Further Drawings: The Literary Legacy of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”

In my latest Mob Scene post earlier this week I covered Shirley Jackson’s classic short story “The Lottery,” which first cast a dark cloud over a summer gathering seventy years ago. In the seven decades since its publication, “The Lottery” has been anthologized countless times, and has formed the perennial source of high school lit class discussion. The story’s legacy, though, extends to a continuing influence on other works of fiction (Jackson herself would return to a scene of rock-tossing angry villagers at the close of her final novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle). Here’s another Pick-5 of “Lottery”-influenced texts:

 

1.Storm of the Century. This Stephen-King-scripted miniseries is much indebted to Mark Twain (it might just as easily have been titled The Demon That Corrupted Little Tall), but ultimately King gives a nod to Shirley Jackson. There’s a climactic scene in which representative families from the community submit to a drawing of “weirding stones,” a dire game of chance that earns the unlucky winner a fate worse than death.

 

2.“Guts.” In terms of content, Chuck Palahniuk’s notorious story certainly falls far afield of Jackson’s. But the author himself has testified that he was inspired by “The Lottery” to try his hand at a transgressive narrative that would unsettle his audience. Anyone who’s ever read “Guts” (or heard it performed by Palahniuk) would be hard-pressed to deny the author’s success at that task.

 

3.Dark Harvest. Norman Partridge’s hallowed Halloween novel presents a small town given to performing a sinister annual ritual (which helps assure bountiful crops). Also analogous to Jackson’s narrative, the winning of the contest waged on the night of October 31st proves quite the losing proposition.

 

4.The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins’s hit trilogy of young-adult novels features another annual lottery drawing that has some dark consequences for the family member selected. At least here, though, the person is given a chance to survive, in a grim edition of reality-TV spectacle.

 

5.Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”: The Authorized Graphic Adaptation. In this final case, the drawing proves literal, as Jackson’s own grandson inks a graphic-novel version of the story. More than just a colorful pictorial translation, though, Hyman’s book also forms a bit of a prequel–it starts out by providing a glimpse of the events on June 26th, the night before the fateful ritual.

Horror Hot List

The 2018 Summer Reader Poll conducted by NPR asked fans to vote for their five favorite horror novels or stories. Regrettably, I missed the voting deadline, but would like to offer my scary quintet here at Dispatches from the Macabre Republic. The nights might be getting shorter, but these works will guarantee a summer that is long on frights.

 

1.Stephen King’s IT

The fact that I was practically the same age as the adolescent protagonists when I first read King’s monstrous opus back in 1986 made the book seem especially nightmarish. It didn’t hurt, either, that King sent a virtual all-star team of terrifying creatures out onto (and under) Derry’s field of play.

 

2.Jack Ketchum’s Off Season

Night of the Living Dead meets Straw Dogs in this controversial and unabashedly violent tale of modern-day cannibals in coastal Maine. The dining habits of this feral clan make Hannibal Lecter’s diet seem positively benign. It’s not for nothing that Stephen King dubbed Jack Ketchum “the scariest guy in America.” 

 

3.Clive Barker’s Books of Blood

These six volumes comprise the greatest story collection the horror genre has ever produced. In tale after tale, Barker manages to both terrify and excite, via prose that is at once profound, provocative, and wickedly witty. These books marked me in so many ways; for example, to this day I can’t venture down into the New York subway without thinking of “The Midnight Meat Train.”

 

4.Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

McCarthy’s novels have always exhibited a Gothic bent, but none more than this post-apocalyptic gut-wrencher. The Road is incredibly affecting, as trauma and tragedy play out on both a personal and global level. What ultimately makes this book so haunting, though, is its utter plausibility.

 

5.Dan Simmons’s The Terror

This Arctic epic delivers big-time on its titular promise. The novel is relentlessly terrifying, replete with unforgettable set-pieces (the extended scene in which the Tuunbaq doggedly stalks ice master Thomas Blanky forms a master class in the creation of heart-pounding horror). Readers won’t have to worry about turning on the air conditioning this summer, because this book is perfectly chilling.

