Friday, November 12, 2010

Guest FFB: Jeff Segal on THE FIEND IN YOU edited by Charles Beaumont (Ballantine, 1962)

My friend Jeff Segal is a writer, a true fan of the outré among much else, and a civil servant native to and residing in the Philadelphia area. (My own FFB offer this week follows, below--TM)

from the Contento index:

The Fiend in You ed. Charles Beaumont (Ballantine F641, 1962, 50¢, 155pp, pb)
vi · Introduction · Charles Beaumont · in
7 · Finger Prints · Richard Matheson · ss *
14 · Fool’s Mate · Stanley Ellin · ss Stanley Ellin’s Mystery Magazine, 1948; EQMM Nov ’51
31 · Big, Wide, Wonderful World · Charles E. Fritch · vi F&SF Mar ’58
35 · The Night of the Gran Baile Mascara · Whit Burnett · ss Transition Fll ’29; EQMM Jul ’65
46 · A Punishment to Fit the Crimes · Richard M. Gordon · ss, 1962
54 · The Hornet · George Clayton Johnson · ss Rogue Sep ’62
59 · Perchance to Dream · Charles Beaumont · ss Playboy Oct ’58
68 · The Thirteenth Step · Fritz Leiber · ss *
75 · The Conspiracy · Robert Lowry · ss New York Call Girl, 1958 (a Lowry collection)
84 · Room with a View · Esther Carlson · ss Fantastic May/Jun ’53
90 · The Candidate · Henry Slesar · ss Rogue, 1961
98 · One of Those Days · William F. Nolan · ss F&SF May ’62
103 · Lucy Comes to Stay · Robert Bloch · ss Weird Tales Jan ’52
110 · The Women · Ray Bradbury · ss Famous Fantastic Mysteries Oct ’48
121 · Surprise! · Ronald Bradford · ss, 1962
127 · Mute · Richard Matheson · nv *

In addition to being an acclaimed fiction-writer and screenwriter for tv and the cinema, the late Charles Beaumont served as an editor. Along with another versatile writer in The Group, William F. Nolan, auto-racing enthusiast Beaumont co-edited the nonfiction theme anthologies, The Omnibus of Speed and When Engines Roar.

He is listed as the solo editor for the psychological-horror anthology The Fiend in You (Ballantine 1962). Beaumont included selections from Group associates Nolan, Richard Matheson (two yarns, in fact) and George Clayton Johnson.

Beaumont's premise, summed up in the introduction, is that the traditional fear-figures--ghosts, shape-shifters, witches, vampires, etc.--were no longer scary. "...After centuries of outstanding service to the human imagination, the classic terrors...have suddenly found themselves unable to get work, except as comedians. [1] We love them, of course. And we feel sorry for them. But we are not afraid of them any more."

So, The Fiend in You offers a "new" horror, a menace which would replace the traditional things that went bump in the night. The new monster he focuses on is The Mind. Beaumont quips, in Robert Blochian fashion, that "These stories must be taken internally. Any one of them could serve to prod the slumbering fiend in you."

The bulk of the contributions were copyrighted 1962. Several had been previously published as recently as '62, though a few of the tales date back to the 1930s and late '40s. With the Mind as monster as a thematic link, Beaumont pillaged distinct genres to fill out this book.

The first of the sixteen stories is Matheson's "Finger Prints," about the male narrator's uncomfortable encounter and subsequent victimization on a bus by a manipulative passenger...or so it appears. I had not previously read the yarn but noted its connection to other very personal short stories and novels by the author which pit a contemporary man against a force which upsets his equanimity and even threatens his masculinity.

The anthology concludes with another Matheson, "Mute," which is the story of a young child, altered by a strange experiment, who nonetheless responds to the affection of a foster mother. It is a perceptive story about an attempt to "advance" an individual and the expression of humanity by which the child connects again with our species was reminiscent of Theodore Sturgeon's work.

Mystery writer Stanley Ellin's "Fool's Mate," as with a few other tales here, had been published some decades previously; the story of one man's cold marriage and hot obsession over chess with no opponent, it shares themes of literal split personality and obsession with several of the other stories. Ellin's dark humor contrasts with the initial grim Matheson tale even as it showcases another horror of the mind.

"Let's have a nightmare" a protagonist suggests in "Big, Wide, Wonderful World," a short work by Charles E. Fritch which depicts what, at first, appears to be a speculative future whose inhabitants are insulated by scheduled doses of medication from the nightmares that would otherwise afflict the population. When Chuck persuades his two friends to go off their regimented meds, just to briefly endure the novel effects, Fritch anticipates the rich and varied rubber reality which still informs everything from Robert McCammon's "I Scream Ice Cream" to, more obviously, The Matrix. The reader is left wiser than the surviving characters.

Whit Burnett's ironic "The Night of the Gran Baile Mascara" involves murder and madness in Spain. Burnett's rich style neatly endows the story with a dream-like quality, right through the climax that circles back to the opening passages.

Richard M. Gordon's "A Punishment to Fit the Crime" is an overtly supernatural story built around the trial of a historic personage and the folks whose gory deaths made him into a legend. The defendant's plea that he is ill and wasn't properly raised encourage the infernal judge to impose a peculiar and exquisitely ironic sentence. The reader's knowledge of historical true-crime might untangle the twist from the ending before they finish it, but the story is otherwise amusing.

Of Beaumont's circle of friends, I have read the least amount of George Clayton Johnson. His effort, "The Hornet," could have been written in the heyday of the pulp magazine Weird Tales. A parable of karmic retribution that anticipates the climax of Peter Straub's novel Ghost Story, it doesn't shoulder as much thematic weight as the other tales from the Group included here but does provide a few moments of light entertainment and an open ending.

