Vintage Scares: The Most Terrifying Short Stories Ever?

Monday, August 19th, 2013 | Posted by markrigney

In my fourth grade year, my teacher, for reasons still unknown to me, decided to read F. Marion 3852814493_5637bb50a9_o Crawford’s “The Upper Berth” aloud to our class.

The story is not so well known these days, but back in the late seventies, it had gained a certain notoriety by virtue of its inclusion in Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery, an omnibus to which I have (with trepidation) returned to many times since. If Hitch was the source from which my teacher made her choice, perhaps she was gulled by the book’s subtitle, which read, “Eleven spooky stories for young people.”

Let me reiterate the salient feature of that rash, dangerous subtitle: FOR YOUNG PEOPLE.


To be sure, “Miss Emmeline Takes Off” (Walter Brooks) and “The Haunted Trailer” (Robert Arthur) are easy on the soul, but how to explain the inclusion of “The Waxwork” (A.M. Burrage) or “In a Dim Room” (Lord Dunsany)?

As for “The Upper Berth,” suffice it to say that just as my teacher reached the climactic moment, our rapt, wide-eyed class erupted into chaos. One child whimpered; another screamed. Poor Alicia literally leaped to her feet and fled the room, running for dear life for the imagined safety of any spot on earth where she could no longer hear the teacher’s voice.

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The Tales of Gemen the Antiques Dealer: From Idea to Publication

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013 | Posted by markrigney

free-standing-dry-stone-archAs of Sunday, August fourth, the last installment of my Gemen trilogy is up and published right here on the Black Gate site.

It’s a curious feeling to have these three closely linked tales “on display” at last. I wrote the first entirely on a whim back in 2004, but the storyline itself had actually evolved decades before, in 1986. How Gemen got to where he is today — that is to say, fictionalized, and available for public scrutiny — is a tale that will perhaps be instructive to rising writers, and hopefully of some interest also to those readers who’ve kept pace with my hero’s travails.

Yes, Gemen is the love child of Dungeons & Dragons (possibly too much Dungeons & Dragons, although that, I hope, will be left to the eye of the beholder), but consider this: in all the literally thousands of hours of role-playing in which I immersed myself from approximately 1980 until 1989, only one idea, one small glimmer of a scenario, presented itself later as worthy of being translated to fiction. Lucky Gemen: alone among my endless sword & sorcery imaginings, he has stumbled into a literary afterlife.

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Adventures on Stage: Fantasy Literature’s Missing Link

Monday, July 22nd, 2013 | Posted by markrigney

1002747_514919775228258_344973762_nA few weeks back, I had the good fortune to take in productions of The Tempest and Peter and the Starcatcher at the Utah Shakespeare Festival (Cedar City, Utah). As I drove away afterward, I could not but help thinking that plays, too, are literature, and that more than a passing handful of theater’s best, these two titles included, are outright, unabashed fantasies. Adventures, even.

It is admittedly difficult to keep current with theater, since stagecraft is not, as books, comics, and film/television most surely are, a truly mass media. Access is tricky; productions are both local and fleeting. Also, the habit of theater can be expensive.

Nevertheless, I’m going to make a case, here and now, that Black Gate’s readership should take stock and keep track of contemporary theater. Scripted plays, after all, predate the novel as a form by many centuries, and we would be as blind as Tiresias were we to forget that were it not for Oedipus Rex, we would know nothing of that fantasy staple, the talking, riddling sphinx.

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Fantasy Out Loud III: Suffer the Children?

Monday, July 1st, 2013 | Posted by markrigney

the-mysterious-benedict-society-0316003956-l_5462In the original 2011 edition of Fantasy Out Loud, I took a stab at reviewing the fantasy books I had read aloud to my children. Back in those halcyon days, The Hobbit was front and center.

Some eighteen months later, my boys are older and taller, but not necessarily wiser. Much to my chagrin, older son Corey, aged thirteen as of this writing, no longer wants me to read aloud to him prior to bedtime. On his own, he’s lately polished off all four of the Hitchhiker’s Guide books, and is now slamming through Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, which he describes as “weird.” (We’ll see what he says when he gets to the end, one of the best reveals in written English.)

But, because Corey is tackling these titles on his lonesome ownsome, this column is necessarily dedicated to eight-year-old Evan, who still can’t get enough of pre-bed daddy readings.

