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American Supernatural Tales (Penguin Classics)
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book was published in 2007 and contained 26 short stories by as many authors. The works ranged from the 1820s (Washington Irving) to 2000 (Caitlin Kiernan). Of all the authors, three were women.

From the 19th century, there were tales by Irving, Hawthorne, Poe, Fitz-James O'Brien, Bierce, Robert Chambers and Henry James. For the period between 1900 and the late 1920s, nothing was included. From the late 20s through the end of WWII, there were Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard and Robert Bloch.

The postwar writers through the 1950s were represented by August Derleth, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont; nothing was included for the period between the mid-1950s and 1970. From the 1970s to 2000, there were T. E. D. Klein, Stephen King, Dennis Etchison, Thomas Ligotti, Karl Edward Wagner, Norman Partridge, David J. Schow, Joyce Carol Oates and Kiernan.

The editor is a scholar who's published widely on the supernatural tale and its authors. As such, the collection contained informative short biographies, including mentions of writers' key works and suggestions for further reading of them. Also included was a list of many books on history and criticism in the supernatural genre, but unfortunately little on other short-story anthologies.

The introduction defined the supernatural tale as something grounded in realism but focused emotionally and esthetically on a departure from nature's laws through things such as creatures (ghosts, vampires, werewolves) or events (for example, in a haunted house). This type of tale was distinguished from fantasy -- where all events would be set in an imaginary realm -- and psychological horror -- where the horror would stem entirely from aberrations of the mind. The introduction quoted Lovecraft's insistence that the supernatural tale should also contain an atmosphere of breathless, unexplainable dread of unknown forces.

The introduction named Poe, Bierce and Lovecraft as the three most influential American writers of supernatural tales. Poe transformed many Gothic elements into means of exploring the human soul; many of his best tales showed the breakdown of the mind when faced with the suspension of natural laws. Also important for later writers was his view that an emotion like fear could be generated most effectively by the short story. In contrast to Poe's fevered writing, Bierce provided models of stark, detached, cynical prose in his depictions of irrational fear and supernatural effects; he also effectively incorporated recognizably American settings such as battlefields of the Civil War and the geography of the American West. Lovecraft transformed the supernatural tale by moving beyond ghosts and hauntings to locate the source of dread in "boundless realms of space and time, where entities of the most bizarre sort could plausibly be hypothesized to exist, well beyond the reach of even the most advanced human knowledge." He also mentored or otherwise affected later authors such as Derleth, Bloch, Leiber, Bradbury and Matheson.

In the 1940s and 50s, partly influenced by Lovecraft's direction and partly reacting against his flamboyant tales and language, writers like Leiber, Bradbury, Matheson and Charles Beaumont further expanded the range of the tale by setting it in the present, in cities, small towns and suburbs, and in daily, mundane reality.

Other factors affecting the development of supernatural fiction, as described in the introduction, were the prejudice of mainstream literary critics from at least the 1920s onward against works that departed from strict social realism; the growth of pulp magazines such as Weird Tales, also from the 1920s, that served as havens for the tale; the overtaking of the pulps in the 1950s by fantasy and SF; and the growth of the paperback book market, which generated markets for mystery, the Western, SF and fantasy, but not the supernatural. From the late 1960s/early 1970s, a spate of horror novels by Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty and King and successful film adaptations made horror a blockbuster genre, while King's success as a horror novelist was said to mark the downfall of the short story as the main vehicle for the supernatural.

The 1980s were described as a time of growing attention to newer trends such as dark fantasy -- horror conveyed through subtlety rather than blood and gore -- and splatterpunk -- the graphic depiction of violence, mixed with pop culture references, emphasizing the futility of modern life. The 1990s were described as a time of waning of the horror novel boom, which had spawned much that was mediocre and calculated. Among the current writers worthy of praise, the introduction mentioned Norman Partridge and Caitlin Kiernan (who were included) and Brian Hodge, Douglas Clegg and Jack Cady (who weren't).

Aside from all the authors who wrote mainly on the supernatural, those in the mainstream who sometimes made use of the genre to convey their conceptions of humanity included Hawthorne and James in the 19th century, and Shirley Jackson and Joyce Carol Oates in the 20th.

Among the classics included in the collection were Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher," O'Brien's "What Was It?" Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu," Leiber's "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" and Klein's "The Events at Poroth Farm." Most enjoyed by this reader were a tale by Hawthorne about a haunted portrait, set in Boston before the American Revolution; Klein's story set on an isolated farm in New Jersey; Ligotti's story that mixed a city seen in dreams and the quest for dark knowledge; and Partridge's rather traditional tale of an Indian spirit, fascinating because it was narrated from the spirit's point of view. The works by Leiber and Beaumont were especially interesting for their social commentary, comparing advertising with vampirism, and conformity with invisibility.

