Thursday, January 29, 2015

2015 RR - The Hounds of Hell

Oh, happy day! Today I finished the second book from my 2015 Reading Resolution list!

The Hounds of Hell: Stories of Canine Horror and Fantasy, edited by Michel Parry, receives a solid four-star review from me.

Let's begin with the basics. The short stories in this collection all revolve around canines, be they good, evil, spectral, or even real pets. The book I own is the hardcover 1974 edition (I have a soft spot for older books versus newer editions). Most of the stories therein range from the early to mid twentieth century--probably my favorite decades for fantasy and horror.

Some of the stories are entertaining, some pull you right in...and others fall flatter than a pancake. Did I say pancake? No. Something even flatter. A crepe. Stick with me and you'll see.

Let's have a quick roll call, shall we? I'll include the story's title, author, and first sentence, along with my personal verdict.

The Hound, by H.P. Lovecraft
In my tortured ears there sounds unceasingly a nightmare whirring and flapping, and a faint, distant baying as if of some gigantic hound.

KVerdict: Not bad, although Lovecraft 's flowery style does get to me sometimes (I know, the time period...). I have several of his books, but sadly am not a great fan of his work. This story isn't an exception. It's just all right.

Staley Fleming's Hallucination, by Ambrose Bierce
Of two men who were talking one was a physician.

KVerdict: The first of many stories in this collection to have someone stalked by a phantom dog and ultimately get their throat ripped out. *Yawn.*

The Dog, by Ivan Turgenev
"But if you once admit the existence of the supernatural, and that it can enter into the ordinary affairs of everyday life, allow me to ask what scope is left for the exercise of reason?"

JVerdict: An excellent story with a rather slow opening. The Dog has the honor of being the only story to make a chill run through me. Once again, the character is stalked by a dog during the night. This dog, however, is warning him of what's to come...

The Hound of Death, by Agatha Christie
It was from William P. Ryan, American newspaper correspondent, that I first head of the affair.

KVerdict: A nun dreams of things which she believes never existed, but seem more real to her than life. Could she be remembering backwards?--Seeing what's to come? The symbolism, the premonitions, the signs... There is a distinct cult feel around this story, which nonetheless lacks something, as if it weren't completely fleshed out.

Dead Dog, by Manly Wade Wellman
They brought the rebel chief Kaflatala out of the jungle to Father Laboissier's mud-brick house, brought him in a tepoia because he still limped from a Portuguese bullet in his thigh.

JVerdict: Although Dead Dog repeats the premise of a person being stalked at night by a vengeful hound, the African setting, so different from the other stories in the collection, made for an interesting read.

The Dutch Officer's Story, by Catherine Crowe
"Well, I think nothing can be so cowardly as to be afraid to own the truth," said the pretty Madame de B., an Englishwoman, who had married a Dutch officer of distinction.

KVerdict: A ghostly hound wakes up sentries who are asleep on their watch, so of course someone higher up decides to see what happens if he shoots the creature. I don't understand why so many of the characters in these stories feel the need to shoot at dogs.

Vendetta, by Guy de Maupassant
Palo Saverini's widow dwelt alone with her son in a small, mean house on the ramparts of Bonifacio.

KVerdict: This is one of the few stories where the dog is a regular, living breathing pet--trained to kill.

Dog or Demon? by Theo Gift
"The following pages came into my hands shortly after the writer's death."

JJVerdict: Excellent storytelling by Victorian novelist Dora Havers (under a male pen name, of course). Probably what I loved most about this story is the fact that, even though it takes place in 1878 Ireland, the topic of eviction (with all its paperwork and personal drama) is so similar to what could happen nowadays--if you don't include the curses and the phantom killer dog (again).

Louis, by Saki
"It would be jolly to spend Easter in Vienna this year," said Strudwarden, "and look up some of my old friends there."

JVerdict: At first I was a bit disgusted. Murder your wife's beloved pet just to be able to go on vacation? However, once the murder plan is carried out and the truth is discovered, the story deserves a chuckle.

The Howling Tower, by Fritz Leiber
The sound was not loud, yet it seemed to fill the whole vast, darkening plain, and the palely luminous, hollow sky: a wailing and howling, so faint and monotonous that it might have been inaudible save for the pulsing rise and fall; an ancient, ominous sound that was somehow in harmony with the wild, sparsely vegetated landscape and the barbaric garb of the three men who sheltered in a little dip in the ground, lying close to a dying fire.

