A short history of 20th century African-American horror literature

As I may have mentioned here before, I’m writing A Chilling Age of Horror: How 20th Century Horror Fiction Changed The Genre for Praeger (due out late spring 2020). A Chilling Age of Horror is, as the title says, a look (as panoptical as I could make it) at 20th century horror fiction, starting with the Machen Quartet (Machen, Blackwood, Dunsany, James) and following all the major and the important minor writers and trends in horror fiction published during the century.

This being Black History Month, and with the trailer to Us fresh on my mind, I thought I’d post my take on 20th century African-American horror fiction.


In a very real sense horror, in the form of slavery, was a part of the African-American experience from the beginning. Unsurprisingly, horror was a part of African-American narratives from the first as well. The folklore, legends, and myths brought over from Africa during the Middle Passage and turned into oral literature by the slaves was one significant element of pre-twentieth century African-American horror literature.1 A second, which long outlasted the African folklore and legends as a source of African-American horror, was the Gothic, which in its “Afro-Gothic” form was as popular by the end of the twentieth century as it was in its more primitive form centuries earlier.

Viewed collectively, the titles of canonical and lesser-known African-American texts project a long-standing–if unintentional–concern with the nexus between blackness, fear and terror. Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, in a Two-Story House, North. Showing that Slavery’s Shadows Fall Even There [Harriet E. Wilson, 1859]; “Mars Jeems’s Nightmare” [Charles W. Chesnutt, 1899]; Of One Blood; Or, The Hidden Self [Pauline Hopkins, 1902-1903]; Invisible Man [Ralph Ellison, 1952]; Shadow and Act [Ralph Ellison, 1964]; The Spook Who Sat By the Door [Sam Greenlee, 1969]; A Visitation of Spirits [Randall Kenan, 1989]; Let the Dead Bury Their Dead [Randall Kenan, 1992]–these titles’ common bloodline is that they pulsate with gothic traits: the split or divided self, a theme which has epidermal, psychological, spatial, and national implications; the preternatural concern with blackness as the unconscious horror haunting the personal and collective white American psyche; the omnipresence of blackness as a befouling but ineradicable presence in the American psychic landscape; and the irrepressible materiality of those things designated alien and grotesque–the black, the female, the homosexual, the nationally dispossessed, all of which constitute an abject morass sullying America’s mythic sense of innocence, equality, and opportunity. If the “unspeakable” is “one of the most distinctive of Gothic tropes”…then the gothic is and has been secretly implanted in the black imagination….2

The first published form of African-American literature, the slave narrative, was Gothic:

As Hannah Crafts astutely notes in her own slave storyline, the slave narrator’s life was extraordinary and innately gothic, needing no fictionalizing to augment market appeal. Despite their formulaic tales and determinations to prove their claim that they are not fictionalizing…the ex-slave writers, among many others, manage to inscribe gothic formulations within their narrative beyond mere plot. The very life of a slave is also inevitably a gothic existence. The murders/suicides, rapes, entrapment and escape cycles, torture (brutal whippings), and familial secrets (illegitimate births) that make up numerous gothic plots constitute real, daily existence under slavery. Therefore, these writers have recourse to gothic ideological tropes, exercising them as rhetorical asides upon an already gothic plot. Furthermore, as texts such as Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl illustrate, the slave narrative easily transitions, typologically and ideologically, into the gothic novelistic mode.3

By the turn of the twentieth century, when horror was cohering into a discrete and marketed commercial entity, African-American authors were producing Gothic fiction, both in stories and at novel-length. A number of the stories in Charles W. Chesnutt’s collection The Conjure Woman (1899) make use of Gothic elements either partially or wholly:

Although the stories do not achieve gothic effect–the shudder-provoking end often undone by the revelation of Julius’ varied ulterior motives–they do have frequent recourse to the gothic’s tropes. Chesnutt combines gothic elements with sociological observations to achieve a “gothic texture” (Edwards 90). Significantly, this “texture” is apparent in the cases of haunting, murder, inter- and intraracial violence, and implied rape that haunt Chesnutt’s stories. Chesnutt’s use of the genre results in a series of stories that invert the gothic tropes in ways similar to slave narrative use: the tales “identify the positive effects of darkness set against the demonic effects of whiteness associated with the perpetuation of slavery…[thus] situating whiteness…as the inspiration of fear and a more appropriate shade of the gothic” (Crow 2009, 90).4

Chesnutt “uses the gothic as a vehicle of an African-derived sense of time and space which allies nature with the sacred: time and space expand and alter because they are animated.”5 Similarly, his The Marrow of Tradition (1901) makes heavy use of the ruined, blasted Gothic landscape as “a metaphor for all of America when viewed through the lens of race.”6

Pauline Hopkins wrote her Of One Blood; or, The Hidden Self (1902-1903) to raise what she called the “stigma of degradation” from African-Americans and to stress the unity of biological kinship of all human beings, but its concluding chapters rely heavily on the Gothic. A riot is described in Gothic and horror story terms, with lingering, nightmarish effects, rioters described as vampires, a doctor makes his way through a landscape of mutilated black corpses;

the novel notably ends in this environment of horror, its characters surrounded by scenes of mob violence and brutality in which white men become the bogeymen to blacks. The atmosphere and haunted landscapes introducing each of these texts hint at the actual problematic recurrence of violence and racial oppression reminiscent of slavery, and thus illustrates important moments of temporal collapse.7

