Tag Archives: ghost stories

A Chill Equation – John Coulthart and More

We’re back, with bumper fun in the form of the wonderful Equation Chillers series, including Algernon Blackwood. We’re also going to enjoy the work of a couple of weird artists in the field – the renowned John Coulthart’s Lovecraftian art and the mysterious Boris Dolgov with his pulp illustrations from the forties and fifties.

We’ll start with John Coulthart, because we’ve been in touch with him recently. When we interviewed him at length on greydogtales at the end of last year (see john coulthart – axioms & other dark beasts), he alluded to various forthcoming projects, and two of these are here, or on their way soon.

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The first is the new collection from Barnes and Noble, The Complete Cthulhu Mythos Tales by H P Lovecraft, a massive book of six hundred pages in their Collectible Editions line. As you might expect, it contains twenty three of those Lovecraft stories which relate to what later became a whole myth cycle (for which August Derleth is mostly to be praised or blamed). The book includes six collaborative “revisions”, and has an introduction by Lovecraft scholar S T Joshi.

Moby Dick Full Cover+

Mostly importantly for us (we have read a lot of HPL already, after all), it has wonderful front and back covers, plus endpapers, by John.

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We haven’t yet seen a UK distributor for this, but here’s the link to the US source:

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Also worth a mention is John’s work for a new collection, Out of Tune Book Two, for which he has provided fifteen new illustrations. This is due to be published by JournalStone sometime soon.

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Right, let’s go back a few years. Nearly three decades, in fact. One of our finds of the late eighties was the short-lived Equation Chillers series. Sadly, only eight books were ever produced directly under the imprint. We have battered copies of all of them which we bought at the time, thank goodness.

They were, in a way, the precursor of the Wordsworth Editions, where lost, rare or unusual stories of the supernatural suddenly became available at an affordable price. Equation revived a whole haunted house full of Victorian and Edwardian short stories, and it’s worth noting all eight volumes here, with the occasional comment from us.

1) THE FLINT KNIFE. Further Spook Stories by E.F. Benson
Selected and introduced by Jack Adrian (1988).

2) IN THE DARK. Tales of Terror by E. Nesbit
Selected and introduced by Hugh Lamb (1988).

(No, you’re right – we couldn’t find our copies of the two above to scan them. It’s that damned Magic Loft again…)

3) WARNING WHISPERS. New Weird Tales by A.M. Burrage
Selected and introduced by Jack Adrian (1988)

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4) STORIES IN THE DARK. Tales of Terror by Jerome K. Jerome, Barry Pain, and Robert Barr
Selected and introduced by Hugh Lamb (1989)

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An uneven but fascinating collection from the author of Three Men in a Boat and two of his friends and colleagues. Jerome and Barr founded The Idler magazine together in the late 19th century, though Barr is best remembered for his crime and detective novels. Pain was a writer and editor himself, producing a lot of non-supernatural work. Readers may already be familiar with his story The Undying Thing.

The Haunted Mill by Jerome himself is an especially wonderful example of his dry sense of humour.
5) BONE TO HIS BONE. The Stoneground Ghost Tales of E.G. Swain
Introduced by Michael Cox (1989).

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We daren’t say much about this one, because we’ve often droned on about E G Swain being one of our favourite writers of the supernatural. Gentle, humorous and wonderful little stories with perfect characterisation, to be read again and again.

Uniquely, this volume not only reprinted the 1912 edition of The Stoneground Ghost Tales but included six stories by David Rowlands, excellent later pastiches of Swain’s content and style. Rowlands has also written many tales of his own, including those concerning “the endearing Father O’Connor, who is constantly brushing up against the supernatural and the uncanny in stories that range from the whimsical to the terrifying”.

6) THE MAGIC MIRROR. Lost Supernatural and Mystery Stories by Algernon Blackwood
Selected and introduced by Mike Ashley (1989)

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An interesting and diverse collection, particularly as it includes a number of Blackwood’s tales for the BBC, including the text of the very first official radio ‘talk’, by Blackwood, from July 1934 – The Blackmailers. The BBC director responsible apparently commented “I don’t doubt that we shall have a good many letters from listeners saying that we are corrupting the youth of England with morbid fancies and distasteful subjects”.

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dolgov

Blackwood went on to make over sixty radio broadcasts, and you can listen to one of them here:

7) DRACULA’S BROOD. Neglected Vampire Classics by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood and Others
Selected and introduced by Richard Dalby (1989).

