What Are the Greatest Weird/Horror Anthos of All Time?

 ‘The definitive collection of weird fiction… its success lies in its ability to lend coherence to a great number of stories that are so remarkably different and yet share the same theme’ — Times Literary Supplement

‘Studded with literary gems, it’s a hefty, diligently assembled survey of a genre that manages to be at once unsettling, disorientating and bracing in its variety.’ — James Lovegrove, Financial Times 

It’s a tremendous experience to go through its 1,126 pages… there are so many delights in this that any reader will find something truly memorable’ — Scotland on Sunday
 
‘Readers eager to explore a world beyond the ordinary need look no further’ - Time Out
 
‘An anthology of writing so powerful it will leave your reality utterly shredded…Give yourself to the weird!  Open the pages of the new gospel of The Weird.’ — Guardian.co.uk

We’re extremely pleased that our The Weird compendium continues to get such high praise, with more reviews coming. We’re also happy because we’re getting a lot of traffic to this site as a result of the anthology.  Not to mention, we can announce that the North American edition of The Weird will be published by Tor Books, with the ebook out in February and the trade paperback in May (with a short-run hardcover as well). Meanwhile, the UK edition is available in Kindle format now as well.

But the main point of this post is to ask you, our loyal weirdie readers, your recommendations for your Top 3 greatest compilations of dark/weird/horror fiction of all time, both original and reprint anthologies. Please note which is which and state your case. The best and most convincing explanation will be rewarded with a copy of the paperback edition of Thomas Ligotti’s collection Teatro Grottesco (Virgin Books), a subscription to our ODD? antho,  a copy of Jeff’s short-run weird collection Secret Lives and our own hardcover anthology The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, personalized by us however you like. Deadline is next Friday night at midnight, Eastern Standard Time.

We’re compiling our own Top 10 list for a later post and your recommendations will have influence on our list. — Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

24 replies to “What Are the Greatest Weird/Horror Anthos of All Time?

  1. 100 Wild Little Weird Tales by Greenberg et all.

    It’s a Greenberg, it’s weird and it’s 100 little precious gems.

  2. There are many, but the first three I think of are:

    Dark Faith, from Apex, edited by Broaddus & Gordon. Especially lovely with the supplement, whose title escapes me. What’s great about it is how it plumbs the tenebrous depths of theological and ontological issues. The best stories question the idea of what makes us human, what it’s like to be a creature that believes when faced with some horrific, incomprehensible travails and enigmas.

    Foundations of Fear, from Tor, edited by David Hartwell. A very high level of craft in these stories, many superbly written and realized. It has one of my favorite Tom Disch stories in it, the unnerving “Torturing Mr. Amberwell” and was my first exposure to Ligotti and Du Maurier. This anthology is not my usual cup of absinthe, as I do not read a lot of horror or neo-Gothic, etc., but it brings together a wide range of authors and showcases an array of provocative and well-rendered stories.

    Haunted Legends, from Tor, edited by Datlow and Mamatas. Another high-quality collection, but even more compelling because of the way that many of the authors built their ghost stories with subtlety, with the strangeness and fear coalescing out of flashes in the corner of your eye, in moments that seem suddenly dissociated from reality, in details that accrue feelings of apprehension and morbid curiosity, and then moments of shock and terror. The surprise often comes from your realization that you the reader have been brought out-of-tune with the mundane world, like many of the characters, and entered an elsewhere that changes you.

  3. Kirby McCauley’s Night Chills (1975) was much more important to me than his later, massive Dark Forces. It contained so many odd, weird, unforgettable stories that lodged in my head forever. He had the advantage of being able to select entirely successful stories from many decades, rather than picking the best from among an uneven crop of originals. 

    August Derleth’s Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1969) is a seminal collection that shaped our concept of Lovecraft more firmly than probably any other single work.

  4. The Haunted Looking Glass — Ghost Stories Chosen by Edward Gorey

    Black Water — The Book of Fantastic Literature (edited by Alberto Manguel)

    Fantastic Tales: Visionary and Everyday (edited by Italo Calvino)

    There’s some overlap but each editor stamps their collection with a distinct sensibility.

