Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Shadowings: Reader's Guide to Horror Fiction, ed. by Douglas E. Winter (1983): Not Dark Yet... But It's Getting There

An unexpected find in a Washington used bookstore with an otherwise decidedly anemic horror section, Shadowings had been on my want list for years. Editor Douglas E. Winter was the preeminent horror critic of the 1980s, to me a kind of personal guiding light, and so I knew any "reader's guide" he put together had to be sought out. Subtitled The Reader's Guide to Horror Fiction, 1981-1982, it was issued by Starmont House, a small literary press specializing in SF/F/H criticism, and intended more for library reference shelves than for the casual everyday reader. It's an enlightening foray into the state of horror art in that decade so pivotal for the genre. Winter's foreward notes the burgeoning of the field, as well as his aim for this collection critical essays:

Criticism—effective, conscientious criticism—is not simply a means of informing the reading public about the availability of books. It is vital to the integrity and advancement of writers as well as of the literary form in which they work... traditionally [horror fiction] has found its best critics within the ranks of its working writers, as attested by H.P. Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature and Stephen King's Danse Macabre.

Shadowings isn't up in the rarefied heights of those two works (what is?!), but there's lots here to enjoy: Winter's own general overview of highlights and lowlights of the genre between '81 and '82 will blow up your to-read list, or at least get you to reassess titles and authors you've already read (The Delicate Dependency is disappointing?!). Stephen King contributes a short review of Red Dragon, praising the novel's "raw, grisly power" and laments the fact that "serious critics" won't deign to review such a work of suspense, even though "the best popular fiction can combine art with nearly devastating insights into The Way We Live Now."  

Karl Edward Wagner takes a look at "an original visionary," Dennis Etchison and his outstanding collection The Dark Country. Jack Sullivan covers Ramsey Campbell's short fiction, noting his "uncompromising bleakness" and "compression and intensity" as he moved from Cthulhu Mythos tales to his own "fragmented, jagged" psychological horror. Charles L. Grant reviews Peter Straub's Shadowland, Alan Ryan reviews titles by Charles L. Grant, Michael McDowell, and Thomas Tessier, Winter himself talks to David Morrell about the part violence plays in fiction, while others like Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, John Coyne, and Suzy McKee Charnas also weigh in (no one more perceptively than Etchison, however: "I submit that death, like anything else in art, may be used as a symbol"). Also included are several essays on "modern" horror films, Cronenberg, Creepshow, et. al. All this and more!

Douglas Winter, 1985

One can find copies of Shadowings online for around $10, which is what I paid for it; I'd say it's worth the sawbuck for an in-depth tour through early '80s horror at ground zero, back when Stephen King had published novels that numbered in the single digits and nobody yet, no matter what they thought, had seen the future of horror. Also: dig that typeset!


22 comments:

Jack Tripper said...

Nice, I love stuff like this. I wish that someone in the know (like Mr. Winter) would write a book about the horror-fiction boom of the 70s and 80s, and its collapse in the early 90s. And not just a general history and criticism of the fiction from those days. I bet there's lots of great insider-type stories of the crazy, alcohol and drug-fueled conventions of the 80s and whatnot.

Jonathan Stover said...

The second volume of the 2012 Best Stories of Karl Edward Wagner: Walk on the Wild Side has some pretty interesting tales from the inside of 1980's and 1990's horror in the essays by Peter Straub and especially David Drake. For instance, Drake was angered by Wagner's novella "Blue Lady, Come BacK" because he saw it as a hatchet job on Manly Wade Wellman, who had mentored both of them. That novella is in the previous volume (subtitled Where the Summer Ends), which contains pretty much all of Wagner's best horror fiction, along with more reminiscences from Stephen Jones. But Drake's piece is the most unflinching one.

Jack Tripper said...

@Jonathan Stover: Thanks. I actually have those essays in my copy of KEW's 1995 collection'Exorcisms and Ecstasies,' which I was somehow able to find for $25 a couple years back after searching for years (KEW is probably my favorite horror author). David Drake's essay was pretty brutal towards KEW, imo, and felt weird among all the tributes from friends and family. But it was definitely from the heart. Thanks for your help, though.

