Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Dark Descent

As anyone who loves reading knows, books tend to come and go but some books stay with you and become an integral part of your experience of the world. For me, one of those books is The Dark Descent, edited by David G. Hartwell.

This book entered my life because my aunt joined a mail order book club. Generously, she let me pick out two books from her first allotment of books for myself. The Dark Descent was one of my picks, and it forever skewed my taste in literature.

(My other pick, Edith Hamilton's book of mythology, was also highly formative--I'll talk about that one another day.)

The Dark Descent is an anthology of horror stories, and frankly it is a masterclass in great short horror fiction between two covers. This book introduced me to a number of authors that I absolutely love; this was my first exposure to Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Michael Shea, E. Nesbit, Karl Edward Wagner, Robert Aickman, Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, Richard Matheson, Joanna Russ, Dennis Etchison, Ramsey Campbell, Gene Wolfe, Joyce Carol Oates, Walter de la Mare, Flannery O'Connor, and Oliver Onions.

Look, this is the book that introduced me to Tanith Lee.

Also, this book was my first taste of authors I would go on to teach: Stephen King, M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, William Faulkner, Henry James, Charles Dickens, Robert W. Chambers, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, and Philip K. Dick are all represented.

The good news is that The Dark Descent is miraculously still in print. It doesn't have to be your first experience of these fantastic authors; I have no doubt that it would serve just as well as a repository of dark delights that adorns your shelves.