Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Monster Museum

One of my most genuine pleasures is finding a copy of some old book that frightened, inspired, or otherwise made memories in my youth. I grew up an avid reader, and I'm sure you'd be stunned to learn that my favorite books were the scary ones. One of the most influential — an anthology I found myself consciously thinking about when concocting my earliest works of fiction — was Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum, which I discovered at my school library when I was in sixth or seventh grade. I hadn't seen a copy of this old classic in more years than I could remember, but I recently acquired one in decent condition, and I was so excited to receive it I put all else aside so I could delve into its pages. The volume boasts "Twelve shuddery stories for daring young readers," and to be sure, as a youngster I shuddered at several of them, but a number of pivotal horror/dark fantasy tales for all ages can be found herein — such as "The Day of the Dragon" by Guy Endore; "Slime" by Joseph Payne Brennan; "The Microscopic Giants" by Paul Ernst; "Shadow, Shadow on the Wall" by Theodore Sturgeon; "The Desrick on Yandro" by Manly Wade Wellman (which I referenced in some detail in my recent entry about The Legend of Hillbilly John); and "Homecoming" by Ray Bradbury.

Although Alfred Hitchcock's name adorns the cover of this, and numerous other volumes of terror tales — he merely licensed his name to be used on various book projects — Monster Museum was actually edited by mystery and speculative fiction author Robert Arthur. The selection of stories runs the gamut from grim and suspenseful ("Day of the Dragon," in which genetic experiments on alligators produce huge, winged dragons straight out of legend; "Slime," a story about a ravenous, flesh-eating horror from the depths of the sea; "The Microscopic Giants," about tiny, subterranean humanoids whose composition is so dense they can walk through stone) to whimsical ("Henry Martindale, Great Dane" by Miriam Allen deFord, in which a writer, in Kafka-esque fashion, physically becomes a great dane while retaining his human personality as well as power of speech; "The Wheelbarrow Boy" by Richard Parker, about a teacher who can turn unruly children into any object of his choosing; "The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles" by Idris Seabright, a futuristic tale about a traveling salesman's ultimate nightmare). My youthful favorites, of course, were the darker ones — and they still are — but upon re-reading these recently, I found myself unexpectedly taken with some of the more humorous ones, particularly "Henry Martindale, Great Dane," which also manages a certain poignancy. And upon finishing "The Wheelbarrow Boy," which I was reading in bed just before conking out for the night, I fear I startled the cats by unleashing a barrage of laughter. Yes, this resulted in long, withering stares of consternation from which I have scarcely recovered.

Having have read these stories during my formative years, I suppose it's no wonder they have lingered, in some cases like half-remembered, eerie melodies, haunting but vague, influencing in subtle, if at all identifiable ways. But upon re-reading them, most for the first time since I was a youngster, the memories came flooding back, in many cases with crystal clarity, transporting me to a time when reading was truly exciting, oftentimes as much as or more so than watching the most spectacular monster epics on television or at the theater. Most of the stories in Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum are vivid and full of imagery, perfect for bringing life to the movie screen inside any adolescent's mind. Or even an adult's.

And now my batteries are recharged and set to get me moving on a new story for an upcoming anthology. Sometimes a pleasant return to your roots can do that for you.

No comments: