This past Monday for my birthday, CP Staley did not so much surprise me as fulfill my demands of obtaining ownership of the new double-book anthology American Fantastic Tales. I have recently begun my own pursuit of scholarship into the genre of horror in America, and while Straub’s anthology isn’t branded horror it is, as he admits in the introduction, pretty much just that. “Apart from one or two stories that might be borderline science fiction,” says Straub, “we are dealing almost entirely with horror.”
What I appreciate most about Straub’s anthologies is the insight of his introductions (see the truly stellar intro. to the also stellar collection Poe’s Children). In American Fantastic Tales, Straub tries to put a finger on what makes American horror American. I think he makes some very smart observations, especially the “fear of nature.” As Straub puts it when discussing the early Puritans reaction to their environment “What did they see in that forest, in that teeming darkness? Everything, we might say, that was not themselves. Everything that threatened them most profoundly.” In short, according to Straub Americans are most afraid of losing themselves and individuality to something “other,” thus the trance state featured in so many early American horror stories.
I think Straub has fingered a unique American element in horror, one which my own studies posit, which links American horror specifically to nature and place. Which is not, of course, to say that other cultures don’t also do this, only that America and its authors do so in a unique way. I might argue with Straub’s positing that horror is written only from a place of fear as concerns nature, but I think he certainly makes keen observations concerning its importance in dictating an American individual’s identity.
In time, I will post more on my own views concerning American horror and nature, but for now I just want to bask in the beauty that is Straub’s newest anthology, two books that take us from Charles Brockden Brown through the 1940s in volume one, and then from the pulps to today in volume two. On my first flip through, I can only say that Straub’s collection promises to add a never before seen compilation of American horror through the ages that will, finally, perhaps give serious horror students a chance to draw their own conclusions concerning what it means to be “American Horror.” Because it does, most surely, mean something. With each culture comes a mirror, that, when held up to the nation’s face reveals its fears, its dreams, its secrets. This mirror, dearhearts, is Horror.
For the next few months, I’ll be making my way through Straub’s volumes and posting here after each story. As for you, my lovelies, what the hell are you waiting for? Get your own copy.