Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Master at Work

I'm still working my way through the Year's Best Horror Stories series. Last night I stumbled upon a Manly Wade Wellman story that I hadn't read in Vol VII. The story was called Chastel and it's a well done tale of vampires in a small town. One of the main characters in the story is Judge Persuivant, a series character that Wellman had created many decades before in the pages of the pulp magazine Weird Tales. I also suspect that the now elderly judge was something of a self portrait of Wellman who would have been approaching 80 when he wrote this story.
As I read the story I was thinking that I was watching a master story teller at work. Chastel is a little gem of short story construction. The pacing. The plot. The quickly sketched characters. And it's scary. There's one scene, where the protagonists are trapped in a cabin, with a horde of vampires circling the building, trying to find a way in that the Judge hasn't warded against them, (The Judge being an old hand at fighting supernatural menaces.) that gave me a good shudder, especially when the queen vampire presses her beautiful yet ghastly face against the window pane. Wellman, an underappreciated writer these days, knew how to craft moments of quiet horror.
Volume VII of TYBHS, by the way, was the final volume before Karl Edward Wagner took over as the editor of the series, a position he would hold for the next fifteen years. One of the other early volumes (prior to Wagner's editorship) has stories by Wellman, Wagner, and David Drake, all who were residents at the time of shadow haunted Chapel Hill NC.

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