The earlier appearance of a ghost, a traditional Gothic trope, is by contrast “tempered: ghostly appearances in these novels are not traditionally Gothic in that the ghosts evoke neither fear nor dread in the reader.”8

Jean Toomer’s collection Cane (1923) is critically acclaimed as one of the masterpieces of Harlem Renaissance literature, and one of the first novels to sensitively and insightfully portray the African-Americans of the American South. Cane is also a Gothic: “Toomer’s interest in generic and genetic impurity (for example, the U.S. history of miscegenation) places him firmly within the territory of the Gothic, as does his exploration of the history and meaning of slavery and the modern insistence on uniformity and conformity that he associates with industrialization.”9 As with other African-American Gothics, the ruined landscape of the South–ruined in this case by what Maisha Wester calls “slavery’s haunting specter”10–is a recurring Gothic trope in Cane: “the entirety of the South proves a wild and ruined ‘home’ that hints at a terrible past of sexual violation, gross abuses of authority, and criminal disenfranchisement, much like the haunted houses of the traditional gothic.”11

It might be expected that there would have been African-American horror writers from the beginning of horror as an organized commercial genre. There may well have been such writers during the dime novel era of the nineteenth century and the pulp era of the twentieth century, but they remain unknown: “As Harlan Ellison once noted to Samuel Delany, nothing is known of dozens of the writers of the pulps of the first half of the 20th century. Many of them might have been women or people of color.”12 So the first known horror story of the twentieth century by an African-American author is Zora Neale Hurston’s “Spunk” (1925). “Spunk” is told in the vernacular of African-Americans of rural central Florida and displays the author’s expertise in the folk beliefs of the people she portrays—beliefs alien to most readers of “Spunk,” then and now. “Spunk” is a well-wrought distillation of local folklore into the form of horror fiction, with Hurston’s strong narrative voice and expert use of dialogue emphasizing the horror elements of the story; an intriguing theory that the story is a “complex allusion to Shakespeare’s Hamlet” should add to the reader’s appreciation of Hurston’s artistry.13

Ann Petry’s The Street (1946) is about the life of a black woman and single mother, and deals with themes of racism, sexism, and classism. The Street was critically acclaimed on publication and was seen as breathing new life into the social criticism novel and the naturalistic novel. Less commented upon by critics are the deeply Gothic aspects of the novel. Keith Clark is undoubtedly correct when he writes that “at least through the 1960s, the preponderance of black literature might be considered a ‘literature of terror,’ with slavery of course standing in as the ‘original sin’ which provided the artistic matrix for subsequent black authors,”14 with The Street standing as an exception:

Petry’s Afro-Gothic defies such jejune categories as protest gothic or feminist gothic or Afrocentric gothic…the scope of Petry’s narrative concerns—horror; sexual and racial neuroses; unquenchable materialism and the dis-ease it engenders; spatial confinement; commodity, racial, and gender fetishisms—moves The Street beyond the realm of “social” terror. The novel’s catholicity marks Petry’s as a malleable gothic architectonics, the framework of which she manipulates and alters for manifold rhetorical ends.15

The list of the Gothic tropes in The Street reads like a checklist of archetypal Gothic elements: “catatonia, paroxysmal, blood-curdling violence; confinement and entombment; psychosexual neuroses; villainous and shape-shifting characters who worry and dislocate the line separating ‘good’ and ‘evil’; and an omnipresent and palpable specter of impending death.”16

Alice Walker’s “The Child Who Favored Daughter” (1973) makes for horrifying, if mesmerizing, reading. About a sullen, Bible-thumping African-American sharecropper who deals with the guilt over his sister’s life and suicide and with his attraction to his own daughter by imprisoning, torturing, and killing her, “The Child Who Favored Daughter” has no supernatural elements, but needs none to be thoroughly horrific and terrifying. The story is a thoroughly professional mixture of technique, emotion, storytelling, horror, and confronting what in the African-American literary community of the 1960s aroused only “silent but unreconcilable antipathy.”17 Further, as Maisha Wester argues, “The Child Who Favored Daughter” “challenges the ideas of black monolithic identity and allegiance using the tropes of incest, murder, torture, and suicide to illustrate the dire consequences of melancholic subject formation in connection to the construction of racial allegiance.”18

The wave of paperback horror novels during the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s was in some respects similar to the wave of pulp horror stories published in the 1920s and 1930s, with a number of novels written by authors about whom there is little information. Just as with the pulps, so too with the paperback horror novels: some or perhaps many of these authors could have been men or women of color. One author who is known to have been African-American was Joseph Nazel, the writer of the Blaxploitation horror novel The Black Exorcist (1974), a Blaxploitation version of Blatty’s The Exorcist. The Black Exorcist uses familiar Blaxploitation tropes, from a Satanic cult that was a front for the Mafia to the protagonist, a former pimp who found God, as well as a surprising dose of realism: “Nazel was an African-American man deeply tied to his community, and so The Black Exorcist has a real feel for L.A. street life.”19 However, The Black Exorcist did not spawn imitators or create a wave of African-American authors writing commercial horror novels.

