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Edited by David G. Hartwell

The Dark Descent


David G. Hartwell (editor). The Dark Descent. Tor Press (October 1987). 1011 pp.

"The Reach"
By Stephen King
Rating: 8/10
Quote: "Do you love?"

Comments: Stella Flanders lived on Goat Island her entire life, never going to the mainland. It’s very interesting what finally made her decide to make the trip.

"Evening Primrose"
By John Collier
Rating: 8/10
Quote: "Then they send for the others, the Dark Men."

Comments: I never knew so many people lived in Department Stores. Getting over that shock is the least of Charles’ worries though…

"The Ash-Tree"
By M. R. James
Rating: 9/10
Quote: "Thou shalt seek me in the morning, and I shall not be."

Comments: This is a classic story from James. In it, a woman accused of being a witch gets revenge…and then some!

"The New Mother"
By Lucy Clifford
Rating: 6/10
Quote: "I don’t know how to be naughty; no one ever taught me."

Comments: This was a decent Victorian moral allegory, where, as editor Hartwell notes, “the allegory may be awry, but the horror is real.”

"There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding"
By Russell Kirk
Rating: 9/10
Quote: "All heads off but mine!"

Comments: Old Frank gets a chance to atone for his perceived sins, and makes the most of that chance.

“The Call of Cthulhu”
By H.P. Lovecraft
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

Comments: I’m relatively new to Lovecraft, but I’ve read and enjoyed this one several times. I’ve always loved the way HPL has narrators who are about to die for their knowledge, or whose knowledge is hidden away for someone to find. In this way the world is warned of the Great Old Ones.

“The Summer People”
By Shirley Jackson
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “Thought you folks’d be leaving.”

Comments: Apparently the summer people are supposed to leave by Labor Day…or else!

“The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”
By Harlan Ellison
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “Him! Take him! Not me! I’m yours, I love you, I’m yours!”

Comments: Beth mistakes worship for apathy in this interesting and excellent Ellison tale.

“Young Goodman Brown”
By Nathaniel Hawthorne
Rating: 10/10
Quote: “Lo, there ye stand, my children.”

Comments: Was it all a dream? If it wasn’t, what delicious irony and massive hypocrisy this story contains! I’ve loved the story of Young Goodman Brown since I first read it in grade school. I highly recommend this one to anyone who hasn’t yet had the pleasure of experiencing it.

“Mr. Justice Harbottle”
By J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Rating: 8/10
Quote: “One end locks. The other is welded.”

Comments: Mr. Justice Harbottle always got his way in court…until he was the one on trial.

“The Crowd”
By Ray Bradbury
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “No, not yet, but he will be dead before the ambulance arrives.”

Comments: Ever wonder why a crowd gathers so quickly at an accident? Mr. Spallner does, and it costs him.

“The Autopsy”
By Michael Shea
Rating: 10/10
Quote: “He is writing a translation of Marcus Aurelius—he was, I mean, in his free time….”

Comments: Wow. This was an excellent story; one of the best I’ve ever read. The evil being in this story picked the wrong guy to mess with!

“John Charrington’s Wedding”
By Edith Nesbitt
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “Alive or dead I mean to be married!”

Comments: John Charrington always gets his way, including this time, his last.

By Karl Edward Wagner
Rating: 8/10
Quote: “We’ve got to destroy them.”

Comments: If you find an old house in the woods and you get the heebie-jeebies, DON’T go down into the cellar. You might find more than you bargained for.

“Larger Than Oneself”
By Robert Aickman
Rating: 5/10
Quote: “If only one could find some all-embracing pattern to guide one.”

Comments: I didn’t particularly care for this one, and never quite knew just what was going on.

“Belsen Express”
By Fritz Leiber
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “I heard you.”

Comments: This was an excellent story, involving one man’s irrational fear of the Gestapo while living in 1950’s America.

“Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”
By Robert Bloch
Rating: 10/10
Quote: “But that’s not a gun. That’s a knife!”

Comments: A British gentleman has an idea that the Ripper is still killing people in 1945, and his search has led him to Chicago. I managed to guess how this would end, but it’s still a very good and entertaining story.

“If Damon Comes”
By Charles L. Grant
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “You’ve been a bad boy daddy.”

Comments: Man I hope I don’t have a kid like this later in life!

“Vandy, Vandy”
By Manly Wade Wellman
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “And you want to lead her down into hell.”

Comments: I’ve never seen the Father of Our Country (sorry to you non-Americans out there) used in quite this way.

“The Swords”
By Robert Aickman
Rating: 6/10
Quote: “We’ll meet again. Don’t worry.”

