Sunday, October 29, 2023

Voodoo! A Chrestomathy of Necromancy

Bill Pronzini (b. 1943) saw his first novel, The Stalker, published in 1971. His writing career has flourished with over 50 stand-alone novels as well as numerous novels in his series titles like Carpenter and Quincannon and Nameless Detective. Aside from being a prolific author, Pronzini's career is often celebrated for his anthology editing. He has collaborated with the likes of Martin Greenberg, Barry Malzberg, and Carol-Lynn Waugh for nearly 100 short-story collections in genres like crime-fiction, horror, and western. One of the first Pronzini anthologies I read was Voodoo! A Chrestomathy of Necromancy. It was published as a hardcover by Arbor House in 1980.

This collection is presented in three parts. Part 1: Traditional Voodoo features stories by Cornell Woolrich, W.B. Seabrook, Robert Bloch, Carl Jacobi, and Henry S. Whitehead. Part II is Voodoo Elsewhere and Otherwise, consisting of stories by Robert Louis Stevenson, John Russell, Edward Hoch, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Bryce Walton, and Morris West. The final part is The “Ultimate” Voodoo, which is simply one tale by Henry Slesar. 

The stories in this volume are culled from numerous pulps like Weird Tales, Dime Mystery, Rogue, and Adventure. One original story appears here, “Exu”, by Edward D. Hoch. 

In sampling the collection, I began with Robert Bloch's story “Mother of Serpents”. Pronzini's introduction states that the story was first appeared in Weird Tales in 1936. Bloch was only nineteen years of age when the story was published, two years after the author's first professional sale to Weird Tales in 1934. “Mother of Serpents” is a fictional tale based on factual events (presumably the leadership of Fabre Geffrard). It tells the story of a new, unnamed president arriving to power in Haiti. This new leader wants to remove the “old world” from the country. The narrative takes readers through the president's life as a boy, his mother's mastery of the dark arts, and the horrific event that mires his presidency in the very thing he wants to eliminate – voodoo. It's a great story that accomplishes a great deal despite the short length. Of note is the strained, bizarre relationship between the president and his mother, an element that Bloch will successfully use later in his smash hit Psycho

Bryce Walton was a staff correspondent for Leatherneck Magazine, and after WWII transitioned into writing for the mystery, detective, western, and sci-fi pulps. Walton's contribution to Voodoo! is his short “The Devi Doll”, which originally appeared in Dime Mystery in 1947. In the story, New York artist Earl breaks up with his girlfriend Crita, a French woman who has a hobby of voodoo. But, Crita knows that Earl really broke up with her because the new girl, Jean, is extremely wealthy. When Earl makes his case that he no longer loves Crita, she curses him. Later, Earl finds that a small, miniature version of Crita is “growing” out of his shoulder. Crita whispers terrifying things to Earl, which eventually leads to terrible things happening to Jean. Walton's writing is terrific with a smooth prose that serves as a sort of countdown to Earl's demise.   

Used copies of Voodoo! A Chrestomathy of Necromancy are out there. You can also get a real bargain by searching for the giant Arbor House Necropolis hardcover. It was published in 1981 and not only features the entirety of Voodoo!, but also collects two other Pronzini-edited anthologies about mummies and ghouls. Spooky, and darn-near mandatory for vintage-fiction readers. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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