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A most fine collection because Dalby deliberately avoided well-known or commonly anthologised tales. His choice of twenty three stories ranges from 1867 to 1940, and includes Mary E Braddon, Vernon Lee, Alice and Claude Askew, M R James and Frederick Cowles. Worth trying to find because of its range and the rareness of some of the stories.

8) THE BLACK REAPER. Tales of Terror by Bernard Capes
Selected and introduced by Hugh Lamb (1989).

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After this the series folded, rather tragically. They had announced, but never released:

FEAR WALKS THE NIGHT. Tales of Terror by Frederick Cowles
To be selected and introduced by Richard Dalby.

Equation Chillers can still be found second hand. Amazon even has a few on offer through its marketplace dealers.

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dolgov

While musing on Blackwood and looking at related illustrations of his work, we were reminded of the artist Boris Dolgov. A New York artist, virtually nothing is known about him, not even the dates of his birth and (presumed) death.

8560021701_c7739ea5ff_bDolgov produced seven (we think) covers for the magazine Weird Tales, and numerous interior illustrations, a few of which we’ve included in this post, from the mid-forties to the early fifites.

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It is known that Dolgov was a friend of the artist Hannes Bok, and he collaborated with Bok a few times under the name Dolbokov. He also produced at least one book cover, that of A E Van Vogt’s 1952 book Destination: Universe!

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You can see more of Dolgov’s work here:

dolgov on monsterbrains

And to close, a mention that Equation also produced the book Ghost and Scholars: Ghost Stories in the Tradition of M.R. James. This fine collection was not under the Chillers imprint, though. Selected and introduced by Richard Dalby (as mentioned above) and Rosemary Pardoe, this came out in 1989, and included an essay by MRJ, himself, “Ghosts–Treat Them Gently!”

“Following James’s lead, the writers represented here conjure up an ordered, placid world into which the supernatural–usually in malevolent form–slowly but surely intrudes itself.”

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Unfortunately, this is now both hard to find and expensive. Bums.

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dolgov

We’ll be back later in the week, dear listeners, with more weird fiction, weird art and even weirder lurchers…

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Twelve Tales Which Linger

Which stories stay with you, years after you first read them? That’s the greydogtales question for today. We return to our love of early strange and supernatural stories, in a way which might entertain and vex in equal measure. Whilst rummaging through piles of books for a particular ghost story (which still hasn’t turned up), we drifted into thinking about those tales which never quite go away. So we thought we’d share a handful of them here.

The stories picked had to be:

  • supernatural or unnatural to some certain degree (no pretend hauntings, let-downs or mundane explanations)
  • memorable for their themes, key elements or imagery
  • different from the usual fare in some way, either in style, approach or resolution
  • free of the standard vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies and cthulhoids for a change

Of course, each had to be a weird tale which remained in memory long after the book was closed.

We make no excuses for the fact that many of these stories are well-known. They are well-known for a reason, and we weren’t trying to find obscure oddities so we could sound clever. We could do that if we wanted, you know. Honestly we could.

The stories are given order of the author’s year of birth, for no particular reason. The rating system is badly-thought out, unreliable and of no real value whatsoever. We understand that lists do that sort of thing, and didn’t want it to look like we hadn’t tried.

1) Sredni Vashtar
H H Munro (1862-1916)

A masterpiece in its simplicity, as so often with Saki (H H Munro). A disturbing glimpse into a boy’s life and his frustrations, one of the most inventive ‘weird’ tales ever written. As to what Sredni Vashtar is, and what it does, we can say no more without spoiling the story.

Scary rating: 8/10
Style rating: 9/10

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2) The Malice of Inanimate Objects
M R James (1862-1936)

A very short story which stands out because it doesn’t follow the antiquarian Jamesian trope, having a more contemporary feel to it. It has some of his best understated prose towards the end, and the line about shaving in the penultimate paragraph is one of the finest descriptions of a rather nasty event ever written.

Scary rating: 4/10
Style rating: 9/10

3) Where Their Fire is not Quenched
May Sinclair (1863-1946)

A piece of horror concerning love and relationships which avoids every cliché. Truly chilling if you let yourself absorb its analysis of people and what they do to each other. To her credit Sinclair takes an entirely humanistic approach where a good old-fashioned ghost, witch or cursed object would have come as light relief for the reader.