In comparison with, say, supernatural stories by British writers -- W. W. Jacobs, M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, E. F. Benson, May Sinclair, D. H. Lawrence, A. M. Burrage, Robert Aickman, L. P. Hartley, Rosemary Timperley, Elizabeth Walter, David Riley and Tanith Lee -- some of the tales from the 1920s onward seemed a bit garish, lacking something in atmosphere or the psychological dimension. Exceptions for this reader were the stories by Smith, Jackson, Matheson, Klein, Ligotti, Wagner and Partridge.

The American writers of chilling, poignant, humorous or otherwise interesting supernatural tales not included in this collection would fill another volume at least: from the 19th century, William Austin, Mary Wilkins Freeman and F. Marion Crawford. From the first half of the 20th century, Edith Wharton, Edward Lucas White and Manly Wade Wellman. From the second half, Ted Sturgeon, Patricia Highsmith, Cyril Kornbluth, Parke Godwin, Edward D. Hoch, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Adobe James, Thomas Disch, Bill Pronzini, Michael Shea, Jack Chalker, Orson Scott Card and Paul Bowles (in "Allal"). Works by many of these writers can be found in Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (1944), Ghostly Tales to Be Told (1963), the Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural (1981), Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural (1985), The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories (1986), The Dark Descent (1987), Haunted Houses: The Greatest Stories (1997) and Great Ghost Stories (2004), among others. In particular, Great Tales, Masterpieces, and Dark Descent are larger collections that give good overviews, though they also include authors besides American ones and cover psychological horror and the ambiguous/surreal as well as the supernatural.

From the editor's introduction:

"To the extent that it draws upon the past --- [suggesting] a world of shadow behind or beyond that of ordinary reality --- [the supernatural tale] appears to represent a permanent phase of the human imagination, and as such it will remain perennially vital as a literary mode. Its emphasis upon fear, wonder, and terror may perhaps render it a cultivated taste, but the flickering light it casts upon those darker corners of the human psyche will bestow upon it a fascination, and a relevance, to those courageous enough to look upon its revelations with an unflinching gaze."
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2011
Format: Paperback
S.T. Joshi has been at the forefront of critical and academic evaluations and re-evaluations of American horror stories for the last 20 years, most notably in the field of Lovecraft studies. American Supernatural Tales has a list of writers it's mostly hard to argue with (OK, I'd argue against the inclusion of August Derleth and for the inclusion of Edith Wharton, whom Joshi dismisses as a Henry James imitator). OK, I'd also leave out Charles Beaumont. And where's Thomas Disch?

The trick with one of these anthologies is to somehow balance the unfamiliar with the familiarly essential, all within the confines of one volume. Virtually all the writers here really are signposts on the road of American horror fiction. Some represent a problem because of the sheer volume of their output; others do not.

"The Yellow Sign" by Robert W. Chambers, for instance, really is pretty much the only story one could choose from this prolific writer of a century ago, introducing as it does the trope of the Forbidden Book into American horror. "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" by Clark Ashton Smith is a fine selection from a writer who could supply any one of at least 20 stories for this volume. Henry James's "The Real Right Thing" works as an example of how James used the ghost story for psychological reasons -- and really didn't scare anybody outside of "The Turn of the Screw."

This is a great place to start if one hasn't read much horror fiction, American or otherwise. Modern masters such as Caitlin Kiernan and Thomas Ligotti get fairly representative examples. King's "Night Surf," a dry run for The Stand, seems a bit out-of-place, as does Robert Bloch's frankly goofy "Black Bargain," which has not aged all that well. Still, there's a wealth of supernatural fiction here -- solid stories, names to follow, decent biographical and historical information.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
I found this at my university library. The first story I read was a T.E.D. Klein tale, and after that I was hooked. I grew up reading pulpy horror, and vividly remember being caught by my stern housemaster, hiding crouched in a coat closet with a copy of "The Doll Who Ate His Mother" when I should have been at congregation practice, and then being dragged down the hall while he reprimanded me for reading "this rubbish." (He confiscated the book, but eventually returned it.) O, how I suffered for my horror stories!

Then, I gave up such rubbish in my late teens-early 20's when I went to college. Recently, though, I rediscovered it reading the Blackwater books by Michael McDowell. There is some fine writing in horror fiction.

So. While reading Blackwater, I discovered this book, and read a few stories. They are of uneven quality, and although some of them are really not very good--sophomoric prose, thin characterization, simplistic plot--they are nevertheless interesting as examples of vintage "weird" genre. And, refreshingly, Joshi does not worship at the altar of Stephen King (although there is a story by him in this collection) and in fact offers some unkind--but accurate--words about his work. From this book, I went on to read Lovecraft, and what a treat he has been...how had I missed him in my youth?