Arguably the first work of horror by a professional African-American writer of fantastika was Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” (1984). “Bloodchild,” a science fiction novella which tells the story of human males on another planet who bear alien children, won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Award in 1985. “Bloodchild” “explores the paradoxes of power and inequality, and starkly portrays the experience of a class who, like women throughout most of history, are valued chiefly for their reproductive capacities.”20 “Bloodchild” does this through squirm-inducing implantation scenes, creating a body horror narrative that is both visceral and philosophical, and which Butler wrote as a way to “ease an old fear of mine…I worried about the botfly—an insect with, what seemed to me then, horror-movie habits.”21

Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills (1985) centers around an affluent black suburb and spotlights its material corruption and moral decay. A contemporary allegory with Gothic overtones, Linden Hills is

a modern version of Dante’s Inferno in which souls are damned not because they have offended God or have violated a religious system but because they have offended themselves. In their single-minded pursuit of upward mobility, the inhabitants of Linden Hills, a black, middle-class suburb, have turned away from their past and from their deepest sense of who they are.22

As Maisha Wester writes,

Naylor’s text is overtly gothic. The villain, Luther Nedeed, is a mysterious and anachronistic mortician often described as better placed in the nineteenth century. The neighborhood of Linden Hills winds and rambles, replacing the gothic’s sprawling mansion with its unusual occurrences and haunting noises, and its residents are inhuman automatons who serve the will of a single, demonic, seemingly ageless man. Willa, the novel’s heroine, is not only a variation of the stock “mad-woman-in-the-attic” character, but also frequently compared to Poe’s vengeful Madeline Usher…Naylor even symbolically evokes cannibalism to round out her gothic story.23

Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) is a ghost story about the horrific prices slavery demanded from the enslaved. Although Beloved contains a number of frightening supernatural moments, its central purpose is to conceptually horrify–that is, to appall the reader through the knowledge of what was done to slaves like the protagonist and her family and loved ones. “Beloved is more of a work of magical realism than it is a traditional ghost narrative in that the appearance of the supernatural is not necessarily a disturbing disruption of reality, but instead an accepted part of the daily world.”24 Beloved is, as S.T. Joshi notes, “an exquisite prose poem…[that] focuses so intently on the horror and tragedy of slavery that all other features in it dwindle to insignificance.”25

Randall Kenan’s A Visitation of Spirits (1989) depicts the traumatic effects of slavery on generations of African-Americans, but the primary driver of events is the protagonist’s confusion, guilt, and disgust at his own homosexuality. The protagonist ends up possessed by demons–who may only be imaginary–and commits suicide after a night of horrifying psychological struggle. As Maisha Wester writes, Kenan “performs revisions of the Gothic that prove particularly noteworthy and complex. Kenan uses the genre to reveal the archetypal depictions of racial, sexual, and gendered Others as constructions useful in the production of (white) patriarchal dominance.”26 Kenan’s stylistic razzle-dazzle is technically superb but diminishes the emotional impact of the horror aspects of protagonist’s struggle, leaving it only conceptually horrific.

Jewelle Gomez’s novel The Gilda Stories (1991) is both the first vampire novel with a black protagonist and the first vampire novel written by an African-American author. A kind of revision of Stoker’s Dracula and of the literary vampire tradition more generally, The Gilda Stories not only makes the vampire a hero–an authorial maneuver that was becoming more common in 1991–but also a black lesbian. This “‘recasting the mythology’ of the vampire…into a black, lesbian, fugitive slave politicizes a nexus of issues, including sexuality and race,”27 and its positioning of the protagonist vampire as the hero of the story, both signal the author’s intention not to tell a traditionally horrifying vampire story. Instead, the horror is, as with most of the narratives described in this chapter, primarily conceptual: what is done to the protagonist through her history, because of her ethnicity and sexuality, is disturbing, even without the expected scenes of vampires menacing innocents.

Tananarive Due’s The Between (1995) is a combination horror novel, detective story, and suspense/thriller, about a man who was saved from drowning as a child, but as an adult begins to believe, thanks to messages from his subconscious, that his survival was a mistake. An intriguing story, full of suspense, tension-filled moments, and elements of Ghanian folk tales and ghost stories, The Between also boasts strong characterization and a protagonist whose crumbling sanity is chillingly drawn.

Linda Addison’s collection Animated Objects (1997) contained science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories and poems. Addison’s horror is variable, appropriate for each story but without a unifying theme or underlying philosophy. Technically, though, Addison is a skilled horrorist, capable of describing bleak and frightening urban landscapes, literally hellish paranoia, and nightmarish claustrophobia with equal intensity.

