Welcome back, friends and fiends, to another review on Dark in the Dark. Recently I was awakened in the middle of the night when a spider ran over my back. Something about the sensation made me feel like the spider had touched my side a few times, as if to test the ground first, and then it had sped over my back as quickly as it could manage. I have to admit the sensation was unsettling, but I bet the spider was having a heart attack.
And that’s the way it goes. Sometimes a spider runs over your back, and sometimes you’re the spider and the ground you’re walking upon is really a monster’s belly. And then sometimes you’re the monster but you find that while you were sleeping, spiders have been crawling all over you all night and now you’re pinned to the bed with a horrible web. Ah! Ah! Ahhhhh! You cry. Wait. What was I talking about? Oh yes. Sometimes you’re the spider.
Speaking metaphorically, of course, in this collection of short stories, M.R. James turns out eight harrowing tales of characters who, innocently or through their own misadventure, find themselves on the belly of a giant monster that is beyond their comprehension. Most of them will be lucky to escape with their sanity. One very unique thing about these tales of terror is that they were all written to be read aloud. This imparts a timeless ease of readability to them. This collection was first published in 1904, but a person could read these stories today and scarcely be aware of their age.
To extend the spider-on-a-belly metaphor, it is in the building of the monster’s belly landscape that James shows his particular genius. This is one of those few books that the reader will have to put down on occasion and say to the room. “Oh awful awful.” James assembles each situation and then deftly tightens the screws. We have here tales of revenge from the grave, a haunted room that doesn’t exist but somehow does, a timeless evil living in the heart of a tree, and worse things. My favorite is “The Mezzotint.” A man acquires a curious picture and over the following days, is startled to observe as a mysterious and menacing drama unfolds on it. Later he finds himself compelled to unravel the mystery.
Creepy Factor: 5 out of 5
Suspense Factor: 3 out of 5
Weird Erotic Tension Factor: 0 out of 5 (sadly)
Final result: I loved this book and recommend it to any fan of horror.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary – M.R. James – Various Publishers – 1904