Mini Reviews: “The Screaming Skull” and “The People of the Pit”

Related imageThis semester I have been taking a class that is focusing on the Horror / Weird genre, so I’ve been reading a lot of scary / weird short stories. Because I haven’t been able to read a lot outside of school, I thought I could tell you guys a bit more about some of the stories I’ve read this semester. Although, we’ve read over a dozen stories so far, I will only be talking about the ones that stood out to me, including the bad ones. Today, I have two of the very first short stories that caught my attention (whether they were bad or not)

The stories come from a collection called The Weird edited by the VanderMeers. It has about a 100 stories and over a 1000 pages, but most importantly, the cover is awesome.

TITLE: “The Screaming Skull” Related image
AUTHOR: F. Marion Crawford
SUMMARY: A man tells his visitor about a skull that screams and scares him in a stream of consciousness narrative
RATING: 2/5

QUICK REVIEW: This was the first story we read this year and the first disappointment. I didn’t like it because of the way it was written and how the author would speak to you as if you were part of the story. Personally, I don’t like that writing style because, ironically, it takes me out of the story, instead of immersing me in it.

The author attempts to write in this stream of conscience narrative that allows us to see all the thoughts that are going through the narrator’s head, and I didn’t like that either. The story felt very non-linear since the narrator would begin with one thought and jump to another before coming back to the first one. In other words, it was all over the place.

Another thing that made me dislike the story was it’s concept. For a horror story, it wasn’t scary. Weird? Yes, but not scary. It felt so cheesy to me that I didn’t take it seriously, but I imagine that people were scared when it was first published in 1908.

TITLE: “The People of the Pit” Image result for the people of the pit
AUTHOR: A. Merrit
RATING: 4/5
SUMMARY: Explorers find themselves with a stranger in the middle of a haunted land who tells them a story of his survival.
QUICK REVIEW: Merrit’s story was the first story that scared me a little, but looking back I’m not sure if it’s that scary compared to what we’ve read recently.

The beginning is slow but by the 3rd page things change as the explorers find a stranger in the middle of nowhere. From then on, the story gets incredibly weird as the stranger tells them about the people or things from the “pit”. What worked for me was the descriptions of his ordeal and the mood the author incorporated into his story. It’s an odd eerie feeling that made everything feel completely off. I felt like something was going to pop out at any moment.

The only thing I disliked was the ending because it was so quick.

I wish I could say more, but I would have to spoil the entire story. The only other thing I can say is that according to my textbook, this short story may have possibly influenced Lost, the TV show. Having seen the show and read this story, I did get that same feeling of isolation or of being watched by something. It has some of the same themes about distant mysterious lands, isolation, “other” people, and mysticism / magic. Overall, I liked it but it’s far from being one of my favorites this semester.

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