Enter at Your Own Risk: Old Masters, New Voices (A Review)

October 23, 2011

Articles, Arts & Literature

by Alex Mcdermott:

Every Halloween produces a slew of anthologies and this season is no different. On FaceBook and Twitter, I’ve seen zombies, bloody knifes, mutilated corpses, more zombies, demonic leering creatures, and more zombies drift by. Most don’t catch my attention because they are all the same. There’s nothing that stands out. Enter At Your Own Risk: Old Masters, New Voices is very different. It’s a unique collection of thematically paired stories. Editor Dr. Alex Scully took classic masters like Lovecraft, Poe, Stoker, Maupassant and more and then sought out modern writers to match them in tone, atmosphere, and theme.

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This pairing creates a unique look at Gothic literature. So many writer claim inspiration from the old masters. But as I read their work, I’ve often wondered whether they’ve even read Poe or not! Do they know who Stoker is? Let’s not talk about the countless claims on Lovecraft! The modern authors in this collection know their Gothic. They do not resort to what I call the horror “outs”—excessive violence, gore, and splatter. These stories, like the old masters, are steeped in psychological horror. A dark and sinister force, created by fear and frustration in a young man’s mind, emerges to kill in Robbie Anderson’s “Immovable Fear.” This modern story is paired with Lovecraft’s psychologically terrifying ghost story “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” B.E. Scully’s “The Ground Always Wins,” a classic Gothic ghost story, sits side-by-side Guy de Maupassant’s “The Apparition.” Some stories contrast thematically, such as Nicky Peacock’s “The Virgin Grave” and William Harrison Ainsworth’s “The Specter Bride.” Peacock’s long-dead protagonist finally finds peace, while Ainsworth brings his protagonist to a bloody end.

This is not a collection for everyone and with 26 stories, there are bound to be those that don’t work as well as others. It’s literary horror, so fans of gore and splatter are going to be disappointed. These are thought-provoking stories and are not intended to soak the pages with blood. They leave you with that fear of the shadow lingering just around the corner. You listen to the wind a little more carefully. Is it really that branch against the glass? Was that the house settling or something else? These stories force you to leave to leave the light on. In the entire collection, there are a few I don’t care for. Poe’s story “The Ligeia” is one of his first and it becomes a bit dense in descriptive language. Mari Adkins’ “Inside Looking Out: Falling Through the Worlds” is a bit predictable. Even these stories, however, stand up far better than most anthologies released lately.

Dark fiction, literary horror, Gothic literature. It has many names. A lot of people pay lip-service to it in the horror community. But few know it. The modern writers in this collection have sat down with the old masters. They’ve spoken to them. They’ve listened to them. As you read this anthology, and you should, listen for that floorboard, that scratch on the window, or that shadow on the wall. As these authors tell us, it’s not what you think!

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