I happened across an excellent roundtable on Horror History 101 at the Horror Writer’s Association (http://horror.org/horror-roundtable-16-horror-history-101/) today while at lunch. Check it out. It has a great panel of experts and a wide-ranging discussion of the great horror writers of the past from the beginning of horror with Horace Walpole up to Lovecraft and more.
If you are an avid reader (of anything) and are not familiar with Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page), you are doing yourself a great disservice. As they state on their homepage:
“Project Gutenberg offers over 46,000 free ebooks: choose among free epub books, free kindle books, download them or read them online.
We carry high quality ebooks: All our ebooks were previously published by bona fide publishers. We digitized and diligently proofread them with the help of thousands of volunteers.
No fee or registration is required, but if you find Project Gutenberg useful, we kindly ask you to donate a small amount so we can buy and digitize more books. Other ways to help include digitizing more books,recording audio books, or reporting errors.
Over 100,000 free ebooks are available through our Partners, Affiliates and Resources…Our ebooks may be freely used in the United States because most are not protected by U.S. copyright law, usually because their copyrights have expired. They may not be free of copyright in other countries. Readers outside of the United States must check the copyright laws of their countries before downloading or redistributing our ebooks. We also have a number of copyrighted titles, for which the copyright holder has given permission for unlimited non-commercial worldwide use.”
As they state, most of these books are available because their copyrights have expired, making them usually quite dated. However, for anyone with a bent for the historical, Project Gutenberg is a gold mine. I did a quick search for “horror” on their website and received 169 titles in response. For a few, the only relation to the horror genre was the word “horror” in the title (such as “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases–which is a horrible subject, but is non-fiction vs. horror fiction). However, many are the classics or founding works of the horror genre, such as Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Vampyre: a Tale by John William Polidori, The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, Fantome de’l Opera (Phantom of the Opera) by Gaston Leroux, many works by Edgar Allan Poe, The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen, The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, The Shunned House by H.P. Lovecraft, and many others.
Please take the time to visit this treasure trove of literature and of the horror genre, and if you are so inclined, please consider making a donation (via their website) to support their worthy cause.
I am a member of GoodReads.com as are several of my friends. One, a gentleman named Tim Stamps, whom I have known since my college days at Eastern Kentucky University, recently posted a review of Dracula, on which I commented. Thus began a brief conversation which I think you may find interesting for several reasons. I have quoted it below, editing out any non-relevant personal matters (after having obtained Tim’s permission to post it).
Tim Stamps’s Reviews > Dracula
Last night, I watched an adaptation of Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House” on the Masters of Horror series (season 1, episode 2) on Netflix . Afterwards, being late and time for bed, instead of finding the story on Project Gutenberg or some other cost-free source so that I could read it firsthand, I read a summary of the story on Wikipedia to see if the adaptation was at least reasonably accurate. It seemed to be, even though the story was set in the modern day and the ending varied significantly from the original. But, in accordance with today’s tastes, it was rather bloody and cruel in ways I am sure Lovecraft never intended (I say this after having read a considerable amount of his most famous works).
The most interesting aspect of the story to me was not the story itself, but speculating on how Lovecraft came up with the story’s concept.
I understand from the Wikipedia article that Lovecraft had recently attended a lecture and read up somewhat on non-Euclidean space. Apparently, he was intrigued with the idea of existence on different planes. Somehow he came up with the idea that the different planes of existence might intersect and beings would be able to move from one plane to the next. This is the concept that the protagonist of the story, Walter Gilman (a graduate student in Physics) is studying when he moves into the Witch house, which was a boarding house in the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, but three hundred years ago was the residence of a witch. Gilman, as I interpret the TV story, notices that the corner formed by the intersection of two walls and the ceiling in his room coincides with the intersection of three dimensions. It is this intersection that the witch who previously resided in the house and her familiar (a really nasty creature combining a rat with the face of a man) uses to re-enter the house in the modern day and create havoc for Gilman and the other residents. I won’t give away the ending, but it is a good story and probably one of the more reasonably accurate adaptations of a Lovecraft story that you are likely to find.
What I found most interesting was speculating if how Lovecraft came up with the story was to be looking at the intersection of three walls in his house and wonder if different planes of existence could intersect like that and, if they could, could creatures use the intersection to move from one plane to the other? I am always fascinated by how writers come up with ideas for their works. Did you ever wonder what spurred Richard Matheson to write I am Legend or Stephen King to write Carrie?
