Edmund Snell’s Heart of Darkness


One comes to Dancing Tuatara Press or Ramble House Publishers to find unusual books and whether they be the lunatic webworks of Harry Stephen Keeler, the rare science fiction published under Dick Lupoff’s Surinam Turtle Press or the oddball British thrillers and weird menace tales here at Dancing Tuatara Press, the one constant is that the mundane and routine is eschewed in favor of the esoteric and unusual. Accordingly, the book that you hold in your hands is one of the most unusual that it’s been my privilege to introduce.

Edmund Snell is by any standard that one wants to apply, a Ramble House author, in fact, if you were to ask me to name a typical author in this sanctuary of the atypical, Snell would be one of the first examples that comes to mind, for he fits a lot of the criteria that one tends to associate with our books. First and foremost, he wrote “thrillers”, that wonderful anything goes genre that existed before “mystery”, “horror”, “science fiction” and so on became marketing categories and books wherein these genres seamlessly melded together were the norm and not the exception. With Edmund Snell you never knew exactly what you were going to get. You might find supernatural horror such as The White Owl, straight-forward gangster action, bizarre science fiction such as Kontrol or The Sound Machine or murder and mayhem in exotic locales (something that the well-traveled author was superbly equipped to write about.) What you probably wouldn’t expect is a novel that merits comparison with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a novel that has been almost completely overlooked or even misidentified as a short story collection for the last seventy-some years!

The Back of Beyond may very well be Edmund Snell’s finest work, and that’s high praise indeed when one considers his phenomenal output during the 1920s and 1930s. It almost seems as though there were a mandate that every general fiction magazine or story paper in the U.K. had to feature an Edmund Snell piece at least once every ninety days. This is hyperbole, of course, but for at least a twenty year stretch Snell was seemingly everywhere, and as mentioned previously, most of his work was of the sort that Graham Greene would call “entertainments”. However, using Mr. Greene as an example, it is certainly possible for an “entertainment” to be much more than that; and that’s what we have here with Mr. Snell’s The Back of Beyond.

Readers familiar with Edmund Snell through his tales of Borneo and Singapore such as are collected in The Finger of Destiny and Other Stories and elsewhere know what a sure hand he had for depictions of life in the Far East. What is also clear is that Snell had little sympathy for British colonialism and had seen first-hand the evils of the Empire’s expansion. The Back of Beyond is not only a powerful story of the darkness that can dwell within the human heart, but also a ringing denunciation of colonialism.  Is The Back of Beyond a supernatural novel? Perhaps. Is it one of the finest and darkest novels of its type suitable to stand alongside classics such as Blood Meridian, The Cross of Carl, Johnny Got His Gun and Heart of Darkness? Absolutely. Was Edmund Snell more than just a writer of “thrillers”? We offer this book as exhibit “A”.


John Pelan

Gallup, NM