Friday, October 9, 2020

FFB: GHOSTS AND MORE GHOSTS by Robert Arthur (Random House, 1963); TALES OF TERROR by Ida Chittum (Rand McNally, 1975)

The Horrific Price of Nostalgia...

Tales of Terror by Ida Chittum; illustrated by Franz Altschuler (Rand McNally & Co. 1975)
11  By The Author (an introduction)
15  The House the Dovers Didn't Move Into
23  Vision of Roses
31  Uncle Ned Kunkle
36  The Twins
42  The Snipe Hunt
51  The Yellow Cat
54  Giant
58  The Feather Reader
67  The Woman Who Turned To Paper
71  Sod Miller's Money
77  Print On The Window
79  The Haunted Well
85  The Special Gift
95  Bring Back My Teeth
100  The Lovers
108  The Cruel Girl
111  The Twisting Wind
118  Courtland Wethers And The Pit
124  About the Author

A brief precis as I have to attend to other tasks before I set down my longer analysis of these two books, one I loved in my youth and one I missed altogether even though it was published when I was still young and it has a following which has driven prices of the scattered used copies through the roof. 

Robert Arthur published no actual collections of his own fiction aimed at adult readers during his lifetime, and no one has bothered to do so since, which verges on the ridiculous in both cases. All of the stories collected in his Ghosts and More Ghosts were originally published in adult-reading markets, as one can see above in the table of contents index, and there is no compelling reason for his work to be all but forgotten in YA literature as well...even given how much of his late efforts were largely devoted to one Alfred Hitchcock-branded franchise or another, including the original version of the Three Investigators book series, which he devised and oversaw before his early death in 1969. (A fair amount of his other fiction was collected in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents:  and YA "Hitchcock" volumes he ghost-edited for Random House (and the AHP: volumes for paperback reprint, in two volumes each, by Dell), among some other projects; he would include occasionally at least two of his own stories under his real name and one or more of his pseudonyms.) 

Ida Chittum's volume is keyed to her Ozark Mountains childhood, and while the copies of various editions of the Arthur can be expensive on the secondhand market, copies of Chittum's first book for the young readers' horror market are ridiculous (I picked up mine as a library discard for perhaps 50c in perhaps 1990; I'd guess by the current market I could sell it pretty easily for $75-100 in its goodish condition with library markings). Those who might've been hoping for a slightly westerly correspondent to Manly Wade Wellman's tales of the Appalachian supernatural are likely to be disappointed, as I was; these are raw, young folktales, often retold rather gracefully and with some wit, and very well illustrated by Franz Altschuler (I have to wonder if the illustrations are less available for this book to be reprinted at some level for its obviously passionate niche audience), but they lack in nearly every instance the complication that makes for compelling fiction (also despite some having lovely titles). In these tales, Something bad happens, and it continues, and there might be a twist, but not much of one. The End. Chittum's previous volumes of humorous anecdotes probably were at least as good...her sense of what's necessary for a story, versus a joke or anecdote, wasn't quite where it needed to be to make this more than mildly interesting reading. But one does get the same sense of isolated and "high lonesome" existence as one might in the Wellman and other better work in this bailiwick. 

A Friday's Forgotten Books and Friday Fright Night entry. 


Mike Stamm said...

The Robert Arthur book made a big impression on me when I read it in grade school, probably not long after it came out; "The Rose Crystal Bell" remained in my memory long after I'd forgotten the other titles. It wasn't until the last decade or so that I acquired my own copy, which is in fact a book club edition I kept because of the lovely dust jacket. I also have a copy of the trade paperback edition, which says it is illustrated by Irv Doktor even though it is not. GHOSTS AND MORE GHOSTS is right up there in my childhood pantheon of books with Phyllis Fenner's GHOSTS, GHOSTS, GHOSTS and Basil Davenport's TALES TO BE TOLD IN THE DARK. (I only had a copy of the abridged Ballantine edition until maybe 20 years ago, but the paperback has the best stories.) Thanks for posting this, Todd.

Jerry House said...

I agree a major retrospective of Robert Arthur is long due. I would love to see a collection of the surviving scripts from THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER, and certainly Murchison Morks needs his own collection.

I'll be on the lookout for the Ida Chittum collection. Thanks, Todd.

Todd Mason said...

Mike, thank you, and I'll have to look into Phyllis Fenner's book (have you ever reviewed it?). Amusingly, the Doktor-less later paperback editions, with glossier covers, are often more expensive than the edition I have, the first Random House paperback edition, which offers the jacket illustration above on its cover, but he hardcover original offers a different Doktor painting on its boards, oddly enough.

Well, Jerry, don't say I didn't warn you. Don't pay too dearly for the Chittum if you can help it...and thank you, as well. Hell, a facsimile reprint of THE MYSTERIOUS TRAVELER MAGAZINE Arthur edited would be welcome as well.

Cullen Gallagher said...

Do you have any recommended collections of Manly Wade Wellman?

On a related note, do you have any favorite collections of Weird Tales stories?

Todd Mason said...

The variations and expansions of WHO FEARS THE DEVIL?, the first collection of Wellman's John stories, is perhaps everyone's sentimental favorite, and it would be hard to insist that he did much better work elsewhere. JOHN THE BALLADEER, OWLS HOOT IN THE DAYTIME and other similar volumes will do as well. He did a wide variety of work, of course, from THE SPIRIT comics scripting to sports fiction to his most famous sf story "Twice in Time" a fair amount of historical nonfiction.

The thing about WEIRD TALES anthologies is that, even when focused on only the Edward Baird/Farnsworth Wright/Dorothy McIlwraith original run of the magazine, no one has quite managed to put together a definitive anthology of the magazine, balancing its best with its range. Or so I say (and some other folks have tended to agree). I can definitely tell you the ones I like the least run to the ones Sam Moskowitz ghosted for Leo Margulies, WEIRD TALES and WORLDS OF WEIRD (both Pyramid/reissued by Jove)...even the other two Pyramid originals, THE UNEXPECTED and THE GHOUL-KEEPERS, which might've been ghost-edited for Margulies by Pyramid editor D. L. Bensen or even selected by Margulies himself, are vastly better, in fact the best short introductions. Though Margulies did hire Moskowitz to edit his short run revival of WT in 1973-74, probably not his best idea (Margulies had bought SHORT STORIES and the rights to the recently folded stablemate WT in the latter '50s as the previous publisher was giving up the ghost, and continued to publish SHORT STORIES for a few years, alongside his new and durable MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE and some less long-term projects).

My most relevant previous posts: (which does miss Mike Ashley's UK anthologies from WT)

Cullen Gallagher said...

Thank you! I will try to track some of those MWW books down and will do some more research into the Weird Tales posts you suggested.