Tuesday Terror! Randalls Round: Nine Nightmares by Eleanor Scott

Bedtime reading…

😀 😀 😀 😀

First published in 1929, this was Eleanor Scott’s only collection of weird stories although she wrote several books in other genres. This edition includes all nine of the stories in the original collection, plus two written by “N. Dennett”, now believed to have been a pseudonym of Eleanor Scott, which was itself a pseudonym, the author’s real name being Helen Leys. The introduction is by Aaron Worth, Associate Professor of Rhetoric at Boston University, who has appeared on the blog twice before as editor of two excellent collections, Green Tea and Other Weird Stories by Sheridan Le Fanu, and The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories by Arthur Machen. In fact, Worth takes a large part of the credit for inspiring my interest in weird fiction, so I’m always pleased to see his name pop up.

In his introduction, Worth tells us that the collection didn’t sell well on its original publication, which he suggests was more to do with poor marketing than the quality of the work. While he points out that many of the stories and the general style are rather derivative of other writers of the period, especially MR James, he suggests that Scott took the weird genre in her own direction towards what would later, quite recently in fact, come to be called “folk horror”. He also says that despite the somewhat derivative quality of some of the stories she makes them her own, and describes them as “intrinsically excellent”.

Even with my limited knowledge of weird and horror fiction, I did indeed find that many of the stories felt quite derivative, not just of James but especially of Machen, and being forced into this comparison didn’t work to Scott’s benefit, since I feel Machen is significantly better at “folk horror”, even if it didn’t exist as a genre when he was writing. On reading over my notes on each story, it appears I also had some issues with her endings, being annoyed sometimes by them being left too ambiguous to be satisfying, and then with other stories lamenting that the ending was too obvious, or too neat, or too well explained. Maybe I was just in a picky, Goldilocks kind of mood! There was only one story where I felt the ending had been exactly the bowl of porridge I’d been looking for.

These criticisms notwithstanding, I enjoyed the collection overall, and there were a few stories that I thought were excellent. Scott was very good at creating an atmosphere of unease and some parts of the stories are genuinely scary, with a nightmarish quality to them. In fact, Scott claimed the stories were based on her own nightmares (although Worth amused me by commenting that “one wonders how much these were influenced by her bedtime reading”). I gave three of the stories 5 stars, one 3 stars, and all the rest either 4 or 4½, so a consistently high standard throughout with no real failures. As usual, here’s a flavour of a few of my favourites:

Celui-Lá – On the advice of his doctor, Maddox goes for a break to a small village in Breton, where he stays with the local priest. Maddox is walking on the beach when he sees a strange figure, digging in the sand. The figure sees Maddox and runs off, so Maddox goes to where it was digging and finds an ancient parchment. The priest believes the words on the parchment are an incantation – but too late! Maddox has already read them aloud! This one felt particularly derivative, but it’s well written and quite effective in creating a nightmarish atmosphere, and this was the one where I felt the ending achieved the perfect balance of being ambiguous but satisfying.

The Tree – Two young artists, a couple, take a studio, outside which grows a giant ash tree. Ralph hates it and wants to chop it down, and Nan reluctantly agrees. But then Ralph has a dream in which every axe stroke against the tree seems also to be cutting into him, so they decide to keep the tree. But somehow it has worked its way into Ralph’s mind, and now everything he paints has the tree in it, spoiling his work. Nan decides to take drastic action… Again derivative – Worth mentions Walter de la Mare’s The Tree, which overall I feel is a better story – but it’s again very effective at creating an atmosphere of impending dread.

The Old Lady – Our narrator, Honor, is a student at Oxford. She bets a friend that she can get on with anyone, and her friend chooses Adela, another student, a shrinking, silent girl. Honor duly befriends Adela, and is able to wangle an invite to her home in the holidays, where Adela lives with her guardian – a creepy, ancient old woman. Honor is invited back for the midsummer break, but Adela warns her that mysterious deaths tend to happen around midsummer. This is a spooky one, but Honor is delightfully feisty and doesn’t plan on being anybody’s victim! A very enjoyable story even though the ending is a bit too abrupt.

So a good collection rather than a great one for me, but an interesting addition to the BL’s always intriguing Tales of the Weird series.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

* * * * *

Later…

*Gulps* I forgot to put the porpy’s bit in and now he’s furious! So here he is…

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😮 😮 😮

(I’m off to hide now… see ya later!)

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33 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Randalls Round: Nine Nightmares by Eleanor Scott

    • For relative newcomers to horror, I’d definitely recommend Green Tea – Sheridan Le Fanu. Being more Gothic than weird I think they’re far more approachable than Machen, though I’d highly recommend Machen for people with a bit of familiarity with the horror genre who’d like to try weird. The Le Fanu one includes Carmilla, which I think I told you recently is my favourite vampire story! This Scott collection is good, but really not in the same class as either Le Fanu or Machen. (I suspect Worth would agree with me on that!)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. That’s the thing about these sorts of collections, FictionFan. They are sometimes a mixed bag. Of course, sometimes it’s mood (that happens to me, anyway), but I think it’s also that it’s very hard to have a whole collection of excellent stories. Still, some of these do sound quite good, and I give credit to authors who can create an eerie atmosphere – that takes doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My mood definitely affects me which is why I occasionally remind people that my star rating is a subject measure of my enjoyment rather than an objective measure of “quality”! But these were good even of not perhaps top rank. I wonder why she only wrote so few. Maybe she stopped having nightmares… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. These sound perfectly creepy, ha! I can only guess at how they play out, but considering the genre, I’ll bet I’m right. Glad you found something to enjoy here, FF. Did the Porpy not play along this time? I missed him!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Despite some weak endings, these still sound like they could be fun to read. This is a day it paid to be late to the party. Love the exchanges about the forgotten porpy!! I’m surprised you didn’t list his rating with angry faces. 😡😡😡

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Never forget ol’ Porpy! You may find yourself feeling his wrath. Derivative is a scary word for a writer. Maybe that’s part of the horror, LOL. I’ve occasionally thought about writing a creepy story, but am not sure I could carry it through without giving myself nightmares. Maybe sometime down the road. In the meantime, I’ll just stick with reading them. I tend to gravitate toward Gaiman, who can scare the living daylights outta me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The porpy is still drawing me dirty looks – who could have guessed he would be so unforgiving! 🦔 Ha, the thing is that it’s only people who know the originals that ever spot when an author is being derivative – I’d certainly not have spotted it a few years ago! Oh, you should – based on your little Hallowe’en stories I bet you could be proper chilling if you tried! 😈

      Liked by 1 person

  5. So I must admit I had to do a quick dictionary.com check to see what the word ‘derivative’ meant. I suppose I only knew about it in the mathematical sense, like a part of something? But you are meaning it here as in – not original, right?

    Liked by 1 person

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