I know that some authors of Horror (such as Algernon Blackwood, Lord Dunsany, and Arthur Machen) were intrigued by the idea of a plane of existence beyond what we take for reality, that what we perceive as reality may actually just mask the true reality. Apparently, Lovecraft was thus intrigued as well and used his ideas of a possible alternative reality as the foundation for what others would later term “the Cthulhu Mythos”.
After having contemplated this since last night, I have been asking myself, what did these intelligent men see in their interpretations of the everyday world that would lead them to believe in the possible existence of an alternative reality? Based upon my experience with humanity, I have come to realize that some people have some downright bizarre concepts of the world around them, but how did these concepts originate? What causes their perceptions to be so radically different from mine? Is it a matter of genetics that causes their synapses to be linked together differently? Do they have slightly different body chemistries influencing their thoughts? Is it that they simply encountered different views of the world as they grew up? Is there a reality that they can perceive but I cannot–in the same way as I can see the workings of God in everything about me, but others do not and thus call themselves atheists and agnostics?
What are your thoughts?
Some writers have interesting habits.
I have always found one of the most interesting aspects of studying the lives of famous writers to be the personal habits they have while writing. The habits show the writer’s personal side and perhaps give an insight into how their creativity is ingrained in their natures. Following are some examples of the better known habits of mainstream authors (the few examples I have collected of “horror habits” follow these).
Hemingway said that he, at least in his Paris years, wrote for four hours each day before going to work at the Kansas City Star office, he wrote using pencils and a spiral bound notebook, and he started each days writing by sharpening twenty pencis.
F. Scott Fitzgerald never rewrote anything less than nine times.
Thomas Mann was very disciplined and rose and dressed in a suit each day as if he were going to work at a bank (even though he was going only so far as his living room), started each day at the same time (I think 8:00 a.m.), wrote for four hours, broke for lunch for an hour, wrote for another four hours, and then ended his day, by going back to his bedroom and taking off his suit.
Hunter Thompson and Henry Miller were at the opposite end of the discipline scale and might write for days, then not write again for days or weeks, before going on another binge of writing. Thompson might write some lines on a napkin while having lunch at a restaurant, then take the napkin and force it through a fax to get the work to his editors at Rolling Stone.
Here are the tidbits on writing habits by authors of horror.
Thomas Cotterill, another WordPress member, wrote this interesting article on the habits of Stephen King. I have read elsewhere that Stephen King normally writes a first draft, which he runs past his wife, Tabitha, makes some changes and then sends it out to friends for their inputs, and then writes a final draft, which he sends to the publisher.
I have yet to find anything detailed about Poe’s habits, but I did find this general description on the website of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.
“Edgar A. Poe, one of the Editors of the Broadway Journal. He never rests. There is a small steam-engine in his brain, which not only sets the cerebral mass in motion, but keeps the owner in hot water. His face is a fine one, and well gifted with intellectual beauty. Ideality, with the power of analysis, is shown in his very broad, high and massive forehead — a forehead which would have delighted Gall beyond measure. He would have have [[sic]] made a capital lawyer — not a very good advocate, perhaps, but a famous unraveller of all subtleties. He can thread his way through a labyrinth of absurdities, and pick out the sound thread of sense from the tangled skein with which it is connected. He means to be candid, and labours under the strange hallucination that he is so; but he has strong prejudices, and, without the least intention of irreverence, would wage war with the Deity, if the divine canons militated against his notions. His sarcasm is subtle and searching. He can do nothing in the common way; and buttons his coat after a fashion peculiarly his own. If we ever caught him doing a thing like any body else, or found him reading a book any other way than upside down, we should implore his friends to send for a straitjacket, and a Bedlam doctor. He were mad, then, to a certtainty.” — (Thomas Dunn English, “Notes About Men of Note,” The Aristidean, April 1845, p. 153. At this time, Poe and English were still friends, and the tone of this item is happy and jocular. In reviewing this issue of the Aristidean in his own Broadway Journal, for May 3, 1845, Poe comments “. . . the ‘Notes about Men of Note’ are amusing” (BJ, 1845, p. 285, col. 1).)