(FYI, in case you already didn't know, there's some other great remembrances of KEW in 'Exorcisms,' by David J. Schow, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen Jones, KEW's brother, and Wellman's wife, among others. Well worth getting for these alone if you're a fan. But since you own 'Walk on the Wild Side,' you already have the majority of the best stories from it, imo.)

Jack Tripper said...

(I mean 1997, not '95)

Ron Clinton said...

" I wish that someone in the know (like Mr. Winter) would write a book about the horror-fiction boom of the 70s and 80s, and its collapse in the early 90s."

I've been hoping to see something like that since the turn of the century; sometimes you don't appreciate what you had until you're past it. Lord knows there're enough such books on sci-fi and the pulps...would be great to see one a treatise on that era of horror fiction. I've been involved in the genre as a reader and sometimes contributor since the early '80s, but I realize even I know probably just a fraction of all that contributed to the growth and demise of that unique era.

Jack Tripper said...

"...but I realize even I know probably just a fraction of all that contributed to the growth and demise of that unique era."

Maybe a book with multiple contributors would be the answer, since no single person's brain could possibly encompass the veritable glut of 80s horror-fiction.

I become a horror fan in 1989 (age 10), during the peak of the boom, though it started it's slide not long after. So I only got to enjoy a few years of it. I miss the days of local supermarkets being flooded with all the latest paperback releases, not to mention Fangoria and Twilight Zone Magazine (which unfortunately ended it's run around then), but I was a bit too young to fully appreciate it, and would love to learn more about what it was actually like for authors, publishers, and fans to be a part of. KEW's informative essays in the Year's Best Horror series provide a general idea, but a more in-depth look would be snatched up by me in a second.

(So get to it Will and Ron!)

Jack Tripper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jack Tripper said...

@Ron Clinton: Was just going through all my old Midnight Graffiti, Twilight Zone, and Whispers magazines, and realized they're a great way to dig more deeply into the era, as they're filled with essays and editorials on the horror-ficton scene and "current" trends (splatterpunk, the Big Fat Novel, weird fiction, quiet horror, etc.), as well as author interviews and book reviews. Many of the articles and reviews are written by horror authors, both well-known and midlist.

I'd forgotten how much in-depth analysis and behind-the-scenes goodness was in those old magazines.

Ron Clinton said...

That's an excellent point, Jack...if anyone was to take on such a massive (but needed!) project, those old magazines would be terrific resources -- great snapshots in time -- to complement the anecdotal (but sometimes foggy, given that era's some thirty'ish years in the past) memories of those who are still around to relate them.

Will Errickson said...

Aw man I know I've got some MIDNIGHT GRAFFITIs stashed somewhere...

Ron Clinton said...

That golden age of horror was also the height of horror magazine publishing. Like Jack, I bought and read Whispers, Midnight Graffiti, Whispers, and as well The Horror Show, Night Cry, Grue, Cemetery Dance, Twilight Zone, and a few others that don't as easily come to mind (including one that featured only non-fiction and that I really enjoyed but now can't remember the title of). I wasn't fanatical about them and only picked them up sporadically (save for CD, to which I still have a subscription), but they were great and memorable parts of that special time in the genre.

Ron Clinton said...

^^^ Just remembered the name of that non-fiction magazine I mention above: THE SCREAM FACTORY.

Jack Tripper said...

@Will: Definitely dig those out, they'd make a great feature here (I know you had a post on the book anthology already, but the essays and interviews from the mag were just as good as the stories, if not better).

Hell yeah, The Scream Factory. That was my main horror zine once Midnight Graffiti stopped publication in the early 90s or so. That was another mag that only had like two issues per year, but they were pretty fat (well over 100 pages). It had lots of cool features that covered a wide spectrum: Japanese horror comics, weird westerns, Hammer horror, pulps, the Dell/Abyss line, and even introduced me to hardboiled-writer Jim Thompson, whose bleak vision of humanity was something of a revelation for a 13/14 year-old horror and noir-lovin' me.

Ron Clinton said...