Fright Lines

Recently my phone, attuned to my horror-browsing interests, alerted me to the online article “11 Creepy Lines From Horror Books That Are Honestly Terrifying.” It’s hard to argue against Emma Flynn’s choices for “the spookiest sentences in literature,” but her exercise did get me thinking about what fictional lines I would cite. After perusing my bookshelves, I fixed upon a dozen disturbing utterances:

 

There is no delight the equal of dread.
–Clive Barker, “Dread”

 

He went forward, chivvied by unseen devils who whispered obscenities in his ear and caressed him with pincers and stinging tendrils, who dripped acid on the back of his neck and laughed as he screamed and thrashed int he amniotic soup, the quaking entrails.
–Laird Barron, “The Broadsword”

 

Deep down in the subterranean fissures of his body, the minute, unbelievable noises; little smackings and twistings and little dry chippings and grindings and nuzzling sounds–like a tiny hungry mouse down in the red-blooded dimness, gnawing ever so earnestly and expertly at what might have been, but was not, a submerged timber…
–Ray Bradbury, “The Skeleton”

 

One of us lifted something from [the pillow], and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair.
–William Faulkner, “A Rose for Emily”

 

we will ride at nightfall we will ride to the hole i am dead you will die anyone who gets too close will be infected with the death on you us we are infected together we will be in the death hole together and the grave dirt will fall in on top of us lalala the dead pull the living down if anyone tries to help you i us we will pull them down and step on them and no one climbs out because the hole is too deep and the dirt falls too fast and everyone who hears your voice will know it is true jude is dead and i am dead and you will die you will hear my voice and we will ride together on the night road to the place the final place where the wind cries for you for us we will walk to the edge of the hole we will fall in holding each other we will fall sing for us sing at our at your grave sing lalala
–Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box

 

“God God,” Eleanor said, flinging herself out of bed and across the room to stand shuddering in a corner, “God God–whose hand was I holding?”
–Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

 

She lay peaceful in the silence waiting for him knowing that he would not lie to her, wondering if he’d read her now in the days and weeks to come, feeling that probably would for how could he not be curious to give the work a try after this, thinking this as suddenly glass shattered glass was everywhere, she felt it spray across her breasts and stomach, her face and hair and felt hands close hard over her wrists and pull her roughly across the broken windowpane raking her backbone, the broken shards of glass cutting deep and then she was out in the cool night air exactly as it should be, exactly as she’d written, and the end of her night began.
–Jack Ketchum, “The Work”

 

It’s probably wrong to believe that there can be any limit to the horror which the human mind can experience. On the contrary, it seems that some exponential effect begins to obtain as deeper and deeper darkness falls–as little as one may like to admit it, human experience tends, in a good many ways, to support the idea that when the nightmare grows black enough, horror spawns horror, one coincidental evil begets other, often more deliberate evils, until finally blackness seems to cover everything.
Stephen King, Pet Sematary

 

She looked at them watching her and knife in hand screamed at them, What have you done to his eyes?”
–Ira Levin, Rosemary’s Baby

 

Nor did it belong to any other world that could be named, unless it was to that realm which is suggested to us by an autumn night when fields lay ragged in moonlight and some wild spirit has entered into things, a great aberration sprouting forth from a chasm of moist and fertile shadows, a hollow-eyed howling malignity rising to present itself to the cold emptiness of space and the pale gaze of the moon.
–Thomas Ligotti, “The Shadow at the Bottom of the World”

 

Everyone listened, and everyone was listening still when It lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed Its gelatinous green immensity through the black doorway into the tainted outside air of that poison city of madness.
–H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

 

For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold–then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.
–Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher”

Precursors to Terror: Seven Influences on Dan Simmons’s Arctic Gothic Novel

Dan Simmons is one of the most literate and culturally-astute writers of genre fiction, and in his 2007 novel The Terror (a supernatural recasting of the fate of the Franklin Expedition), he proves as allusive as ever. Here are seven examples that can be dug out of the ice:

1.“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)
The icebound plight of The Terror parallels the dead calm plaguing the ship in Coleridge’s poem (which the crew believes to be a supernatural entrapment by an angry Spirit from the Antarctic “land of mist and snow”). Also, just as the ancient mariner’s troubles traces back to his sacrilegious slaying of an albatross, the Franklin Expedition perhaps curses itself by slaughtering polar bears as it makes its transgressive foray into the Arctic. Late in the novel, Simmons reveals that shamans have promised the God Who Walks Like a Man (i.e. the Tuunbaq, who has adopted/adapted the shape of the white northern bear) that “they would honour it by never fishing or hunting within its kingdom without the monster-creature’s permission.”

