Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown Summary

Marvin Kaye

Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The fifty-three stories and five poems selected by Marvin Kaye for this volume survey a large range of the vast terrain of terror and the unknown. Ghosts play a part in many of the stories, as do witches and monsters of various sorts; vampires are surprisingly lightly represented. In his short introduction, Kaye distinguishes between terror and horror. The stories selected avoid the blood and gore of horror, concentrating instead on the terror of the unknown involved, for example, in not knowing exactly what is hiding under the bed.

Kaye has mixed previously published stories with new ones that certainly merit publication. Many of the authors are well known for their writings in terror and the unknown; in other cases, Kaye has found an author’s rare story that fits these categories. Among the latter are selections from Joyce Carol Oates, Theodore Sturgeon, John Jakes, and Willa Cather.

Readers should not be expected to be frightened by each selection; some aspire only to arouse curiosity about the unknown. The unknown is not always the unusual or impossible. Jack London’s story, for example, is about an entrepreneur hoping to make a killing taking eggs to hungry gold miners. It is entirely believable but merits inclusion in this volume because of the psychological distress of the protagonist. The better stories inspire speculation and give only enough details to be believable. Readers are left to create private terrors in their own minds, much as with nightmares. As Kaye anticipates, these stories frighten not by what they say but by what they imply.