  5. 1. )Midnight Graffiti Magazine’s antho Midnight Graffiti was a remarkable combination of all things fantastic. It had stuff in it like Harlan Ellison’s Where I Shall Dwell in the Next World, Joe Lansdale’s Bob the Dinosaur Goes to Disneyland and David J. Schow’s Bad Guy Hats. It’s what told me I could get away with writing Bizarro type stories. An excellent reprint anthology.

    2.) The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural ed. Bill Pronzini and Martin Greenberg had a great variety of stories and many of them are iconic enough that you read them and you think “damn, this is what horror is” and you feel that in so many different ways. From A Rose for Emily to Pickman’s Model and Rapaccini’s Daughter, there’s so much must have horror culture.

    3.) The Bizarro Starter Kit: Orange 

    A personal favorite. When a group of authors get together and say “we’re a genre”, it’s an audacious thing. When they put out a collection of stories that’s downright air tight, they prove it. It’s not just an anthology, it’s a bid for the right to be different and a declaration that there is a body of work for the fans of this new genre to learn about it and experience it.

  6. Reading your piece, I immediately thought of Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, the huge reprint anthology edited by Phyllis Cerf Wagner and Herbert Wise back in the forties. The book was over 1,000 pages, with 50 plus stories, almost all of them first-rate. It remains (to my knowledge) the best anthology in existence for getting a broad sense of classic horror/supernatural tales.

    GTTS was where I first discovered Lovecraft (“The Dunwich Horror”), and first read “The Monkey’s Paw”, “The Open Window”, “The Most Dangerous Game”, “The Great God Pan”, “A Terribly Strange Bed”, and dozens and dozens of other stories.

    I was so enamored of the book as a little boy I checked it out of the library constantly, and used to dip into it late at night, turning my bedcovers into a tent, me inside reading by flashlight. Eventually, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, I actually stole the book from the public library, so it would be mine forever. It was a companion throughout my childhood, almost like a dog, except I didn’t have to clean up after it.

    Sometime in the decades since, moving around as much as I did back then, that copy floated away. Hopefully, into another pair of small hands. I heartily recommend reading it. Just, don’t steal it. (Unless you’re very young, and your paper route barely pays enough for comic books and an occasional grilled cheese sandwich in a grown-up restaurant.)

  7. Reading the article above, the first thing that came to my mind was an anthology I picked up when I was about four or five years old. “Leesgoed” (“Readwell”) it was called, an anthology of Dutch children’s tales and verses, with the most fantastic illustrations.
    This anthology truly fits into every definition of the Weird, in language and illustrations. I don’t think it has been translated, which is a shame. Authors like Paul Biegel, Annie M.G. Schmidt and Godfried Bomans and illustrators like Carl Hollander deserve a broader audience, especially with a Weird-loving audience.

    This was the anthology that got me started on weird fiction in the first place. Reading these stories by Dutch authors, interested me in the rest of their (often quite weird) oeuvre. From these authors it was a small step to the translations of the books of Roald Dahl, and then, when I learned to read English when I was seven or eight, on to Edgar Allen Poe and Lovecraft (I even think my mother bought those books for me. At that age I was even allowed to watch Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, because, in my mothers words “it was such a nice and real love story.”)

    I will even go as far as saying that Leesgoed paved the way for my further career. I now study Literature at a Dutch university, and I try to read and write as much as I can about Weird Fiction (though, not surprisingly Jorge Luís Borges is more accepted as an object of study than, say, Ramsey Campbell or Clive Barker).

    Ofcourse I’ve read many more Weird fiction in my life, but Leesgoed is and always will be my stepping stone; the worn-out copy of the out-of-print book has an honorary place in my bookcase. 

    Leesgoed had been published in 1980 by Collectieve Propaganda van het Nederlandse Boek and is edited by Netty Heimeriks and Beccy de Vries.

  8. One I just re-read a few months ago: Conklin’s The Graveyard Reader — an incredible range from Kuttner’s horror comic The Graveyard Rats to Hughes’ subtle The Cart. 

    The other, mentioned by others, McCauley’s Night Chills

  9. I have a few I’m surprised no one else has mentioned:

    1. THE DARK DESCENT edited by David Hartwell. I’m in the process of working through this huge anthology now. I like how Hartwell examines the various threads/traditions of horror and traces their evolution. 

    2. DARKNESS: TWO DECADES OF MODERN HORROR, edited by Ellen Datlow . Finished this one a few months ago. This book will probably always be one of my favorites, if for no other reason than it introduced me to the work of Glen Hirshberg and David J. Schow.