This is a worthwhile collection of short stories, good reading for anyone interested in supernatural fiction. It set me on a new path. Or realigned me on an old one, I dunno....In any case, it's worth a look at at the used book prices I see currently. There is some fine fiction in this volume; I enjoyed it a great deal.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
(Note: this review has nothing to do with the Kindle format of this product, or the time it took to ship).

Edited by S.T. Joshi, who probably knows more about supernatural fiction than any other living American, the works collected in this volume display the true literary potential of the horror genre. Don't expect gratuitous gore and violence, blood thirsty hordes of flesh-eating zombies or seductively brooding vampires though; the tales compiled here rely on probing psychological insight, a skillful blending of the real with the fantastic, as well as genuine imagination and prose writing ability in order to shock and entertain. Joshi does an admirable job balancing stories from such well-known writers as Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Stephan King and Joyce Carol Oates with more obscure writers that the more casual horror fan might not be so familiar with. Overall, this collection is a great introduction to horror writing as a serious art form and sure to please readers who are already fans of the genre.

One complaint though: the preface to each tale (which are helpful for understanding some of the more challenging works, like "The Death of Halpin Frayser" for example) often contain spoilers to the stories they introduce. Read them after the story though and you should be fine.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2008
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
S.T. Joshi has done the reader a great service, taking several of the most accomplished supernatural tales that the American fictional tradition has to offer, and placing them together in just one 477-page book. With the exception of Robert E. Howard's "Old Garfield's Heart" (a clunker that is so poorly written that it comes off as humorous), all the tales are either competent or good... But the most satisfying stories in the collection are, in my humble opinion:

Fitz-James O'Brien's "What Was It?"
Howard P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu"
Clark Ashton Smith's "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis"
Shirley Jackson's "A Visit"
T.E.D. Klein's "The Events at Poroth Farm"
Thomas Ligotti's "Vastarien"
Caitlin R. Kiernan's "In the Water Works (Birmingham, Alabama 1888)"

These are the ones which I found to have deft characterization, superb description, and/or exceptionally interesting plotting. If I had to pick just one favorite from the aforementioned stories, I'd tentatively say Smith's "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis"... The author's brooding and creative rendition of Martian landscapes, history, and life puts most contemporary dark fantasy to shame. Whatever your tastes, though, there should be at least one story you can appreciate... Joshi's anthology is truly a worthwhile investment, and I strongly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
For any lover of either short stories or horror, there's something in here to catch anyone's attention. Filled to the brim with various authors, most of whom I've embarrassingly never heard of, these are the fantastic tales that will make you squirm and tuck the blanket under your feet at night on top of smile with a fanatical satisfaction.

Admittidly this book is various horror and sci-fi and covers nearly the entire spectrum of the two genres. That being said...there are a few in here that will make you yawn and seem out of place. I won't name any because peoples' tastes are different, and you may enjoy the more tame mentally taunting pieces than I did.

But reguardless, you can read them for their historical value and the contribution to the series or bypass them because you won't have to wait long for something else with that special glimmer to grip your attention again. ....just...don't read it to children before bed time.
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on November 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover
S. T Joshi, an expert on fantastic and horror fiction, and an editor and biographer of H.P. Lovecraft, assembled this collection in 2007, with biographies of each of the twenty-six authors and his opinions of their stories.. It was republished in 2013 as part of a new Penguin Horror series edited by the famed Mexican auteur Guillermo Del Toro. The reprint includes not only a new series introduction by Del Toro but a fancy hardcover cover and black charcoal-ish coloring on the edges of the paper.
 
Joshi didn’t divide the stories by themes or schools or eras. He listed them chronologically and mentioned differences in passing. I am going to mention stories together by similarities, ignoring his ordering very slightly.
 
I was surprised with the gruesomeness of Washington Irving’s tale. He usually put humor into his supernatural tales and suggested in his most famous tale that the victim of the supernatural had been pranked. This time he gave the reader the options of regarding the German student as insane or damned. I was surprised that Joshi went with a rather obscure story of Nathaniel Hawthorne. He didn’t make that mistake with Poe.
 
