Reviewed in the United States on November 5, 2013
In a world of blood-soaked grotesquery, we find little profoundly petrifying pieces of peculiar narrative. They are delightfully there to be sure, but for every dark and dreadful tale of soul-shivering macabre, we must suffer the superficial notion that gratuitous gore and meaninglessly explicit sexuality somehow makes for a good horror story. Exploitation has its place, and it can certainly be a fun if frivolous ride, but it is not a substitute for true, passionate terror. Thankfully, Enter At Your Own Risk series architect Dr. Alex Scully knows this, and has taken on the charmingly difficult task of reintroducing the world to realms of fear far more ingeniously disquieting than serial killers rampaging through a bevy of buxom bubbleheads.
Enter At Your Own Risk: Dark Muses, Spoken Silences is without a doubt the most complex and demanding of the series thus far. Reading the introduction, one can clearly and romantically imagine being in the presence of Dr. Scully on the evening this volume was conceived, wine glass in hand, the pondering of masterful storytellers of the past stealing people away into the dark realms of their own fertile imaginations. Yes, we are lulled into the depths of this quixotic presentiment from the very first pages, and the tome never lets us go seeking only to ensnare us in its arctic embrace all the more tautly.
Edgar Allan Poe, arguably America’s premier author of gothic literature, sought to take his readers on journeys into the dreary souls of people lost, lonely, attracted and attractive to the dark aspects of our shadowy world. He was a master storyteller, and his tales are chillingly brilliant. But what if some brave soul could imagine one of his classics from a different perspective? Would the horror change? Could it possibly sink its claws into us any deeper? It was not Poe’s work, but a tale by John William Polidori contemplated on that fateful night with Dr. Scully. And while listening to the melancholy music of the rain, this postulation blossomed and became the heart of a literary challenge. Would any contemporary scribe dare accept it? The emergence of Enter At Your Own Risk: Dark Muses, Spoken Silences tells us not only did some dare, but that the authors presented here marvelously succeeded.
Along with Polidori and Poe, tales by Lovecraft and Irving, our forefathers of horror fiction, appear in this glorious anthology. Intrepidly accepting the challenge, Blaze McRob, Timothy Hurley, T. Fox Dunham, and Carole Gill among others adorn these pages as well. This is an epic collection, a gathering of nightmares essentially sorted into a quartet of sinister subspecies. Our contemporary authors grace us with new perceptions of four classic pieces by our four masters, Poe, Irving, Lovecraft, and Polidori.
The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe opens this fear-provoking treasury. Poe’s tale is a supernaturally tinged condemnation of alcoholism. It tells of a man slowly sinking into madness ushered along its serpentine corridors by drink, accompanied by a ubiquitous black feline. Narrated by the homicidal madman, how could the story thrive from the point-of-view of any other character? Blaze McRob, Timothy Hurley, and a mysteriously unnamed author take on the task. All three are admirable, but it is Hurley’s Poe’s Black Cats that claws its way to the top of the litter. It is a brilliant re-imagining, beautifully conceived and expertly crafted. I was very impressed by this author’s unexpected, distinctive take on the iconic grim story.
Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow follows. It is a haunting tale, one of lasting reputation, inspired by old-world Germanic ghost stories. There are none among us that do not know the spectral plight of Ichabod Crane. From radio broadcast to television and the grandeur of the silver screen, his dismal fairy-tale has been told and retold for generations. Marcus Kohler, Carole Gill, and T. Fox Dunham are our present-day dream weavers daring us to return to the remote realm of Sleepy Hollow. Dunham’s Hollow Longing adds a fresh air of forbidden lust, steeping the ghost story in the gloomy elixirs of shame and societal prejudices.
H.P. Lovecraft’s classic The Call of Cthulhu is honored by Mike Chin and Gregory L. Norris with profoundly pensive integrity. Norris’s The Whisper of Cthulhu particularly shined. Jon Michael Kelley and B.E. Scully fearlessly re-imagine John William Polidori’s The Vampyre ending this anthology on an exceptionally high note.
To all the contemporary authors assembled here: Bravo!
Is there a flaw? A minor one, but I would be remiss not to acknowledge it. As one might expect, Enter At Your Own Risk: Dark Muses, Spoken Silences suffers from unavoidable repetition, the very nature of its presentation warns its audience of this. Instead of attempting to absorb it all at once, I suggest enjoying it over the course of several sittings. Not only will this approach lessen such an inevitable shortcoming, but it will surely allow the reader to savor and contemplate the genius of not only our brave contemporaries, but that of the old masters as well. This anthology most assuredly deserves to be so savored.
Unlike most anthologies, this collection never stumbles, every story is excellent. For horror fans in general, and aficionados of gothic literature specifically, this is a distinctive and worthwhile addition to any library. Not only am I sure this tome will be enjoyed more than once, it will invoke, as did the rain-soaked evening of its conception, thought provoking and entertaining conversation. I highly recommend At Your Own Risk: Dark Muses, Spoken Silences.