2.Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
Shelley’s frame story (often abridged in film versions) intriguingly features an icebound ship stalled in its quest to discover the Northwest Passage. Captain Walton’s predicament reinforces the theme of Promethean overreaching, and the advice he receives from a dying Victor Frankenstein (“Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries”) applies just as readily to Sir John Franklin in Simmons’s novel.  Frankenstein‘s tale of the reckless creation of a hulking monstrosity that rebounds troublingly on the creator also aligns with the mythological backstory of the Tuunbaq that Simmons sketches towards the end of The Terror.

3.”The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe (1842)
Poe’s story is worked overtly into the plot of Simmons’s novel: crewmember Richard Aylmore, having read it in Graham’s Magazine five years earlier, uses it as the basis for the color-coded apartments he sets up during the Second Grand Venetian Carnivale. Alas, just as the ghastly embodiment of the Red Death crashes Prince Prospero’s festivities, the mauling Tuunbaq adds some dire fireworks to the New Year’s Eve celebration. Both Poe and Simmons furnish haunting reminders that ultimately there is no refuge from terror.

4.Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
Simmons immediately invokes Melville by employing a passage from Moby-Dick as the epigraph to The Terror: “This elusive quality it is, which causes the thought of whiteness, when divorced from more kindly associations, and coupled with any object terrible in itself, to heighten that terror to the furthest bounds. Witness the white bear of the poles, and the white shark of the tropics; what but their smooth, flaky whiteness makes them the transcendent horrors that they are? That ghastly whiteness it is which imparts such an abhorrent mildness even more loathsome than terrific, to the dumb gloating of their aspect. So not the fierce-fanged tiger in his heraldic coat can so stagger courage as the white-shrouded bear or shark.” Moby-Dick also swims into the narrative itself, such as the scene when Sir John Franklin (a vainglorious captain bent on career redemption rather than revenge) entices the crew with the Ahab-like promise of golden reward for the killing of their adversary. Much like the captain of the Pequod, Franklin dooms his ship’s crew (save for a sole survivor) with a series of bad decisions. Surely it’s no coincidence, either, that in his death scene, Franklin suffers an injury that doubles Ahab’s unmasting by the whale: he has his legs torn off by the Tuunbaq. Side note: Simmons (perhaps unwittingly expressing an anxiety of influence) has written an essay in which at once admits to rereading Moby-Dick while writing The Terror and vociferously distances himself from Melville’s novel.

5.Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902)
Simmons’s treacherous, renegade caulker’s mate, Cornelius Hickey, compares with the Conradian antagonist Kurtz. Just as Kurtz notoriously supported the Suppression of Savage Customs–“Exterminate all the brutes!”–Hickey orchestrates a fiendish massacre of friendly Esquimaux. Hickey also sounds echoes of Heart of Darkness in his descent into madness and presumed rise to godhood, and his “terrified” final pronouncement recalls Kurtz’s dying cry of “The horror! The horror!”

6.Nosferatu (1922)
Simmons closes his novel with a curious scene: Captain Crozier returns to The Terror, only to find it inhabited by an ostensibly dead figure with rat-like teeth and “long brown gingers and too-long yellow nails.” Both in appearance and situation, this seeming vampire suggests Count Orlok (who, after decimating the crew, forms the solitary occupant of the “death-ship”) in the influential German horror film. Simmons’s notion of a supernatural evil drawn to haunt a bad place also calls to mind Stephen King’sSalem’s Lot (whose film version offers a vampire that is a clear Nosferatu-homage).

7.The Thing from Another World (1951)
The Terror “is dedicated, with love and many thanks for the indelible Arctic memories, to Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, Dewey Martin, William self, George Fennerman, Dmitri Tiomkin, Charles Lederer, Christain Nyby, Howard Hawkes, and James Arness”–respectively, the cast, screenwriter, director, producer, and title character of the classic science fiction/horror film The Thing from Another World (based on John W. Campbell, Jr.’s 1938 novella “Who Goes There?”). “The thing on the ice” (as it is repeatedly referred to within Simmons’s novel) hails from the Spirit-World rather than another planet, yet lays a similarly nightmarish siege on the protagonists’ base of operations. (In a recent interview, Simmons offered further comment on the personal appeal of The Thing.)

