Christmas and Other Horrors
By Ellen Datlow
- Christmas and Other Horrors
Author: Ellen Datlow
Publisher: Titan Books
- ISBN: 9781803363264
- Published: October 2023
- Pages: 448
- Format reviewed: Hardback
- Review date: 10/01/2024
- Language: English
The Festive Period evolves over time and where you celebrate it has a major impact. Even in my lifetime we have gone from lording a jolly red man called Father Christmas to worshipping a strange soda drinking fellow on the side of a big van called Santa. He will always be the big FC in my house. The Winter Solstice has been important for thousands of years BC and AD. Christmas and Other Horrors edited by Ellen Datlow gathers stories about the type of Christmas you may recognise and others you will not. What they all have in common is they focus on that other side of the season, the horror.
For a collection based around Christmas, there are not that many stories that will immediately chime with the typical Yuletide that a UK reader will recognise, but that is no terrible thing. The One He Takes by Benjamin Percy sticks closer to the Father Christmas tale we know, but this Father Christmas takes, rather than gives. Another story that deals with creatures scratching to get in at night is from the always dependable Richard Kadrey. The Ghost of Christmases Past is a classic feeling short story, compact, tells a rounded tale quickly and has a nice twist at the end.
Ghost is like so many other stories in this collection as it focusses on the season, rather than the traditions that we know. These are hit and miss. Ones that focus on obscure, but real, traditions shine the most. The collection opens with The Importance of a Tidy House by Christopher Golden, a story about a local tradition of bird like creatures entering your house over Christmas to see if your house is tidy, if not, they get the sheers out. This was a great story, Golden sets out the rules for the creatures and plays with them. Where does a homeless person call home? It has some great twists and body horror and would make a nice gruesome short film.
Most traditions over the winter are based in local history, so they lean into Folk Horror easily. Both Grave of Small Birds by Kaaron Warren and The Mawkin Field by Terry Dowling are folk stories; one in the tradition of The Wicker Man, the other American Gothic. I found these stories a little harder to follow, but they would appeal to horror fans who like their stories a little slower and more ambient. They show that Datlow has curated a diverse range of storytelling.
As a whole, I enjoyed the stories within this collection. They are best read over, or in the lead up to, the Christmas break as most centre on that time of year. Some are very tenuous and just suggest that the Winter Solstice is a time of high magic. After Words by John Langan is a throwback to erotic horror I remember from the 90s. It was not the strongest story and was very tenuously linked to winter, never mind December 21-25th. I shame to end on that tale, but left until the end because it did not fit in with the others?
Datlow has included a small comment at the end of each story were the writer talks about what inspired this story. In these paragraphs you get a nice view into the mind of a writer, things around them are there to inspire. I found these author’s notes fascinating.
From Father Christmas to Krampus, to traditions adopted by entire religions, to those that only exist in one town or village. The Winter Solstice means a lot of different things to different people. Datlow has done a respectable job of gathering tales together. They are more Other Horrors than Christmas but some are only loosely based on the season, to the point that they could have been set any point in the year. It is a mixed bag of stories, but most entertain. For short stories, a few of them felt a little long to me, but the stories that focused on interesting and small folklore worked the best.
Written on 10th January 2024 by Sam Tyler .