UNCANNY TALES 2
selected by Dennis Wheatley
Here we have our second volume of uncanny stories – this time all by authors who are still living or who died only comparatively recently.
‘The Great God Pan’ is Arthur Machen’s most famous story. It opens with a Mr Clarke joining his friend, Dr Raymond, to witness an operation by the doctor on a beautiful girl of seventeen, called Mary, whom he rescued from the gutter as a child and has brought up.
The doctor has spent many years studying the human brain and is convinced that if a group of nerves in it – the function of which no scientist has yet discovered – is removed, that will enable the person operated on to see Pan, and thereby acquire knowledge of the mystic world of the spirit while still living on earth.
Mary voluntarily submits to having her skull opened under an anaesthetic and the brain surgery is successfully completed. But when the girl comes to, an incredible change has taken place in her. She has seen Pan. The events that follow grip the reader for many pages with fascination and horror.
W. B. Seabrook is famous for his stories about the black art and has actually witnessed satanic rituals in many parts of the world, including the revolting voodoo ceremonies in Haiti. Here, in ‘The Witch’s Vengeance’, he gives us an excellent tale of a young man becoming bewitched by an evil crone who uses a doll made to him.
E. F. Benson is another expert at chilling us with supernatural horrors. In ‘Gavon’s Eve’ he describes the raising of a young girl from the dead, at a Sabbat convened by an old Scottish witch.
L. P. Hartley is justly celebrated as the author of many fine novels. In ‘Feet Foremost’ he gives us an eerie tale of a ghost that haunted a Suffolk manor house. It is a long-recognised belief that supernatural powers have their limitations, one of which is that evil entities cannot gain access to a house unless they are invited in. But they are very cunning and frequently snare their intended victim into opening the way to them. This tale is based upon that theme.
I have met Mr Hartley only once, but for both of us it was quite an occasion. On the same day we were presented to the President of the Royal Society of Literature and made Fellows.
Waiter de la Mare originally made his name as a poet. Later he added to his fame by several novels and many short stories. ‘All Hallows’ opens with a beautiful description of an ancient, deserted cathedral by the sea. The tale is told through the verger, who has been its custodian for many years, and he discloses that this lonely, now neglected, fane is being besieged by the forces of Evil. A truly original theme, handled with true artistry by a master.
Ex-Private X wrote few stories but every one of them was memorable. ‘Smee’ is short for ‘It’s me’, a game somewhat resembling Sardines, and played at times by house parties after dinner. In this instance it provides a theme that will send a chill down most people’s spines.
William Younger was my brilliant and witty stepson. Of his first book of verse, published while he was still up at Oxford, Howard Spring said that William’s poems were better than those of Shelley when writing at the same age. Later he wrote several very clever detective stories and a fascinating book on travel in Portugal. In the year before his all too early death he won the second prize at the Poetry Festival in Cheltenham. ‘The Angelus’ is, as far as I know, his only short story. It is no more than 2,000 words in length, but for sheer horror its ending is unrivalled by any other that I have ever read.
Upon my own story ‘A Life for a Life’ I naturally make no comments. I can only hope that it will pass muster in such distinguished company.