THE COLLECTED STRANGE PAPERS OF CHRISTOPHER BLAYRE
Tartarus Press / 257 pages / (November 1998)
Ask any serious reader of horror fiction if they’ve heard of Poe, LeFanu, or Lovecraft and they’ll answer in the affirmative. They should say that, even if they’ve never read anything by these long-gone authors; I’d hate to see someone who’d admit to being that uninformed. Fine. But, mention the name Heron-Allen and you’re liable to elicit nothing more than a blank look. Also fine — this book should take care of that little discrepancy.
Two things you ought to know going in: Christopher Blayre is/was Edward Heron-Allen, and this is not your modern-day gore marathon. Heron-Allen was of the Victorian era. That sentence alone should give you a good idea of what not to expect; don’t look for any explicit sex, naughty language, or Pinheads. Those were all big no-no’s back then, and they could (and did, in Heron-Allen’s case) get work censored.
But few authors skated so close to the thin ice of questionable material. If you want to start with the biggie he got slapped down for, go straight to “The Cheetah-Girl.” This tale touches on not only passion (gasp!), but — I blush to mention it — feminine hygiene. No wonder this bit of ribaldry was banned! I think I even remember a mention of p-p-p-p-pubic hair. Read it and you too can be shocked… if you shuffle your feet on the carpet and touch a doorknob while you are reading it.
“The Cheetah-Girl” is an excellent example of a school of writing that has virtually vanished. Modern authors would never give away the gist of the story right there in the title. This, though, was before the “twist” ending that dominates so much of the genre today. The very allure of stories like “The Cheetah-Girl” and “The Mirror That Remembered” was in the tantalising promise of the title. What took place in the tale was enough to astound the reader’s delicate sensibilities; the element of surprise was just icing on the bun, so to speak.
As I said, this is Victorian horror — keep that in mind. You are not going to find the kind of unease and jumpiness that, say, Caitlín R. Kiernan generates. For instance, don’t start reading Silk the evening your spouse takes off for a week-long conference, leaving you alone in the secluded chalet. The Collected Strange Papers of Christopher Blayre is the kind of book you can read by candlelight, whiling away the hours listening to bulletins about escaped homicidal maniacs on CNN. To the contemporary audience, it just isn’t that scary, but that doesn’t make any less a read.
Heron-Allen knew he was stretching the boundaries of “good taste” pretty thin, and he kept pushing with every word. He also knew the foibles of polite society. Throughout this entertaining collection, he seems to take every opportunity to let the hot air out of the Victorians. He wasn’t averse to making a joke at any icon’s expense, either.
So, you’ve never heard of Heron-Allen and The Collected Strange Papers of Christopher Blayre? You will. You will.