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Haunted Castles: The Complete Gothic Stories (Penguin Classics) Paperback – September 27, 2016
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"Russell links postpulp literature and the Grand Guignol tradition with the modern sensibilities of America in the 1960s. Within him resides a neo-paganistic streak that is passed from Algernon Blackwood and Sax Rohmer to him and other writers of unusual proclivities, such as Bernard J. Hurwood. A fascinating combination of the liberal and the heretic... Russell is the literary equivalent of the Italian filmmaker Mario Bava, a supersaturated neo-Gothiscist who shines above the premises of his material based on style, conviction, and artistic flair." - Guillermo del Toro, from the introduction
Praise for Penguin Horror Classics:
“The new Penguin Horror editions, selected by Guillermo del Toro, feature some of the best art-direction (by Paul Buckley) I've seen in a cover in quite some time.” – Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
"Each cover does a pretty spectacular job of evoking the mood of the title in bold, screenprint-style iconography." – Dan Solomon, Fast Company
About the Author
Ray Russell (1924–1999) was a pioneer of the modern horror genre. As an editor at Playboy, he helped publish such writers as Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, and Charles Beaumont. His best known work, “Sardonicus,” was called by Stephen King “perhaps the finest example of the modern Gothic ever written.” He received the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1991.
Guillermo del Toro (Foreword) is a Mexican director, producer, screenwriter, novelist, and designer. He cofounded the Guadalajara International Film Festival and formed his own production company, Tequila Gang. He is most widely recognized for his Academy Award–winning film, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the Hellboy film franchise. He has received Nebula and Hugo awards, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, and is an avid collector and student of arcane memorabilia and weird fiction. He is series editor of Penguin Horror.
Top customer reviews
I was already familiar with Russell as a screenwriter--and even think I had read one or two of these stories before, though I had never put the two together--but this book was right up my alley. If you know Russell's filmography, it's not very surprising what kinds of stories are here. Great Gothic stories that would have been right at home getting filmed by Roger Corman or William Castle (in fact, one of them was) in brilliant Technicolor (that it wasn't), complete with the sorts of lurid but off-camera sexiness that you can expect from those sorts of flicks.
Predictably, this was right up my alley. The meat of this collection are the three novellas or novelettes in Russell's "S trilogy": "Sardonicus," "Sagittarius," and "Sanguinarius." Of the three, "Sardonicus" is the most famous, having been filmed by William Castle (with a screenplay by Russell) as Mr. Sardonicus, but, like del Toro, my favorite of the trio was "Sagittarius," which begins as a club story and features the Grand Guignol in a major role, so you know I'm right there.
My favorite tale in the whole book, though, was the first of the shorter pieces, "Comet Wine," which had a great title (and a connection to "Sardonicus") and which felt very much like the kinds of stories I am always trying to tell in my own work.
The Penguin edition is a nice hardcover, and while I'm not the biggest fan of the cover choice, I do love the coloring. I've said before that more horror stuff needs to be bright pink, and it works beautifully here. Plus, if you hold the book up to the bottom part of your face, it makes a mask, so that's something.
Russell can only be labelled "modern" gothic in the sense that he was writing in the 20th century. Otherwise, his stories are set during fascinating, terrible lifespans anywhere from the 1500s to the late 1800s. His period language is meticulously researched and correct, while his grammar and writing style are gorgeous, first-rate. This rich, sometimes dense prose is balanced (I can't say lightened) by pulpy thrills: horrifically unflinching details, an unsavory but irrepressibly sexual atmosphere, and grisly motives & plot twists that will make you wince -- all of a thoroughly sadistic bent.
Sardonicus, arguably the most original of the 'S' trilogy, fully deserves its reputation as a masterpiece, but it was Sanguinarius that most impressed me. When I finished that story, I had to immediately read more about Elisabeth Báthory; yet, in the end, the world Russell created is inkier, redder, more saturated and enchanting than the true history. Sagittarius had a bit of a clunky frame narrative which I can only partly endorse, but the story within was more than enjoyable. So the frame can be forgiven.
I was sad and a little apprehensive after completing the 'S' trilogy -- would I be disappointed by the other stories? Rest assured, the remainder of the collection is solid. Comet Wine and The Vendetta tie in subtly to the same fictional universe by means of a minor character from Sardonicus. The Cage and The Runaway Lovers, somehow less detailed, could be called sketches. But it is probably more useful to think of them as dark parables, and they are quite effective despite having less meat on their bones.
Last, I just want to add that I'm grateful to Penguin for making Russell available. It would be unjust to see a talent like his lost to dust. While other genre fiction has enjoyed increasing respect from the publishing and academic worlds, horror & supernatural literature still remain undervalued. That said, Penguin has made real efforts to correct this (usually, though not in this case, with the help of S.T. Joshi). The Oxford World Classics series has some good anthologies as well.