Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson

Sunday , 21, October 2018 1 Comment

Wordsworth’s Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural series has been an excellent series of bargain trade paperbacks of classic horror fiction.  A friend of mine sent me about five or six years ago E. F. Benson’s Night Terrors and Edith Nesbit’s The Power of Darkness. I was never much of a reader of the English ghost story. I have to admit not having read much of M. R. James.

I did not know what to expect with Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson. It is a big book with 54 stories and 704 pages. Benson had fame with novels of frivolous society beginning with Dodo in 1893. He has one pre-Tolkien fantasy novel with The Valkyries (1903) which is prose retelling of Wagner’s opera.

Benson wrote supernatural stories from 1893 through 1938. A good portion but not all are ghost stories. He had six stories in Weird Tales, two in Ghost Stories, and five stories reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries. He was a regular in Hutchinson’s Magazine in the U.K.

H. P. Lovecraft mentioned four of Benson’s stories and thought highly of them.

A good portion of Benson’s supernatural stories are collected in Night Terrors but not all. Here are some of my favorites:

“The Room in the Tower” (Pall Mall Magazine, January 1921): This one is claustrophobic and paranoid.

“Gavon’s Eve” (The Illustrated London News, January 13, 1906): Set in Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands. A haunted Pictish broch. Fitting this story was published just before the birth of Robert E. Howard.

“Caterpillars” (1912): Possibly Benson’s most reprinted story. Set in Italy with the haunting of big ghost caterpillars. Icky!

“The Man Who Went Too Far” (Pall Mall Magazine, June 1904): One of the stories Lovecraft mentioned. The perils of summoning of Pan. Recommended for Arthur Machen enthusiasts.

“The House with the Brick-Kiln” (1908): Benson likes to have heat waves going on with hauntings. This is a ghost story and an effective one.

“The Horror-Horn” (Hutchinson’s Magazine, Sept. 1922; Munsey’s Magazine, Nov. 1922): Another famous story by Benson. Set in the Swiss Alps on a skiing vacation. You will never go out alone again in the woods unless you want to be raped by Sasquatch. Memorable.

“Negotium Perambulans” (1923): Another story that Lovecraft liked. One of several stories set in Cornwall. A church haunted by a ghost that is described as a gigantic, phosphorescent caterpillar. Some of Benson’s ghost are Lovecraftian in appearance.

“Mrs. Amworth” (Hutchinson’s Magazine, June 1922): An oft-reprinted vampire story.

“And No Bird Sings” (1926): A giant slug shaped elemental haunts a forest and two men go hunting for it. Another quasi-Lovecraftian story.

“The Temple” (Hutchinson’s Magazine, Nov. 1924): A story of a house in Cornwall built over a Neolithic sacrificial alter.

“The Wishing-Well” (Hutchinson’s Magazine, Feb. 1929; Weird Tales, July 1929): Unusual for being told in the third person instead of Benson’s usual first person. The Celts had their sacred wells. This story is set in Cornwall and the rivalry of women.

“Monkeys” (Weird Tales, December 1933): Do not rob an Egyptian tomb. This story routinely shows up in anthologies about mummies and ancient Egypt.

“The Flint Knife” (Ghost Stories, May 1930): Essentially a repeat of the plot for “The Temple” but set in London suburbs instead of Cornwall. The finding of a Neolithic sacrificial knife. This story is not Night Terrors.

There is a story I read about a man in Ireland who runs into a noble woman who rides accompanied by a pack of dogs. He ends up as one of them. I thought for sure this was a Benson story but cannot find it.

Amazon has Night Terrors available for $4.99.

There is a Panther paperback from 1974 with a Bruce Pennington cover– The Horror Horn and Other Stories.

The contents include:

The Sanctuary

Monkeys

The Bed by the Window

“And No Bird Sings

The Face

Mrs. Amworth

Negotium Perambulans

The Horror Horn

The House with the Brick-Kiln

The Thing in the Hall

Caterpillars

Gavon’s Eve

The Room in the Tower

There was also an almost identical trade paperback collection from Robinson in the U.K. and Carroll & Graf in the U.S. in 1992 as The Collected Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson.

 

Night Terrors can be procured for so little money, if you are inclined, might as well spring for that.

One Comment
  • Paul Lucas says:

    I’ve slowly been working my way through this collection and it’s great. He definitely had a thing about caterpillars and giant slugs. The highlight so far is The Man Who Went Too Far. You can see his influence on weird fiction in that and several others.

    The Wordsworth series is a fantastic way of expanding your collection with very nice looking and well curated books. I reviewed a story from one of their other collections, Gothic Short Stories.

    https://paullucaswriter.wordpress.com/2017/11/12/animus-and-anima-gothic-and-weird/

    I said a lot about male-female relations in it. There’s plenty more to say about that in weird and supernatural fiction, if ever I get the time.

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