Comments: I guess I don’t understand Aickman, at least not the first time I’m reading his short stories. I’ve read that this story is about the fear of having sex for the first time, but I just don’t relate to it at all.

“The Roaches”
By Thomas M. Disch
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “I love you too.”

Comments: We all hate cockroaches, the filthy little buggers. But what would you do if you had the power to control them?

“Bright Segment”
By Theodore Sturgeon
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “I fix everything.”

Comments: A semi-retarded man saves a woman’s life, but not in the way you’d expect.

By Clive Barker
Rating: 10/10
Quote: “I’ve got some wonderful photographs.”

Comments: Quaid wants to know the true meaning of dread, and how to overcome it. The irony in this story is delicious.

“The Fall of the House of Usher”
By Edgar Allan Poe
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “Now hear it?—yes, I hear it, and have heard it.”

Comments: This is a tale about the House of Usher, a term with two meanings: both the actual dwelling in which the Ushers lived and their family, whose madness is observed close up by the narrator.

“The Monkey”
By Stephen King
Rating: 10/10
Quote: “Who’s dead Hal? Is it you?”

Comments: Hal has been tormented by a death-dealing toy monkey since he was a child. Can he rid himself of it before anyone close to him dies?

“Within the Walls of Tyre”
By Michael Bishop
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “Anson, God damn you! God damn you!”

Comments: Don’t let anyone discover your dark little secret. Especially not THIS anyone…

“The Rats in the Walls”
By H. P. Lovecraft
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “When I speak of poor Norrys they accuse me of a hideous thing, but they must know I did not do it.”

Comments: I’ve read “The Rats in the Walls” before and it’s a very good story. Steven King’s short story “Jerusalem’s Lot” has some similarities to it, in addition to also seeming a lot like a Poe story.

“Schalken the Painter”
By J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “The living and the dead cannot be one: God has forbidden it.”

Comments: Who, or more aptly WHAT, did Rose Velderkaust marry?

“The Yellow Wallpaper”
By Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Rating: 6/10
Quote: “I’ve got out at last in spite of you and Jane.”

Comments: This lady’s nuts. I wasn’t very impressed with this particular story, though the editor seems to love it.

“A Rose for Emily”
By William Faulkner
Rating: 8/10
Quote: “I want arsenic.”

Comments: Emily was always prevented from finding true love by her father. After he died, she found it…and kept it.

“How Love Came to Professor Guildea”
By Robert Hichens
Rating: 10/10
Quote: “I am also convinced that this visitor has not left the house and is at this moment in it.”

Comments: Professor Guildea finds love all right…but he doesn’t want it!

“Born of Man and Woman”
By Richard Matheson
Rating: 4/10
Quote: “If they try to beat me again I’ll hurt them. I will.”

Comments: I’m not sure how human the kid is, but this story is definitely not one of Matheson’s better ones. I didn’t like this one at all.

“My Dear Emily”
By Joanna Russ
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “You’re safe, my Emily!”

Comments: This one reminded me a lot of Dracula. Poor deluded Will. He just doesn’t get it.

“You Can Go Now”
By Dennis Etchison
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “YOU CAN GO NOW.”

Comments: This was an interesting little foray into the mind of man.

“The Rocking-horse Winner”
By D. H. Lawrence
Rating: 10/10
Quote: “There must be more money!”

Comments: Paul’s mother wishes desperately for luck. Paul provides that luck, but at a fearful cost.

“Three Days”
By Tanith Lee
Rating: 10/10
Quote: “I shall be grateful for that, to Honorine, until the day of my death.”

Comments: This is quite possibly the best short story I’ve ever read. The narrator reveals the good that can come out of a horrible event.

“Good Country People”
By Flannery O’Connor
Rating: 8/10
Quote: “Give me my leg!”

Comments: This one made me laugh. Appearances can be deceiving. Just because you have a Ph.D. doesn’t mean you’re better than me. A lot of you so-called “doctors” out there ought to keep that in mind!

“Mackintosh Willy”
By Ramsey Campbell
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “It’s only three feet deep. He’ll never drown in there.”

Comments: This is a nice little tale of revenge served cold…as a corpse, that is! (Insert Cryptkeeper’s laugh here.)

“The Jolly Corner”
By Henry James
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “I could have liked him.”

Comments: A man yearns to see what he could have been…but the results are not what he expected. I was not as enthralled by this one as the editors seem to be.

“Smoke Ghost”
By Fritz Leiber
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “Have you ever seen a ghost, Miss Millick?”

Comments: Catesby Wran has, just not what you’d ordinarily think of when you think of a ghost.

