The Evil People, 1974 Ensign Books (ed. Peter Haining)

the evil people copy

Peter Haining! Everyone’s favourite horror anthologist. His output was staggering, between 1965 and his death in 2007 he produced well in excess of a hundred horror anthologies. Add to this several non-horror anthologies, dozens of non-fiction books, a handful of short stories and a couple of novels, and you’ve got quite a body of work.

Originally published in 1968 (my copy is the 1974 edition from Ensign Books), this is one of Haining’s early anthologies.

Haining kicks off his brief introduction with an adapted passage from Aleister Crowley:

I burn the Devil-cake, proclaim
These adorations of Thy name.
Behold this bleeding breast of mine
Gashed with the sacramental sign!
I stanch the Blood; the wafer soaks
It up, and the high priest invokes!
This Bread I eat. This Oath I swear
As I enflame myself with prayer:
“There is no grace: there is no guilt:
This is the Law: DO WHAT THOU WILT!”

This is an excerpt from Crowley’s infamous Thelemic ritual known as The Mass of the Phoenix from his 1913 publication The Book of Lies. However, the first line has been altered for this volume “Devil-cake” should actually read “Incense-cake”. Whether Haining made a genuine error or whether he altered it with a view to sensationalism I don’t know, but it does set the tone nicely for the thirteen stories of sorcery, Satanism, black magic and assorted witchery which follow.

Introduction – Peter Haining
William Harrison Ainsworth – Nocturnal Meeting
H. P. Lovecraft – The Peabody Heritage
W. B. Seabrook – The Witches Vengeance
Dennis Wheatley – The Snake
August Derleth – Prince Borgia’s Mass
Algernon Blackwood – Secret Worship
Francis Prevot – The Devil Worshipper
Basil Copper – Archives Of The Dead
Robert Bloch – Mother Of Serpents
Arthur J. Burks – Cerimarie
Shirley Jackson – The Witch­
Ray Bradbury – Homecoming
Edgar Allan Poe – Never Bet The Devil Your Head

H i g h l i g h t s  &  L o w l i g h t s

H.P. Lovecraft – The Peabody Heritage

This is a rather plodding, workmanlike affair concerning an inherited house and the realisation of the new owner that his ancestors were a little on the unsavoury side. This story is not actually by Lovecraft himself but by his post-mortem publisher and populariser, August Derleth. Derleth took several incomplete stories of Lovecraft’s, some of which were only fragments, and wove his own stories around them. Many believe that Derleth’s stories lack the depth, the all-encompassing despair and existential horror of Lovecraft and this certainly seems to be the case here. For a more Lovecraftian experience along similar themes, try his own The Rats in the Walls.

W.B. Seabrook – The Witches Vengeance

William Buehler Seabrook, soldier, adventurer, explorer, occultist, journalist, author, self-proclaimed cannibal, ex-asylum inmate, associate of Aleister Crowley, the man who allegedly brought the zombie shambling into popular culture and, finally, suicide victim. What a guy!! This book wouldn’t be complete without this tale of witchcraft among the rural population in the mountains of the South of France. Written in first person, Seabrook has placed himself as the narrator which gives the story a conversational tone and air of believability. Who knows? Given his background, perhaps it is true. I can see Mr Seabrook getting a blogpost all of his own here at some point.

Algernon Blackwood – Secret Worship

It’s always a joy to see Blackwood in a contents list, he’s one of the finest writers in the genre. This is one of his series of stories which include the character John Silence, the psychic doctor. The name and tagline of John Silence may suggest a sub-Holmesian psychic detective character, a stout chap battling the forces of evil and all that, but Blackwood is a far more subtle writer than that. John Silence is merely a one dimensional background character who Blackwood uses as a cipher to resolve the supernatural stories. Described as a small man in tweeds with wonderful eyes, Silence sits somewhere between a Christ figure and a post-Freudian rationalist.

Shirley Jackson – The Witch­

Shirley Jackson writes with such a beautiful and subversive ambiguity. She may be better known for her novel The Haunting of Hill House (which was adapted for the wonderful 1963 film The Haunting) and her infamous short story The Lottery (first published in 1948 by The New Yorker, who went on to receive hundreds of letters from confused and angry readers. The story was later banned in South Africa). Here, Jackson gives us her trademark ambiguity with a disturbing little story about a mother and her two young children on a train journey. Spreading over just four pages, there is dark and chilling subtext to this story which always manages to stay just out of reach. The more you grasp at it the more it slips away. This is one of those stories that lurks in the corners of your mind for a long time and demands reread after reread.

