Born in 1866, H.G. Wells would grow up to become a true icon of science fiction due in large part to his classic novels The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and War of the Worlds (1898). He received nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times during his life. While he’s primarily remembered as a science fiction author today, he actually wrote in a wide variety of genres. For the purposes of this article, I’d like to examine a selection of his short stories which ventured into the horror, ghost, or weird tale variety.
1. “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid” (1894) – A man who desires more excitement in his life believes something special will happen on the same day he ends up buying some orchids. One is exceedingly ugly and looks to be in bad shape, yet he’s intrigued by it. Claimed to have been recovered from beneath the body of the man who must have died procuring it, the hideous orchid eventually blossoms violently into life.
2. “The Red Room” (1896) – A gentleman chooses to stay in the room of a castle which is rumored to be haunted in order to disprove the superstition. Terror begins to set in when the candles he’s set up around the room begin to wink out one by one.
3. “In the Abyss” (1896) – An inventor travels five miles down to the ocean floor in an experimental sphere he invented. There he encounters a horde of aquatic beings who drag off the sphere, inadvertently threatening his survival by preventing him from returning to the surface.
4. “The Sea Raiders” (1896) – In England a shoal of giant squids begin attacking people who are in or near the ocean, hungry for human flesh. This is a very intense tale.
5. “The Inexperienced Ghost” (1902) – A man tells his friends about what happened after he demanded to know why the ghost inhabiting his house was doing so. The unassuming ghost explained that it didn’t remember the motions which would allow it to become invisible. The man then helped the ghost figure it out, learning the secret himself, which he attempts to demonstrate to the group. This is a humorous take on the ghost story.
6. “The Door In The Wall” (1911) – A man tells of a time during his childhood when he passed through a strange door in a wall which led him to a magical garden where he met friendly children and a woman who showed him a book that was all about his own life. When he left the garden, the children there called out asking him to return soon. When he later made the attempt, he could no longer find the door. His memory of the details of his stay in the otherworldly garden began to fade over time. He spotted the door again several times during his life but was always too preoccupied with places he needed to be or errands he needed to run, so he did not go through it. He often longs to go back, if only he had the time. This is a beautifully written tale which feels reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode. Its ending is both thought provoking and tragic.
7. “The Truth About Pyecraft” (1932) – An obese man who regularly attends a local club convinces a younger man there to share his great grandmother’s magical recipe to help him lose weight. Thing Astronaut s don’t go as planned. This is more a weird comedy piece than horror, but as it was included in Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery anthology, which I checked out of my school library regularly as a child, I had to include it here.
Article by Matt Cowan