because this allows us to mention stories which straddle the boundaries between Victoriana and the weird. The period up to the First World War was a transitional time, as shadows lurked behind those Edwardian summers. Society was changing, and the black crepe was gradually being shed. Gothic had gone, and weird was coming in, though there was still a place for straightforward ghost tales.

Freeman had an odd enough life. She had a strict religious upbringing, and lost both her parents by the age of 31, leaving her to try and make money by writing. At the age of fifty she married a chap with alcohol and drug problems, who ended up being admitted to a hospital for the insane. On his death she inherited $1.


Sidenote: There is a detailed biography of Freeman which includes analysis of her writings overall, and which is relevant to the changes going on in writing and society. This is In a Hidden Closet: The Life and Work of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, by Leah Blatt Glasser (1996).


It “explores the multiple tensions at the core of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s life and work. A prolific short story writer and novelist, Freeman (1852-1930) developed a reputation as a local colorist who depicted the peculiarities of her native New England… Freeman was one of the first American authors to write extensively about the relationships women form outside of marriage and motherhood, the role of work in women’s lives, the complexity of women’s sexuality, and the interior lives of women who rebel rather than conform to patriarchal strictures.”

She was a respected and prolific writer, and is still famous in ghostly circles for her story ‘Luella Miller’. This is notable for being a sort of vampire story, but more subtle and unusual than the old type (there’s a nice reading by our friend Morgan Scorpion on Librivox).

‘Shadows on the Wall’ is another good tale which might almost be called Jamesian (but this is an over-used adjective). Much of the story, seen from the point of view of three women in a household, is concerned with the building tension which follows a man’s death, seemingly from natural causes. It is a simple tale, reminiscent of the old style of ghost story, yet the way in which the women interact and develop their concerns is deftly handled.

Quite different is ‘The Hall Bedroom’ (1905), and we mention this one because it enters the weirder zone which was to follow in supernatural fiction. Rooms that are ‘different’, and hints of the fifth dimension, together with the way in which the story unfolds, gives hints of what would come with H P Lovecraft and others – stories which evoke sensations and suggest the possibility of science beyond our ken, without the standard resolutions. The writer and anthologist Dorothy Scarborough cited ‘The Hall Bedroom’ as

“One of the best illustrations of the use of dream imagery and impressions.”

The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction (1917)

All the above are in The Wind in the Rose Bush and Other Stories of the Supernatural (1903). Some time after Freeman’s death, Arkham House released a collection of all eleven of her known supernatural stories (Collected Ghost Stories, 1974).

Both of the stories are available on audio:

Shadows on the Wall


The Hall Bedroom

A somewhat altered version of ‘Shadows’ was made for TV as part of the Night Gallery series – “Certain Shadows on the Wall” December 30, 1970.

“The shadow of a recently deceased woman (Agnes Moorehead) remains cast on the parlor wall to haunt her sinister brother.”

They meant ‘parlour’, of course.

More trivia: Despite having been in Citizen Kane and other major films, Agnes Moorehead is remembered by many today for playing Endora in Bewitched, the sixties and seventies TV series. We assume that her character’s name was a play on the Witch of Endor, from the jolly old Bible.

Katharine E Fullerton Gerould

Next comes Katharine Elizabeth Fullerton Gerould (1879 – 1944), an American writer and essayist. Unlike Freeman, she was a noted writer by the time she reached her early twenties, highly educated and adept at essay and short story alike. From 1902 onwards she wrote regularly for major journals, and between 1911 and 1929, she published nearly fifty short stories. Her small number of novels didn’t go down so well.

Girlish Trivia: Although few know her 1931 novel The Light That Never Was, the classic SF writer Lloyd Biggle Jr wrote a novel of the same name in 1972. It’s an interesting book, dealing with non-human refugees on the human artist colony of Donov, and the nature of art and creativity. Worth looking out for. Bloody men, coming over here and stealing our titles…

Gerould’s essays are interesting as well. Given that we brushed against Lord Byron, very badly, in Part One, we liked her 1922 article on why people were so peculiar about Byron – ‘Men, Women, And The Byron-Complex’ (Atlantic Monthly):

“Ninety-eight years ago, in April, 1824, Lord Byron died at Missolonghi. But in the non-academic world of letters no one, apparently, either knows or cares whether Byron was a great poet. No one… either knows or cares, as we have said, whether he was a better or a worse letter-writer than we had thought. After a hundred years, the sole question that impassions people is: ‘Just how much of a cad was he?’”

