Haunted Legends Paperback – Sep 14 2010
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“Sure to provide a yardstick by which future ghost fiction will be measured.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Ellen Datlow's The Dark: New Ghost Stories
“What better way to spend a cold winter night than curled in front of the fireplace with a good ghost story or sixteen?” ―The Dallas Morning News on Ellen Datlow's The Dark: New Ghost Stories
About the Author
ELLEN DATLOW has won eight World Fantasy Awards, two Bram Stoker Awards, the International Horror Guild Award, two Hugo Awards, and two Locus Awards for her work as an editor. In a career spanning more than twenty-five years, she has been the fiction editor of OMNI and SCIFI.COM. Datlow has edited many successful anthologies, including The Dark, The Coyote Road, and Inferno. She has also co-edited the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror series, The Faery Reel, A Wolf at the Door, and Swan Sister. She lives in Manhattan.
NICK MAMATAS, co-editor of the groundbreaking fiction magazine Clarkesworld, lives in Northern California.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
So it was with great anticipation that I got my copy of Haunted Legends, an anthology edited by Nick Mamatas and Ellen Datlow. The goal here was pretty simple: enlist some of the finest speculative authors in the field to interpret a "true" urban legend. It's this nebulous kernel of belief--that quasi-historical notion that fuels urban legends--that gives so many of these stories their charm. I found the afterwords, attached directly to the tales themselves, very illuminating and a nice touch in explication.
I read every story in the anthology and found them all enjoyable, though a few really did stand out as excellent. In no particular order, here were my favorites:
"The Folding Man" ~ Joe Lansdale. Pure horror fiction here. Lansdale plunges us ass-deep (there's a catalytic mooning in the first paragraphs that gets things going) into a tale of murderous "nuns" and their eponymous folding charge. A gory, chilling pulse pounder, this could only come from the imagination of Joe Lansdale.
"Down Atsion Road" ~ Jeff Ford's story is one of the best at really capturing the narrative aesthetic of an effective urban legend. Told in the first person, this story focuses on a community's visible eccentric--a local artist called Crackpop by the kids. Crackpop lives deep in the Pine Barrens, protected from New Jersey demons by a shallow moat and a well-kept secret. It's a legend within a legend, and the partially revealed story of Ginny Sanger provides the chills in the story's third act. I scoured the phone book, paid for an Internet trace, stopped and talked to old people when I'd see them out in their yards along Atsion Road. Nobody had ever heard of Ginny Sanger...Really interesting story.
"Oaks Park" ~ M.K. Hobson's story is one of the most emotionally riveting tales I've read in some time. This story is about personal grief and the dissolution of family. It's about renewal and cyclical sorrow. There is a watershed moment late in this story--a narrative set in Oaks Park, where I once attended a company picnic--that is really well written and very cathartic for the reader. Highly recommended.
"The Redfield Girls" ~ Laird Barron's take on The Lady of the Lake is keen. Like much of his fiction, there is a kinetic tension that just builds toward payoff. His fiction has a serious hum to it, and this one, a very sad piece, is entirely satisfying. The writing gets under the skin: The storm shook the house and lightning sizzled, lighting the bay windows so fiercely she shielded her eyes. Sleep was impossible and she remained curled in her chair, waiting for dawn. Around two o'clock in the morning, someone knocked on the door. Three loud raps. She almost had a heart attack from the spike of fear that shot through her heart.
There are many fine, emotionally resonant stories here. I think that's an important point to make in this discussion. Oral folklore is often dismissed as fluff, as inconsequential yarns designed merely to illicit a startled yelp around the campfire or at the sleepover. But these tales' cultural significance--as cautionary narratives and moralistic teaching tools--can't be overstated. They communicate important lessons on what it means to be human. Carolyn Turgeon's haunting "La Llorona" delves into the parental response to the loss of a child. It's a particularly hopeful interpretation of a chilling legend. John Mantooth's superb "Shoebox Train Wreck" is a journey of investigation, an examination of how guilt can scar us in perpetuity, remaking the core of personal identity until death becomes a welcome transition.
Overall, the anthology succeeds in its charge to reinvigorate a collection of world legends, making them bright and shiny for the next generation to investigate, disseminate, and enjoy...
Datlow has given us numerous terrific anthologies before - Haunted Legend will be up with Lovecraft Unbound on my shelf of diverse winners containing a few stories I will re-read again (and again) when I want a good creep.
And some of the stories definitely are strong - my favorites were the stories by Catherynne M. Valente, Caitlin Kiernan, M. K. Hobson and Laird Barron. But there were some others that really fell flat to me, too. The collection finished stronger than in started and really the collection took a rather loose definition of legend as the cohesive theme of the book. Stories that stretch that convention (like "The Foxes") just didn't quite measure up against those that did. I had hoped for some nightmare-inducing stories, but none of these fit that bill. There were some creepy moments, and eery atmospheres set up, but ultimately nothing that frightening.
So while the book had its ups and downs, on the whole, this was a pretty solid collection of short stories. Some definitely appealed more than others, but it was entertaining and certainly engrossing.
The theme is exactly what the title implies: those local, "home-grown" tales of hauntings and other oddness that you often find retold in poorly-edited "local legends" tomes sold in airports kiosks and tourist-trap gift shops. Datlow and Mamatas' edict to the participants in this anthology was to rescue those local legends from poorly-written retellings and to give them new life -- to make them universal while not sacrificing their local flavor. And most of the authors succeed.
There are 20 stories in the collection. My favorites are "As Red as Red" by Caitlyn R. Kiernan, "Shoebox Train Wreck" by John Mantooth, "Tin Cans" by Ekaterina Sedia, "Return to Mariabronn" by Gary A. Braunbeck, "The Redfield Girls" by Laird Barron, "Between Heaven and Hull" by Pat Cadigan, and "Chucky Comes to Liverpool" by Ramsey Campbell. With the exception of the Kiernan and Campbell stories, they all have to do with transportation-related ghosts -- something I didn't realize until I listed them all together like this. There are a couple of stories that disappointed me, notably "The Folding Man" by Joe R. Lansdale and "Down Atsion Road" by Jeffrey Ford, but not every collection can be perfect.
Even though Halloween is over as of a few minutes ago here on the east coast, I recommend seeking this collection out if you like "local legends" and "home-grown ghosts." It's worth the effort.
More detailed story-by-story analysis can be found here and here.