The Cat That Went to Trinity
by Robertson Davies
The Timeless Island by H. R. Percy
The Premeditated Death of Samuel Glover by Hugh Garner
The Barren Field by Yves Theriault
Village Theatre by Graham Petrie
The Undertaker by Al Purdy
The Sight by Brian Moore
The Woman by P. K. Page
The Lice by Wilfred Watson
The Thirteenth Wife of Baron Klugg by Michel Tremblay
The Death of Arthur Rimbaud by Lawrence Mathews
The Late Man by Andreas Schroeder
Mr. Sleepwalker by Ethel Wilson
he oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." So wrote H.P. Lovecraft about fear and its presentation in fiction. Yet frightening tales of the unknown are irresistible—people of all cultures and all ages are enticed and enthralled by the inexplicable, the eerie, and the horrific.
In the past, most horror stories were set in certain traditional locales: the crumbling castle, complete with moonlit battlements and dank oubliettes; the isolated manse, abandoned and boarded up since "the accident"; the bleak moor with its wailing winds and rotting gibbet.... But these scenes are alien to our way of life in Canada, and so — paradoxically —they are not so much alarming as comforting. They assure us that the horrors we are enjoying—the shrieks and groans, the spectres and ghouls — are oceans away from our doorstep.
Indeed, some people have felt that Canada has always been immune to threats of the unknown. In 1853, the following challenge was issued by the colonist and author Major Samuel Strickland:
Reader, did you ever see a ghost? A tall spectral-looking figure, with large saucer eyes, glides before you; and ere you summon courage to address it, vanishes from your astonished sight? Well, Canada has no place for ghosts. The country is too new for such gentry. We have no fine, old, ruined castles, crumbling monastic walls, or ivy-clad churches — no shelter here but the wild, wild wood.
But horror is by no means foreign to our landscape; it was here long before the Europeans arrived. For the Indians, the "wild wood" of the Major was the home of the dreaded Wendigo, that monstrous and malignant being who haunted forests and snatched men away to sate its appetite for human flesh —and spirit; for the Inuit, the icy Arctic waters sheltered Sedna, the avenging female being who inhabited an undersea bubble and swam forth to hunt human beings. And with the Europeans came more mysterious presences and personalities: Ireland’s fairy folk were imported to Prince Edward Island, while the souls of the damned became werewolves who endlessly circle the North Pole. In the early twentieth century, Canada produced the psychic fiction of Benjamin Fish Austin, a spiritualist from Belleville, the Orientalism of L. Adams Beck of the West Coast, the haunting tales set by Duncan Campbell Scott in habitant villages, and the mysteries of the far north as described by Allan Sullivan, plus many other strange and chilling tales.
But what of today’s Canadians ... in modern apartment blocks and office buildings, split-levels and shopping plazas, rural towns and fishing villages? Have we succeeded in exiling the bizarre and the baffling from our lives? Have we grown too staid and unimaginative to invent harrowing tales of the dark powers? Are we too prosperous and complacent to derive the slightest frisson from the unknown?
Not at all. The unknown has not vanished; it has merely shed its reassuring old European accoutrements and moved onto the modern Canadian scene. It prowls the familiar streets where we argue over hockey teams and local politics, skulks in the parks where we light our Dominion Day fireworks, stalks the busy intersections of our cities and the waving wheat fields of the West. It has taken a different and more psychological form, but that is only right; after all, it is not places that are haunted, but people. And perhaps we are more haunted now than ever before, for we are losing our childish confidence, our trust in unending technology; we are becoming somewhat wary, if also curious, about the mysterious forces both around us and within us. We are also beginning to realize that we are not, and never will be, masters of the twentieth century; that our urbanized life-styles are not entirely satisfying; that all our inventions will never lay to rest the disturbed spirits that haunt our psyches.
Although the fear — and the allure — of the unknown is very much with us, although we are more and more prepared to accept the idea that the uncanny may play a part in every person’s life, no matter how well regulated, there has never been an anthology of Canadian tales of the unearthly, the macabre, and the terrifying. The purpose of this volume is to meet that need. We have turned to the best contemporary Canadian writers—some known for their short stories, others better known for their novels, plays, or poetry—to see what excursions they have made into the unknown. Some of them have written of the supernatural; some have delved into the darker side of our own psychology; some have explored those strange boundaries of normal and paranormal, real and surreal. But all these writers have succeeded in cutting out from under our feet the terra firma of "what is," and have left us suspended in the frightful void of "what ought not to be."
Place yourself, then, in the hands of these thirteen masters of fear; let them carry you off to their weird and fascinating worlds. And if you are tempted to comfort yourself with the thought that this is, after all, only fiction, you may with profit ponder the question posed by Sir Devendra P. Varma, who teaches Gothic fiction at Dalhousie University: "Modern civilization consists of the living dead. Why then should we object to the dead living?"