Back From The Dead: The Legacy of The Pan Book of Horror Stories
Selected by Johnny Mains,
Published by Noose & Gibbet, 2010.
It’s now over fifty years since the first Pan Book of Horror Stories changed the course of the horror genre. Strong words you may say, how could a series of ropey old paperbacks, gory covers and all, have such an impact? Yet ask just about any UK writer operating in the genre today and they will recall the Pan books as one of their first encounters with the genre. For many they were the inspiration to write, for others they were the proving grounds on the way to further glories and for the millions who read them, they were sheer entertainment.
As Joni Mitchell pointed out, often you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone but this is more than mere nostalgia. Enter biblio-archaeologist Johnny Mains, like some mad Doctor Frankenstein scouring the archives, collecting the best new parts and old fragments before stitching them all together to create this beast of a book. He has hacked his way through all thirty volumes, tracked down many of the original contributors and decided that this is a legacy worth recording.
Back From The Dead is an extensive and important book, part analysis, part history but mainly, through a selection of new tales in the style of the Pan books along with a garnish of several of the most memorable original highlights, a return to the principles that made the Pan books great, fine writing, entertainment and shocks.
In order to give the collection the space it deserves I have decided to do a serialised review. Each week for the next six weeks, leading up to the books launch at the World Horror Convention, I will review a selection of the stories and articles as they appear so join me as we explore the past present and possible future of the Pan books in Back From The Dead.
1 – Introduction by Shaun Hutson
Shaun Hutson never featured in the author list of the original Pan books but he is a clear example of how the books inspired a young boy to pick up a pen and go on to huge success. He points out that a short story needs to be “tight, tense and powerful” and gives some examples of the stories which had the most profound effect on him, an effect that led to him becoming one of the best known horror writers of our time.
2 – The Influence of Pan by David A. Sutton
David Sutton gives us a forensic examination of the history of the Pan books, the “Grandaddy of horror anthologies” but he also goes on to describe its progeny. The many offshoots and recent pretenders to the throne are described in detail as is the gradual decline and eventual demise of the series. It’s fascinating stuff and clearly a work of passion and considerable effort.
3 – Locked by Christopher Fowler
The first of the new stories by Christopher Fowler one of the original contributors. Each story is preceded by a short yet illuminating piece by the author on what the Pan books meant to them and for Christopher Fowler they were literally the first step to an acclaimed career in books, TV and film. Locked is the story of Tam, who we meet as she moves into her new flat. She soon begins to find clues that point to an interesting history but is also in the throes of a relationship crisis, things soon take a sinister turn. This tale starts us off in fine style with a thoroughly modern character study with more than a hint of traditional ghost story..oh and lemons.
4 – Mr Smyth by Tony Richards
Tony Richards produces an excellent tale in which a policeman investigates a tawdry old man who seems to be able to pick up beautiful girls at will. When the girls start dying though it is clear his talents may not be entirely natural, another excellent and inventive tale which despite the modern setting has a timeless feel.
So, a strong start but a long way to go, though the list of upcoming authors is tantalising to say the least. More next Week. In the meantime you can find out much more from publishers Noose & Gibbet Publishing here.