Doorway to Dilemma edited by Mike Ashley – Review

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By Sarah Morgan

The British Library’s ‘Tales of the Weird’ is an ever-expanding collection, but its editor, Mike Ashley, must surely be running out of sub-genres to adopt.

We’ve had maritime tales and ones tied to railways, as well as haunted houses, Christmas, lost ghost stories, plants and mad science, among others. Now the focus is turning to ‘bewildering tales of dark fantasy’, according to Doorway to Dilemma’s sub-title.

Ashley has included his now customary introductory essay, which sheds light on the genre itself – something potential readers need, because it’s not entirely obvious from the title. He describes it as covering the fields of weird and supernatural fiction, which features magic, monsters and ghosts – basically anything that cannot be explained away by science. That’s a pretty wide remit!

doorway to dilemma book review coverThere are some very famous names in the collection, including HG Wells, Arthur Machen and Lord Dunsanay, although my personal favourite is by Wells’ wife Catherine, whose career has been so overshadowed by that of her husband that many people probably aren’t aware she was a writer at all.

“Neglected for far too long”

Her tale ‘Fear’ is an emotional plea, and just a small sample of her works – HG compiled them after her death in 1928’s The Book of Catherine Wells. I for one will be trying to track down copies to find out if her other tales are just as compelling.

But that’s the beauty of a collection such as this – it may be the big names that draw readers in, but it’s the ones they were previously unfamiliar with that tend to stick in the mind, introducing them to new loves and passions in the process.

I’ll also be getting my Thomas Burke books down off the shelf after reading ‘Johnson Looked Back’, a disturbing tale. The tomes have been neglected for far too long!

As usual, Ashley has compiled the stories in chronological order, which gives an impression of how the genre developed over almost a century, from 1859’s ‘What Was It?’ by Fitz-James O’Brien to 1934’s chillingly thought-provoking ‘The Three Marked Pennies’ by Mary E Counselman.

It’s an intriguing collection and certainly more impressive than the maritime book, perhaps because it encompasses a wider variety of stories.

I’ll be interested to see what the British Library comes up with next for this series; hopefully it’s a more definite genre, or perhaps a second volume of some of those already published because there are thousands more weird and wonderful tales out there to explore.

‘Doorway to Dilemma: Bewildering Tales of Dark Fantasy’, edited by Mike Ashley is published by the British Library, £8.99 paperback


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