The Old Masters

Got all squee-d when I reordered some Machen yesterday (*booksies!*). That's cuz I read a lot of early horror masters along with the modern horrorists - it's compulsive. Can't help it.

So who are your great masters, 
the influencers of your chosen genre? 

And do you read 'em regularly? Do your impatient 2010 sensibilities, like mine, wrestle with the clotted form of early fiction? How do you overcome it? Me, I just keep going back and re-reading 'til my errant sensibilities adjust. Here are a handful of the greats of my genre:

Arthur Machen (1863-1947)
Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan (1894) is considered one of the best horror stories ever written - not surprising, given that Machen's work underpins all that is metaphysical and malevolent in today's weird tales:

"There is a real world, but it is beyond this glamour and this vision...beyond them all as beyond a veil. I do not know whether any human being has ever lifted that veil; but I do know, Clarke, that you and I shall see it lifted this very night from before another's eyes."

Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

Did you know Mary Shelley's The Last Man is a precursor of dystopian fiction?

"Thus we began to feel, with regard to many-visaged death let loose on the chosen districts of our fair habitation... Nations, bordering on the already infected countries, began to enter upon serious plans for the better keeping out of the enemy."

Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951)

Algernon Blackwood
is the grandfather of the ghost story. His The Willows is also hailed as one of the best of all time:

"With this multitude of willows, however, it was something far different, I felt. Some essence emanated from them that besieged the heart. A sense of awe awakened, true, but of awe touched somewhere by a vague terror..."

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Nevermore ponder this dark romanticist with weak, weary quotes about ravens. Get some new references via Edgar Allan Poe's first short story, Metzengerstein:

"'He is your own property, Sire,' replied one of the equerries. 'At least, he is claimed by no other owner. We caught him, just now, flying all smoking, and foaming with rage, from the burning stables of the Castle Berlifitzing..."

Howard Philip Lovecraft (1890-1937)
A machete'll get you through Lovecraft's adjectival thicket - all eldritch and enclosed by cyclopean walls of non-Euclidean geometry. But not for nothin' exists hoary plush Cthulhu, or the undying myth of the Necronomicon, spawned by H.P.'s "Nameless City"...  

"Remote in the desert of Araby lies the nameless city, crumbling and inarticulate...It must have been thus before the first stones of Memphis were laid, and while the bricks of Babylon were yet unbaked. There is no legend so old as to give it a name...but it is told of in whispers..."

Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933) 

Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow influenced many tales...

"This is the thing that troubles me, for I cannot forget Carcosa where black stars hang in the heavens; where the shadows of men's thoughts lengthen in the afternoon, when the twin suns sink into the lake of Hali; and my mind will bear for ever the memory of the Pallid Mask..."

Lord Dunsany (1878-1957)

There's just no not including Lord Dunsany. Everyone from Tolkien to Le Guin to Lovecraft has a hard-on for his collection of short stories, The Gods of Pegana:

" ...and Beyond it where lies the Silence, and the Rim is a mass of rocks ... and on it sat Trogool. Trogool is the Thing that is neither god nor beast, who neither howls nor breathes, only It turns over the leaves of a great book, black and white, black and white for ever until THE END."

So what say you, O weary-eyed patron of the early, that which must needs be convoluted and arcane? 
Who be your masters?


Roland D. Yeomans | August 28, 2010 at 4:38 PM

H.P. Lovecraft, of course. He actually wrote a short story as a ghost writer for Houdini, confronting elder gods while imprisoned in Egypt's Cheop's Pyramid.

Robert E. Howard did his own Lovecraftian tales. Read "The Black Stone", "The Thing on the Roof", Dig Me No Grave" and "The Hoofed Thing". And the most sleep-robbing tales, "The Children of the Night" and "The Worms of the Earth"

Clifford D. Simak (They Walked Like Men) had a lyrical feel for nature and horror.

Roger Zelazny (LORD OF LIGHT) used lyrical, poetic images to draw the reader into realms of science fantasy, as he put it.

Thorne Smith (NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS) made me laugh out loud at the antics of Olympians in Prohibition America. He is better known for TOPPER. I discovered the first title in a garage sale as a child and supposed that was how sophisticated adults were supposed to act -- explaining no end of grief I got into.

Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald revealed how genre could become literary -- even crime drama. (THE LONG GOODBYE and THE UNDERGROUND MAN respectively.)

Hope you have a great weekend, Roland

Alex J. Cavanaugh | August 28, 2010 at 5:04 PM

I don't write horror, but Lovecraft is a master. In fantasy, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. In science fiction, Robert A. Heinlein and Phillip K. Dick.

Indigo | August 28, 2010 at 5:45 PM

Poe all the way. I have a huge leather tome of his earlier works. My daughter used to love having 'The Raven' read to her at night. By now she can recite it word for word.

Then there is Wilkie Collins - The Haunted Hotel.

The Old Stand-bys Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Bram Stroker's Dracula. Nothing beats reading these stories before the movie versions.

Actually here's a huge list of classic authors in the horror venue, with links to the actual individual stories. It's a great resource.


Elena Solodow | August 29, 2010 at 8:49 PM

Mr. Dostoevsky. Take me away on a golden horse.

Alesa Warcan | August 31, 2010 at 6:04 AM

I wouldn't say that they are my masters but there are a handful of authors/books I refer to as references...

Poe and Lovecraft are amongst those. The Silmarillion. William Kotzwinkle's the bear went over the mountain. Castle Perilous. Gene Wolfe. Eiji Yoshikawa. Shi Nai'an's Water margin. Carol Hill's 11 million mile high dancer. Jules Verne. To name a few.

Admittedly most of those aren't all that old... But I find I rather enjoy the past trappings of language and often when I go back for a quick stylistic reference check I find myself reading a couple chapters. ; j

Tamara Narayan | August 31, 2010 at 10:30 AM

My parents have a collection of old books which they are slowly siphoning off to me including some from the 1800's like Uncle Tom's Cabin. First came a collection of poetry (somewhere in there is an autograph of Longfellow!) More recently I got the The Works of Poe, copyright 1903. Each book has a creepy color plate in the front illustrating one of the stories or poem. Yum!

Anonymous | September 2, 2010 at 12:02 AM

I guess Salinger for me ... YA!

Love this!!

Anonymous | September 2, 2010 at 12:04 AM

Or maybe Austen, to go wayyyy older and in a little different direction (obv).

*still thinking*

Deniz Bevan | September 6, 2010 at 3:30 PM

Lord Dunsany! Woo!
Sorry, I don't have anything more erudite to say :-) But I just found your blog thanks to Karen G's BBQ!

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