Sunday, March 15, 2015


I've taken it upon myself to reread DANSE MACABRE by Stephen King. The last time I read it was in high school, and while I knew a lot about horror back then (to give you an idea, I graduated in 1996), I still had a lot yet to learn. I wanted to gauge my current knowledge, and as an adult at the age of thirty-six, I've discovered a lot since then, enough so I'm on the exact same page as King. There are still a couple of references I don't know about, but I'm sure by the time I reread this book at the age of fifty, I'll have that covered.

Most interestingly, however, I note the dedication page. King says, "It's easy enough--perhaps too easy--to memorialize the dead. This book is for six great writers of the macabre who are still alive." And then he lists them. Much to my sadness, I realized that all six of them are now dead.

If you'd asked me back then who my second favorite writer was (first favorite was King), I would have to say it was Robert Bloch. He adapted with the times. He built himself with Lovecraft and then moved on to his own style. No one did psychological horror like he did, and very few imbued it with his special brand of humor. He died in 1994, very shortly after I'd found his work. If you've never read ONCE AROUND THE BLOCH, his autobiography, I highly recommend it.

It is my shame to admit that I've never read anything by Jorge Luis Borges, but I've heard a lot of good things about his work. This is something I intend to fix at some point. He died in 1986, a mere five years after King wrote DANSE MACABRE.

There is nothing I can say about Ray Bradbury that hasn't been said a thousand times by writers better than I. His work is a sheer delight, and I'd be surprised if anyone reading this right now hasn't delved at least a little into his stories. I would be hard-pressed to name a favorite of his work, but if you put a gun to my head, I would probably say SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. He died a mere three years ago in 2012, the longest-living writer on King's list.

Frank Belknap Long contributed a great deal to Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. His writing has gone in many different directions, but he is most remembered for my favorite story of his, "The Hounds of Tindalos." I highly doubt you're reading this and you haven't read that short story, but if you haven't, make it your business to read it immediately. Like Bloch, he died shortly after I found his work in 1994.

Donald Wandrei is one of those writers you will find if you hang out in old pulps and anthology books. Usually, his name is uttered in the same breath as Lovecraft's and for very good reason. Of these writers, he is probably the least known, but he's a very good author. My favorite of his work is, hands down, "The Red Brain," which I reviewed here. Right now, I think this story is only available in the first volume of John Pelan's THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION, which can be found for a hefty sum here. Wandrei died in 1987, shortly after DANSE MACABRE was published.

And finally, we have Manly Wade Wellman. He's another writer you'll find if you like to read old anthologies (and every once in a while, a new-ish anthology). He is probably best known for his John the Balladeer stories about a wandering guitar player who helps out people with supernatural problems. I love it whenever I find one of these stories. I feel like I'm wandering myself, and when I find John, it's like hanging out with an old friend for a while. I could probably get a complete collection of his appearances, but that just wouldn't feel right. However, as much as I like him, I like John Thunstone even more. He's a hardcore supernatural investigator/warrior who had a particular beef with humanoid creatures known as the Shonokins. My favorite of Wellman's work, however, is a novel about John (sometimes called Silver John after his silver guitar strings, though Wellman wasn't fond of that appellation): AFTER DARK. He died in 1986.

King adds this final warning to readers: "Enter, Stranger, at your Riske: Here there be Tygers." A fitting warning for the dedication page. Tygers lurk in all six writers' works. If you're going to tackle them on my (and King's) say-so, beware. They're not for the faint of heart.

No comments:

Post a Comment