  1. When the writer Zora Neale Hurston went on an African-American-folklore-gathering expedition in 1927 and 1928, she gathered nearly 500 primarily west African folktales, of which fifteen were in the categories “Devil Tales” (stories in which the Devil was either the protagonist or the antagonist) and “Witch and Haunt Tales” (stories about witches and ghosts). While these stories were told by people unexposed to Western horror literature or traditions, they nonetheless had substantial horror elements and provided a foundation for the first African-American horror writers.
  2. Keith Clark, The Radical Fiction of Ann Petry (Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 2013), 93-94.
  3. Maisha L. Wester, African-American Gothic: Screams from Shadowed Places (New York: Palgrave, 2012), 35.
  4. Wester, African-American Gothic, 69.
  5. Ellen J. Goldner, “Other(ed) Ghosts: Gothicism and the Bonds of Reason in Melville, Chesnutt, and Morrison,” MELUS 24, no. 1 (Spring, 1999): 71.
  6. Wester, African-American Gothic, 71.
  7. Wester, African-American Gothic, 72.
  8. Christine A. Wooley, “Haunted Economies: Race, Retribution, and Money in Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood and W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Quest of the Silver Fleece,” in Haunting Realities: Natguralist Gothic and American Realism, ed. Monika Ebert and Wendy Ryden (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2017), 134.
  9. Daphne Lamothe, “Cane: Jean Toomer’s Gothic Black Modernism,” in The Gothic Other: Racial and Social Constructions in the Literary Imagination, ed. Ruth Bienstock Anolik and Douglas L. Howard (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004), 56.
  10. Wester, African-American Gothic, 107.
  11. Wester, African-American Gothic, 109.
  12. Jess Nevins, “The Black Fantastic: Highlights of Pre-World War II African and African-American Speculative Fiction,” io9.com, accessed Feb. 18, 2019, https://io9.gizmodo.com/5947122/the-black-fantastic-highlights-of-pre-world-war-ii-african-and-african-american-speculative-fiction.
  13. David G. Hale, “Hurston’s ‘Spunk’ and Hamlet,” Studies in Short Fiction 30.3 (Summer, 1993), 397.
  14. Clark, Ann Petry, 95.
  15. Clark, Ann Petry, 97.
  16. Clark, Ann Petry, 97.
  17. Trudier Harris, “Tipotoeing through Taboo: Incest in ‘The Child Who Favored Daughter,’” Modern Fiction Studies 28, no. 3 (Autumn 1982): 495.
  18. Wester, African-American Gothic, 150.
  19. Hendrix, Paperbacks from Hell, 30-32.
  20. Sherley Anne Williams, “Sherley Anne Williams on Octavia E. Butler,” Ms., March 1986, 70.
  21. Octavia E. Butler, “Afterword,” in Bloodchild and Other Stories (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1995), 36.
  22. Catherine C. Ward, “Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills: A Modern Inferno,” Contemporary Literature 28, no. 1 (Spring, 1987): 67.
  23. Wester, African-American Gothic, 150-151.
  24. June Pulliam, “Morrison, Toni,” in Supernatural Literature of the World, ed. S.T. Joshi and Stefan Dziemianowicz (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2005), 821.
  25. Joshi, Unutterable Horror, 684-685.
  26. Maisha Wester, “Haunting and Haunted Queerness: Randall Kenan’s Re-Inscription of Difference in ‘A Visitation of Spirits,’” Callaloo 30, no. 4 (Fall, 2007): 1035.
  27. Cedric Gael Bryant, “‘The Soul has Bandaged Moments’: Reading the African-American Gothic in Wright’s ‘Big Boy Leaves Home,’ Morrison’s ‘Beloved,’ and Gomez’s ‘Gilda,’” African-American Review 39, no. 4 (Winter 2006): 550.
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Table of Contents for the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

So in case you haven’t heard, I’m writing a second edition of the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana. In all likelihood self-published, this time, because the second edition will have around 150,000 new words–new entries, added scholarly apparatus, corrections and additions–and that pushes the Encyclopedia up over 790,000 words, which is much too long for one book and for any publisher to be interested in. I’ll be doing an eBook of the second edition, of course, since as a print book it’s going to run to three volumes.

(All that being said, there’s the slightest chance that a traditional publisher might be interested in the book, and we’re pursuing that chance now).

The manuscript is finished and proofed and spell-checked. All that it needs now is an index (which I won’t build until I know whose pagination I’ll be drawing from, my own or a publisher) and a cover (which my wife will create unless a publisher grabs the book). In the meantime, would you like to see the table of contents?

 

The List of Titles & Entries for The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, second edition

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“The King Waits,” by Clemence Dane (1918).

“Clemence Dane” was the pseudonym of Winifred Ashton, who started adult life as an artist and actress before deteriorating health during World War One led her to begin writing. “The King Waits” was one of her first published stories, following Dane’s first novel, Regiment of Women (1917), notorious in its time for its portrayal of a lesbian schoolteacher at an all-girl’s school. “The King Waits” did not attract the attention that Regiment of Women did, or that Dane’s second novel, Legend (1919), did. (Legend also has a lesbian theme, leading to persistent speculation that Dane, who never married and had a “secretary-companion” of many years, was gay). Dane began writing plays and found success in that medium, with her A Bill of Divorcement (1921) becoming a hit and eventually a 1932 film starring Katherine Hepburn and John Barrymore. Dane continued to write plays but added screenplays and mystery and fantasy novels to her resume. In 1946 she won an Academy Award for Vacation From Marriage; among the literary set, she gained fame as one of Noel Coward’s “muses.” Later in life she edited a series of science fiction novels for a British publisher, publishing John Christopher and C.M. Kornbluth among others.

Dane was largely a mainstream writer–and, obviously, a successful one–but the supernatural can be found in some of her stories and novels, whether overtly, as in Legend and The Babylons (1927) and “Frau Holde” (1935), or more subtly, as in “The King Waits,” which is also notable for its portrayal of Anne Boleyn, who in Dane’s hands is neither evangelizing, religious, or remorseful, but proud and not a little frightening.

