Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, August 30, 2013


Best Black Magic Stories, edited by John Keir Cross (1960)

Once upon a time British publisher Faber released a number of themed series anthologies.  Mystery writer Edmund Crispin compiled their SF anthologies in Best Science Fiction (Numbers One through Seven), Crispin also did Best Detective Stories, One and Two for Faber.  Brian Aldiss did Best Fantasy Stories;  Dick Francis and John Welcome did a brief series of Best Racing and Chasing Stories, and -- in addition to the book being discussed today -- John Keir Cross edited Faber's
Best Horror Stories One and Two.

Best Black Magic Stories, per the editor's introduction, provides examples of "the practice of those occult sciences which profess to invoke the aid of evil spirits or to make a compact with the Devil."  Many of these thirteen examples are fairly well-known, well-anthologized stories in the horror field, but all are worth approaching for the first or the umpteenth time.

The stories:
  • "The Earlier Service" by Margaret Irwin.  A haunting and "devilish" (hehehe) tale that has been reprinted at least eleven times in major anthologies.
  • "The Lady on the Grey" by John Collier.  A sardonic "Fancy," or perhaps, a "Goodnight," wherein the Devil has the last laugh.
  • "A Room in Leyden" by Richard Barham.  This one first appeared in Barham's pseudonymous 1831 collection The Ingoldsby Legends, as by "Thomas Ingoldsby, Esquire," where it was titled (and usually reprinted as) "A Singular Passage in the Life of the Late Henry Harris, Doctor of Divinity."  A typical and interesting example of the interest in the supernatural in the Nineteenth Century.
  • "Mothering Sunday" by John Keir Cross.  Apparently original to this volume and "a rather oblique kind of white magic."
  • "The Snake" by Dennis Wheatley.  This may be Wheatley's most reprinted short story and the very first short story he ever wrote.  Wheatley based this one on the true-life Major Weir, reputed to be a powerful wizard in East Scotland; Weir was finally executed at Gallowhill in 1670.
  • "The Hill" by R. Ellis Roberts.  A 1923 story that shows time and space have no bounds when it comes to black magic.
  • "Casting the Runes" by M. R James.  A classic.  And still chilling.
  • "More Spinned Against..." by John Wyndham.  A light-hearted look at the subject.
  • "The Haunted and the Haunters" by Lord Lytton.  A classic ghost story that is bordering on being a chestnut, and (as the editor states) has been "anthologized ad nauseum," often reprinted under the title "The House and the Brain."  Cross, however, also felt that it qualified as a black magic story.  First published about 165 years ago, it has not lost it's power.
  • "Homecoming" by Ray Bradbury.   One of Bradbury's stories about the charming and very weird Elliott family.
  • "Couching at the Door" by D. K. Broster.  Another effective tale.  This one has scared me ever since I read it in an old Alfred Hitchcock anthology.
  • "A Way of Thinking" by Theodore Sturgeon.  Sturgeon and voodoo dolls...need I say more?
and, finally,
  • "The Black Mass" by Joris-Karl Huysmans.  A chapter extracted from Huysmans' novel La Bas.
A good selection and a good read.


Today's Forgotten Books links are being collected by Evan Lewis at Davy Crockett's Almanck of Mystery, Adventure and the Wild West.  Check it out.


  1. This is an interesting book, to judge by what I've read previously (all but the Barham, the Cross original and LA BAS...the last to be gotten to in all deliberate speed, I'm sure)...and it would serve any reader well, I suspect. The only story I wouldn't include among those I've read is the Bulwer-Lytton...I can't say I was surprised to learn, back when, that he was the source of Snoopy's fall-back phrase...

  2. I have the Crispin detective anthologies. I've never encountered this one, or I know I would have nabbed it. I don't read a ton of horror, but when I do, I lean toward the moldy stuff.

  3. I haven't seen this anthology, but it sounds great! I'll have to look for it online.