Masters of horror: Short stories

Need a good scare?

 

Halloween will be here soon and in the spirit of the season bidorbuy will be highlighting the best horror writers, films and video games to keep you all a’feared. This first volume will focus on the best short stories in the genre – texts that will disturb and terrify:

 

The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

 

Little known to modern readers, Algernon Blackwood was a strange character. An avid outdoorsman, he had a varied life and was keenly interested in the occult. He wrote many excellent strange stories including The Listener which is terrifying and The Insanity of Jones which leaves the reader at odds as to the nature of reality.

 

The Willows, however, is his most excellent work. A classic of the genre, H.P. Lovecraft declared it to be the finest supernatural tale ever written. It tells the story of two friends canoeing down the Danube… and the terrible natural forces they encounter. The tale reaches the height of horror through the ambiguous malevolence of seemingly apathetic forces – the wind, the rain and the eponymous willows. But it also alters the readers perception of reality.

 

Pickman’s Model by H.P. Lovecraft

 

Any of HP Lovecraft’s stories’ could have made this list. The man invented a new sort of horror that differed from the theological-moral stories of the past. He coined his subgenre Cosmic Terror that involves the hopeless struggle of mankind against vastly powerful misanthropic beings. The inventor of the Cthulu Mythos,  a vast panoply of evil gods, otherworldly beings and strange worlds. Candidates for this list include The Call of Cthulu, The Colour Out of Space, The Shadow Out of Time, The Rats in the Walls and many others besides.

 

However, I chose Pickman’s Model for its excellent structure and for the way it builds up to its ultimate and terrifying conclusion. The implications of this story are disturbing.

 

The White People by Arthur Machen

 

The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen remains one of my favourite tales. However for sheer power of dread I have to rather choose The White People.  Arthur Machen was a Welsh mystic who enjoyed much literary success in the 1920s and his tales invariable focused on the mystic qualities of the natural world.

 

The White People succeeds in that it is a tale within a tale built around a disquieting and increasing suspense. The ambiguous ending makes it difficult for the reader to determine the truth of finale.

 

Born of Man and Woman by Richard Matheson

 

Richard Matheson is better known for his novel (and successful if highly modified film adaption) I am Legend. This story was a recent discovery for me and instantly garnered a position as a masterwork in my eyes. A short tale spreading over less than 3 pages, it tells the story of what seems to be a horribly abused child. We pity him as he describes the cruel treatment he is subjected to by his parents who leave him locked in a dank, dark room and chained to the wall. Yet as the story progresses we realise that there is something terribly, terribly wrong with this child…

 

The Swords by Robert Aickman

 

Robert Aickman never referred to his writings as horror stories. “Strange tales” he called them and that they are. An avid conservationist he did much to secure England’s canal system from industrial exploitation. His style picks up the strange undercurrents of the human mind and the environment itself seems unsettled in his stories.

 

The Swords tells the story of a wandering salesman who stumbled into a tatty circus in a small English town. He encounters a strange performance were men impale a woman with long swords that leave no mark or injury upon her. This leads to the protagonist having a private meeting with the woman. The story makes the readers question the reality in which he lives.

 

 

The willows Blackwood

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