Like everything else in life, trends in fiction come and go. Fractured fairy tales, science fiction romance, teenage dystopia, sparkling vampires—all these genres (good and bad) inevitably have their moment on best-seller lists.
The man-eating plant genre, for example, was a literary phenomenon 200 years ago. Says editor Daisy Butcher in her introduction to Evil Roots: Killer Tales of the Botanical Gothic, the rise of imperial global access during the 19th century helped introduce the Victorian era to wild and exotic flora for the first time.
These plants, often obscene and otherworldly, inspired well-known gothic writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, H.G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle to feed off the era’s anxieties to create a new kind of horror. Think about it; the vampire had to be invited into your home. You were safe as long as you didn’t open the door at night. The killer plant, on the other hand, was already in your house and waiting ominously.
The plants in this collection weren’t passive that’s for sure. They were bloodthirsty vegetables with murderous intent. Because of their tentacle-like appendages, their mobility and their ravenous appetite for human flesh, they quickly became the stars of a new gothic horror genre called eco-horror.
All 14 stories in this collection emphasized a distrust of the natural world. They also embraced a Darwinian fear of the breathing, moving, sentient and predatory plant which outgrew all human control.
The plants were seductive as well. Both “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and “Carnivore” by Lucy H. Hooper existed at the crossroads of sexual desire and death. Each story featured a luckless man caught by a beguiling flower’s bloom.
The most explicit of these stories was definitely “The Moaning Lily” by Emma Vane. The titular flora had somehow developed a perfect replica of a boneless human mouth. The author’s lurid and erotic prose makes the ending crystal clear. “My glorious parasite has sucked me dry!” cried a distraught botanist.
Easily my favorite story in the collection was penned by children’s author Edith Nesbit. A monstrous Virginia creeper had taken control of a derelict pavilion in the countryside. But more interesting was Nesbit’s demur heroine. Amelia was a classic “wallflower,” one of those featureless blondes who seem born to be overlooked. To be honest, I didn’t even realize she was the protagonist of the story until the very end. The killer creeper was uncanny, but the feminist commentary from Nesbit was delightfully unexpected.
[Evil Roots: Killer Tales of the Botanical Gothic / Edited by Daisy Butcher / First Printing: March 2020 / ISBN: 9780712352291]