oxford book of gothic talesChris Baldick (editor)
Oxford University Press

The first anthology to illustrate the rich variety of Gothic fiction from the eighteenth century to the present day, with authors as diverse as Edgar Allan Poe and Thomas Hardy, Jorge Luis Borges and Angela Carter.

It comes as no surprise whatever, methinks, given my fascination with and study of the Gothic subculture and its history, that this book would eventually find its way into my personal collection. I first spotted this title in an obscure used book shop in Denver back in 2001, nestled amidst a virtual labyrinth of bookshelves that seemed to go on forever. Seriously, at any given moment I was expecting to run into a Fawn welcoming me to Narnia. Not that I ever wanted to leave, mind you. But I digress…

With a title like The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales, of course my interest was piqued, and it was the lone purchase made that day. And like many of the books that I rescue from various book shops and thrift stores, it sat on my bookshelf more often than not, being picked through once in a while, but not fully devoured until just now, being a bit more mature and gaining a deeper appreciation for the literary style.

After an introduction by the editor giving a brief history and dissertation on the Gothic style of storytelling, we’re given short stories from different centuries, the later part of the 18th Century up to the tail end of the 20th Century. The stories appear in chronological order, and are grouped by century: Beginnings (from 1773 to 1803), the Nineteenth Century and the Twentieth Century, and features stories utilizing the different styles of the Gothic story; from the ancient crumbling Medieval castles of 17- and 1800s Europe, to the American colonial settings, the Southern Gothic from the early-to-mid 20th Century America, and the modern late 20th Century practitioners that is usually associated with the genre nowadays.

Of the authors featured in this collection, the names I recognized right off the bat glancing through the contents page were names I would expect to be associated with a book like this: Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Hardy, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. P. Lovecraft and Joyce Carol Oats. On an interesting note, it was through this book that I had my first proper introduction to the works of H. P. Lovecraft; up until then, I had heard of the legendary author, but never seemed to get around to getting my feet wet, as it were, with his works. Here, first reading his story “The Outsider”, I was struck by the rich bleakness of the atmosphere and the twist of the narrative, and thus was hooked.

And really, tis is what all the stories contained in The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales is about- atmosphere. The Gothic style of writing may be mislabeled “horror” or even “dark fantasy” in this modern age of ours, and it’s forgivable to think so. While the horror and fantasy genres have healthy dose of Gothic in them, my impression of Gothic literature now is that it encompasses a much richer vein than the surface assumptions. I rather enjoyed the stories in The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales, from those written 200 years before my own birth, to the early 1990s. Those of you wanting to explore the style beyond the glut of vampire-and-ghost story fiction clogging the bookshelves would benefit from searching out this collection.