List Resistance

So I was browsing on my phone recently, and Google clued me in to an article on the Publishers Weekly website: “10 Scariest Horror Stories.” Naturally, I clicked right on over. Now, I understand that any compiled list is inevitably subjective, and part of the fun is seeing what the selector actually chose and had to say about those items, so I don’t want to be too contentious here. But what I read did bother me. Writer/scholar/editor Victoria Nelson (who admits that the bulk of her list is culled from the classic volume Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural) exhibits a strong bias towards late-19th/early-20th Century British fiction. The implication, then, is that the scariest stories were written long ago, and seldomly by American writers (H.P. Lovecraft and C.L. Moore are the two exceptions cited by Nelson). There’s no hint here of Stephen King or Peter Straub, let alone Laird Barron, Jack Ketchum, Glen Hirshberg, Stephen Graham Jones, or Joyce Carol Oates. Perhaps the issue is ultimately one of false advertising: the superlative article title “10 Scariest Horror Stories” suggests comprehensive consideration (“…Of All Time”), but the headnote to the list does qualify that these are simply “10 scary stories recommended by Nelson.”

I’d have to devote some more thought before compiling my own list of the 10 Scariest Horror Stories (American or otherwise), but if anyone has specific pieces they would vote for, feel free to leave a comment below.

Domestic Terror: Edgar Allan Poe’s Most American Gothic Tales

My previous post pointed to a problem of categorization: Edgar Allan Poe is an undeniable master of the Gothic tale (and poem), but his work cannot necessarily be framed as American Gothic. Too often, Poe recurs to European–or geographically vague–settings, eschewing a native context. In “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” Poe even takes a much-publicized American true crime (the murder of New York City cigar-girl Mary Cecilia Rogers) and transforms into a Parisian puzzle for C. Auguste Dupin to solve. All this is not to say, though, that Poe never scripts a specifically American version of the Gothic. The following handful of tales prove that local haunts are not out of bounds in the author’s oeuvre:

 

“The Gold-Bug” (1843)

A reclusive eccentric and descendant of a family that has fallen into misfortune, William Legrand no doubt recalls Roderick Usher. But whereas “The Fall of the House of Usher” takes place in an unidentifiable setting, “The Gold-Bug” unfolds on Sullivan’s Island and the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina. As the anonymous narrator ponders, the story’s treasure-hunting adventure connects to “innumerable Southern superstitions about buried money.” The darker elements of “The Gold-Bug”–death’s-heads, excavated skeletons–also prove contextually appropriate: they are the bones of pirates fatally betrayed by Captain Kidd after the latter hid his stolen riches on the American coast.

 

“A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” (1844)

Poe’s ambiguous narrative features a Rip Van Winkle-like excursion into the eponymous “chain of wild and dreary hills that lie westward and southward of Charlottesville” (these Ragged Mountains have inspired local lore about “uncouth and fierce races of men who tenanted their groves and caverns”). The Gothic preoccupation with textuality is reflected by the strange rapport between an American mesmerist and his hapless subject, who experiences his strange vision (while wandering through the Ragged Mountains) of riotous violence in India at the seemingly same time as his doctor records that historical event in a notebook. Poe also draws unnerving parallels between domestic and foreign scenes, as the snake-resembling “poisonous sangsue of Charlottesville” that kills Augustus Bedloe when mistakenly applied as a medicinal leech pairs with the serpentine arrow that fells Bedloe’s double Mr. Oldeb in the Indian vision.

 

“The Premature Burial” (1844)

Poe’s phobic narrator ranges across the globe in supplying examples of the titular terror, but admittedly essays such task while residing in a city “neighboring” Baltimore. His own macabre experience as a sentient “tenant of the grave” also proves distinctly American: he mistakenly believes he has become a victim of premature burial after awakening in the dark confines of a small sloop while on a gunning expedition along the banks of the James River near Richmond, Virginia.