So much for the golden oldies, who looked to the past and/or Europe. The next set of authors set their tales in their country and their present.
Fitz O’Brien told a tale of an invisible humanoid creature captured in mid-nineteenth century New York, a tale disturbing because the narrator, far from omniscient, could not make either head or tail of it.
Ambrose Bierce is of course most famous for a tale about a wretch trying to escape his fate in his mind. In this tale, a young wanderer meets his fate sleeping in the woods. In a dream, or rather nightmare, he is strangled to death by something that looks like his mother. In the waking world, he is found strangled, with his head on her tombstone. Awake or asleep, something is laughing, and Bierce’s description of that laugh is the main reason why I didn’t want to read this story again.
Robert Chambers set his tale among the sophisticates of 1890s New York. I was almost more interested in how the worldly but honorable young painter would deal with the sweet red-haired model than what the church watchman who reminded them of a coffin-worm was up to. The three of them end up destroyed by the movement of some vast and unfathomable supernatural machine.
I have the same complaint about the Henry James selection that I had about the Nathaniel Hawthorne selection; it isn’t a bad story, but Joshi could have done better.
And then comes the three musketeers of Weird Tales, the great horror magazine of the first half of the century. Joshi for once did pick the most representative story for a great author, for what could be more Lovecraftian that Cthulhu? I was fascinated and maybe amused to read Clark Ashton Smith’s writing a splatter sci-fi story in such a stilted and old-fashioned manner. Robert E. Howard was the creator of the sword-and-sorcery genre but Joshi picked a story that had Howard using the rural Texas milieu that he lived in.
The next three writers – Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Fritz Leiber – were not only influenced by Lovecraft but counted him as a friend and mentor. Derleth founded Arkham House to publish Lovecraft’s work after the master’s death. Robert Bloch asked Lovecraft for permission to kill him in one of his stories and Lovecraft consented. (I’ve read the story; it is a hoot.) All of them wrote stories grounded in the Cthulhu mythos. None of them wrote like him. Bloch wrote like Dashiell Hammett and other urban crime writers, even when he wrote supernatural stories. His tale in this anthology has a bored and angry pharmacist noting that the supplies a customer is buying are not meant for medical purposes. Derleth’s contribution is a first-rate portrayal of childhood fear that is very true-to-life, if my memories of my childhood are accurate. I thought only Ray Bradbury wrote those kind of stories well. Fritz Leiber’s allegory of consumerism as vampirism is one of my favorites in this collection.
Joshi proceeds to two authors of the weird who had mainstream critical acclaim in their lifetimes. Re-reading Bradbury’s “The Fog Horn” brought back more childhood memories. I remember reading this as a young teenage boy in his “R is for Rocket” collection and loving it so much that I made my dad read it. As for Shirley Jackson, I found her stories of sensitive outcasts rejected and tormented by the greater outer world can hit nerves that I don’t want hit. Joshi’s selection of hers, “A Visit,” belongs to another type of story she wrote well, stories of supernatural menace whose causes, motions, and purposes are obscure and unexplained.
And then Joshi moved on to two authors known among other things for their work on the Twilight Zone. Richard Matheson’s tale was dramatized in that series; it was original and quite horrible (I mean, in the good sense.) Charles Beaumont’s contribution belongs to another type of Twilight Zone story, one that involves a grown man stuck in a twentieth century rut trying to break out of it by acting childish. Not my type of story, even though I am no model of maturity.
We come then to stories by authors who published after the sixties and Weird Tales and the Twilight Zone. T.E.D. Klein and Stephen King both expanded the stories published here into big fat novels. I read the one that Klein wrote and liked it. I haven’t King’s The Stand but I suspect that the atmospheric and restrained short story “Night Surf” is better.
I once quit reading a Dennis Etchison anthology because he excelled so well at setting horrors in everyday urban life that I feared that further reading would trigger another mini-breakdown like the one I had in that summer in Emporia. This story, where two men make the mistake of looking too closely at the guy manning the register in an all-night car stop is a fine example.
Well, I know you laugh when I talk or write like a pompous Manhattan sixties movie critic, but I must say Thomas Ligotti is probably the only dark fantasy writer of the last quarter of the twentieth century whose work should wind up in the Library of America. Joshi, for god knows what reason, placed his tale of a man caught in a nightmare next to a story by Karl Edward Wagner about a man caught in a nightmare. Wagner’s tale compares well, but how could I prefer it to Ligotti’s? He after all began his story in an evil used book store whose evil bookseller gives an evil book to a customer.
The last four stories deal with monsters. Norman Partridge’s story is a plain unpretentious story about a monster in the great snowbound forests who has his own uses for humans. David J. Schow’s story brings those old friends, the three big Universal Studios monsters, Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man, together for one last visit. This could have been a post-modern parody but Schow treats them fairly straight. Joyce Carol Oates’s monster is a human one, although one cannot be sure if he was indeed evil from birth or made evil by Carrie-style by a fanatical mother. Caitlin Kiernan has many varied interests but her tale of a disgusting and dangerous creature uncovered under Alabama’s Red Mountain is grounded in her background in Appalachian paleontology.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book has a lot of great short stories in it. Well worth purchasing to read.
I would recommend anyone to buy it.
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on December 16, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This was a great collection of horror throughout American history. The forward and discussions of the authors were very interesting and offered great insights to the stories themselves.

The short stories included were interesting and appropriate, though readers may note that the writing styles drastically change from tale to tale as the collection moves forward in time.

It was a really fun read for someone interested in horror!
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on December 19, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Great, classic tales of terror! buy this if your into reading thriller/horror novels.
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