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The Evolution of the Weird Tale, by S. T. Joshi Book Review | SFReader.com
The Evolution of the Weird Tale, by S. T. Joshi Genre: Non-Fiction Publisher: Hippocampus Press Published: 2004 Review Posted: 9/21/2006 Reviewer Rating:
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The Evolution of the Weird Tale, by S. T. Joshi
Book Review by Phillip A. Ellis
Have you read this book?
In The Evolution of the Weird Tale, S. T. Joshi assays the work of some eighteen writers of weird fiction, from W. C. Morrow to Poppy Z. Brite. In doing so, he divides th last century or so of writing into four areas, each with their own distinctive authors.
The first are American authors of the Gold Age of horror writing. Such figures as W. C. Morrow, Robert W. Chambers, F. Marion Crawford and Edward Lucas White may not be household names (I, for example, had only heard of two of these writers before), however, Joshi assesses their contributions and failings, delivering a reasoned and balanced verdict upon their literary legacy.
This continues for the next group, Englishmen of the Golden Age: Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Rudyard Kipling, E. F. Benson, and L. P. Hartley. In doing so, he notes that these first two groups were characterised in main part by a willingness to extend their writings beyond the purely weird. The weird, for these writers, is not an area within which they solely worked, but, rather, one strategy to explore their customary concerns.
The next group, H. P. Lovecraft and those influenced immediately by him, includes not only Lovecraft, but the sorely neglected Frank Belknap Long, Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber. The essay on Lovecraft is only to be expected, and marred perhaps by that expectation. In part, it feels to be included because of the close association of Joshi's career with the resurrection of Lovecraft's fortunes after August Derleth's death. So that there reads, really, nothing new in this essay; we've read it before, albeit in differing words.
The final group consist of those who are our contemporaries. Here, Rod Serling, L. P. Davies, Les Daniels, Dennis Etchison, David J. Schow and the Splatterpunks, and Poppy Z. Brite are covered. As with all the essays here, the assessments of their work and influence are reasoned and balanced. They reveal much about the authors, and their place in the canon of weird fiction, and they also reveal much about the development of the weird tale from one literary mode among many to a virtual genre in itself.
Of course, most of the "big names" of the field are conspicuous by their very absence. Such writers as Ambrose Bierce, Machen, Lord Dunsany, and, later, Ramsey Campbell, among others, have been written about already in both Joshi's The Weird Tale and The Modern Weird Tale, leaving these "lesser" writers to be covered, but Joshi uses The Evolution of the Weird Tale to develop an interesting set of arguments about the weird tale, and its development over time. In many ways, then, The Evolution of the Weird Tale completes a triumvirate of critical work about the weird tale that is surpassed, perhaps, only by Lovecraft's seminal essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature.
The essays are complemented by a series of short bibliographies, which list not only the main publications of each author discussed, but also some of the more important secondary material. An index, however, would have been useful, and its omission mars what is an otherwise fine volume.
This is a book for those interested in the weird tale, or in speculative literature in general. The astute reader can use the essays to assess the likelihood of enjoying a particular author, use the bibliographies as the basis of a wider reading, and, in general, be able to explore some of the more interesting denizens of what is a magnificent and fascinating branch of literature. You may not be familiar with most of the names, but hopefully some at least will become so.
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