FIRES ON THE MOUNTAIN
If you’ve been following Dancing Tuatara Press since our inception, you’ll have no doubt noticed our efforts to restore to in-print status those books that comprise Karl Edward Wagner’s list of the thirty-nine best horror novels—or, at least, those books which require such attention. The Wagner List ranges from titles that are common as today’s newspaper to books so scarce that the number of known copies can actually be enumerated. We know for a fact that less than fifty copies of H.B. Gregory’s brilliant take on the Lovecraft mythos from the Judeo/Christian standpoint were actually distributed. We don’t know the number of copies of either Paul Busson’s The Fire Spirits or Philip George Chadwick’s The Death Guard that made it into circulation, but one can ascertain from reviewing the catalogs of specialty booksellers over the last forty years that both books can be rightfully called extremely scarce.
The present volume was one of two fantasy novels by Paul Busson that were translated into English for
Sankt Marein in search of answers regarding the disappearance of his uncle, who vanished from his home without a trace. The Tyrolean region is in the midst of upheaval, with the traditional reins of power long held by the Catholic Emperor of Austria being handed over to the Protestant King of Bavaria. The tension caused by this transition is never far from the surface and figures strongly as the plot develops. Having not read the original German, I can only go by the translation provided by J. Eglington for the Heinemann edition. The book is heavily character-driven, with a number of interesting personalities being introduced in the first few chapters.
On somewhat of a disappointing note, I have been told by friends who read German that a significant amount of plot development and some very evocative scenes have been cut from the English-language version and they consider the complete German text to be far superior. As I can’t begin to speculate as to when another translation might be done, we’re best served by enjoying the translation that is currently available to us. Based on this version alone, I would have to say that not only is The Fire Spirits one of the scarcest titles on the Wagner List, but also one of the very best.
The reveal as to what the mysterious lights—called “the fire spirits” by the locals—actually are is extremely well done and, while it hardly comes as a complete surprise, it definitely does put a nice twist on things.
In closing, let’s look at the other volumes that are included with The Fire Spirits on Karl’s list of Best Non-Supernatural Novels:
1. The Deadly Percheron by John Franklin Bardin
2. Psycho by Robert Bloch
3. Here Comes a Candle by Fredric Brown
4. The Screaming Mimi by Fredric Brown
5. The Fire-Spirits by Paul Busson
6. The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr
I can’t complain about any of the first six selections
7. The Sorceror’s Apprentice by Hanns Heinz Ewers
8. Vampire by Hanns Heinz Ewers
Okay, one volume by Ewers to call attention to the Frank Braun Trilogy would have been fine, but including all three is a missed opportunity to have called attention to two other books. That, and Vampire is pretty much terrible. I believe that the publication of Karl’s lists predated the publication date of Blood Meridian: or, An Evening Redness in the West, so that omission is excusable, however, including Vampire at the expense of (as an example) Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me or Pop. 1280.
9. Fully Dressed and in His Right Mind by Michael Fessier
An odd, but totally deserving selection.
10. The Shadow on the House by Mark Hansom
I’ve mentioned that I consider this to be Hansom’s weakest novel (which is still pretty good), but any other Hansom novel would have been more deserving.
11. Torture Garden by Octave Mirbeau
A bizarre and exotic book to be sure. Does it invoke the feeling of “horror”? Maybe for some folks, but not for me.
12. The Master of the Day of Judgement by Leo Perutz
13. The Subjugated Beast by R.R. Ryan
Both of these are brilliant selections. At the risk of including too many Ryans, I’d have liked to see No Escape listed. More of a melodrama than anything else, but absolutely unforgettable.
And in closing, here is another bookscouting trick I learned from Karl that’s very easy to do in these day of internet searching. We’ve mentioned the obvious, other books by the same author, and the not-so-obvious books from the same editor or publisher. Here’s a final thought: How about authors who appeared in the same magazine? I realize that this is perhaps just a variant on the same editor angle, but I can certainly attest to it working. Early on, when the boom in fantasy started to take off in earnest and it was no longer possible to simply buy every book labeled as “fantasy,” I had to shift gears and put some limits and definitions on just what it was that I was collecting and I made the shift to focusing on material in book form that had originally appeared in John W. Campbell’s Unknown and Unknown Worlds. The concept proved to be very workable and easy to expand to the broader scope of authors who had appeared in either incarnation of the magazine. Interests have waxed and waned over the years, but looking over my bookshelves, it’s still pretty easy to detect these original roots in large selections of work by de Camp, Pratt, Hubbard, Sturgeon, Gold, Kuttner, Rice, van Vogt, and others. Feel free to drop us a line as to the parameters of your own collection(s), and I’ll get Fender Tucker (our CEO) to include the most interesting ones in a future edition of The Rambler. In the meantime, please enjoy this entry from Karl Edward Wagner’s list of the 13 Best Non-Supernatural Horror Novels.
With snow on the ground and lizards in the house!