Beaumont's own contribution, "Perchance to Dream," addresses the intrusion of nightmares into the real world. The story begins naturally enough, given the objectives of The Fiend in You, with a psychiatric-couch confession and depicts the protagonist's belief that each time he dreams, he will advance one step closer to certain doom. It is well-written and may have resonance with folks disturbed in their waking hours by their particularly trying nightmares. It even offers an alarming Robert Bloch-caliber concluding zinger.

Fritz Leiber's "The Thirteenth Step" toys with a supernatural occurrence at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The state of mind of the frazzled female protagonist and the cynicism she encounters from other alkies would seem to be the primary reasons that this yarn was included, but the intrusion of the unnatural into a vividly-described mundane setting (one that he might have had some personal knowledge of) very much brands the tale with Leiber's stamp.

Robert Lowry's "The Conspiracy" at first seems like it will match the opening Matheson tale in terms of ordinary folks placed into a psychologically extraordinary situation (a couple and the seemingly drunken woman who claims she lives in their apartment) but takes a trip into the Twilight Zone by the conclusion.

Esther Carlson's "Room with a View," featuring a hungry artist who creates an alternate imaginary world for himself, definitely fleshes out several recurring themes in the book. As with Ellin's "Fool's Mate," it case-studies a gradual descent into insanity and concludes on a fateful, if logical, note. And as with several other stories, the protagonist's obsession, depicted in great detail by Carlson, leads to his undoing.

Henry Slesar's wicked contribution, "The Candidate," establishes the corroding mindset of someone caught up in office politics before introducing what may or may not be the uncanny. The meat of the story, about the power of belief, is an elaborate set-up for its abrupt and chilling twist conclusion. It is one of several stories dwelling on the darker side of obsession and self-delusion but handles these aberrant mindsets differently than do the other tales.

Nolan's peculiar contribution, "One of These Days," drops the reader into someone's already insane mindset, with the entire story rendered off-kilter. It is probably the most peculiar fiction Nolan's written I have read to date, even allowing for Helltracks, his novel-length expansion of the tale "Lonely Train A' Comin'." Here, the subjective narrative that gives "One of These Days" bizarre perspective.

Robert Bloch's "Lucy Comes to Stay" is one of his aberrant-psychology tales, involving here a hapless young woman whose best friend violently schemes to free her from clinging family members. Or is there a best friend? The story was adapted, with relatively restrained changes, for the Amicus-produced, Bloch-scripted horror portmanteau anthology film, Asylum. Decades of writing certainly had not blunted the genre-hopping author's skills and "Lucy Comes to Stay" is as potent as Bloch's Depression-era fiction.

Ray Bradbury's "The Women" is, after the Ellin and the Burnett, the oldest story included in the book. It involves a man caught unknowingly in a rivalry, if one can call it that, between two feminine forces. H. P. Lovecraft, burdened with neuroses over the ladies, might approve of the depiction of one of the "women", though even he might wonder why that vast force would pay attention to a mere mortal. The symbolism of a feminized ocean as casual destroyer should have earned this tale more attention.

Ronald Bradford's "Surprise!" is another yarn that quickly shrugs off the reality-anchor of an opening sentence declaring it set on the hottest day ever in the town of Beaglesville and swiftly descends into the insanity of its characters. The subjective narrative is reminiscent of the Nolan story. While applauding the creativity invested in such stories, I usually find them gimmicky to the point of being difficult to follow since we are offered protagonists that we cannot easily empathize with. However, The Fiend in You would be less complete without such stories.

Beaumont largely succeeds in his objective of showing the many monstrous faces of the Mind, thanks to the variety of tales he included. One wishes that he edited even more anthologies in his tragically short but prolific career.

[1] Though the scope and execution of The Fiend in You is solid, Beaumont knew that bump-in-the-nighters had made a comeback prior to the publication of the book, not just in televised Creature Feature packages and the success of periodicals such as Famous Monsters of Filmland, but also with a revival of new movie production--the colorful Hammer monster costumers, the thickly atmospheric cinema of Italy, the Edgar Allan Poe movies of Roger Corman [including the notable The Masque of the Red Death, adapted by Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell--TM] and aesthetically successful one-shots such as City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel), The Haunting, Curse (or Night) of the Demon, The Innocents, and the adaptation of Fritz Leiber's novel Conjure Wife which Beaumont himself co-scripted with Matheson, Burn, Witch, Burn! (aka Night of the Eagle). Psychological frights would continue to be popular in fiction and visual entertainment but not to the exclusion of shambling monstrous terrors; the traditional monsters could occasionally still terrify fans, though they often had to be as brutal as the era they were written or filmed in.

--Jeff Segal

For more of Friday's "Forgotten" Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Wow Jeff. Thanks for such a great review.

Evan Lewis said...

Fine review. Geez, I need to read more short stories.

Todd Mason said...

It's always a good idea. Far less fat in most of them than in most novels.

For that matter, I've discovered I have more unscheduled time this weekend than I realized, so will finally read the round-robin story sequence you two, and Kate and several others, have been participating in.

And Beaumont's own short stories are Emninently worth reading. Cut down in his mid-'40s by Alzheimer's. His friends suspect the aluminum and perhaps other metals and salts in the Bromo-Seltzer he was constantly swigging.

Matthew Bradley said...

Thanks for that informative review of a book I've often heard about (and referred to while documenting Matheson's career) but never seen. I always welcome any discussion related to The Group, and this seems like a fine cross-section of their work. It's worth noting that "Mute" became one of Matheson's two hour-long episodes during the fourth season of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, wherein the child was inexplicably changed from a boy to a girl, played by the young Ann Jillian. For further information, see my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (, now on sale.