When I started to think about it recently, it occurred to me that I didn’t know much about horror fiction between the time of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) and H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). There are a number of obvious standouts — Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Richard Marsh’s The Beetle (1897), Marie Corelli’s Ziska (1897), Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (1898), the works of Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) and M.R. James (1862-1936) — but I don’t have a great handle on what topics interested other writers of the macabre, especially in the time leading up to Lovecraft’s revolutionary “cosmic horror.”
I gained an opportunity to learn more, recently, when I learned about the 1925 anthology Not At Night (1925), edited by Christine Campbell Thomson. I found an inexpensive copy online, and soon had it in my hands.
The series was immensely popular in its time, leading to 11 volumes in total between 1925 and 1936. The first volume alone went through at least 7 reprints; mine is from October of 1927. The stories were all drawn from the magazine Weird Tales, which was for decades the preeminent source of weird and horror fiction, as well as a regular publisher of Lovecraft’s work. In 1928, Weird Tales published The Call of Cthulhu, the story that really launched the genre of cosmic horror and transformed horror fiction forever.
In Not At Night, then, I saw an opportunity to get a snapshot of the field as it stood just before this monumental change. What scared people in the 1920s? What sort of horror stories did they write?