“Read a Damn Book – 092: Widdershins”

Time for some classic spooky stories!

widdershins (1911) - (peg)

Oliver Onions – Widdershins (1911)

Oliver Onions was a prolific British novelist and short story writer who put his hand to a number of different genres and styles, but DAMN! when he did ghost stories and spooky tales, the guy was unbelievably effective. Published in 1911, Widdershins is a collection of “weird” fiction, which STILL stands up today as some of the greatest psychological thrillers ever told, up there with Poe and Lovecraft. (And for those who are wondering, “widdershins” means counter-clockwise or against the normal direction of travel.)

In this collection are stories of haunted houses and shadowy creatures tormenting sensitive souls. There’s a tale about an artist who is creating his own GOD by carving a grotesque sculpture, one about a man who slips out of time and sees the hideous crime he will commit in a fit of passion BEFORE he has committed it, one where a woman who becomes so enamored by ancient mythology that she accidently invokes the ancient forces she’s been studying, and the opening tale of the collection, “The Beckoning Fair One,” about a man who is haunted and then POSSESSED by an unseen presence in the apartment that he’s been renting—and so on. Nine tales in all, and though this collection is over a hundred years old, the stories in this book mesh perfectly with modern sensibilities, as if Onions had tapped into the spirit of The Twilight Zone almost fifty years before the first episode aired!

Beyond being tales of high strangeness, what really makes these stories work are the PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS that are at the core of each tale. In Onion’s fiction, humans seem to be isolated creatures, continuously FAILING to understand and empathize with one another, and these rotten and dysfunctional relationships are often the HOOK that allows the weird element into the lives of the doomed individuals who populate his tales. It’s as if trucking with the supernatural takes the PLACE of fulfilling human contact. The “hauntings” are almost exclusively caused by some character flaw in the victims—although the HORROR invoked in each case isn’t lessened by this fact but enhanced by it. The HUMAN element is invariably overwhelmed by the more ancient and more powerful OTHER world.

I’ve read this book more than once, and it’s a been a wonderful, creepy experience each time. I’ll admit that the pacing of the tales might seem a bit slow to some folks—this is more psychological horror than slasher jump-scares—but I think the fact that Onions takes the time to develop the characters and their situations is what makes the corruption and ultimate fall all the more effective. The stories aren’t particularly gory, there isn’t much in the way of foul language or explicit sexual content. These are just excellently constructed, creepy, psychological horror stories dealing with madness and loss and creativity and eternity. If you can work through the leisurely pacing, the stories have a much more than adequate payoff, and a few of them, like “The Beckoning Fair One” and “Belian” and “The Rocker” are incredibly creepy stories, if you take the time to consider what they’re actually about! It’s a great book and should be available as a free download, since it’s now in the public domain. Highly recommended! I’m sure I’ll read it again!

—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)

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About richardfyates

Compulsive creator of the bizarre and absurd. (Artist, writer, poet, provocateur...)
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