[blue rare]—Tales from the Dark Side (A Quick Review and Added Thoughts)

[blue rare]—Tales from the Dark Side (A Quick Review and Added Thoughts)

I’ve recently been enjoying the audiobook version of The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 10 (2018), published by Tantor Audio, and narrated by Christina Delaine and Will Damron.  It’s a hefty collection (almost 20 hours worth) of literary horror stories by some of the leading contemporary writers in the field, including A.C. Wise, Kaaron Warren, Carole Johnstone, and the brilliant John Langan, one of my personal favourites.

Ellen Datlow, the editor and curator of this series, is one of the most respected editors in the lit horror and weird fiction genre, and this edition is excellent, as usual (I’ve enjoyed several more of her anthologies over the years).  Not every story is a masterpiece, to be sure, but they are consistently strong and well-written, with the final story, “Lost in the Dark,” by Langan, being so good I knew by halfway through it that I would have to listen to it again right away.

In terms of performance, the narrators are quite strong actors, very dynamic and dramatic in ways that are appropriate to the characters, events, and atmosphere of the tales.  That said, however, neither of them, in my opinion, can do accents worth shit.  All the English characters ended up sounding like variations of Bert the chimney sweep, Dick Van Dyke’s character from Mary Poppins.  The French, German, and Swedish characters all came across sounding vaguely Transylvanian.  The Australians sounded—I don’t even know.  It was definitely a relief when the stories featured North Americans, and thankfully there were no Oirish characters.  It’s a small thing, but a bit like having a tiny pebble in your shoe.  Nevertheless, the quality of writing consistently shines through.

Also, listening to this collection got me thinking about one of my numerous personal quirks, that being a taste for stories that explore the darker aspects of the human experience.  I am pretty much a junkie for stories of all kinds, whether they come in the form of literature, film, opera, ballet, poetry, visual art, or song lyric.  But, especially, I lean towards narratives that have some unsettling, phantasmagorical aspect to them.

I suppose, like so many things that shape our perceptions of the world, this stems from formative experiences in childhood.  In part, I blame Lewis Carroll for luring me down the rabbit hole and then across the surface of the looking glass: gateway drugs.  As well, there were the picture book fever dreams of Edward Lear and Maurice Sendak, and the mysteriously exotic illustrations from a juvenile version of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.  Later on, there was the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft, and the cinematic nightmares of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Shining.  All of which led me to delving further backwards in time to the works of Dante Alighieri, Edgar Allen Poe, Athur Rimbaud, as well as an ongoing fascination with the visual art of Hieronymous Bosch and Henry Fuseli.  Then came (in order of my personal discovery) the genius of Patricia Highsmith, Neil Gaiman, Angela Carter, China Miéville, Thomas Ligotti, Ari Aster, and beyond.

I have friends and loved ones who struggle to understand this obsession with so much art that explores the creepiness of the universe.  I try to explain that I find it not only thrilling, but also strangely beautiful, even somehow uplifting.  That we can, through the alchemy of art and imagination, look into the darkness of the abyss and find reflections of human courage and resilience there.  Beauty, too, and perhaps even redemption.  A glimpse of the essential truth that to fear is human, but to turn that fear into art is to reach, however tentatively, towards the divine.

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