The morning was a Friday, the month was May; it was the twenty-eighth year of the Eighth Henry’s reign over England, and it needed five minutes to be noon. On Richmond Hill, under the great spring-leaved oak, stood Henry the King. His outstretched hand commanded silence, and his huntsmen stilled the restless coupled hounds in dumb show, with furtive, sidelong glances, fearing that outstretched jewel-laden hand, that arrogant glance. Who will disobey Harry the King, calling in that furious voice for silence? Even the midday sun, as a little cloud slipped from its face, poured down such an answering concentration of heat upon the green hill-side that the noon hush seemed an act of grace from one royalty to another. There was instantly no sound at all save the panting of the half-throttled hounds and the dry whisper of innumerable caterpillars hissing in innumerable leaves; for there was a blight that spring in the oak-woods.

For one minute—two—three—the silence endured; then a burst of wind broke it: and all the trees in Richmond Park began once more to strain, creak, rustle, and the scent of the May drifted by again in gusts, and high overhead the clouds too renewed their voyage eastward through the heavenly blue. Over the Tower of London, as the wind lulled once more, they banked together again, a white tower of the sky.

Far below the scent of the white may drifted over the town and in through the windows, doorways, and courtyards of the Tower, and over the Tower green. Through slits in the wall the river sparkled in the noon sunshine; but still it lacked four minutes to be noon.

Across the green to the new scaffold came Anne the Queen, dressed in black damask with a white cape, and her hat was in the fashion. The Lieutenant of the Tower helped her to mount the steps. She had her glance and her nod for the waiting swordsman; then she looked down upon her friends and upon her enemies gathered close about her harsh death-bed; said to them that which was in her mind to say; adjusted her dress and freed the small neck; then knelt. But she would not let friend or enemy cover her eyes, and though she knelt she did not bow her head, but looked again keenly upon the silenced crowd: and for the last time called upon the ready blood to flush her cheeks.

She had always been able to redden thus into beauty when she chose; and now the hot blood did not fail her. It was at its old trick, brightening her black eyes: and this was ever the sign of crisis with her. With that sudden flush she had won her game— how often?—with this king and husband who had now beaten her. She felt a strange pang of longing to remember, to finger once again her glorious victories over time, absence, malice, envy, a queen, a cardinal, a king—and her own resentful heart.

She was not used to deny herself any wish; so, lifting her head, she let the spell work for the last time: and her executioner, meeting that full glance, hesitated and turned aside, as if his part were not yet ready to be played. Again he advanced: again she looked at him, and had the last triumph of her beauty as she won her respite. He would wait her pleasure for a minute, no more than a minute; but she knew now that the tales they had told of drowning men were true. The dying see their lives in a minute: she, dying, would see again her life.

She turned her eyes away from the frightened faces of her women, from faithful Mary Wyatt’s weeping agony: she looked in turn upon her gaoler Kingston, on courteous Gwynn clutching in his hand her last gift, on thankless Cromwell, on Suffolk’s exultant face. But here her glance checked, her very heart checked on its beat, for beside Suffolk, her enemy, stood a nearer enemy; it seemed to her that her husband’s eyes glittered at her, set in a younger, comelier countenance. So Henry had sent his bastard to watch her die! She smiled to herself as she thought that it was like him, like her fool and tyrant, her Henry, husband, king! She thought that he himself would have been glad to watch her die: he could not for his dignity, so he sent his left-hand son, young Richmond. Yes, to act thus was like Henry, and young Richmond, watching her, was very like Henry: she had seen on many a May morning that eager parting of the full, pinched mouth, that glistening of small, hard eyes.

Suddenly her thirty-odd years of life began to speed across her eyeballs, quickly and softy, like the scudding clouds above her speeding over the Tower in the spring wind. Childhood and youth at Hever Castle—in a flash she saw those spring years pass, and herself journeying to France in the train of Henry’s sister. Little thought fifteen-year-old Anne Boleyn that she would ever call the Queen of France sister! But she saw herself, nevertheless, all unconscious, dancing, dressing, laughing, learning, learning always to be a queen. And so home again to England, to the Court at Windsor Castle, like that last lone small cloud above her scudding across the sky to join the massed castles of the air. And there she saw herself for a little while serving the good dull Katharine; but she had no memory of Katharine’s lord, Henry King of England. Another face and form flitted across her eyeballs, of another Henry—Henry Percy, heir to the dukedom of Northumberland.

A high wind drove in upon the clouds as she watched, and scattered them all ways, while the executioner whispered with his underling. Thus boisterously, she thought, had Henry the King driven in upon love and lovers. Henry Percy is rated by the butcher’s son, Wolsey, the hated cardinal; and his father summoned; and shamed Anne is dismissed the Court.

Home again goes Anne to Hever, her marriage and her heart broken, and never knows, so innocent is this earlier Anne, why misfortune cut off her happiness at a blow, like a skilled swordsman striking off a queen’s head. But when a guest arrived at Hever Castle—then Anne knows!

Henry the King comes to Hever very sure of his welcome. And indeed her father and her stepmother may scour the county for fish, flesh, fowl and fruits in their season; and summon country gentlemen and ladies, and handsome boys and pleasant girls, to make feasts and plan pleasures for the King. But Maistresse Anne keeps her chamber. Henry is master of Hever, not of Anne. Anne knows now who has parted her, with Wolsey’s help, from Henry Percy, true love, first love, and she will teach that greedy mouth, those glistening eyes, a lesson. Henry the King is the singular good lord and favourable prince of Sir Thomas and Lady Boleyn; but Maistresse Anne Boleyn keeps her chamber. Let the King learn what it means to part lovers! Let him wait and chafe and learn!

