Covering the second of Boris Karloff’s three anthologies of dark tales.

And the Darkness Falls is the second anthology of “terror tales” edited by Boris Karloff (with Edmund Speare’s assistance). It was published in 1946 by World Publishing, apparently to coincide with the release of the film Bedlam, Karloff’s third and final collaboration with producer Val Lewton (Cat People). While Tales of Terror is an anthology of mostly ghost stories, about half the stories in And the Darkness Falls have no supernatural element, but are naturalistic tales of the macabre. Reading it reminded me a little of an old Alfred Hitchcock anthology. This is not a bad thing; the Alfred Hitchcock paperbacks put out by Dell in the ’60s and ’70s were a staple at my local library when I was growing up, and I adored them.

Boris Karloff

And the Darkness Falls is a more ambitious and eclectic anthology than Tales of Terror: a whopping 69 stories and poems (Table of Contents here), each with a brief introduction by Karloff that gives biographical information about the author, and often a short rationale for the story’s selection, or its thematic connections with other stories in the book. The main criterion for inclusion in the anthology seems to be that the story be in some way dark. Karloff and Speare interpret the idea of dark broadly, leading to an interesting and diverse selection of tales. Karloff also wrote a short introduction to the entire anthology.

Many of the authors included are ones you might not expect in a genre anthology: John Galsworthy, for instance, or Ivan Turgenev, or Somerset Maugham. Of course there is a selection from Karloff’s beloved Joseph Conrad (“No collection of tales that I have ever had a hand in collecting could possibly be complete without a Conrad story,” Karloff writes in the introduction to “The Brute”). Even with the more obvious authors, Karloff and Speare took some care to avoid the over-anthologized old chestnuts. Hence, W. W. Jacobs “The Well” instead of “The Monkey’s Paw,” Walter de la Mare’s “Out of the Deep” rather than “Seaton’s Aunt,” Lafcadio Hearn’s “L’Amour apres la Mort,” from Hearn’s New Orleans period, rather than one of his kaidan.

Considering that this is an anthology aimed at a U.S. audience, I was a little surprised that most of the writers represented seem to be British. Among the Americans, Poe is only represented by the poem “Ulalume,” which I thought was a shame, as I’ve never cared for his poetry: too gothic for my tastes. I would have preferred seeing “The Black Cat” or “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” even if they are old chestnuts. For Ambrose Bierce, Karloff made the interesting choice “My Favorite Murder.” Other prominent American authors include August Derleth (the excellent “The Panelled Room”), Clark Ashton Smith (“The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan”), and H. P. Lovecraft (“The Thing on the Doorstep”).

I had read many of the stories here before, but there was much that was new to me. With such a large and varied selection of tales, readers are likely to run into stories they love and stories that don’t work for them. There were only a few inclusions that I didn’t care for; also a few stories that were enjoyable, but felt dated (I really like John Collier’s style, for the same reasons I love Lord Dunsany’s, but his attitude towards women can be so…mid-twentieth century, so Mad Men…).

Overall, I enjoyed this anthology immensely. Just a few tales that stood out for me:

  • The three morbid tales from French author Maurice Level, whose stories were often adapted for performance at the famous Grand Guignol. Of the three, “A Maniac” was my favorite.
  • “The Grove of Ashtaroth” by John Buchan. This starts out feeling like a typical English folk horror tale, but it goes somewhere rather different. And sad.
  • “Little Louse Roque” by Guy de Maupassant. Dark indeed, and subject matter I think was shocking for the time (and now).
  • “Three O’Clock,” by William Irish (a pen name for crime story writer Cornell Woolrich). I can definitely imagine this one in the Alfred Hitchcock or Ellery Queen mystery magazines.
  • “The Black Godmother,” by John Galsworthy. This would make a fine companion piece to Conrad’s “Amy Foster” (from Tales of Terror). It’s quite a different story, but dark for fundamentally the same reasons.
  • “The Departure” by Selma Robinson. I can imagine Shirley Jackson writing something like this. I liked it a lot; I’ll have to find more of Robinson’s work.
  • “Where the Fire is Not Quenched” by May Sinclair. From Sinclair’s collection Uncanny Stories (1923), which just became public domain in the U.S. It’s up on Project Gutenberg, and I’ve picked it up for my (ever-growing) “to read” list. A dark, depressing sketch of Hell, though I have to take exception to Karloff’s male-centric characterization of the story in his intro.
  • “Telling” by Elizabeth Bowen. I did feel rather sorry for the killer here. And I really need to read more Elizabeth Bowen.

And the Darkness Falls is harder to find than Tales of Terror. As of this writing, I see copies at Biblio.com (mostly collectibles) and at Amazon (mostly reading copies). I managed to snatch up a good reading copy at Amazon; it’s missing its dust jacket, which spoils its collectible value but improved the price. If you can find a copy at a price you are willing to pay, I recommend it. And hopefully if enough people go looking for it, someone will be inspired to reissue this anthology for a new generation of readers.


The Boris Karloff photo is from this article about a dream “classic Hollywood actor” cast for Batman, on the Funk’s House of Geekery blog. Karloff is Alfred. It’s a fun article, you should go read it.

References

Gracey, James. “Dark Dignitaries: When Karloff met Lewton Part III: Bedlam”, Behind the Couch blog, December 25, 2009.

2 thoughts on “Karloff’s And the Darkness Falls

  1. This book has a place of distinction on my shelf. I bought a second hand copy with a headcap down to stitches, spine exposed, and text block worn from constant thumbing. I have had it rebound so that I can wear it out myself.
    I am particularly fond of two stories that I encourage others to read, “The Razor of Pedro Dutel,” with its desolate, creepy landscapes, and the exceptional, “Footsteps,” by Eileen Verrinder. I use that second story as a yardstick in my own writing. I read it to my friend, a poet, and voracious reader, and she was stunned by the beautiful use of language.

    1. I really love this anthology. And yes, the imagery of the landscapes in “The Razor of Pedro Dutel” is memorable. “Footsteps” is lovely, too.

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