The Hell of Mirrors, 1965, Four Square (ed. Peter Haining)

After getting all new-fangled in my last post I thought I’d retreat back to my comfort zone again. We know we’re in a safe pair of hands with Peter Haining so let’s go with the young Mr. Haining’s second anthology The Hell of Mirrors (no, that’s not a misprint but more of that later).

Four Square books had some great cover designs and this one’s no exception. I particularly like that title bar, which was so good they printed it on the back cover too.

hell of mirrors

As Haining states in his brief introduction, this anthology contains stories covering two centuries and five countries.

C O N T E N T S

The Werewolf – Frederick Marryat

Ligeia – Edgar Allan Poe

The Black Cat – Edgar Allan Poe

Young Goodman Brown – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Schalken the Painter – J. S. Le Fanu

The Middle Toe of the Right Foot – Ambrose Bierce

The Damned Thing – Ambrose Bierce

The Squaw – Bram Stoker

Who Knows? – Guy de Maupassant

The Drowned Man – Guy de Maupassant

The Caterpillar – Edogawa Rampo

The Hell of Mirrors – Edogawa Rampo

The Knocking in the Castle – Henry Slesar

The Fanatic – Arthur Porges

 

Lets skim through the contents then. Among others, Haining  gives us a duo of de Maupassants, a brace of Bierces and a pair of Poes, but what we really want to be talking about here are the two tales from Edogawa Rampo.

Edogawa Rampo is the nom-de-plume of the Japanese author and translator, Tarō Hirai (1894-1965). He’s still not that well known in the West but he’s considered a master of the genre in his own country. Being a huge fan of Western horror and mystery fiction, particularly the works of Edgar Allan Poe, he took the decision to write under the name of Edogawa Rampo as a Japanese rendering of Poe’s name (…go on, say Edogawa Rampo in a Japanese accent and see how it sounds, you know you want to!).

Aside from his horror tales he also wrote Detective fiction, creating the first popular Japanese detective, Kogoro Akechi. Rampo was also a fan and translator of Arthur Conan Doyle and his detective is based upon Sherlock Holmes.

But we’re concentrating on his horror tales. They were first translated into English in the mid-1950s under a collection called, keeping to the Poe theme, Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination. The two stories we have here are from that collection and I believe this is the first time Rampo was anthologised in the West. Interestingly, he died in 1965, the same year as this publication so whether it was something to do with publication rights opening up or not, I don’t know.

Rampo’s tales are among the creepiest and memorable I have read. There’s something quite wonderfully distasteful about them. Thematically, these works fall into the category which gained popularity in 1920’s Japan, ‘Ero guro nansensu’. This is another Japanese rendering of English words, Erotic Grotesque Nonsense. As you can imagine one of the main themes is sexual abnormality.

The first tale, The Caterpillar, concerns a military veteran invalided out of the army due to the severity of his injuries. He has lost both arms and both legs, his face is completely disfigured, he has no hearing and cannot speak. He is the caterpillar of the title. His wife looks after him in a lonely house in the grounds of her husband’s commanding officer’s mansion. No one visits and the unkempt gardens are overgrown and full of snakes and abandoned wells. The story deals with the wife’s loneliness, fantasies, guilt and mental decline. This story was banned in Japan in the run-up to WW2 as it was thought it to cast the Japanese military in a poor light.

The second tale, from which the anthology takes its title, is The Hell of Mirrors. Rampo seems to have somewhat of an obsession with lenses, mirrors and optics as they feature in many of his earlier stories. Let’s hope he was never quite as obsessed as the protagonist of this story whom we follow from childhood and witness as his insanity grows along with his obsession. His experiments become more and more outrageous; starting from the building of his first telescope which, of course, he uses to spy through his neighbour’s windows, we’re taken on a wild and psychedelic journey through his deviances which, of course, end in disaster.

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.