Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nine Horrors and a Dream

I managed to track down two more collections of Joseph Payne Brennan's horror fiction. One has yet to arrive, but I did receive a slender little volume called Nine Horrors and a Dream in the mail last week. It's filled with the same sort of imaginative tales as The Shapes of Midnight, which I reviewed a few posts ago.
I can once again see the influence Brennan had on Stephen King. The creepy story of a curse, A Death in Peru, could have served as a blueprint for King's Thinner and The Mail from Juniper Hill is just the sort of New England ghost story that King likes to tell. It's not that the two men write in similar styles. They don't. But the basic feel of the stories, a sort of cross between The Twilight Zone and EC Horror comics, and the heavy regional atmosphere are definitely similar.
This volume of stories came out in 1958, so it's older than I am, and the style of some of the stories might throw a contemporary reader. Particularly when Brennan is working in third person, because his style is all telling and no showing. A lot of these tales have no dialog. It's almost as if someone was sitting and telling you a story. That doesn't fly with today's readers, but it was fairly common in the last few, floundering pulp magazines of the 1950s. Working in the first person though, Brennan's prose seems very up to date. He has the interesting habit in many of these stories of telling them as if he were a witness to the events. In one or two stories he even plays a fairly large role. He never uses his name, but the faceless "I" is always a writer of weird fiction.
Another thing that I like about Brennan's weird tales is that he didn't feel the need to explain every detail to the reader. Sometimes things just happen. (Another thing he shares with King.) In stories like "On the Elevator" and "The Hunt" you're never really sure why some of the terrible occurrences happened. Possible explanations are offered but nothing is really confirmed.
One of the stories in the book, "Levitation" was apparently adapted for the 1980s horror TV show, Tales From the Darkside. Never saw it, but I'll have to keep an eye out for it. Apparently quite a few of Brennan's stories were adapted for Television or Radio. There's a clip of Vincent Price reading "The Calamander Chest" available on Youtube.
Anyway, I enjoyed Nine Horrors and a Dream just as much as the Shapes of Midnight. The next volume of Brennan's work I have on the way is the limited edition hardback I mentioned in the earlier post. That one has a ton of stories in it and is the first of a proposed set of four books collecting Brennan's work. I've yet to try any of the stories about Brennan's series character, psychic investigator Lucius Leffing. I'm sure I'll get around to it.

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