Datlow and Mamatas’ “Haunted Legends”

I can always tell when Halloween is near —  wandering through the bookstore, I inevitably find multiple new books of horror that I absolutely cannot resist.  This time around, I found three must-have hardcovers, putting a significant dent in my wallet.  The first of these is the compilation of short stories, Haunted Legends (2010), edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas:

In a world where most horror compilations consist of yet another collection of stories about zombies or sexy vampires, Haunted Legends is a refreshing change.  The premise is based on a simple observation: every region of the world has its own “true” stories of ghosts and monsters, many of which are genuinely creepy; however, these stories are usually so poorly told that they’re depressingly boring.  As Mamatas states in the introduction,

The “paranormal investigator” with his electronic stud finder recalibrated to find ghosts instead of pieces of wood, hell, he can barely think, much less write a compelling story.

So why not get professional horror writers to take their favorite “true” stories and rewrite them?  Haunted Legends includes 20 all-new stories, some of which are by very well-known authors such as Ramsey Campbell and Joe R. Lansdale.

The stories are quite good overall and are all very well written, though I felt that some of them evolved outside of the spirit of the compilation’s theme.  A number of authors used the stories to tackle some rather dark and serious topics — rape, complicity in atrocities, drug abuse.  This is in general fine, but I was much more excited by the prospect of reading expertly told “ghost stories”, and a little disappointed by the deviation.

Still, quite a few of the stories are very, very good, and a couple of them by unfamiliar authors were so good that I’ve sought out their other works.  Some of my favorites:

  • Chucky Comes to Liverpool, by Ramsey Campbell.  The tone of this story will be very familiar to Campbell fans, but it is a solid piece.  A young boy gets drawn into the mystique of seeing a series of horror films that are said to coerce people into doing terrible things.
  • The Folding Man, by Joe R. Lansdale.  Some fellas out for a wild night on Halloween get more than they bargained for when they mock the wrong passing car.  They end up fleeing for their life from one of the oddest monsters ever imagined.
  • The Foxes, by Lily Hoang.  In the jungles of Vietnam, a growing army of unstoppable beings lay waste to isolated villages.  Supernatural terror is mixed with graphic and modern horrors in a very effective story of doom and colonialism.
  • The Redfield Girls, by Laird Barron.  In the Pacific Northwest, a group of friends on an outing visit a deep, glacier-carved lake with a history of death and murder.  Bernice has had visions of watery doom preceding the trip, but not even her premonitions can prepare her for the horrors ahead.
  • For Those in Peril on the Sea, by Stephen Dedman.  A Fear-Factor style reality show culminates in a stay aboard an old derelict ship grounded in the shallows.  Are ghosts the worst thing the contestants face, however, or each other?

Each story is accompanied by an afterword by the author that explains the “true” inspiration for the story.  These anecdotes are very illuminating, necessary, and often as compelling as the stories themselves.

Horror compilations are always a little “hit-or-miss” in terms of their content.  Haunted Legends is in the same vein, but nevertheless the volume is overall filled with great and creepy tales, and has a great premise.  I would recommend the book to anyone who is a fan of horror fiction or a good, “true” horror story.  I hope the editors plan to continue this theme in future compilations!

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2 Responses to Datlow and Mamatas’ “Haunted Legends”

  1. Steve Petersen says:

    Thanks for the review. I had been trying to work out which anthology Stephen Deadman’s “For Those in Peril on the Sea” would appear in ever since I heard the author read and discuss an excerpt at the recent Worldcon (Aussiecon) science fiction convention in Melbourne.

    FWIW, I highly recommend his classic collection of short stories “The Lady of Situations”. But be warned, alot of the stories contain erotic content and are seriously creepy. But if you’re looking for something a little different from the usual horror cliches they’re good stuff.

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