I dearly wish that I didn’t have to work a full time job and that I could spend my days both reading and writing. But, alas, I must dedicate a mere smidgen of my time to reading short horror/weird tales and writing. I also enjoy reading and writing in other areas of interest so even my part time dedication to weird tales is part time. I envy that Lovecraft had free time to be so well-read in the genre and be able to pen his seminal essay Supernatural Horror in Literature. He finished that work in 1935 and I would love to be able to bring the genre up to date myself but this is truly a dream I don’t see coming to fruition. Another element of difficulty is that since then there has grown a legion of descent writers that would need to be mentioned making my task even more surmountable.
I can offer a different approach, however. I am still pretty well-read in the genre and have discussed in this blog my practice of logging the stories I read and ranking them. Currently, as of today, I have read over a thousand stories in the genre. From this list I have assembled the best of the best and that list numbers over a hundred stellar stories that are must reads. Many of these stories Lovecraft makes mention of either the story itself or, at least, the author. To this I can add several authors that I would say have added numerous stories to the genre; authors such as Ramsey Campbell, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, Stephen King, Manly Wade Wellman, and most definitely, the author who penned Supernatural Horror in Literature himself, H.P. Lovecraft.
I will make it abundantly clear that I recognize I have missed many good authors and that is simply because I have yet to read their work. I have several stacks of books yet to be read. I just haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. I can’t very well comment on gaps in my reading in the genre.
Recently I purchased the book H.P. Lovecraft’s Favorite Weird Tales which includes two lists that Lovecraft recommended to be read in the genre. The second list was an updated list based on the fact that Lovecraft had read some additional stories. These were, supposedly, Lovecraft’s favorite weird tales. Of the 18 stories included in the book I have read 10 already.
Narrowing down a list to the top 10 seems like a task I care not undertake. What I would like to do now is comment on specific stories and their authors which I believe should be must reads in the genre but may not be the most commonly mentioned or readily accessible stories. The following list from my Listmania list on Amazon is a resource on where to find nearly all of the stories I will mention. Keep in mind that this is a mere smattering of the hundred or so stories that I currently list as must reads – the rest being many stories by the authors Lovecraft mentions in Supernatural Horror in Literature and the authors I mentioned above. Also, unlike Lovecraft, I will not spoil any of the plots. I will let the reader discover for themselves why these stories are some of the best weird tales ever written.
The first story is Moonlight Sonata by Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943). Woollcott was a writer for The New Yorker who seems to have written nothing else in the genre. A curious fact about him is that he died on live radio. The story is very short but powerful in its conclusion. Much of the effectiveness in this story is in the fact that Wooollcott left much unsaid that a creative mind is able to speculate on.
The next story is The Thing in the Cellar by Dr. David Henry Keller (1880-1966). Dr. Keller was a physician who dabbled in weird tale writing on the side. This story first saw publication in Weird Tales in 1932.
Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity is a pleasantly disturbing tale by David Morrell (b. 1943). Morrell is a Canadian born author best known for creating the character Rambo in his novel First Blood. This particular story ranks right up there with The Wendigo (which I think is slightly better than The Willows) in its otherworldly weirdness.
Moving on, we come to The Ghost of the Capuchins by Eugene Montfort (1877-1929). Montfort was a French novelist who wrote mostly in a Mediterranean setting. This story is cleverly plotted and well worth the read.
The Entrance is an instant classic by Gerald Durrell (1925-1995). Durrell was an Indian born Brit best known for his naturalist work and bio-environmental conservation efforts. For whatever reason he wrote this horror story and I, for one, am thankful he did. There are many different elements that make this story a gem.
My next pick is a story called Keys and Locks and Open Doors by Jane Wallis Hicks. I haven’t been able to find an ounce of information on Hicks. This story appeared on a now defunct website and gives no details about her. The story itself is written in an archaic, Quaker, New England settler style of language that is a perfect vehicle for delivering this unsettling tale.
The next story is another Weird Tales alumnus called Canavan’s Back Yard by Joseph Payne Brennan (1918-1990). Brennan wrote many novels and short stories. Many of his short stories appeared in Weird Tales in the early fifties. I haven’t had the opportunity to read any of his other work but one day I’ll get around to reading one of his short story collections.
The Beckoning Fair One by the Brit author Oliver Onions (1873-1961) is a story that I am surprised Lovecraft failed to mention in Supernatural Horror in Literature. This story has many features that mark it as a classic horror tale. The ending is a real masterpiece that leaves you thinking about the story for a while. Onions was a commercial artist turned author. I’m not sure he ever produced any other horror of this caliber, though.
Another story that deserves to be ranked among the classics and I was surprised Lovecraft failed to mention in Supernatural Horror in Literature is How Love Came to Professor Guildea by Robert Hichens (1864-1950). Hichens was a Brit who wrote several novels but seems to have only written a couple of short stories. This particular story is a masterfully written haunting with an unusual twist.
Ray Bradbury (b. 1920) has written many weird tales that will ensure he is ranked among the best weird tale writers. I could list any number of his stories as being must reads but there is one story in particular that I feel is his best weird tale. The story entitled The Jar is a very unusual story that Bradbury has done a wonderful job in weaving a really weird tale with. Bradbury is a goliath in the science fiction genre best known for The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451.
He Wanted to Live by Richard Matheson (b. 1926) is a perfectly crafted horror tale. Matheson is another author who has written many great short stories that are must reads. Matheson is best known for his work on the T.V. series The Twilight Zone (the episode entitled Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is most popular) and his novels that have become major motion pictures (Stir of Echoes and What Dreams May Come). Read this story and you’ll see why I chose it!
While I haven’t read more than a handful of stories by Robert Bloch (1917-1994), I have yet to read one that is not a top-notch story ranking him among the best. Most of the stories I have read by Bloch are Lovecraftian pastiches; however, there is one story called The Rubber Room that deserves to be read by anyone looking for the crème de la crème of weird tales. Bloch is best known as the creator of Psycho. I will definitely be purchasing a collection of Bloch’s short stories in the near future.
It is a shame that Lovecraft couldn’t have lived longer to enjoy the blossoming of the genre and be able to read so many of the great authors who came along in his wake.