She watched him in memory once more as he rode away from Hever, an angry, hungry king, spurring his horse. She watched him and his train dwindling in the distance to such ant-like folk and swallowed up by young green and pure white may hedges, under just such a blue sky in just such windy weather. What a wind! There’s no sound at all in the world but the hurry of the royal wind. When will it strike twelve? Is it a minute or a lifetime since she knelt?

More clouds scud across the sky, more years scud across her dying eyes. She saw again her father, and smiled as she remembered that he, too, had been among those who condemned her. Strange father! Coward father! But he had liked his new title, all those years ago—Viscount Rochford sounded well; and her sister’s husband was glad enough to be Gentleman of the Privy Chamber; and for herself there was a place at Court again, and jewels! (But Henry Percy is exiled to Northumberland!) Once more she saw that greedy mouth; once more she fell very humbly on her knees, summoned the lovely blood to her cheek, and said her say to Henry the King:

“Your wife I cannot be, both in respect of mine own unworthiness, and also because you have a queen already. Your mistress I will not be.”

And so home again to Hever in just such soft blue weather, to read humble letters from a once blustering king, who knows now what it means to be a lover parted from his love. How did his letter go?

“I beseech you earnestly to let me know your real mind as to the love between us. . . . If it does not please you to answer me in writing, let me know some place where I may have it by word of mouth; and I will go thither with all my heart. No more for fear of tiring you.”

But he tires her none the less, and she will not go to meet him. Let him wait! Let him wait his four years!

They scud by like clouds, as her cheek burns with a new memory of hate and reckoning. What of Wolsey? How shall Wolsey be paid if Anne pines at Hever while die King waits unsatisfied?

So Anne Boleyn comes to town again and serves the Queen again, and takes her place at last as King’s bliss: queens it at Hampton, at Windsor, and at Greenwich, and holds her state in the Cardinal’s own York House. How else should Wolsey be taught what it is to part lovers? (But Henry Percy has married a wife and will not come again!) Let Wolsey learn what he has to pay for crossing “the foolish girl yonder in the Court.”

She saw herself again, while Katharine, her mistress, sat weeping and praying and sewing with her dull maids, reigning at the feasts the shaken Cardinal prepared for her; saw herself May Queen on May mornings and Lady of the Revels on Christmas Eves; till, at the Greenwich midnight masque, the French ambassador watching, she danced (mark it, butcher’s son!) in public with the King, the flush upon her cheek, and listened afterwards to Henry’s own song:—

The eagle force subdues each bird that flies:
What metal can resist the flaming fire?
Doth not the sun dazzle the clearest eyes.
And melt the ice and make the frost retire?

The ice, indeed, is melting. Lord Cardinal! You were not wise to go to France; less wise when you returned to dissuade a king from changing old queens for new. Anne Boleyn has other weapons than her brilliant eyes, her burning cheek, her dancing feet, and quick tongue. Henry has been jealous once; he shall be jealous again! King Henry is not the only lover who sings to Anne his own verses. Besides, Tom Wyatt has a look of Henry Percy (married, out of sight, never out of mind!), and is a bolder man than Percy.

She lived again through the day when Henry stole a ring from her finger and swaggered out to play at bowls with Wyatt. Again she watched all from her window, and heard all—King Henry crying out that he wins: and Wyatt telling him that, by his leave, it is not so!—and Henry’s chuckle as he points with his new-ringed finger, crying:

“Wyatt, I tell thee, it is mine!”

But Wyatt, too, wears a keepsake under his Court suit over his heart. What can a poet and a lover do but draw from that hiding place the jewel swinging on its chain.

“Give me leave to measure the cast with this, and I have good hopes yet it will be mine!”

Once again she saw him stoop, measure, and prove winner; and rise to face the Tudor thunderstorm.

“It may be so, but then I am deceived.” And away storms Henry to her chamber crying~”What is Wyatt to you?”

She remembered how easily then she dealt with him and his jealousies: how she struck her bargain: and how, five years later, while she, the new-made Marchioness of Pembroke, sat on the King’s knee, and he kissed her, not caring who saw, she heard Wyatt’s voice singing to her new ladies-in-waiting his farewell song—

Forget not yet thine own approved,
The which so constant hath thee loved.
Whose steadfast faith has never moved;
Forget not yet!

Poor Tom Wyatt! The scent of the may drifts across the scaffold like the scent of the rose-water that it was his office to pour upon her hands on her coronation day. And there was another May morning to remember—the best to remember!

The flush on her cheek deepened, and her head sank as she saw herself three years ago, only three years ago, journeying to the Tower, this same Tower that now witnessed her last journey’s end. She saw the press of cheering folk at Greenwich, the branches of the oaks cracking under the weight of citizens, the may-bushes clambered over, with gaping faces thrust out, scratched and red and laughable between the pure clots of bloom. She saw again the Lord Mayor and his scarlet haberdashers, and felt the jewels on his glove dent her fingers as she put her hand in his that he might lead her to the State barge.

It waited for her on the breast of the sparkling river, the same sparkling river sparkling now through slits in her prison walls. But then the river was alive with pageantry, and instead of black damask she wore cloth of gold; and the world was full of noise where now was deadly silence and the executioner’s foot behind her, breaking the silence.

