Monday, October 26, 2009

Horror Stories Have Long Been Part of American Culture

The horror story has long been a part of Americana, according to Kansas State University's Roger Adams, an associate professor and rare books librarian at K-State's Hale Library.

"'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' published in 1820, is generally recognized as the first American horror story," Adams said. "However, 'Wieland,' written in 1798 by Charles Brockden Brown, is most certainly the first American Gothic novel in a genre that was invented by English author Horace Walpole with the publication of 'The Castle of Otranto' in 1764. 'Wieland' is largely forgotten in popular culture, but the popularity of 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' is so great that it continues to be a source of inspiration for filmmakers and authors."

Adams, who works with Hale Library's Richard L.D. and Marjorie J. Morse department of special collections, knows about the horror genre. He assists with K-State's David J. Williams III Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Collection. Acquired in 2006, the collection has more than 3,500 books and magazines and is now almost 50 percent cataloged.

"Williams mostly collected what he enjoyed reading, but he also collected works by important American authors that he didn't necessarily enjoy, such as contemporary horror author Stephen King, for example," Adams said. "Most notably, Williams collected everything by and about horror fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft, as well as many works by Lovecraft's contemporaries August Derleth, Robert Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert Bloch."

"As a publisher, Williams became acquainted with many writers and Bloch, the author of 1959's 'Psycho,' became a friend. So, a lot of these books are presentation copies from the authors to Williams and are not only signed but have nice inscriptions to him," Adams said.

Williams died in 2000 and was collecting up until his death.

"We are continuing to purchase works by American horror writers published after 2000 to keep the collection relevant and useful for future generations of scholars," Adams said. "The most significant addition we've made in the horror genre is 'The Raven' by Edgar Allen Poe. The edition we acquired was published around 1866 and is the first separate American edition -- meaning it wasn't published in a magazine or as part of a collection of stories -- and the first to be illustrated."

If looking for a good scary book for Halloween, Adams said some of his favorites include:

- "Stir of Echoes" by Richard Matheson, published in 1958. "This follows an average guy and his ability to communicate with the spirit world -- very creepy stuff," Adams said.

- "Carrie" by Stephen King, published in 1974. It was not only King's breakout novel, but it was the first American horror novel to have a female protagonist, according to Adams.

- "Dracula" by Bram Stoker, published in 1897. "This is 'the' vampire book," Adams said. "Once again, forget just about everything you've learned about Dracula from movies. The Dracula of this book eats babies."

- "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson, published in 1959. "This is the haunted house that makes other haunted houses afraid. Not even Chuck Norris would spend a night in Hill House," Adams said.

- Poe's "Tales of Mystery and Madness," released in 2004, and Poe's "Tales of Death and Dementia," released in 2009 and both illustrated by Gris Grimly. "Poe is the first American master of the horror genre and both of these volumes are exceptionally illustrated by Gris Grimly," Adams said. "'The Masque of the Red Death,' released in 1842, and 'The Cask of Amontillado,' released in 1846, are my two favorite Poe stories."

- "The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft," published in 1997. "Lovecraft is the modern American master of horror who continues to influence scores of horror and supernatural writers," Adams said.

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