When Churchyards Yawn, Arrow 1963 (ed. Lady Cynthia Asquith)

A little about the title of my blog. It is, of course, a line from a writer whose work went a long way to shaping the modern horror story, William Shakespeare. Now, there was an author that could craft a chilling tale. If you consider the psychological horror of Macbeth, the serial killer thriller of Richard III, the ghost story of Hamlet or the out and out splatter-fest of Titus Andronicus you realise that Shakespeare was a genre writer through and through (…ok, he liked to do the odd rom-com too, but we’ll forgive him that).

I saw an RSC production of Titus Andronicus a year or so ago. So much blood!

So much blood!

The stage was awash with it, to the point of the bespattered audience members in the front row complaining to the management about the damage done to their clothes, not expecting a gentle evening of high culture to end in a veritable bloodbath.

So, back to the title of the blog. It comes from Hamlet:

Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on.

But, as much as I love Shakespeare, this is a blog about mid-20th century horror paperbacks so I didn’t choose the title from Hamlet but from this anthology of ghost stories edited by Lady Cynthia Asquith:

when churchyards yawn copy

Now then, this book isn’t actually from my own collection. Well, it sort of is….it sits on the shelves along with my collection. I’ve collected these horror paperbacks since I was around 10 years old. They fascinated me. I would pick them up from jumble sales whenever I found them (…or whenever I could afford them (times were ‘ard back then)).

Anyway, skip forward ten years or so and I met the girl who was to become my wife. When I first walked into her bedroom her bookshelf stared me in the face…Peter Haining, Dennis Wheatley, Pan Horror, Fontana Ghosts…she had been collecting them since her childhood too! So this book rightly belongs to my wife, Samantha.

I’ve just read that paragraph back to myself. A young man walks into the bedroom of a young lady for the first time and all he can do is obsess about her bookshelf………and that’s not even a euphemism! Well, you play the hand you’re dealt, I suppose.

Contents

The Apple Tree – Elizabeth Bowen

A Little Ghost – Hugh Walpole

The Cotillon – L. P. Hartley

The Buick Saloon – Ann Bridge

A Threefold Cord… – Algernon Blackwood

Opening the Door – Arthur Machen

As In a Glass Dimly – Shane Leslie

The Horns of the Bull – W. S. Morrison

The Man Who Came Back – William Gerhardi

The Unbolted Door – Mrs. Belloc Lowndes

“John Gladwin Says…” – Oliver Onions

Our Feathered Friends – Philip MacDonald

“God Grante That She Lye Stille” – Cynthia Asquith

 

Edited by Lady Cynthia Asquith, this anthology was first published in hardback form by Hutchinson in 1931 and the stories included, although appearing in many anthologies in the following decades, would mostly have been first published here. It’s a classy line-up, Asquith usually stuck with a similar list of authors for her anthologies and, why not? When you can have a contents page like this, why go elsewhere?

The highlights of this anthology for me are The Cotillon by L. P. Hartley and Our Feathered Friends by Philip MacDonald.

Hartley is a master of portraying the dangerous subtext within passionate relationships, as in his novel The Go-Between, and he doesn’t disappoint here in this wonderfully gothic tale set during a masked dance in the middle of winter. 78 masked guests should be present at the dance but, after a sash window is discovered open with the snow blowing in, a 79th masked guest has arrived!

MacDonald offers a very simple tale but tells it in such a hypnotic way it can’t fail to draw the reader in. MacDonald has a very cinematic writing style and uses it well here, at the opening of the story the reader is viewing the two characters as small parts in a panoramic landscape and as the tension increases he slowly pans us in closer and closer until we’re right on top of the action at the gruesome denouement.

For anyone out there that’s new to early to mid-20th century supernatural fiction, you could do a lot worse than getting hold of Lady Cynthia’s anthologies. She breaks no new ground here, most of the authors are well established in their writing careers, but it is a good solid read nonetheless.