Monday, January 23, 2017

and now, once again from the realms of obscurity, I give you The Stuff of Dreams: The Weird Stories of Edward Lucas White

Dover Publications, 2016
213 pp


This may be a first for me --  a book completely composed of a number of the author's dreams, then put into written form "to get them out of his system."  Not all translate very well from the mind to the page, but for the most part, The Stuff of Dreams is a fun, compact collection of ten tales and two poems; it's a nice blending of the supernatural with a bit of the old, adventure-type pulp that I just love.  Ghosts, ghouls, and sorcerers (among other things) all make an appearance here, and it's not by chance that the word "weird" happens to be in the title.

Edward Lucas White (1866-1934) started writing in his teens, prior to becoming a student at Johns Hopkins University.  He left school for a year for medical reasons, then, upon returning in 1886, finished out his time there with a BA in Romance Languages in 1888.  He'd wanted to continue on with his studies through the PhD, but his father didn't have the money to fund his education.  In 1892, he got a job teaching Latin to Dartmouth freshmen; from there he went on to teach high school in Baltimore, retiring in 1934.  Most of his writing happened between 1905 and 1909, never really gaining commercial success for his short fiction or his poetry, but his very popular historical novels were "well received by critics and readers." Seven years after the death of his wife in 1927, White was constantly plagued with financial difficulties and he ended up committing suicide in 1934.  He's an author whose work is new to me, and I am quite happy to have discovered this collection of his work.

from Slattery's Horror Weblog
So now we get to the stories, which I just can't describe in any sort of depth without wrecking things.

In "The House of the Nightmare," a traveler finds himself stranded after a car wreck and forced to stay in an old, rundown house before being able to seek help.  This one has a bit of a twisted ending that I can honestly say I didn't see coming. It is followed by "The Flambeau Bracket," which has a macabre twist at the end.  Things start to pick up in the way of creep factor with "Amina," set in the inhospitable desert of Persia, where absolutely nothing is as it seems.  This is a good one.  The next tale is that of "The Message on the Slate," one of the jewels in this collection, which begins with a visit by a well-respected woman to a clairvoyant who is reluctant to take her on as a client, for very good reason, as it turns out.  "Lukundoo" is also quite good, a cautionary tale in which a smug, self-righteous explorer gets his comeuppance in an horrific sort of way.  That story is followed by "The Pig-Skin Belt," about a wealthy man whose paranoia no one really understands.   Another good one here is "The Song of the Sirens."  Another personal favorite, this not-so-brief story concerns the fates of a ship's crew, one not shared by the deaf mate, who lives to tell the tale, but ... 

the author's Lukundoo and OtherStories, 1927
"The Picture Puzzle" is up next and it's a doozie.  A lost child's absence from the home has destroyed her parents, who have never given up hope that she'd be found one day.  Trying to stay busy, to do anything at all to keep their minds off of their sadness, jigsaw puzzles become the parents' "salvation," especially one puzzle in particular. Not only is this one strange, but it's also quite poignant.  In "The Snout," some would-be home invaders after a fortune in diamonds find much more than they'd originally  bargained for.  The final story before the two poems "Azrael" and "The Ghoula" is "Sorcery Island," in which a man flying his airplane is confused by hallucinations and is forced to crash land on a private island, where he learns that the rich even have the power to buy men's souls. 

While I enjoyed reading this book, there is one big reader-beware thing I need to point out.  There is enough racial stereotyping and ethnic slurring going on here to make sensitive readers uncomfortable in our current times, but on the other hand, considering that White died in 1934, it's not at all surprising. 

Overall, it's a fun little volume and it's always a good day when I read work by an author of whom I've been previously unaware.  While it's not perfect, I do love the mix of strange/pulpy and strange/supernatural, and it certainly meets my need for discovering the obscure.  Recommended with the caveat mentioned above. 

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