Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Weird Woods - edited by John Miller

'Weird Woods', or 'Tales From The Haunted Forest of Britain' is perfect early autumn reading. Before this British Library series, and Handheld's Women's and British weird books I hadn't really thought much about the distinctions between books I might vaguely look at, and for, in the horror section. It turns out I quite like a good ghost story, do not like full on horror, but really enjoy the weird and eerie. There's a world of difference between being unsettled and terrified. Weird seems to have more scope for humour too, which really helps with the not frightening myself to stupid to sleep late of an evening (as I regularly did in my teens thanks to Stephen King).

John Miller is also a particularly good editor - his 'Tales of the Tattooed' collection in the same series is also excellent. It's the introductions to each story that make him so good, they tie the collection together and give the reader some pointers towards specific interpretations or elements within them. If you just want uncanny stories you don't need to read the introductions, but when a book is built around a theme it's really good to have something of the reasons for each inclusion.

It certainly made me re read Edith Nesbit's 'Man Sized in Marble' again. I have it in at least two other anthologies but neither would have made me think about the atmosphere the wooded landscape brings to the story, or set it up for comparison with Mary Webb's 'The Name-Tree'. I was grateful for the prod to read a Mary Webb story as well. I have a few of her novels from when I was enthusiastically collecting older Virago Modern Classics, but have found her style - annoying is one word I want to use - approaching her in a short story is easier than trying to tackle a whole book. Considering both tales together is worthwhile.

There's a very enjoyable Marjorie Bowen entry, and one from M.R. James which reminds me I have a collection of his stories I should read. W. H. Hudson's 'The Old Thorn' is an excellent example of how ambivalent our relationship with nature can be. The old thorn of the title can be either friend or foe depending on how it's been treated. Hurt the tree in any way and you'll pay for it, it's a theme that crops up throughout this collection, showing that our unease with how we treat the environment is nothing new. Daisy Butcher's earlier collection in this series, Evil Roots, Killer tales of the Botanical Gothic expands on this theme.

It's a beautifully produced book too; there are 3 atmospheric photographs of woodland which are a nice touch. They suggest an other worldliness, or a world with more that we easily understand, that perfectly fits the mood of the collection which over all is more that forests are places to be respected rather than feared, but if they're not respected you would do well to be afraid...


  1. This sounds well worth seeking out. I'd not seen this BL series.

  2. It's an amazing series and the 2 books John Miller has edited are a great place to start. Basically it's an ever growing list of themed spookiness though, so depending on your specific interests there's likely to be something you'll love. I don't think it's officially part of the series now but it sort of started with Lost in a Pyramid which is a fabulous collection of crazy stories inspired by ancient Egypt. It works both as a fun set of stories, but cumulatively gives a really interesting insight into late 19th century attitudes towards death. Silver Bullets covers werewolves and is just as good, and there's a bookish collection too - The Haunted Library. I think it was after that they became tales of the weird.