Eight Great Forgotten Anthologies

Reading & Writing

BOOK8

Anthologies are not collections. The former are compilations from a variety of authors under the aegis of an editor who makes the selections, and the latter stem from a single writer. Anthologies were once hugely popular in the UK and provided an inexpensive way of discovering new writers; a task now performed by e-readers. Consequently many anthologies are now out of print and very collectable.

In 1937 ‘Fifty Strangest Stories Ever Told’ was published, and became an instant classic that stayed on household shelves for decades. This 700-page volume introduced readers to stories and authors they had never read before. Many of the tales included became classics of the genre.

The field of anthologising became more specific over time; Isaac Asimov collected together apocalyptic stories under the title of ‘Catastrophe!’ with an all-star cast tackling worst case scenarios. Many have followed since, including too many zombie volumes, a couple of which I’ve contributed to.

Playboy magazine had a long and illustrious history of publishing original short stories, from writers like Ray Bradbury, Jack Finney and Robert Bloch, and the best ones were published in their own anthology, which can be bought secondhand.

‘Black Humor’ is a volume that excerpted examples of this particularly hard-to-define literary technique from Edward Albee, John Rechy, Thomas Pynchon and Terry Southern, edited by Bruce Jay Friedman. It’s a rarity and a knockout.

For over forty years, John Julius Norwich has been sending friends Christmas Crackers instead of a Christmas cards. These were quirky collections of literary oddments that have simply struck his fancy, and the best were collected in a number of anthologies.

‘Car Sinister’ explored the more alarming aspects of our driving obsession and is not for the ‘Top Gear’ addicts.

Legendary agent Kirby McCauley put together one of the best-ever collections of intelligent stories of suspense and the supernatural in ‘Dark Forces’ and its sequel.

Too many of these volumes under-represent female authors, but a volume called ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ sparked off a two decade long set of anthologies from the Master of Suspense that proved massively influential and rebalanced the field by featuring a great many female authors who’d had little previous exposure in the UK.

Peter Haining is an anthologist who created dozens of volumes on specific subjects including witchcraft and freak shows. Not all of his stories are great, but a great many are worth your time.

Collecting such volumes is a slippery slope. Once you start it’s very hard to stop, especially as so many of the volumes can be found in junk shops and online for a few pence.

One comment on “Eight Great Forgotten Anthologies”

  1. Mim says:

    Don’t forget the Pan Books of Horror! I have a fair few Haining anthologies at home.

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