I realise that I’ve written this piece in the wrong order. The Moons at Your Door is the earlier David Tibet anthology of thirty 'hallucinatory tales' coming straight after my review of David’s latest book There is a Graveyard that Dwells in Man (2020). But I think he and Strange Attractor Press would appreciate this as both books subvert the norm and reverse the order of things and reality.
Once more we have strange fictions with strange artwork. On Graveyard we had children playing in the company of comets. On the cover of Moons we have moons with fiery outlines. Inside the book a spectral family hold hands as the moons rain down. Again David Tibet is accompanied by his wife Ania Goszczynska, the only difference is black and white (not cream) illustrations.
I enjoyed the book’s enthusiastic introduction. Tibet conveys a sense how the supernatural has thrilled him since his childhood in Malaysia. ‘I have drawn many ghosts with me, as we all have, and as we all will. To be human is to be haunted.’ That second sentence is a useful tag to describe the hauntings experienced by the victims and perpetrators of these stories and a small handful of poems and songs.
The Moons at your Door contains some classic horror fiction. Guy de Maupassant’s ‘The Horla’, M.R.James’s ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll come to You My Lad,’ W. W. Jacobs’s ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ (As much as I admire this story I do feel the oft re-printed paw should now rest in peace) and Arthur Machen’s ‘The White People.’ If there is a weakness in this collection it is the over-familiarity of material. Of course classics can create other resonances when placed on parade, yet I would have welcomed a bit more of the lesser-known by the masters in the field. However the great strength of The Moons at Your Door is its championing of neglected, or rarely exposed, writers.
Robert Aickman’s fiction is difficult to categorise. He wrote uneasy tales that are too slippery to pin down: mysterious, inexplicable, inconclusive and riddled with anxiety. ‘Ravissante’ is extraordinary. A self-taught painter, who doesn’t like people, meets the ancient widow of a painter of the Symbolist school. Conducting an interview in the rooms of Madame A, the protagonist imagines the presence of a dog and a furry animal; discovers one of his own canvases there; is made to fondle the clothes of a possible imaginary daughter and is constantly intimidated by the erotic suggestiveness of the widow. In terror he escapes from her:
‘She made a vague snatch in my direction with the big, silvery scissors. They positively flashed in the light from the street lamp outside. She was like a squat granny seeing off a child with a gesture of mock aggression.’
Aickman never fully explains events: you’re left with startling ambiguity: did these things really happen or was it all an internal hallucination so as to make the narrator doubt his existence?
Such brilliant writing is complimented by that of L.A.Lewis’s ‘The Tower of Moab.’ An unsuccessful travelling salesman rents a room over bar that overlooks a twenty storey high tower block, built by a religious cult, and now abandoned. The salesman is obsessed by visionary lights and forms appearing to emanate from the tower and, before suffering a mental breakdown, he perceives strange creatures.
‘By daylight, I was aware of distant, effulgent beings borne on bright pinions at an immense height near the crest of the Tower, which was the sun; but in the hours of darkness these disappeared, and from out of the earth, where its base now formed a dense pit or pool of shadow engulfing the houses and the feeble lamps, came horrid, reptilian things of gargantuan proportions, which crawled sluggishly about the highways and leered with hydra-heads into the windows of drinking places, and upon groups of degeneratives lounging enviously outside.’
‘The Tower of Moab’ is a uniquely disturbing story not easily forgotten.
On contrasting it with Guy De Maupassant’s ‘The Horla’ then hallucinations become the projection of an invisible self pursuing a man at home: all a precursor to an incipient madness resulting in the man burning down his house to rid himself (he doesn’t) of this rampant thing.
The Moons at Your Door contains three classic M.R.James stories, ‘Casting the Runes', 'Oh, Whistle and I’ll come to You my Lad’ and ‘A School Story’. James’s tales have been hugely influential. They convey a subtle and powerful sense of dread with great economy of expression. In ‘A School Story’ we are given the salient facts and proceed to receive the most salient shock over the fate of a haunted schoolteacher.
After M.R.James comes H.R.Wakefield whose narrative is very Jamesian. ‘He Cometh and he Passeth By’ concerns the hunting down and destruction of a Satanist – probably based on Aleister Crowley. It’s a very effective fiction that reminded me of the film Night of the Demon (1957) that was an adaptation of James’s ‘Casting the Runes.’ The Moons at Your Door also includes an overlong story of Crowley’s that’s no model of economy. ‘The Testament of Magdelen Blair’ describes the dissolution and putrefaction of the body and mind of a female scientist. For me Crowley’s excessive, over-wrought prose sinks the story. It’s the only weird haunting that I felt should have been dropped from the book.
Although this is an intelligently assembled anthology I found There is a Graveyard that Dwells in Man to be even better. However I wouldn’t be without either volume. No matter how many books of weird tales you own I’d strongly suggest you acquire these distinctive collections. -- Alan Price