Creeps By Night
When I saw this book with water damaged covers and browning pages at the estate sale , I was thrilled by the words "Dashiell Hammet." I assumed that I was paying my quarter for a book of detective fiction. Instead the 1931 volume collected magazine fiction from the last four years, and I can say that these must have been the best four years for horror fiction ever. There is no exception; the Lovecraft piece dates from 1925.
The book begins with a "Rose for Emily" by little Billie Faulkner. If you are not familiar with this story read it now on line, it is possibly short stories in the English language. No wonder the guy won the Noble Prize. .
But it also has "The Spider" by Hanz Heinz Ewers, the horror writer that was the personal favorite of Adolph Hitler and Aleister Crowley. If you don't want to know who scared the First Beast of Revelation and Hitler, then you just don't want to know. (I became so intrigued with Ewers, I wrote an introduction to his first book-sized collection (in English) Strange Tales. Hilter's "Stephen King" not your style - try "A Visitor from Egypt" by Frank Belknap Long. Jr. A really great mummy story that had appeared in Weird Tales. Like his mentor H.P. Lovecraft, whose "The Music of Eric Zhan" is included in this volume, it was his first anthology appearance.
Stephen Vincent Benet gives us "The King of the Cats" - really a better story than his "The Devil and Daniel Webster" , but lest your fannish mind be put off by such high-toned retelling of folklore, the very next story is "The Red Brain" by Donald Wandrei . He had written this overblown, but chilling science fantasy in 1927, at the tender age of 19 - maybe this first hardback inspired him to co-found Arkham House.
Irwin S. Cobb of "Fishhead" fame contributed "Faith, Hope and Charity" a pretty revolting survival tale that certainly should have had some other appearance. Certainly John Collier's "Green Thoughts" was well anthologized after its appearance in this volume. William Seabrook did become well known as a writer of spooky popular anthropology, but is forgotten for his effective fiction like this book's "Vengeance of the Witch."
How did Hammett hit the mark on so many choices?
Why did Horror Fiction reach a peak in the late twenties?
Did some eldritch god rise in the dreams of mankind? Something that could touch Faulkner and Benet, Lovecraft and Long, Ewers and Cobb, Seabrook and Wandrei?
I believe that in 1925 some god or demon must have risen in the minds of dreamers. Its terrible presence created five years of great horror writing the like of which has not been seen since. Well there are some exceptions Ellison, Campbell, Ligotti, Lansdale, me, Richard Gavin . ..
Alas the great rising was aborted. Clearly genius has gone out of the horror tale, with a few exceptions. There seems to be no trace of what affected Earth's dreamers.
Perhaps we will never know.