If you write dark fantasy, pulp, or gothic stories, here are novels, novellas, and short stories that in my humble opinion I would really encourage you to read.
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The Thing from the Lake, by Eleanor M. Ingram
One of the joys of ManyBooks.net is they introduce me to books that have been lost through the ages. As a fan of early 20th century dark romantic fantasy, Eleanor M. Ingram’s The Thing From The Lake is a priceless find and until I found it available here, I never knew of the author or her work.
The Thing From The Lake makes an interesting triumvirate with Abraham Merritt’s The Moon Pool and William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland, all available from Manybooks.net. In each story, a man battles an otherworldly horror for the love of an otherworldly woman. Though Ingram’s story is the weakest of the three because of its literal deus ex machina ending, by no means should one hesitate to add this pearl to your collection.
Interestingly, though Ingram only lived to her mid-30’s (1886-1921), she was a prolific author with at least four novels and over 20 short stories to her credit. She lived to see four of her works made into films (one directed by Cecil B. DeMille) yet surprisingly, the researcher will have great difficulty in finding any biographical information on her. Therefore, kudos to Many books.com for playing an important part in rescuing this writer from a death by obscurity. She deserves to be read and enjoyed.
Ringstones, by Sarban (John William Wall)
John William Wall (1910 – 1989), writing under the pen name Sarban, was a British writer and diplomat.
His diplomatic legacy is certainly greater than his literary legacy, but what he did write is worth noting.
Ringstones is a dark fantasy that takes place in a desolate English countryside at a remote manor called Ringstones after the local stone circle. Daphne Hazel becomes a summer governess to three children who seem unworldly and fay.
In a manner reminiscent of Arthur Machen (The Great God Pan, The White People), the horror grows so subtly, you don't know it is on you until almost the very last page.
If your taste runs to the weird and fantastic, Ringstones is well worth the time and patience.
The Burial of the Rats, by Bram Stoker
The Burial of the Rats by Abraham "Bram" Stoker (1847–1912) is a truly suspenseful tale of a young man who finds himself in a very bad part of Paris and must flee for his life.
And the rats are the least of his worries.
That this has never been made into a movie, especially with today's taste for thriller and "slasher" films, is quite a surprise.
Almuric, by Robert E. Howard
Almuric is the ultimate he-man pulp from Robert Howard in a tale so laden with testosterone that you don't read the story as much as it jumps off the page and gnaws on your leg for awhile.
Esau Cairn is a man who makes Conan the Barbarian look like a pantywaist. Escaping from a charge of murder, Esau finds a scientist who sends him on a one-way trip to a far-flung and primitive planet.
Much blood, gore, and grunting ensues.
The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories, by E.M. Forster
The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories was written in 1911 by Edward Morgan Forster (1879 – 1970), an English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist.
The best way to enjoy these stories is like that of an experienced traveler to foreign lands. The mature wanderer knows that you cannot demand the country change itself for you, but that one must adapt to the country to discover its riches and wonders. True enjoyment takes work.
There truly are riches and wonders in this collection of six short stories, but to appreciate their essence, one is going to have to give up the hard boiled cynicism of the 21st century and embrace the romance, mystery, and pure wonder of fin de siècle Great Britain. The mature reader who will let Forster speak for himself is surely in for a treat. In these tales you will meet a spoiled young man whose life is changed by a visit from an ancient god (The Story of a Panic), question whether life is a rat race or maybe something more (The Other Side of the Hedge). If you are willing to pay for the ticket, you'll visit a land where the works of great authors (if not the authors themselves) have a Heaven all their own (The Celestial Omnibus) and that classic myths can be repeated again and again (Other Kingdom) to great tragic effect. You'll also meet an irreverent faun who becomes the best friend of a reverent clergyman (The Curate's Friend) and discover that the call to wonder can be found in the strangest places (The Road from Colonus) as well as the price that must be paid to ignore it.
So pack your bags and get ready for a trip. The ticket is free, but if you truly have a soul that is sensitive to what C. S. Lewis called the numinous, like all good travelers, you may bring back more from the trip than what you left with.
The Three Impostors, by Arthur Machen
Arthur Machen (1863 – 1947) was a leading Welsh author best known for his influential supernatural, fantasy, and horror fiction.
The Three Impostors is a convoluted tale about three individuals who we meet in the opening paragraphs who are searching for a "young man with spectacles" who has inadvertently stolen something of great importance to a secret society of which they are members.
The story then goes back in time before the opening scene where the three impostors assume various personas and roles, weaving stories about their prey in an effort to attract attention to him and gain the aid of unsuspecting people.
Two of the stories Novel of the Black Seal and The Novel of the White Powder have been anthologized many times apart from The Three Imposters and may be read alone in their offerings by ManyBooks.Net. These two stories are considered by many to be Machen's best and had a profound impact on many authors including H. P. Lovecraft.
Machen's horror is many times subtle especially when compared to today's graphic splatterpunk that passes for contemporary horror. To truly experience the full impact of the end of the novel's horrific ending, the reader is encouraged to return to the beginning of the book and reread the opening scene.