JJVerdict: The protagonists of this story, Grey Mouser and Fafhrd, are the protagonists of a series of short stories. The Howling Tower starts off a bit slow, and the point of view is so distant it's at times difficult to grasp, but once the action begins it's a tale full of imagination that I won't mind reading again.

The White Dog, by Feodor Sologub
Everything grew irksome for Alexandra Ivanova in the workshop of this out-of-way town--the pattens, the clatter of machines, the complaints of the managers; it was the shop in which she had served as an apprentice and now for several years as seamstress.

LVerdict: This is probably the flattest story in the entire collection. The beginning is all right and promises something like revenge or at least a good fight between Alexandra and a Tanechka, the youngest seamstress. What follows, however, is just awful. I'll just explain it, so if you don't want any spoilers please stop reading here. After being called a dog by Tanechka, Alexandra goes into a rage and returns home, where she ponders her existence and the round, full moon. There is ambiguity about whether or not she is a shape shifter. Driven by a force stronger than her will, Alexandra tears off her clothes and runs outside, where she lies on the ground and howls at the moon. Two neighbors see what they believe is a massive white dog, so logically (¿?) they run out and shoot it...

"The discharge of a rifle sounded in the night air. The dog gave a groan, jumped on its hind legs, became a naked woman who, her body covered with blood, started to run, all the while groaning, weeping and raising cries of distress. The black-bearded one and the curly-headed one threw themselves in the grass and began to moan in wild terror." THE END

Seriously? Put some Nutella on that crepe and serve it to me hot.

The Hound, by William Faulkner
To Cotton the shot was the loudest thing he had ever heard in his life.

KVerdict: I could have enjoyed this American South story more if the writing weren't so disjointed. There are several passages--especially descriptions of places and series of actions--where it seems the author just skipped over entire sentences. I don't know if this style is intentional to fit the protagonist, but it made for a confusing read.

The Emissary, by Ray Bradbury
Martin knew it was autumn again, for Dog ran into the house bringing wind and frost and a smell of apples turned to cider under trees.

JJVerdict: An excellent story told in an excellent voice--probably, my favorite from the collection, in fact. Little boy Martin is perpetually sick and bed-ridden, but his faithful Dog tells him everything of the outside world through the smells and brambles (and other stuff...) he brings back in his fur. The ending had a very strong Pet Sematary feel to it, which was juuuuust fine.

The Hound of Pedro, by Robert Bloch
They said he was a wizard, that he could never die.

JVerdict: Another excellent story revolving around wizardry and black magic, this time in 1717 Mexico. The depictions of violence and cruelty are exceptionally vivid in this one, so it's not for the faint of heart.

The Whining, by Ramsey Campbell
When Bentinck first saw the dog he thought it was a patch of mud.

LLVerdict: Horrible! Awful! I never want to read this again! When I began reading this collection, I had some reservations as I was worried that some of the stories might depict cruelty to a "real" (not phantom, not satanic) dog. This story fed my fears. And of course, the protagonist loses his marbles in the last line or two. How convenient. Nope.

The Death Hound, by Dion Fortune
"Well?" said my patient when I had finished stethoscoping him, "have I got to go softly all the days of my life?"

JJVerdict: Once again, an excellent story told by an excellent storyteller, Violet Wirth, "the most influential female occultist since Madame Blavatsky." The Death Hound features occult detective Doctor Taverner, who uses his wit and a dose of white magic to thwart an attempt at mental assassination. How come I never heard about this author or this character before? *Runs off to find more Taverner stories!*

And that concludes my analysis of The Hounds of Hell. Overall, it was an enjoyable read, though the topic of killer dogs did become a bit repetitive (I can't blame anyone--it's a collection of stories about killer dogs!). The best result of reading this collection is that now I know more authors and more characters I can look up. Doctor Taverner, here I come!

Would you like to read The Hounds of Hell?

What book should I strike off my list next? I was thinking about reading The Vision by Dean Koontz, merely because it's completely different to what I just read. However... I remember the first pages being so sappy... I guess I'll have to soldier on through it, right?

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