We’re putting the paperbacks aside for a moment and delving in to the ‘oversize’ shelf. Those big old hardbacks, the non-fiction ones on the history of horror films and suchlike, the ones with the tattered and torn dust jackets from being man-handled and pored over for the last 40 years or so. The book we’re looking at today, although tattered and torn, is not one of the non-fiction ones; no, we’re on the safe ground of a horror anthology. But, this is an anthology with a difference!
My parents bought me this for, I think, my tenth birthday… and that cover terrified me. I mean, really, I couldn’t look at that cover. If I wanted to read the book I had to close my eyes until it was safely open and that girl’s blind gaze was firmly flat on the table. I’ve no idea why I had that reaction to it, it all seems rather innocuous now, but there you have it. Before we go any further, let’s have a little talk about fear.
What scares you? What gives you that cold tingle that creeps up the back of your neck? It’s always fascinated me, the concept of fear. It may be because, with certain exceptions, I’ve never been the type to feel fear. It may be why I’ve always been interested in the horror genre since I was a young child. I hear about people being scared by certain novels or being terrified by films, but I very rarely experience that. This is not a boast, don’t get me wrong, I think fear is healthy; it’s an instinctive, self-preservation mechanism. There’s only a handful of times I’ve felt what I think is fear:
- The cover of Echoes of Terror, just could not look at it!
- The window scene in Salem’s Lot, couldn’t have the curtains open at night for a long time.
- Walking home alone at night after watching a David Cronenberg film (Rabid) at the local youth club. I walked past a house and saw a black dog-like ‘thing’ with glowing white eyes down a dark pathway, it was hunched over and ready to pounce. I ran the rest of the way home, convinced I’d seen a Hound of Tindalos. I plucked up the courage to go back and investigate the following morning and it turned out to be a black bin bag full of rubbish, the eyes were two small pools of rainwater which had collected in the creases and caught the streetlight.
These three events all happened when I was around 10 or 11 years old, but they are rarities. I was always that boy who would accept the dare to walk through the graveyard alone at night. I was the boy who dared to lay down on Matilda’s Grave while another boy walked around it three times widdershins to see if I really would be pulled down by the icy hands of Matilda’s corpse (a local legend where I grew up). I was the boy who, had he been a character in a horror film, would most certainly have been the one to die first!
So, where does this
courage stupidity come from? Who knows? Is it due to being desensitised to horror as a child? I did watch a lot of horror films at a very young age, everything from the early Universals, through the Hammers, right up to the modern horrors of the Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and most of Cronenberg’s output (and talking of Cronenberg, why did our local youth club think it was a good idea to show a bunch of 10 year old children films like Rabid, Dawn of the Dead and Shogun Assassin? Never really understood that, but I’m not complaining!). Or is it due to me being raised in a strictly atheist household, which is something that never really felt quite right to me, but perhaps the constant reminder of there being no such thing as the ‘other’ instilled some sort of logical mindset which overwrote any impulsive settings?
Just to be clear, when I am talking about fear I am talking about the sharp, electric shock sensation of fear, that bright blue flash of terror which makes us want to run away; or that sense of stomach-churning revulsion we get when we’re exposed to gore; or that cold chill that sends a creeping feeling up our backs and makes the hairs on our necks stand on end. Those are the things I classify as fear. I’m not talking about dread, that deep, black sense of existential despair when we realise that everything in life is completely pointless (I’m no stranger to that one, unfortunately).
Anyway, excuse my ramblings, on with the book.
As I said, this is an anthology with a difference. True, it does have rather a classy contents list but, as good as they may be, it’s not the stories that make the difference:
- A Madman’s Manuscript by Charles Dickens
- Three in a Bed by Lord Halifax
- Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
- Dracula (an extract) by Bram Stoker
- The Furnished Room by O Henry
- The Forsaken of God by William Mudford
- The Werewolf by Frederick Marryat
- The Midnight Embrace by Matthew Lewis
- The Devil’s Wager by William Makepeace Thackeray
- The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs
- The Seventh Pullet by Saki
No, what makes this volume special is the illustrations; it’s really a vehicle to showcase those wonderful British horror and fantasy artists of the 1970s. And not just small poorly reproduced pictures; we’re talking glossy, full page plates. The bulk of the work is given to the great Les Edwards but we also have work by Jim Burns, Gordon Crabb, Bob Fowke, Peter Goodfellow, Stuart Hughes, Terry Oakes and George Smith.
All of these artists were represented by the Young Artists Agency, an organisation setup in 1970 by the musician and author, John B. Spencer. Spencer was involved in the pub-rock/folk-rock scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s and had a few novels of his own published; he was also the co-editor of this very volume, Echoes of Terror.
If you’d like to know more about the various artists then here are some links to their websites (where available):
Anyone with a passing interest in the genre will no doubt recognise at least a few of the magnificent pieces in this book, many of them were widely used in books and magazines at the time. Just imagine the sheer delight of my youthful mind when I flicked through the pages and realised that I already knew some of these pictures from the covers of paperbacks in my very own burgeoning collection!
Obviously, I wish I had taken better care of it and that the dust jacket wasn’t in such a mess; but that’s life, isn’t it? This book followed me through my childhood; through my teenage years; through a few disreputable bedsits… often not even leaving the gradually disintegrating cardboard boxes my possessions were kept in. The oversized hardbacks just weren’t as easy to look after as the neat and compact paperbacks. But, the important thing is that I still have it after all these years, safely stored on my grown-up shelves. Let’s call it “well loved”… despite that picture on the front cover (by Gordon Crabb, by the way).
And here’s a big thank you to all those artists who took those childhood fears from the dark ginnels of our minds and dragged them out into the light so we could see them all the better. Actually…
…was that such a good thing???