 

“The Oblong Box” (1844)

The subject matter here–a male figure maddened with grief after the sudden death of his beloved–is typical of Poe, yet noteworthy for its American setting. This underrated tale centers on the secret transport of a coffined corpse on a packet-ship traveling from Charleston to New York. Poe earns bonus points, too, as the the story’s climactic hurricane strands the characters nearby a quintessential scene of American mystery: “the beach opposite Roanoke Island.”

 

“The Sphinx” (1846)

In this late piece, Poe makes almost unprecedented (for him) use of the American scene. The “dread reign of cholera” in New York City not only prompts the narrator’s retreat to the Hudson Valley, but also (as continuing reports of the epidemic’s ravages spread north) molds the morbid mindset that leads to his misperception of a monstrosity descending the hillside landscape outside his window.

 

Bloch Quote

When it comes to mixing humor and horror in fiction, the late, great Robert Bloch remains unsurpassed. The Psycho author also had a wicked gift for reeling off macabre/sardonic one-liners during interviews and within his nonfiction writing. I’ve gathered below six of his best examples of such wit, followed by quotes from various genre figures that slice a similar vein.

 

“The man who smiles when things go wrong has thought of someone to blame it on.”

 

“Friendship is like peeing on yourself: everyone can see it, but only you get the warm feeling that it brings.”

 

“A foolish man tells a woman to stop talking, but a wise man tells her that her mouth is extremely beautiful when her lips are closed.”

 

“So I had this problem–work or starve. So I thought I’d combine the two and decided to become a writer.”

 

“But Psycho did fix my image, for better or worse. For years afterward, many young ladies refused to take showers with me.”

 

“Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”

 

 

“Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.” –Alfred Hitchcock

 

“Put another way, “Suffer the Little Children” is a ghastly sick-joke with no redeeming social merit whatever. I like that in a story.”  Stephen King

 

“The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.” Harlan Ellison

 

“The  way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you.” —Mary Roach

 

1.If your car breaks down in the rain outside a spooky old house, sleep in the car.” —from “Victor Salva’s Ten Things We Have Learned From Horror Movies”

 

“Everybody is a book of blood; Wherever we’re opened, we’re red.” —Clive Barker

2017 Supreme

Along with a certain sphere in Times Square, a whole host of best-ofs, top __ countdowns, and retrospective summations drop at year’s end. Perusing these innumerable lists/articles/videos, though, can be a tremendous time suck, draining away from the pleasurable hours that might be spent consuming the actual items identified. So for those looking for a quicker 2017-in-review fix, I offer the following listing of some of the year’s best look-backs on the world of horror:

Barnes and Noble: The Best Horror Books of 2017

Chicago Review of Books: The Best Horror Books of 2017

Vanity Fair: Why 2017 Was Such a Big Year for Horror

PopSugar: 11 Truly Masterful Horror Films That Came Out in 2017

Bloody Disgusting: These Are the 13 Most Disturbing Horror Movie Moments of 2017

Bloody Disgusting: Here Are the 15 Best Monsters of 2017!

Entertainment Weekly: Stephen King Q&A: Pennywise’s Creator on Scaring the Hell Out of 2017

WatchMojo: Pennywise 1990 vs. 2017

 

Looper: The Most Underappreciated Horror Movies Released in 2017

 

Finally, to round out this out post, I’ll add a list of my own to the mix. I put this one together because Fright-Rags is the pinnacle of macabre fashion (and perhaps because I’m pining for t-shirt weather at this time of year!).

The Top 10 T-Shirts On Sale at Fright-Rags at Year’s End

1.Goosebumps

Horripilation Compilation

 

2.Creepshow

This one’s a Keeper

 

3.Halloween III

If only the movie was as good as what’s depicted here

 

4.The Silence of the Lambs

Watch out for Chianti stains

 

5.Groovy

Dead-on

 

6.The Shower Scene

Murderin’ Marion

 

7.I Am the Way

That’s my pleasure, sir

 

8.Predator

Smiling for a head shot

 

9.Trick ‘R Treat

Sam and ensemble

 

10.London After Midnight

Beware of what this guy’s drinking on New Year’s Eve

 

