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Copyright © 1997
James D Thomas


"Stranger Than Non-Fiction"
June 1997 | Updated Monthly

The Monkey's Paws
$7.95 Trade Paperback, Horror Fiction Defense Fund Publishing

It is common for bands to cover each other's songs. But we never see authors covering the works of other authors. Why not? Who knows. Now we have a reason to wish that more did, as thirteen modern horror writers gather to retell W.W. Jacobs' classic chiller "The Monkey's Paw". The result is a virtual textbook on modern horror style, atmosphere, and plot structure. The basic story stays the same; but we get to see what each author adds to the basic campfire story plot to make it stick to the ribs, so to speak. The list of contributors is amazing; King, Barker, Gaiman, Shepard, Brite, McCammon, Landsdale, Butler, and more.

For those who've never read "The Monkey's Paw", it concerns a monkey's paw brough back from India that allegedly has the power to grant three wishes -- but at a great price. A man wishes for two-hundred pounds, and presto, someone delivers a two-hundred pound check -- as compensation for his son's death in an industrial accident. The man's wife makes him wish for his son back alive, but when he hears horrific scratchings at his door, he re-thinks the whole endeavor and wishes his son dead again. This brief summary does not do the story justice; it is a chilling tale. Also short, and it's core idea -- the interaction of fate and runaway human desire to produce horror -- is not dependent on a specific setting. This makes it a highly versatile foundation.

Some of the authors ran far afield with the basic premise, as befits their ideosyncrasies. Shepard takes on an hallucinogenic romp through an old colonial compound in Indonesia with jaded expatriates; there is much more to be seen in his version than the original, but even less to be known with certainty. King takes the story back to the heart of all horror -- childhood, with a pair of young brothers discovering the paw in the attic. They wish for new bikes, and as expected, mother arrives with new bicycles, a bribe to help them get over the news of their father's death. King's prose, as usual in his short fiction, carries us smoothly along like a Maine stream to the inevitable comclusion. And Barker replaces the mother-father-son grouping with a homosexual love triangle, adding a distincly modern touch by letting the plot revolve around AIDS.

The cumulative effect of reading essentially the same story thirteen times was hypnotizing. In the hands of lesser writers it would undoubtedly be tedious, but given the excellent stories here I could relax and almost stop paying attension to the plot alltogether, and simply enjoy the stylistic individuality of each author.

The book was put together to benefit the Horror Fiction Defense Fund, which was created to help in the Jaleel Mickens case, but hopes to become a permanent watchdog group. Jaleel Mickens is an English instructor at a Tollbert College, a small private college in Alabama. He was fired for teaching 'inappropriate and pornographic' materials in his course on horror literature -- materials that included many of the best horror books ever written. The HFDF is helping him sue to get his job back. This book represents the horror community's real attempt to show support on an issue near and dear to the hearts of horror writers everywhere. I couldn't imagine a better response; something that makes a unique statement about the field both legally and artistically. I only hope that this series will be continued, with other stories that could provide an equally flexible footing-- "The Jar", "The Lottery", something by Poe perhaps? I was left hungry for more.