Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Vampyre, The Werewolf and Other Gothic Tales of Horror edited by Rochelle Kronzek

Gothic fiction brings to mind many great novels, from Wuthering Heights to Frankenstein, The Castle of Otranto to The Mysteries of Udolpho, but this period also brought about many great pieces of short fiction, which this short anthology focuses on. While this book strays a little away from the super light reading previously featured on here and leans toward the literary tendencies of my major, this book contains the roots of modern horror, and the stories are just as readable today as they were when they were first published. They have lost none of their punch. Below are reviews for each of the seven stories, and then a full anthology review.

"The Vampyre" by John Polidori: In this moody, atmospheric tale, Polidori introduces us to the first vampire story written in English. Lord Ruthven, suave aristocrat, travels with Aubrey across Europe. As Ruthven's immoral use of women becomes apparent, Aubrey departs from his companion and heads to Greece, where he falls in love right as he falls into the grasp of the "vampyre." Polidori writes a tale of inescapable horror that etches each pain felt by Aubrey deeply into the reader. This tale is a classic for good reason.

"The Werewolf" by Clemence Housman: This tale of two brother's relationship falling apart over the wiles of a woman was incredible. Completely, utterly excellent. Housman writes with a beautiful prose, and wraps convincing dialogue from full characters around a plot of intense suspense and dread. This is one of the most engaging, enthralling, and wonderful stories I have read in a very long time. No other werewolf story I have read comes even close to this masterpiece.

"Monos and Daimonos" by Edward Bulwer-Lytton: Much shorter than the previous two stories, this short work was chilling. While the first two were good, especially the second, none of them sent shivers down the spine like this one did. The ending to this short tale was perfect, and the presence found in this story of a man seeking solitude was truly creepy. A real chiller, this tale was wonderful fun.

"The Vindictive Monk; or The Fatal Ring" by Isaac Crookenden: A very light, quick read, Crookenden's tale of love, jealousy, and confused ancestry in Italy is a lot of fun. There is action, excitement, and good versus evil for the love of fair Alexa. Entertaining, to say the least.

"The Curse" by Anonymous: In this dark tale of family curses, we are introduced to a tragic protagonist who plays upon our sympathies. This tale also works as a frame for the short "The Story of John Craig and Isobel Ross," an extended religious allegory that sets up the conclusion. All in all, this murky tale pulls off a sufficient amount of emotional pain to make you wince, even if the final stitch to the ending, while likely less used then, seems cliche today.

"The Victim" by Anonymous: Another story that was probably far more surprising in its day but has now become rather old hat, this tale of two students and a cadaver still rang with haunting lament. Parts of the tale were telegraphed a bit, but it was still a fun piece.

"The Astrologer's Prediction; or The Maniac's Fate" by Anonymous: In the final tale of this collection, a man's fate falls into the hands of a devious astrologer, who divines the poor man's future. After years pass, and the astrologer dies, the man is almost possessed, as he fulfills his dark fate. This was a short, entertaining tale, and moody to the extreme.

After the disappointing anthology that preceded this one, The Vampyre, The Werewolf and Other Gothic Tales was infinitely better. This very short collection contained stories that were exquisitely atmospheric, holding that dark, brooding mood throughout, while at the same time creating such disturbing suspense that one couldn't put the tales down. This is one of the best anthologies of any sort I have read in quite some time.


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