Ah, Jim Thompson... He and his paperback-original noir brethren form my other reading passion. Speaking of mags, a great one for pbos is Paperback Parade...I don't have nearly as many issues as I'd like, but the few I do have are great.

Will Errickson said...

When I first stopped reading horror in the early to mid 1990s it was crime fiction that took over: Ellroy, Thompson, Chandler, Hiaasen, Leonard, Woolrich, Mosley, et. al. I love love love PI/detective novels and collect a lot of those paperbacks too now! You may not know I have a blog/FB page dedicated to that stuff as well, altho not nearly as updated as TMHF:

https://www.facebook.com/shavedandsober
http://neatcleanshavedsober.blogspot.com/

Also, found some issues of SCREAM FACTORY available thru Amazon, eBay, etsy and the like...

Ron Clinton said...

My present taste in crime fiction tends to shadow the same bleak territory of my affinity for horror fiction, so rather than P.I. and detective fiction (save for a few notable exceptions, e.g. Hammett, Fredric Brown, et al) I tend to prefer the older/classic (and often Gold Medal published) and bleak, sometimes existential or nihilistic, terse and spare standalone man-on-the-run dramas of life's losers in a tailspin of their own desperate making (i.e. non-series) paperback-originals (pbos) of the '50s and '60s, as exemplified by Jim Thompson, Gil Brewer, David Goodis, Peter Rabe, Charles Williams, Harry Whittington, Robert Colby, James McKimmey, Lionel White, Dan J. Marlowe, and so on. I used to read a good deal of modern crime fiction -- and I still do from time to time, if something catches my eye -- some of it detective and P.I., but I just don't find myself drawn much to that kind of work anymore and haven't for a good while. For whatever reason, lately I've been on a William Irish (Cornell Woolrich) kick...he's always been a favorite of mine, but I realized recently that there's still a great deal of his work -- particularly under the Irish pseudonym -- that I haven't yet read. I'm slowly but surely correcting that oversight.

Will Errickson said...

Ha--"life's losers in a tailspin of their own desperate making"--love that! I finally found a copy of Marlowe's NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH, the '83 Vintage/Black Lizard edition, which had been on my must-have list for a few years. The early '80s Ballantine editions of Woolrich/Irish have some of my favorite covers ever, but I've only read one of his, ages ago. Got some Goodis too.

Jack Tripper said...

Will, you should definitely check out more Ross Macdonald. I know (from Goodreads) that you've read a couple of his earlier Lew Archer novels, but he really started developing his own dark, unique style in the 60s with books like The Chill and Black Money (which the Coen bros. recently bought the rights to), as opposed to his somewhat aping of Chandler with earlier books. His plotting is pretty much peerless, so fast-moving and intricately woven, that it's hard to figure out sometimes where to take a break, so you just end up reading the whole thing in one sitting. Your tastes seem pretty similar to mine, so I have no reservations recommending his work (especially his 60s work, and 1959's The Galton Case).

Jack Tripper said...

I just found out that Douglas E. Winter had an ongoing essay series on the state of horror in the early 80s issues of Fantasy Newsletter (later named Fantasy Review) called "Shadowings." I know this because I just ordered a huge lot from Ebay, and after looking them up on isfdb.com I see that most of them have the "Shadowings" articles.

I'm wondering, Will, if this book is a compilation of some of those articles from Fantasy Newsletter. Does it say anything about the zine on the copyright page? I was thinking of buying this, but not if it's the same stuff I'm already getting.

(Also, nearly every issue -- of the early 80s ones I got at least -- has articles and reviews by Karl Edward Wagner, as well as other guest reviewers/essayists, like Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, Peter Straub, and Charles L. Grant. Seems like a good zine--I see it even beat out mags like Whispers and Weirdbook for multiple World Fantasy Awards, which surprised me.)

Will Errickson said...

Jack--Checked the copyrights & a good handful of articles in SHADOWINGS were originally pub'd in Fantasy Newsletter. A couple are originals and a few others are from other mags/zines/newspapers.

Jack Tripper said...

Thanks!

francisco said...

hey, the idea of a book about the horror boom of the 70's and 80's is great, and why not a selection of TMHF in book format?

Greetings from Spain