Various: ‘The Weird’, 1908 – 2010


Here you will find reviews of all the stories contained in the 2011 collection ‘The Weird’, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandemeer.
Spoilers throughout.
Various, (2011), ‘The Weird’, eds. Vandemeer, A. & J,. London, Corvus

Jump to Review:
‘The Willows’ Algernon Blackwood, (1907)
‘The Screaming Skull’ F. Marion Crawford, (1908)
‘Sredni Vashtar’ Saki, (1910)
‘Casting the Runes’ M.R. James, (1911)
‘How Nuth would have Practiced his Art upon the Gnoles’ Lord Dunsany, (1912)
‘The Man in the Bottle’ Gustav Meyrink, (1912)
‘The Dissection’ George Heym, (1913)
, (19)

The Screaming Skull: F. Marion Crawford
An old sea captain inherits a cottage from a deceased friend. He has not been there long before he discovers a womans skull with something rattling around inside it. Remembering rumours that his friend killed his wife, the captain recalls a story that he told the man about how to kill someone by pouring molten lead in the ear. He keeps the skull, but it regularly makes a screaming noise, and if any attempt to remove it from the house is made, it comes back. The captain is a sceptic and spends most of the story attempting to convince us that he is not scared, but he also freely admits that he actually suspects that the skull hates him because he told the story.
An entertaining yarn, rather long for such a simple premise, but holds the readers interest because of the extremely well written narrator.

The Willows: Algernon Blackwood
A slow starting but satisfying story about two canoeist’s who camp out on an island in the Danube during a storm despite being warned by the locals not to. The tone of the story which lays somewhere between a victorian style and modern phraseology gives a nice ambience, whilst the plot itself is genuinely creepy. Blackwoods imagining of the horrors, and what he chooses to show, is light years ahead of his time, and the idea of other dimensions impinging on our own is a brilliant forerunner of not just C20th wierd such as Lovecraft, but of modern physics as well. Fantastic, atmosphere and tense.

Sredni Vashtar: Saki
A very short story, but absolutely perfectly formed. An orphaned boy is at the mercy of his cruel cousin, and as an imaginative outlet, elevates his pet ferret whom he calls Sredni Vashtar into his own personal god. Wonderfully written, each line sings out clearly as an example of perfectly wrought prose, apparently artless and easy to read, but incredibly direct, descriptive, and clear.

Casting the Runes: M.R. James
The only authority on Alchemy in Britain rejects a paper by a man called Karswell for presentation, and soon suspects that he is the victim of supernatural persecution. The title of this piece refers not to divination as it would now, but to the act of giving someone a slip of paper with runes on it intended to do them harm. A tense piece that is the forebear of many similar short pieces, in particular The Caller of the Black by Brian Lumley. Very good indeed, although the alchemy sits a litle strangely with the form of magic used to produce the hex, in my opinion.

How Nuth Would Have Practiced his Art upon the Gnoles: Lord Dunsany

Very short piece about a famously silent burglar named Nuth who, along with his apprentice Tonker, decide to burgle the house where the gnoles live. Nothing is told about the gnoles, other than that they live in a haunted wood that is home also to Elves and Fairies, and that they bore holes into trees. A detailed build up allows the lack of information in the closing paragraph to its work, but the overwhelming normalcy of most of the tale contrasted with the sudden leap into the fantastical is a little disjointed, leaving us with a tale which is, whilst weird, not particularly effective on the sinister front.

The Man in the Bottle: Gustav Meyrink
St during a lavish fancy dress ball, a prince puts on a masque in which he puts a man in a bottle to act the part of a genie. Not only does the man in the bottle suffocate whilst the audience applauds, there is also something far more sinister going on. Quite confusing and without any strong characters, this story nevertheless conjures up a drunken scene of opulence and indulgence from which it is quite easy to believe that madness stares out from just beneath the veneer.

The Dissection: George Heym


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