The Great God Pan, by Arthur Machen
H. P. Lovecraft praised this novella of gothic cosmic horror and Machen's story lives up to the praise of the Gentleman of Providence. Anybody who is a fan of Lovecraft's literary body of alienation and horror will enjjoy this tale of an experiment gone wrong and its aftermath.
The Great God Pan met sharp criticism in its day for its sexual overtones and was condemned for its perceived misygonism, but by today's standards with its violence and sexuality taking place well off-stage, the horror is actually increased because of its sublety that leaves so much to the imagination.
My only criticism is that Machen leaves so much unsaid, the story can be rather confusing on its first reading, but if read as a sequel to The White People (even though the latter was written a decade later), the aborted horror that overtook the woman-child in that tale comes to full fruition in The Great God Pan.
Carnacki, The Ghost Finder, by William Hope Hodgson
William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) is better known for his truly terrifying horror/romance The House on the Borderland. In Carnacki, The Ghost Finder he takes on a slightly lighter tone.
These six short stories were first published between 1910 and 1912 in two magazines and then printed together as an anthology in 1913.
The stories all share a similar thread: Thomas Carnacki occasionally invites four of his friends over for dinner and over after-dinner cigars regales them with tales of his latest adventures as a sort of paranormal detective. The stories are quite original, but the solutions are not always supernatural.
Nonetheless, they are well worth the investment of time to read and for this collection I give a rare 5-star approval.
Wood-Ladies, by Perceval Gibbon
Wood-Ladies by Perceval Gibbon (1879-1926) is an eerie little tale of growing suspense that borders between dark fantasy and horror. A little five-year old girl becomes lost in a familiar wood and the question is did she drown in the pond, or was she kidnapped by tramps?
Or could her predicament be far, far worse?
This tale is well worth the 15 minute read.
The Monk of Hambleton, by Armstrong Livingston
Armstrong Livingston was a prolific author, but sadly there is no record of his life or accomplishments except that he was born in 1885.
This is truly a pity because if The Monk of Hambleton is a typical example of his storytelling, Livingston was an author of merit. Fortunately, there are lists of his works available for the dedicated bookworm to explore even if the author himself must remain a cipher.
The Monk of Hambleton is a very satisfying and ingenious murder mystery, but little can be revealed without giving too much of the story away. Needles to say there is a murder, a plethora of suspects, and Peter Creighton, the detective who does not appear until Chapter 10.
The story leads you through the clues and its twists and turns are more fascinating than frustrating. You will think you know who the guilty party is and then change your mind and then reconsider. When the culprit is eventually revealed, be assured that even then, truth may still not be all that it appears.
This one is very much worth your time.
At the Mountains of Madness, by H. P. Lovecraft
I read Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness years ago and several times, but I am so enamored of the novella that I love revisiting the eon-haunted mountains of Antarctica and reliving the wonder and then the horror of the doomed Professor Lake and the rest of his sub-expedition.
Yet, it is when William Dyer, professor of geology at the Miskatonic University and graduate student Danforth travel on into the Mountains of Madness to solve the mysterious deaths of the Lake expedition, the reader is treated to Lovecraft's full descriptive prowess as an author and travel guide to a weird, alien world that is both hauntingly beautiful and nightmarishly terrifying.
Written in 1931 when Antarctica was still mostly unexplored, At The Mountains of Madness is obviously dated as a work of science fiction, but as work of horror with its slowly growing mood of terror, it still succeeds after eighty decades.
Though the body count is quite high, do not expect the splatterpunk of what passes for modern horror. Lovecraft was a master of the art and knew that horror and awe are close companions and he didn't need the cheap trick of the gross-out to reach his goal.
Enjoy a world long gone. It's a quick, but memorable visit.
And closing with something really, really strange and odd and such a bully pulpit and so sincere in its atrociousness, I just love it, so for your consideration:
Darkness and Dawn: A Trilogy, by George Allan England
The Darkness and Dawn trilogy is composed of three separate novellas, all available at the link as one document, or as separate manuscripts on Manybooks.net:
They then wander through the rest of the story having incredible adventures to rival the pulps of the classic age, express their love for each other (for pages and pages and pages), have more incredible adventures they survive by the skin of their teeth, express their love for each other for many more pages, express their disdain for religion and capitalism, face death square in the chops, express more of their love for each other, express how the new world they are going to rebuild will be a socialist paradise, fight to the death with a monster or two, express their love for each other, and ... well, you get the picture.
Along the way we learn that concrete and steel are eternal, that 1,000-year-old food in the tin still tastes good, that Allan can rebuild a pre-WWI plane from deer hides, that fur coats stored carefully for a millennium can still be worn, that people can go into suspended animation and wake up with the clothes rotting off their bodies without any harm to themselves (or even feeling hungry), that a ten-century-old bullet can still fire without any problem, that air pressure does not change to any serious degree if you go to the bottom of a canyon that is well over 50 miles deep, and did I mention that concrete will outlast the heat death of the universe?
And along the way, you'll probably read that Allan and Beatrice are rather fond of each other.
And saints preserve us, but writing this review, I just realized that the author and the main character share the same name which means this story is a type of Mary Sue tale!
Regardless, if you like pulp adventures with lots of action and high body counts, then you have just found paradise.
Just don't analyze the tale too closely.