Monsters Forever

Monster fiction is a popular and specific horror sub-genre that’s been around a long time. After all, some people consider the Bible to be the first horror novel and there are plenty of monsters in that ancient tome.

There’s a special quality of entertainment in a good monster yarn, wrote editor Robert Arthur at the beginning of Monster Mix. “Monsters have been popular in fiction for a long time—since the first storytellers spun the first imaginative tales in some Oriental marketplace. Long before they were ever written down, and long before most of the types of story we know today were invented, giants, ogres, rocs, dragons and suchlike creatures were thrilling people of all ages.”

With this perspective in mind, the editor cobbled together a terrific collection of monster stories back in 1968 that featured signature work by Stephen Vincent Benét, H.G. Wells, Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson and Lord Dunsany (among others). The intention was to present a variety of monsters with imagination and literary skill.

Seemingly at odds with the editor’s prime directive and august story selection, Monster Mix was originally published for a young readership. Maybe that’s because vampires, abominable snowmen, bug-eyed monsters and sea serpents were considered the purview of children back in the late 60s. Adults were more interested in books by Jacqueline Susann and Harrold Robbins, I guess.

But now, 50 years later, Monster Mix stands as a worthy collection for readers of all ages. It’s true that most of these stories can be found in a sundry of anthologies, but it’s nice to have them bound in one handy volume.

The obvious centerpiece here is by Algernon Blackwell. Arguably his most well-known effort, “The Wendigo” is 60-pages of hallucinatory horror wrapped around an old Native American legend—in other words it’s an example of “the passionate loneliness a man can feel when the wilderness holds him in the hollow of its illimitable hands and laughs.” It was, said Blackwell at the time, the “Call of the Wild” personified. First published in 1910, it’s well-worth reading again (and again).

“Aepyornis Island” by H.G. Wells is both adorable and horrible, like a popular Pixar movie turned bleak, “Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent” by Stephen Vincent Benét is a genial political folktale that takes place during John Tyler’s presidental term and the dragon in Guy Endore’s story attacks the contestents in a Miss America pagent. Proving, I guess, that the old tales of dragons and maidens were absolutely true.

By far, my favorite thing in Monster Mix is by William Sambrot. In fact, “Creature of the Snows” is the best Abominable Snowman story I’ve ever read. It’s a first contact adventure (aren’t they all?) that’s both terrifying and touching at the same time. It’s not a horror story in any way. Instead, it eloquantly captures a moment in time on top of the Himalayas when man and yeti come face to face.  

[Monster Mix / Edited by Robert Arthur / First Printing: January 1968]