Scary rating: 7/10
Style rating: 7/10

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4) The Yellow Sign
Robert W Chambers (1865-1933)

The quintessential introduction to the concept of the King in Yellow and the Yellow Sign, this story evokes things beyond the natural order, and a genuine sense of madness pressing on the human mind. “…but still we murmured to each other of the King and the Pallid Mask, and midnight sounded from the misty spires in the fog-wrapped city.” The concept is fascinating enough, but with the churchyard watchman Chambers also adds suggestions of more tangible horror to his questioning of sanity.

Scary rating: 9/10
Style rating: 8/10

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5) Lord Beden’s Motor
J B Harris-Burland (1870-1926)

Written in 1901, this story should already be of note because of its central use of the motor car. In fact, it’s a weird story anyway, with a wonderful sense of speed and danger as Lord Beden burns through the night in his 12 horsepower Napier, in pursuit of something far stranger and darker than his own automobile. Innovative and enjoyable.

Scary rating: 7/10
Style rating: 6/10

6) Bone to his Bone
E G Swain (1871-1838)

A marvellous Mr Batchel story. This is the epitome of Swain’s gentle humour and everyday approach, which opens up the natural presence of ghosts around us for various perfectly good reasons. It shows how a master can handle a haunting without cheap terror and trickery. Also notable for its unusual approach to bibliomancy, which is a delight.

Scary rating: 1/10
Style rating: 9/10

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7) The Whistling Room
William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918)

Not the best of Hodgson, but an introduction to two of his themes – scientific ghost hunting and the possibility of true abominations rather than merely scary spirits. His portrayal of a sense of danger and imminent, utter destruction stands out, as does the source of it. As has been said, quite unfilmable because of its unique imagery, but Hodgson carries it off on paper.

Scary rating: 7/10
Style rating: 4/10

8) Hill Drums
Henry S Whitehead (1882-1932)

A new consul-general arrives on the island of St Thomas, and does not ‘fit in’. An unusual story which reflects on the nature of culture in the West Indies and relies on a remarkably simple theme to achieve its effect. It would be easy to choose one of Whitehead’s more directly frightening and equally well-handled stories, but this one has perhaps more in common with James – and Swain – than usual. “Him go back to Trebizond” is a refrain which somehow doesn’t go away.

Scary rating: 2/10
Style rating: 8/10

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9) Branch Line to Benceston
Sir Andrew Caldecott (1884-1951)

Another unusual story, even for its author, which pursues possibilities of alternate or co-existing worlds – or does it? As with much of Caldecott’s work, the exact explanation is elusive, but the concept of a man seeing his life play out in Benceston even as it deteriorates in ‘reality’ is a striking one, with a worrying conclusion.

Scary rating: 5/10
Style rating: 6/10

10) The Crown Derby Plate
Marjorie Bowen (1885-1952)

A woman who deals in antiques has one plate missing from a Crown Derby service which she bought at auction thirty years before. So she tries to get hold of the missing plate. Possibly one of the most wonderfully simple and prosaic starts to a deceptive story which grows as it develops. Another one which definitely stays with you, enough so that you re-read it to check it really said what you thought. Clever and quietly scary.

Scary rating: 6/10
Style rating: 8/10

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11) The Outsider
H P Lovecraft (1890-1937)

Rather than pick a Mythos or Dream-Lands story, it seemed more appropriate for this list to go with one of Lovecraft’s most unsettling pieces, which seems modest enough until you get to the last lines, and reflect on what has gone before. All the better for having no strange gods or fancy names in it, employing instead a most Gothic feel. Also notable for the empathy which Lovecraft evokes, in a tale which at times seems almost autobiographical (if you prefer psychoanalysis to a good yarn).

Scary rating: 8/10
Style rating: 6/10

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12) The Colossus of Ylourgne
Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961)

A late entry, but one that stuck with us. Shedding that florid, sometimes over-written fantasy style which falls between Lord Dunsany and Jack Vance, Smith returns to Averoigne, a place which is more haunting because of its closeness to reality than its divergence from it. Except for the central activities of an insane necromancer, and the graphic nature of those activities. Memorable for both the ghastly techniques involved in what the madman constructs, and the horrors which come after.

Scary rating: 7/10
Style rating: 6/10

We would, naturally, be interested to hear what you think.

At the end of this week – a major illustrated interview with the talented Andy Paciorek, artist and originator of the whole Folk Horror Revival movement. Harrumble!

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