Saturday, August 11, 2007
Karl Edward Wagner, the creator of the sword & sorcery anti-hero Kane, was also a noted author of horror fiction. In fact, many people consider Wagner's horror writing to be his best work, and horror may have been Wagner's real love. Even of the Kane stories, he says,
"The Kane stories are basically horror stories in a pseudo historical setting with a dash of blood an thunder where it's called for."
Most of Wagner's horror is collected in three volumes, In a Lonely Place, Why Not You and I, and the posthumous Exorcisms and Ecstacies. I highly recommend these books, but they're getting really pricey lately as Wagner's work becomes more collectible. Start with In a Lonely Place, as it contains some of Wagner's absolute best stories, including The River of Nights Dreaming, and Where the Summer Ends, which is particularly creepy to Southerners like myself.
I was re-reading what may be Wagner's most famous horror tale, Sticks, last night. Set around world war II, Sticks tells the story of an artist who, while hiking in some remote woods, begins coming across bundles of sticks tied together in strange lattice-like patterns and nailed to or hung from trees. He eventually discovers an abandoned house which is covered inside and out with these weird sculptures, and in the basement he comes across something far more sinister. (If you think this sounds like the Blair Witch Project, you're not alone.)
Thing is, in an afterward attached to the tale, Wagner explains that the story is based on something that actually happened to artist Lee Brown Coye, a popular pulp illustrator with a very macabre style. For years, Wagner had noted the weird patterns of sticks and twigs that often appeared in Coye's work, and while working with Coye on the Manley Wade Wellman collection "Worse Things Waiting", Wagner asked the artist why he put these odd sticks into his work. Coye gave Wagner the strange story which Wagner would eventually weave into the very creepy Sticks. I've included a sample of Coye's work which incorporates the sticks with this post. but if you want to see more, check out this link. Just make sure you have the lights on...