“Seven American Nights”
By Gene Wolfe
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “Here I am at last!”

Comments: This story, about a decrepit, foul, abnormal, fallen America of the future, contains a lot of allusions to places in Washington, D.C. I’m afraid I may not have caught all of them, and I’m not entirely sure what I just read. Still, it was an interesting, solid story.

“The Signal-Man”
By Charles Dickens
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “Halloa! Below there! Look out! Look Out!”

Comments: I found Dickens’ tale of a railroad signal man seeing a ghostly apparition to be a very good short story. I was unaware that the author did any other ghostly tales aside from “A Christmas Carol”, but apparently he did many.

“Crouch End”
By Stephen King
Rating: 10/10
Quote: “You think Crouch End’s a very quiet place, don’t you?”

Comments: This King tale is a tribute to Lovecraft, with a lot of Lovecraftian name dropping thrown in. Crouch End is an area where the fabric thins dangerously, and sometimes people go in…or things come out.

By Joyce Carol Oates
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “Heretics he called us. Looking straight at me.”

Comments: Dr. Perry Moore is a non-believer in séances and spiritualists. That, however, all changes dramatically one night.

“Seaton’s Aunt”
By Walter de la Mare
Rating: 8/10
Quote: “She’s sure to be quite decent to you, Withers.”

Comments: As the editor notes, de la Mare only hints at the horrors contained within the Seaton House, and personified in the form of Arthur Seaton’s Aunt.

“Clara Militch”
By Ivan Turgenev
Rating: 10/10
Quote: “Unhappy Clara! poor frantic Clara!”

Comments: A shy, reserved man learns too late (or so it seems at the time) that he loves a woman passionately.

“The Repairer of Reputations”
By Robert W. Chambers
Rating: 6/10
Quote: “You must renounce the crown to me, do you hear, to me.”

Comments: I have heard some call this one of the five best horror stories ever written, but I personally was not all that fond of it. Is the narrator insane, or does Hastur exist? I found it most interesting for its Lovecraft connection, but maybe expected too much going in.

“The Beckoning Fair One”
By Oliver Onions
Rating: 7/10
Quote: “De-ar me! But that will be a very o-ald tune, Mr. Oleron. I will not have heard it this for-ty years!”

Comments: Author Paul Oleron doesn’t heed the warnings of his friend Elsie Bengough until it is too late.

“What Was It?”
By Fitz-James O’Brien
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “Harry, you have been smoking too much opium.”

Comments: A group of boarding house tenants discovers…something. But, as the title asks, “what was it?”

“The Beautiful Stranger”
By Shirley Jackson
Rating: 6/10
Quote: “Where is Daddy?”

Comments: Margaret suspects that the man she meets at the train station is not her husband. Is this all in Margaret’s mind, or is something sinister happening here?

“The Damned Thing”
By Ambrose Bierce
Rating: 10/10
Quote: “What is it? What the devil is it?...That Damned Thing!”

Comments: This one has a very Lovecraftian feel to it. Or, to be fair, since Bierce came first, maybe some of Lovecraft's stories have a Biercian feel. The two authors are polar opposites as far as word usage goes. Bierce was short and to the point in style, while Lovecraft was about as verbose an author as I've ever read. Despite that difference, I was especially reminded of Lovecraft's short stories "The Colour Out of Space" and "The Dunwich Horror", two favorites of mine.

By Edith Wharton
Rating: 8/10
Quote: “You won’t know till afterward.”

Comments: Just as her friend had promised, Mary Boyne discovered too late the horrible truth.

“The Willows”
By Algernon Blackwood
Rating: 9/10
Quote: “Rather! If they’ll let us.”

Comments: Two men canoeing down the Danube River land in a decidedly unfriendly spot, one where the boundary between our existence and THEIRS has thinned.

“The Asian Shore”
By Thomas M. Disch
Rating: 4/10
Quote: “Yavuz! Yavuz!”

Comments: This was probably the worst story I’ve read in this anthology. I obviously didn’t get it, and I don’t care to.

“The Hospice”
By Robert Aickman
Rating: 6/10
Quote: “Most of us here are lost.”

Comments: I’m afraid I don’t really get Aickman’s work, though this story was better than the others of his that I’ve read in this anthology. A man is forced by circumstances to stay in a hospice filled with rather strange events and people.

“A Little Something For Us Tempunauts”
By Philip K. Dick
Rating: 6/10
Quote: “Dead is dead.”

Comments: This is more a sci-fi than a horror story, something you’d be likely to see on an episode of The Outer Limits.

1011 pp.

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