But her mind rejected utterly that stealthy sound: it was filled with memories of the glorious noises—the cries of all the people and the tinkling of the fluttering, bell-sewn flags as the barge poled out into mid-stream with fifty lesser barges following. All London moved that May morning with her towards the Tower, so that her progress turned the very Thames back upon its course. (Why not when she, Anne Boleyn, had already turned back history, shaken Spain, defeated Rome, killed a cardinal, and wrecked a queen?) The great fiery dragon spat fire from the foist, and from the bachelor barge came trumpet-calls once more, and, from the maiden’s barge, unceasing high-pitched singing, sweet as the singing of the waking birds had been when she met Henry Percy, not Henry of England, by stealth under the Greenwich hawthorn trees. Well, she had avenged that lost sweetness! Wolsey had parted her from Henry Percy, and where was Wolsey now? fallen, as she was falling: dead, as she in another instant must lie dead! But Henry Percy had been gaoler to the great cardinal before the end, had led the cardinal, his legs bound beneath his horse’s belly like any other felon, to his prison and his grave. She had taught the greatest man in England what it cost to part lovers.

A smile lit up her face as she remembered that lesson, and the watchers saw it and wondered, and weeping Mary Wyatt called her in her heart “saint” and “innocent”; and young Richmond thought of his father, awaiting on Richmond Hill for the boom of the cannon, and wondered if he should report that inexplicable, triumphant smile. How slowly the man from Calais goes about his business! Look, he swings his sword! Does the kneeling creature know that the French executioner is swinging his sword?

But Anne did not see the present. She was smiling at her achieved past. She saw that she had done what she set out to do unafraid. She could say, when her sins rose up and looked at her, that she had never, in life or death, been made afraid. She had been fit mother for kings and queens: and—who knows? Wheels turn!—her Elizabeth might yet rule England, like her mother, unafraid! She saw again so clearly, lying open before her, the book of prophecies found once in her room, hidden there to frighten her by friends of Katharine. There had been a picture of Henry and weeping Katharine, and herself between them, kneeling at the block even as she knelt now. But when her frightened maid called out, “If this were prophesied of me, I would not have him, were he emperor!” she had answered—

“I am resolved to have him, that my issue may be royal, whatever may become of me.”

She murmured the words again half aloud, and heard Mary’s gasp from the scaffold foot—”She prays!” and saw the sudden upward flash of faces, watching a movement that she heard behind her but could not see. What? had so many years, had her whole life flashed before her eyes in so brief a minute? Yet the minute was too long, it seemed, for these watchers! Thy grew impatient and would hurry her into death. Let them know that the Queen dies at her own minute, not at theirs! Not thus had they hurried her two years ago from Greenwich landing to the Tower. They had led her slowly to the Tower then, that all the town might see her beauty. And Henry, her king and husband, had met her in the gateway and welcomed her most joyfully. She felt again upon her lips his loving kiss, and his great arm flung about her neck.

It fell upon her neck again like an all-ending blow; and there was a booming in her ears….

The echoes of the gun went rolling round and out over the Tower walls, went rolling over the City and its suburbs, went rolling with the river up to Richmond Hill. Henry the King, motionless beneath the oak, like a painted monarch, like a card king of hearts, heard the heavy voice and understood the awaited, welcome message.

He started joyfully from his trance and, stripping a little ring from his finger, flung it into a bloom-laden may-thorn bush ten yards away.

“The deed is done!” cried Henry. “Uncouple the hounds and away!”

He clambered to his saddle while the statues of his huntsmen, his horses, and his hounds came to life about him, and, spurring his eager beast, led the hunt westward, ever westward, towards Wiltshire and Jane Seymour, and his wedding morrow.

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Horror Needs No Passport Table of Contents & Index

Hi–

Some of y’all are curious about what countries and which authors I included in Horror Needs No Passport, so I made a .pdf out of the Table of Contents and the Index. You can download the .pdf here.

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My new book is available!

I’ve self-published a guide to international horror fiction–that is, horror fiction published outside the United States and the United Kingdom–published during the twentieth century. It’s called Horror Needs No Passport, and it’s available now as a paperback and for pre-order as an ebook.

Enjoy!

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Annotations to League: Tempest are up!

Updated annotations to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Tempest #1 are available here.

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My Readercon presentation is up!

At Readercon 29 I did a presentation on African horror literature of the twentieth century. There were requests for the presentation to be made available, so I’ve put them up as a website and as a .pdf. Enjoy!

