In 1943, Boris Karloff was induced by his old friend Edmund Speare, an English professor and book editor, to assist in putting together an anthology of horror stories; as Speare put it, “a collection of bogey stories selected by a professional bogey man.” The resulting volume, Tales of Terror, consisted of a six-page introduction by Karloff and 14 stories, ran to 317 pages, and was a popular release with the public. On the strength of that book’s sales, the two tried their luck again with an even more ambitious project. The result was 1946’s And the Darkness Falls, a whopping volume running to 631 pages and containing 59 short stories, each with an introduction from Karloff, in addition to 10 short, eerie poems scattered throughout. An impressively wide-ranging survey of the horror story, this staggeringly generous volume presents tales from as far back as the 8th century A.D. all the way up to modern times, and its roster of authors is a nicely multinational one (25 are British, 12 are American, 5 Irish, 2 French, 2 Russian, plus 1 Pole, 1 Greek, 1 Scotch, 1 Welsh, 1 Chinese and 1 anonymous). The title of the collection is an ambiguous one. Of course, it can connote the coming of night, when many of these chilling tales take place, but it can just as easily suggest the approaching end of life; of the 59 stories in the book, death is a looming factor in the overwhelming majority. Not that the accumulated impact of these stories is a depressing one; the tales vary too greatly in both subject matter and theme for the reader to become worn out with 600+ pages of such fare.
Many of the authors whom one would expect to find in a volume of this nature are present. H.P. Lovecraft is represented with his great tale “The Thing on the Doorstep”; Algernon Blackwood is twice represented, by the beautifully mystical “The Stranger” and the straightforward spook tale “The Woman’s Ghost Story”; Ambrose Bierce offers us the darkly humorous “My Favorite Murder”; August Derleth shows us the horrors contained in “The Panelled Room”; Hugh Walpole tells us a tale of unease in “The Silver Mask”; and Oliver Onions offers us the haunting story “John Gladwin Says….” But then there are some fairly well-known authors whom one would not necessarily expect to find in a horror collection. Ivan Turgenev is represented by the very strange tale “The Adventure of Second Lieutenant Bubnov”; Guy de Maupassant gives us two tales, “The Madman” and “Little Louise Roque” (the latter being one of the best tales in the collection); Lafcadio Hearn provides the beautifully written “L’Amour Apres La Mort”; Arthur Conan Doyle writes of grotesque mutilation in “The Case of Lady Sannox”; Somerset Maugham tells a story of Devil’s Island in “An Official Position”; the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats is represented by the very odd story “The Crucifixion of the Outcast”; Nikolai Gogol is shown to great effect with his wonderful horror tale “Viy”; and Joseph Conrad tells us of a monstrously nasty sea vessel, “The Brute.” And then there are the dozens of other writers that I had never previously encountered, but whose work here will surely prompt me to seek out more. As I said, this is a staggeringly good collection, with nary a clinker in the bunch.
The 59 stories in the volume can be grouped into a good dozen types. I suppose tales dealing with murder as their subject predominate, with Frederick S. Greene‘s “The Black Pool,” Tennyson Jesse‘s “The Mask,” Violet Hunt‘s “The Witness” and Richard M. Hallet‘s “The Razor of Pedro Dutel” being standouts. Haunted house stories are of course present, best exemplified by Henry R. Wakefield‘s “The Red Lodge” and A.M. Burrage‘s “Browdean Farm.” Tales with ghosts include Edward F. Benson‘s “The Hanging of Alfred Wadham,” Richard Hughes‘s “The Ghost” and Selma Robinson‘s wonderful “The Departure,” while tales of other supernatural doings include John Buchan‘s “The Grove of Ashtaroth,” Dorothy L. Sayers‘s “The Cyprian Cat” and an anonymous tale, “The Sutor of Selkirk.” And then there are stories of Insanity, such as the truly disorienting tale by Walter de la Mare, “Out of the Deep”; Elizabeth Bowen‘s “Telling”; and L.A.G. Strong‘s very surprising “Breakdown.” The anthology also gives the reader numerous tales of suspense, including McKnight Malmar‘s “The Storm”; Thomas Burke‘s “The Horrible God”; Michael Joyce‘s gripping “Perchance to Dream”; and perhaps my favorite story in the entire collection, William Irish‘s “Three O’Clock.” (Given how terrific this tale is, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Irish was a pen name for the great Cornell Woolrich.)
And there are still more categories represented herein. Tales of poetic horror include Lord Dunsany‘s “Where the Tides Ebb and Flow,” while comedic horror stories are best represented by John Collier‘s “Another American Tragedy” and “The Chaser.” Besides Gogol’s “Viy,” stories featuring female monsters include Shen Chi-chi‘s “Jenshih, or the Fox Lady” and William B. Seabrook‘s “The Caged White Werewolf of the Saraban.” There is a beautiful yet horrifying tale of the afterlife, May Sinclair‘s “Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched”; an essay, Jonathan Swift‘s notorious treatise on the necessity of cannibalism, “A Modest Proposal”; and any number of stories that must be deemed unclassifiable. Some of the finest of this last group include John Galsworthy‘s “The Black Godmother”; Eileen Verrinder‘s “Footsteps”; Maurice Level‘s (who is represented by four grisly short tales in this volume) “A Maniac”; and Dorothy Richardson‘s deliciously downbeat “Death.”
It is quite an overwhelming collection, and the intros written by Karloff for each story demonstrate what an erudite, well-read and sophisticated gentleman he was. The man turns out to have a way with the pen himself, and makes for a wonderful guide throughout this lengthy, fascinating and at times horrific journey. He not only gives the reader a compact biography of each author, but also tells us why he has chosen each tale for his volume, and what exactly he likes about each story. He is as well spoken as Frankenstein was inarticulate; no surprise there, really. I might also add here that And the Darkness Falls” was selected by editor David G. Hartwell for inclusion in Kim Newman and Stephen Jones‘s excellent overview volume Horror: 100 Best Books, and I have no hesitation in agreeing with that inclusion. As Hartwell says in his article: “Never has ‘star making’ been used more effectively in the horror field, with ingenuity and broad-ranging taste: the result is a great anthology.”