In the last year, fantasy titles we’ve tackled include The Warriors: Into the Wild, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Black Beauty, Summerland, Tuck Everlasting, and Magic By the Lake.

Well, all right: Black Beauty isn’t strictly fantasy, since author Anna Sewell never allows Beauty to actually speak, but for a horse to be so observant, so proscriptive, so downright brilliant?  Sounds like fantasy to me.

Here’s the rub: Evan did not like these books equally. Nor do his growing sense of taste and literary discretion always parallel, sadly, my own. At least two of the books above were volumes I would have preferred to hurl across the room, but in one case especially, despite my jaundice, Evan was enraptured.

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Spanish Castle Magic, Part One

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


Living in Spain, I’ve had the good fortune to visit many of the country’s castles.

The most stunning, and most popular, is the Alcázar in Segovia, an easy day trip from Madrid. It’s in great condition, mainly because it was never caught up in the Reconquista or blasted apart during the Spanish Civil War. Built on the end of the rocky promontory atop which Segovia stands, it’s literally cut off from the rest of the town by a deep moat cut through the bedrock.

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Exploring the Defenses of Tangier

Friday, February 8th, 2013 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


This past Christmas vacation, my wife and I headed down to Tangier so I could write a travel series for Gadling.

While walking the labyrinthine alleyways of this Moroccan port, I took note of the defenses that had been built up over the years. Tangier has changed hands numerous times between the Moroccans, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Because of its strategic importance on the southern end of the Strait of Gibraltar, it’s always needed to protect itself. The old town is surrounded by high walls, emplacements for sea batteries can still be seen, and high up on the hill overlooking the city stands the Casbah, where the Sultan once lived with his family and entourage, and which has fortifications of its own.

[Click on any of the images in this article for larger versions.]


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Heavy metal fantasy: Blind Guardian back in the fray with At the Edge of Time

Thursday, September 30th, 2010 | Posted by Brian Murphy

blind-guardian-live-frontTo the gods of the north, I pray
And raise my cup for the fallen ones
Then I cry
In Valhalla they’ll sing

–“Valkyries,” Blind Guardian

As a life-long heavy metal fan who also loves fantasy literature, it was only a matter of time before I got to the subject of Blind Guardian. About all you need to know about this wonderful, semi-obscure German metal band is that they wrote an entire album about J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion (Nightfall in Middle Earth).

Need I say more? I mean, look at the picture I’ve embedded — that’s a Blind Guardian album cover, and it looks like it could have been plucked off the cover of a Robert Jordan novel.

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AVATAR flies high; SKULLS is on the way…

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 | Posted by John R. Fultz

James Cameron’s AVATAR revels in the grand traditions of fantasy

 The other day I slipped on a pair of 3-D glasses and was transported to a primordial world of alien beauty and high adventure. I was watching James Cameron’s new film AVATAR, which has become a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. Much has been made of the film’s absolute perfection of special effects because Cameron creates a fantasy world that is truly believable. Thanks to his breakthroughs in computer-generated imagery and sheer breadth of imagination, AVATAR is more than a mere film… it’s an EXPERIENCE.

SKULLS starts right here at on Jan. 6

SKULLS starts right here at on Jan. 6

Comparisons to other blockbuster fantasy/sci-fi films are inevitable. Everything George Lucas attempted to do in his three STAR WARS prequels, Cameron actually succeeds at, i.e. building a fully realized and eminently believable fantasy world that is breathtaking in scope and packed with sheer wonder. But that perfection of simulated reality, that ability to make the fantastical seem genuine was NOT what I enjoyed most about this movie.

All the visual flair would be meaningless if the film didn’t draw upon the classic power and inspiration of the great fantasy tales. AVATAR is a fantasy fan’s ultimate cinematic experience. The fact that this fantasy is wrapped in the guise of science fiction only makes it more appealing and marktable to the average moviegoing audience. Both sci-fi and fantasy fans will be enraptured by the AVATAR experience.

thorsflight Cameron’s inspirations for AVATAR span the gamut of everything from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ BARSOOM (John Carter of Mars) stories to Lucas’ STAR WARS (which were inspired by FLASH GORDON comic strips, among others), to the deep myths of the Old West, stone-age adventures, Jungle Tales comics, American Indian mythology, and wraps it all in a lush visual style worthy of the master Frank Frazetta himself.

One of the tropes Cameron plays with in this story–to great visual and emotional effect–is the riding of winged creatures by the Na’vi alien warriors.

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