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Books I’m going to order

This one’s for my homies over on Twitter. At the college library I work at, we (quite unexpectedly) have some extra money to spend on books. We (the college) also have classes on horror fiction and film. So I decided to increase our collection of horror fiction, so that when the students want to write their papers and do their presentations, they’ll have an array of books to read and use. I mentioned this on Twitter, and there was interest from folks there about what books I was going to order. So here’s the list (which includes a few non-horror novels I thought the library should own) (keep in mind that a lot of omissions here are either out of print or already owned by the library):

  • Robert Aickman’s Compulsory Games
  • Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories
  • Elechi Amadi’s The ConcubineThe Great Ponds
  • Leonid Andreyev’s The Abyss
  • Ines Arredondo’s The Underground River
  • Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Pather Panchali
  • Charles Beaumont’s A Touch of the Creature
  • E.F. Benson’s Night Terrors
  • Michel Bernanos’ The Other Side of the Mountain
  • Robert Bloch’s The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch
  • Maria Luisa Bombal’s House of Mist
  • Marjorie Bowen’s The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories
  • Serge Brussolo’s Deep Sea Diver’s Syndrome
  • Dino Buzzati’s Catastrophe and Other Stories, Tartar Steppe
  • Leonora Carrington’s The Complete Stories
  • Fred Chappell’s Dagon
  • John Collier’s Fancies and Goodnights
  • A.E. Coppard’s The Black Dog
  • Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch, Blow-Up, We Love Glenda So Much
  • Cristina Fernandez Cubas’ Nona’s Room
  • Bernard Dadie’s The Black Cloth
  • Amparo Davila’s The Houseguest
  • Walter de la Mare’s Out of the Deep
  • Mario de Sa-Carneiro’s The Great Shadow
  • Giorgio di Maria’s Twenty Days of Turin
  • Birago Diop’s Tales of Amadou Koumba
  • Jose Donoso’s The Obscene Bird of Night
  • Lord Dunsany’s In The Land of TimeGods of Pegana
  • Stanley Ellin’s The Specialty of the House
  • Buchi Emechata’s The Rape of ShaviThe Joys of Motherhood
  • Daniel Fagunwa’s Forest of a Thousand Daemons
  • Rosario Ferre’s The Youngest Doll
  • Mary Wilkins Freeman’s A Mary Wilkins Freeman Reader
  • Enchi Fumiko’s Masks, A Tale of False Fortunes
  • Stefan Grabinski’s The Dark Domain
  • Julien Gracq’s Dark Stranger
  • Ken Greenhall’s Hell Hound
  • Davis Grubb’s Night of the Hunter 
  • Hella Haasse’s The Black Lake
  • Wilson Harris’ Palace of the Peacock
  • L.P. Hartley’s The Travelling Grave
  • Sadegh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl
  • Felisberto Hernandez’s Piano Stories
  • William Hope Hodgon’s The House on the Borderlands
  • Margaret Irwin’s Still She Wished For Company
  • Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill HouseWe Have Always Lived in the Castle
  • Nick Joaquin’s The Woman Who Had Two Navels
  • Gerald Kersh’s Nightshades and Damnation
  • Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes, The Face of Another 
  • Kurahashi Yumiko’s The Woman with the Flying Head
  • Kyoka Izumi’s Japanese Gothic Tales
  • Carmen Laforet’s Nada
  • Tommaso Landolfi’s Gogol’s Wife
  • Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King
  • Vernon Lee’s Hauntings and Other Fantastic Tales
  • Maurice Level’s Thirty Hours with a Corpse
  • Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby
  • Mieko Kanai’s Word Book
  • Ibrahim Kuni’s The Bleeding of the Stone
  • Leopold Lugones’ Leopold Lugones-Selected Writings
  • Dorothy Macardle’s The Uninvited
  • Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories
  • Gustav Meyrink’s Walpurgisnacht
  • Edgar Mittelholzer’s EltonsbrodyMy Bones and My Flute
  • Premendra Mitra’s The Mosquito
  • Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka
  • Ibrahim Nasrallah’s Prairies of Fever
  • Silvina Ocampo’s And Thus Were Their Faces
  • Ben Okri’s The Famished Road
  • Oliver Onions’ The Hand of Kornelius Voyt
  • Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet
  • Horacio Quiroga’s The Decapitated Chicken
  • Graciliano Ramos’ Barren Lives
  • Forrest Reid’s Denis Bracknell
  • Merce Rodoreda’s The Time of the DovesA Broken Mirror
  • Joao Guimaraes Rosa’s Backlands
  • Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Parama
  • Ernesto Sabato’s The TunnelAngel of Darkness
  • Sarban’s The Sound of His Horn
  • May Sinclair’s Uncanny Stories
  • Armonia Somers’ The Naked Woman
  • Muriel Spark’s four novel collection
  • Tanizaki Junichiro’s Seven Japanese Tales
  • Sony Labou Tansi’s Life and a Half
  • Lygia Fagundes Telles’ The Girl in the Photograph
  • Jamie-Martinez Tolentino’s 13 After Midnight
  • Amos Tutuola’s Palm Wine Drinkard
  • H.R. Wakefield’s The Red Lodge
  • Eudora Welty’s The Robber Bridegroom
  • Robert Westall’s Antique Dust
  • John Wyndham’s Day of the TriffidsMidwich Cuckoos
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Annotations to Xerxes #2 are up.

Click on the image to read the annotations.

Not as much to write about this time around, although the issue did have enough inventions, fabrications, and floutings of history to keep me busy.

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New comic book annotations by me.

When I heard that Frank Miller was going to be doing another series on ancient Greece–a sort-of sequel to 300–I knew I had to do something. 300 is in my view a reprehensible garbage fire, an oozing sore of Bad History and bad faith writing, and too many people took it to be legitimate history rather than the homophobic, xenophobic toxic fairy tale that it was/is.

So a sequel to that? I had to do something. And since I can’t prevent Frank Miller from writing any more, the most I can do is write something critical of his work. So–

Annotations to Xerxes #1.

They are admittedly long–I went the full annotation route this time–but I think they’re worth reading.

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