Before I discuss the pleasures to be found in David Tibet’s anthology of strange fiction I’d like to highlight this book as a desirable artefact. Of course the production values of Strange Attractor Press are high – they consistently produce beautiful looking books. In the case of There is a Graveyard that Dwells in Man we find a striking collaboration between the husband and wife team of David Tibet and Ania Goszczynska.
On the cover a boy and girl are leaping above a graveyard and being rained on by fiery falling stars. Such starry signs appear benign but there’s a heavy black star that’s about to hit the children’s heads. More spooky illustrations are inside. At the front a group of children are dancing round gravestones. At the back a smaller group leap and fly over a graveyard: black and white dotted silhouettes against creamy white paper, whilst what follows is an expert layout and story text done by Mai Gaffney-Hyde.
‘And these sparks, these fires, sometimes come to us because they have already chosen us, knowing our face for far longer than we have ever known their name.’
That’s David Tibet’s invite on the flyleaf of the cover, accompanying the artwork, that’s effectively prepared us, in advance, of the arcane quality of these supernatural tales.
There are many available collections of macabre fiction. Yet There is a Graveyard that Dwells in Man is special for many of the stories were written between the 1900s – 30s. This gathers together such authors as Algernon Blackwood, Walter De La Mare, Edith Wharton, Arthur Machen, L.P.Hartley and E.F.Benson alongside the lesser known. I’ll select a few stories that for me forcibly struck home to convey the theme of this book, a strange kind of ghostly loneliness.
I’ll begin with a rarity in the anthology, a modern horror fantasy by Thomas Ligotti.
It’s called “The Small People” and was written in the 1980s. It’s a chilling story of misperception – a group of small-bodied people (physically and mentally inferior) who parade the mind of an adolescent boy so that he sees them begin to invade the real world. Ligotti creates a powerful sense of identity crisis leading to mental disturbance: brilliantly capturing teenage anxiety pushed into suburban paranoia. Perhaps it’s a little let down by its ending, however its unease and atmosphere is as potent as the uneasy ghost stories before and after it.
Another descent into madness is wonderfully caught in Oliver Onions’s much anthologised (but still great) “The Beckoning Fair One.” Here a reclusive writer is obsessed with the painting of a dead woman, the woman he wants to write about in his novel and a female journalist friend. The lonely man’s mental disintegration is written with a subtlety worthy of Henry James.
Edith Wharton (A contemporary of James) provides us with the story, “Afterward” – here a rich woman’s husband is kidnapped, on a summer’s day, by a ghost and never seen again. Her gradual sinking in of the fate of her spouse is very affecting.
‘Even Mary Boyne’s consciousness gradually felt the same lowering of velocity. It swayed with the incessant oscillations of conjecture; but they were slower, more rhythmical in their beat. There were moments of overwhelming lassitude when, like the victim of some poison which leaves the brain clear, but holds the body motionless, she saw herself domesticated with the Horror, accepting its perpetual presence as one of the fixed conditions of life.’
Spectres or, to be more specific, paranormal forces (e.g. the diabolic chamber music of Colette de Curzon’s ‘Paymon’s Trio’) dominate the anthology.
Returning to small bodies we find L.A. Lewis’s stunning tale of miniaturisation called ‘Lost Keep.’ It’s a H.G. Wells influenced fantasy about entering a tiny model castle which traps you there forever. This comes from the only book Lewis wrote called Tales of the Grotesque published in 1934. The author suffered from hallucinations and mental illness. It shows, for ‘Lost Keep’ is a frightening tale of demonic powers. I left that world, feeling I’d had a very narrow escape, only to sample even more weird worlds.
‘Immersive’ is these days an over-used term to describe epic cinema. Yet it can be applied to smaller scale horror fiction. A master of immersive and atmospheric stories was Algernon Blackwood. In the ‘The Other Wing’ a young boy returns a cane to the ghost of his great-great-grandfather. It is the presence of this old relative that introduces itself in the story’s opening lines.
‘It used to puzzle him that, after dark, someone would look in round the edge of the bedroom door, and withdraw again too rapidly for him to see the face.’
For me that has to be one of creepiest sentences in all horror fiction.
One thing that’s very apparent in There is a Graveyard that Dwells in Man is the high literary quality of David Tibet’s choices. And apart from two or three stories that feel a bit old fashioned and manipulative this outstanding anthology powerfully pulls you in. And the result is an engrossing mid-winter read that, to quote again Algernon Blackwood, wants to achieve this sort of result, ‘All the comedy & terror of nightmare gripped his heart with pincers of ice.’ -- Alan Price.