Vermin Literature

They form multitudinous swarms, teem with fleas and terribly infectious diseases. They infiltrate our homes, pilfer our food, and invade our beds, biting us even as we sleep. Rats are undeniably nightmarish creatures, so it is no wonder that this bane of human civilization has been featured often in horror fiction. Consider this exemplary six-pack of rat terror (note: I am focusing here on works of American literature, and thus exclude British efforts such as George Orwell’s 1984, Stephen Gilbert’s Ratman’s Notebooks [basis of the film Willard], and James Herbert’s The Rats from the survey)…

 

1.“The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe (1842)

Ironically, rats come to the rescue in Poe’s story of the various terrors rained down upon the narrating prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition. This tormented protagonist uses the vermin’s voracious appetite to personal advantage, strategically smearing food all over his entrapping bandages. The promptly overwhelmed narrator recounts: “They pressed–they swarmed upon me in ever accumulating heaps. They writhed upon my throat; their cold lips sought my own; I was half-stifled by their thronging pressure […].” Desperate times call for disgusting measures.

 

2.“The Dreams in the Witch House” by H.P. Lovecraft (1932)

Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls” might be the more widely-known and more influential tale, but those titular infesting pests seem like lovable pets compared to the furry figure of Brown Jenkin (a diabolical, hyperspace-traveling witch’s familiar) in “The Dreams in the Witch House.” Possessing fiendish intelligence and disturbingly anthropoid features, this long-toothed sidekick of an old crone commits some heinous acts of violence–including the wrist-gnawing sacrifice of a stolen child. And what Brown Jenkin does to the main character Gilman at story’s end represents arguably the ghastliest moment in Lovecraft’s oeuvre.

 

3.“The Graveyard Rats” by Henry Kuttner (1936)

The prolific Kuttner’s first-published and remarkably Lovecraftian story (in the March 1936 issue of Weird Tales) is set in an ancient Salem cemetery and deals with “ghoulish beings that dwelt far underground, and that had the power of commanding the rats, marshaling them like horrible armies.” Readers are taken on a terrifying subterranean excursion when a grave-robbing caretaker gets in over his head. Anyone with a fear of premature burial had best avoid the climax, which finds the villain trapped in a coffin, suffocating, and subjected to the cacophony of rats’ triumphant squeals.

 

4.Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)

Wright’s classic novel also landed in my post last month on variations on Poe’s “The Black Cat,” but long before any feline frightfulness unfolds in Native Son, a rodent gnashes its way into the narrative. The book opens with an unforgettable scene of Bigger Thomas and his family being terrorized in their tenement apartment by a giant black rat. Bigger’s violent reaction to the attack (he “took a shoe and pounded the rat’s head, crushing it, cursing hysterically”) sets the stage for further fearful outbursts later in the novel.

 

5.“Graveyard Shift” by Stephen King (1970)

In his essay “The Horror Writer and the Ten Bears,” King readily admits to a fear of rats, a phobia that is reflected time and again in his horror fiction. The Lovecraft-evoking “Graveyard Shift” forms his first foray into rat-plagued territory, and proves to be one gruesome endeavor. “Mischief” is the technical term for a group of rats, and that’s exactly what the creatures get up to here as a hapless cleaning crew ventures into the subcellar of an old textile mill. These mutants are awful in their own biting right, but pale in comparison to the shocking sight of their queen, a monstrous rat “as big as a Holstein calf.” In writing this tale, King might not have exorcised his personal dread, but he certainly succeeded in infecting his readers with the exact same fear.

 

6.The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (2009)

In Dracula, Bram Stoker (who also dealt with vermin in “The Judge’s House” and “The Burial of the Rats”) establishes the Count’s psychic command of “meaner things” such as rats–as witnessed in the scene where thousands of the furry minions are called to the vampire’s swarming defense at Carfax Abbey. Rats are also central to the plot of Del Toro and Hogan’s modern, more-realistic revision of Dracula, but cut against Stoker’s mythological grain. The rats here enact a mass exodus to the daylit streets of Manhattan, fearfully displaced from their underground lair by worse “things that burrow and hide. Creatures who nest. Who feed off the human population.” Impressively researched, The Strain owes a debt not just to Stoker’s vampire epic but also (as the authors acknowledge) to Robert Sullivan’s Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants.

 

But enough already about rats–it’s time to turn to turkey. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the Macabre Republic!