Her stranger stories are hard to find, but she wrote tales such as ‘The Eighty Third’ (1916), which was collected in Tales of Dungeons and Dragons, edited by Peter Haining (1986). She was known at one time for her story ‘On the Staircase’ (1913), of which Dorothy Scarborough said:

“Warning spirits of futurity are seen [in this story], where each man beholds his own destiny,—one seeing the spectral snake that afterwards kills him in a hunting expedition, one the ghost of a Zulu, the savage that almost destroys him some time afterwards, and the last the ghost of a young woman in a blue dress, the woman whom he marries and who hounds him to his death. She presently sees her own fate, too, but what it is the author does not tell us. One curious incident in the story is the instantaneous appearance on the stairs of the woman herself and her ghostly double, one in a white dress, one in the fatal blue. This sort of spectral warning, this wireless service for the conveyance of bad news and hint of threatening danger, serves to link the ghost story of the present with those of the past.”

The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction (1917)


Gerould is also worth noting because she had connections with our last author for today, Edith Wharton. Wharton helped Gerould to get published by Scribners, but the two writers got caught up in a romantic triangle involving Gerould’s promiscuous journalist cousin, William Morton Fullerton. Wharton, though married, had an affair with him on and off between 1906 and 1910, yet he also got engaged to Gerould at the same time – and was living with a French woman in Paris. Blimey.

Edith Wharton

Which leads us nicely onto the stories of the best known of our three, Edith Wharton (1862-1937) herself. A social whirl, novelist, Pulitzer Prize winner, Nobel nominee – and she worked in Paris during the First World War to protect French women and children. Rather impressive.

edith wharton

It would be a bit redundant to clog greydogtales with her biography, which is easily found, or details of The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth etc. We merely want to mention her contribution to supernatural and horror literature.

“Of particular interest are Wharton’s stories of the uncanny and the supernatural, like the grisly “A Bottle of Perrier,” set in the North African desert, and the chilling “All Souls’,” written just before her death. An unacknowledged master of American horror fiction, Wharton’s lucid prose makes all the more powerful her exploration of the irrational forces underlying ordinary life.”

Library of America


Wharton tended to more subtle horrors. Much is suggested but not nailed down:

“When the reader’s confidence is gained the next rule of the game is to avoid distracting and splintering his attention. Many a would-be tale of horror becomes innocuous through the very multiplication and variety of its horrors. Above all, if they are multiplied they should be cumulative and not dispersed. But the fewer the better: once the preliminary horror is posited, it is the harping on the same string — the same nerve — that does the trick. Quiet iteration is far more racking than the diversified assaults; the expected is more frightful than the unforeseen.”

Edith Wharton, “The Writing of Fiction,” Scribner’s Magazine (1925)

We want to slip in three stories of hers before we go. ‘The Duchess at Prayer’ (1902) is a dark tale of love and ruin, concerning a Duke’s unwelcome gift of a statue to his wife, and its impact.

“I saw how admirably the sculptor had caught the poise of her head, the tender slope of the shoulder; then I crossed over and looked into her face — it was a frozen horror. Never have hate, revolt and agony so possessed a human countenance…”

It’s been suggested that Wharton was influenced by both Balzac and Edgar Allan Poe, with resemblances to aspects of Poe’s ‘The Cask of Amontillado’. There’s no doubt that it harks back to earlier eerie tales from the Victorian period, though it is still Wharton.

‘Triumph of Night’ (1914) is a different tale, one of implications rather than overt horror. It is a story of ‘doubles’, where more is revealed by the double of one John Lavington than can be seen in his human face. Doubt and failure pervade the story.

Best of all is ‘The Eyes’ (1910), from Edith Wharton’s collection Tales of Men and Ghosts. This stands out as a move beyond the classic ghost story. A seemingly convivial telling of tales develops into a confrontation with truths about life – our failures and our weaknesses. Without a Gothic skeleton, ominous shadow or white sheet in sight, Wharton introduces us to the unknown, and quite deliberately does not give us all the answers. The descriptive prose is fascinating:

“The orbits were sunk, and the thick red-lined lids hung over the eyeballs like blinds of which the cords are broken. One lid drooped a little lower than the other, with the effect of a crooked leer; and between these folds of flesh, with their scant bristle of lashes, the eyes themselves, small glassy disks with an agate-like rim, looked like sea pebbles in the grip of a starfish.”

And it is scary, but not in the usual way. For those who like a touch of style, all of Wharton’s supernatural stories are available from the rather nice Tartarus Press, either as a collector’s edition or in e-format:


Next week: Probably less about supernatural literature in the early Twentieth Century! We need a change for a few days…

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