For several years my parents have been in the antique trade. They have exquisite taste. Dark wood, old framed prints, and deep crimson felt are usually what people will find in their booths. Of course next to their wares I found something more to my interest: Books. Books in antique stores come in two categories: 1) Filler, usually Readers Digest condensed versions or cookbooks, to spruce up the usual banality, or 2) An actual book-seller's booth. What I had found was the latter. The literary fair involved was mostly from the last century, meaning the 20th, and was in very good condition. What made me very happy indeed was that the proprietor seemed to enjoy weird fiction. I made several purchases over the course of as many months. I collect books. Soon I found that I had a fairly large collection of horror fiction.
I had always enjoyed horror ever since my uncle, who had a very large horror collection in his library, bought me both Night Shift and Skeleton Crew by Stephen King. My sister's husband had some older paperbacks of H.P. Lovecraft lying around and the covers alone made me read his work. But other than reading more into those authors respectively, I didn't really read any further into horror. I knew I was drawn to the genre both in print and in other media. But I never took the time to research what I liked about it. As it turns out fate has a plan after all.
I had just got through reading a horror anthology I had bought from the booth I have mentioned. It was unique in that all the stories included were mentioned in Lovecraft's essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature." One of the names mentioned was M.R. James. In fact I had come across that name before while researching Lovecraft on the internet. 'The greatest writer of ghost stories in the English language' I believe he was called. Well I hadn't been looking for him until I happened on a large hardbound edition in the book booth entitled Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James. The picture above is not the cover of my book, although it was printed by the Wordsworth company. There was a sticker on the dust-jacket, which looked exactly like the cover, that said it was a promotional copy. It is beautiful and I plan to post my copy on as soon as possible.
What I found by reading these, other than one of the most enjoyable reading experiences of my adult life, was the world that had existed in my mind since before high school. It all became very clear to me. The soot of new Industrial England, the fog on the rolling moors, the marble and oak of darkened cathedrals, Persian rugs under high backed chairs in a square windowed library. The 19th century whispered to me like the cold breath of a phantom in my ear. This was what I enjoy about this genre. At this time I have begun to purchase more Gothic fiction. Not black lipstick, collars, and too-tight corsets, no. Actual Gothic literature. The Monk by Lewis, The Italian by Radcliffe, The Vampyre by Polidori; this is the era I enjoy the most. This doesn't mean I don't enjoy modern Horror, just that this is what I was writing about in my journal at age 17. I only wish I had taken the time to search it out sooner.
Thank you Montague Rhodes James, you antiquarian scholar, for helping me on the way.