Dean Koontz says this about his own writing habits on his website:
“I work 10- and 11-hour days because in long sessions I fall away more completely into story and characters than I would in, say, a six-hour day. On good days, I might wind up with five or six pages of finished work; on bad days, a third of a page. Even five or six is not a high rate of production for a 10- or 11-hour day, but there are more good days than bad. And the secret is doing it day after day, committing to it and avoiding distractions. A month–perhaps 22 to 25 work days–goes by and, as a slow drip of water can fill a huge cauldron in a month, so you discover that you have 75 polished pages. The process is slow, but that’s a good thing. Because I don’t do a quick first draft and then revise it, I have plenty of time to let the subconscious work; therefore, I am led to surprise after surprise that enriches story and deepens character. I have a low boredom threshold, and in part I suspect I fell into this method of working in order to keep myself mystified about the direction of the piece–and therefore entertained. A very long novel, like FROM THE CORNER OF HIS EYE can take a year. A book like THE GOOD GUY, six months.”
Here is an interesting interview by M.R. Hunter with Richard Matheson in Lastheplace.com. Apparently, Mr. Matheson does not have a computer, but writes everything in longhand and then has it typed up.
I have yet to find anything on Lovecraft’s writing habits, but here is a link to HPLovecraft.com that details his personal interests including his unusual dietary habits.
Lord Dunsany had the most eccentric habits of which I have heard. The Wikipedia article on Lord Dunsany states:
“Dunsany’s writing habits were considered peculiar by some. Lady Beatrice said that “He always sat on a crumpled old hat while composing his tales.” (The hat was eventually stolen by a visitor to Dunsany Castle.) Dunsany almost never rewrote anything; everything he ever published was a first draft. Much of his work was penned with quill pens, which he made himself; Lady Beatrice was usually the first to see the writings, and would help type them. It has been said that Lord Dunsany would sometimes conceive stories while hunting, and would return to the Castle and draw in his family and servants to re-enact his visions before he set them on paper.”
If you know of a source for information on the work habits of one or more horror writers, please share it. If you are searching for a topic of an article to write, I would like to suggest writing on the work habits (or interests) of horror writers. It would be fascinating to see if there is a common thread among them or if they vary from the habits of mainstream authors. For example, I have found out that Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, and Bram Stoker were members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Anyway, I am now officially rambling.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, please share them.
Over the last couple of hours I have been wandering the Internet, searching for interesting tidbits about writers of horror to post on my blog. I have been noting how Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, and M.R. James and a host of others influenced Lovecraft, who in turn influenced Stephen King along with generations of writers and film producers, and how Poe influenced them all. Of course, the next question that came to me was “who influenced Poe?”
I did a quick, cursory search of the Internet and found no good answer. A few speculated that he was influenced by the events of his life (duh, aren’t we all?), while a few others speculated that he was influenced by other prominent authors of his time (again: duh, aren’t we all). No one I found yet seems to be able to cite Poe’s influences like they can of Lovecraft, King, or others.
Does anyone know of a reliable source that cites the authors that Poe read?
(February 17, 2013) Here is the beginning of an answer to my question. Follow this link to the article “The Influence of E.T.A. Hoffmann on the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe” by Palmer Cobb, in Volume III of Studies in Philology, The University Press, Chapel Hill, 1908.
If they tried really hard, the majority of the public could perhaps name only four writers of horror: Stephen King, H.P.Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and Clive Barker. Fans of the horror genre could doubtlessly name many more with the number of the authors they could name reflecting the intensity of their interest. For example, a person who can name fifteen authors of horror most likely has a more intense interest in the genre than someone who can name only five.
I would say that it is a safe bet that one or more of these authors are the topics in least 75% of all the conversations about horror literature going on at any one moment. While we amateurs can improve our skills from studying these four, I think we have a lot to learn from studying authors other than these four.
I recently read a compilation of stories that Lovecraft cites in his work “Supernatural Horror in Literature”. Of course, only Poe appears among his cited predecessors. Most of his influences are writers probably most of the modern public has never heard of (Lord Dunsany, Edward Lucas White, Arthur Machen, etc.) though they were as well known in their time as Dean Koontz and Peter Straub are today.
My question to you is: who are the unrecognized masters of horror that the modern public should know but in all likelihood do not? Whose name does not usually make it into any top ten list of masters of horror but should?