Wednesday, July 9, 2014

GHOSTS, GHOULS, & OTHER HORRORS by Bernhardt J. Hurwood

This charming little volume is from Scholastic, and published in 1971. One can't help but wonder if this was one of those things bought in the book fairs they held in elementary-school cafeterias. It's a charmingly lurid collection of brief tales, all bite-sized and good bedtime reading for those who enjoy a slight shudder.

The stories are quite a jumble. At least one is a written-up version of a common urban legend, of a priest who is summoned by a mysterious woman who directs him to a certain address to administer last rites. He arrives at the address, only to find nobody ill. He identifies a picture on the wall as the woman who summoned him; as it turns out, it's the long-dead mother of the master of the house, a dissolute soul who suddenly converts and confesses his sins....just in time to die the next day.

Others are recountings of famous hauntings, like the screaming skull of Burton Agnes Hall, or a haunting of Berry Pomeroy, and the very, very familiar story of the vampire of Croglin Grange. One, a story of the ghost of a werewolf, seems lifted entirely from the work of Elliott O'Donnell. And quite a few seem invented from whole cloth, like "The Glowing Maggot of Doom" or "The Old Man in Yellow" or "A Georgia House of Horror." All the stories are purportedly true but there's no references and in some cases there's little to no identifying information available, so it's impossible to look it up. My colleague Jim Moon at the Hypnogoria website tried to look up the source of "The Glowing Maggot of Doom" and couldn't find anything. I remember looking into that story myself, as it was reprinted in Marvin Kaye's marvelous anthology Ghosts, and I couldn't locate anything about a maggot haunting, although it does come across as a distant cousin to E. F. Benson's short story "Caterpillars." Mr. Moon reads from the book in his podcast Hypnobobs; go give it a listen. He says a few more things about it that I agree with very much, and find it pointless to repeat.

Interestingly, the editions we have have differences. His is illustrated; mine is not. However, based on his readings in the podcast, his edition seems somewhat bowdlerized; mine does not. In his reading of "Glowing Maggot", there's a mention of someone dying "after being taken ill," but in my copy of the book, it says they died "after being seized with a fit of vomiting."

Bernhardt Hurwood seems to have been a hack writer who did a lot of these books; I now have a small stack of 'em to delve into, found in my explorations of local used book stores. Looking him up online, he also seems to have written quite a few books on sex as well. Quite a split personality there; kid's occultism on one hand, sex and pornography on the other. Probably not all that unusual for jobbing writers.

There are copies available online for next to nothing, and keep your eyes open for used copies. This is enjoyable, if featherweight, entertainment, good for reading in bed on a windy night.

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