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Watchers at the Straight Gate –

Watchers at the Straight Gate

Sunday , 18, February 2024 1 Comment

I had mentioned last year how Russell Kirk’s story in Dark Forces was one of my favorites from that volume. I have had a copy of the 1984 Arkham House collection Watchers at the Straight Gate lying around unread. I have been rotating around eleven single author story collections since the holidays reading anywhere from one to three stories by different authors each night. This would keep a space of around five days minimum between authors.


Story Original Appearance
A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale
The Invasion of the Church of the Holy Ghost F&SF, Dec. 1983
The Surly Sullen Bell The Surly Sullen Bell, 1962
The Peculiar Desmesne of Archivar Gerontin Dark Forces, 1980
Uncle Isaiah The Surly Sullen Bell, 1962
The Reflex-Man in Whinnymuir Close Whispers IV, 1983
What Shadows We Pursue F&SF, Jan. 1953
Lex Talionis Whispers II, 1979
Fate’s Purse F&SF, May 1979
An Encounter by Morstone Pond Watchers at the Straight Gate
Watchers at the Straight Gate New Terrors, 1980

In the introductory essays, Kirk writes:

“The better uncanny stories are underlain by a healthy concept of character of evil. Defying nature, the necromancer conjures up what ought not to rise again this side of Judgement Day. But these dark powers do not rule the universe; by bell, book, and candle, symbolically at least, we can push them down under.”

Kirk is good at having situations and characters. He slips in some comments about urban decay accelerated by bureaucrats who know better. The evil is small in these stories. Greed, lust, power are driving forces. The supernatural element may seem small in comparison to other writers of the supernatural.

The stories reminded me a little of August Derleth writing as “Stephan Grendon” but more mature and better written.

Watchers at the Straight Gate was a breath of fresh air. The collection The Surly Sullen Bell was reprinted twice in the 60s by Paperback Library, once as Lost Lake with a Gothic Romance cover. Pick it up if you come across it in a used bookstore.

One Comment
  • JohnnyMac says:

    This was the second collection of Russell Kirk’s ghostly tales published by Arkham House. The first was “The Princess of All Lands”. Anyone who enjoys a classic ghost story should buy these if they have the chance.

    I think the most recent collection of Kirk’s short stories was “Ancestral Shadows”.

    He also wrote three novels: “Old House of Fear”, “A Creature of the Twilight” and “Lord of the Hollow Dark”.
    The latter two feature his suave and sinister character Manfred Arcane who is not quite a gentleman but who can kiss a lady’s hand or cut a man’s throat with equal elegance. Arcane also appears is some of the short stories.

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