    3. KAFKAESQUE: STORIES INSPIRED BY FRANZ KAFKA
    Okay, this is another one I’m not finished with yet, but I’m flying through it and am really enjoying what I’ve read so far. The editors have compiled a variety of stories that, in a sense, are very different — like spokes of a wheel, with Kafka as the hub. All reprints, I think. It does include a new translation of “A Hunger Artist”, though.

  10. Black Water — The Book of Fantastic Literature (edited by Alberto Manguel)

    Because it got me into so many writer’s I’d not come across before — Cortazar, Bierce etc. I could list many other reasons, but isn’t that the primary purpose of a good anthology — to let you discover new authors?

  11. I] PRIME EVIL (original anthology), edited by Douglas E. Winter. Whilst by no means a definitive or comprehensive anthology, it cast a wide net in regard to contemporary horror authors and styles — all whilst buttressed and rationalized by one of Douglas E. Winter’s insightful essays into the nature and various permutations of Horror. The, then, higher profile figures of horror were represented — with many, such as Barker and Straub, at their best — along with figures both lesser-known and lesser known to horror such as Jack Cady and M. John Harrison. A neophyte horror reader coming from this volume will have a clear idea of the type of horror fiction he/she enjoys and a veteran horror reader may come away with a new author or two to further explore.

    II] THE DARK DESCENT (reprint anthology), edited by David Hartwell. Although Hartwell’s later anthology THE FOUNDATIONS OF FEAR better serves those with a more expansive vision of horror, THE DARK DESCENT is simply the definitive overview of the short fiction in the horror field up to the mid-eighties. Most of the major authors and seminal stories of the field are represented and a reading of this volume provides a solid foundation in modern horror short fiction.

    III] DARK FORCES (original anthology), edited by Kirby McCauley. Prior to Stephen King’s rise to prominence, the profile of the horror field was quite low; furthermore, it frequently was paid little, to no, respect. This anthology may not have changed that, but it certainly made a significant attempt. McCauley anchored the anthology on his most successful clients — King with his best short horror work “The Mist,” T.E.D. Klein with “Children of the Kingdom,” Karl Edward Wagner with “Where the Summer Ends,” et al — and also brought in the best new authors within the genre (Lisa Tuttle) and the best without the genre (Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, SF author Gene Wolfe). Whilst the quality of this anthology may have been equaled, and whilst the diversity of this anthology may have been equaled — it is unlikely that both will ever be matched or surpassed by a single anthology of horror literature. Another considerable strength of the volume is that many of the stories are longer — short novels, novellas, novelettes — which helps to emphasize that horror frequently functions best at those lengths.

    NOTE: Ideally, Ellen Datlow would be represented by her overview of the field DARKNESS or by her stellar original anthology INFERNO; Stephen Jones would be represented by either his THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST OF BEST NEW HORROR or THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF NEW TERROR (many superlative stories and Jones is one of the great editors of the field, but his anthologies do labor under suspicions of cronyism); and Robert Aickman would be represented by his FONTANA BOOKS OF GREAT GHOST STORIES, but they are better taken as a whole. Karl Edward Wagner may have been the best annual year’s best editor of horror given his diverse tastes and how widely he combed for his selections, but no one volume of his was definitive.

  12. There are so many good ones. I’d like to mention the Hartwell anthologies, if only for their breadth and inclusiveness, but there are others, as well. Hecubot lists two that I think are terrific:
    FANTASTIC TALES, ed. Italo Calvino
    BLACKWATER, ed. Alberto Manguel

    I’d add:
    BLACKWATER 2, ed. Alberto Manguel

    The first is a compilation of stories well-known among aficionados, but which need to be reissued occasionally to keep the newer readership aware of them. The first Manguel does that, too, but also adds some less well-known, but no less flavorful stories. The second Manguel has fewer familiar (or, at least, familiar to me) tales, many stories I still haven’t seen in other anthologies.

  13. Yes to Dark Descent and to Black Water! But Stephen Jones’s best-of-the-best left me cold. He apparently decided to just publish the biggest names he could find from his best new horror anthologies and if his anthology is anything to go by only one or two women measured up over the last 20 years. It’s a fairly boring anthology and not worthy of the legacy being brought up here.

  14. A note for E.S. Anderson regarding PRIME EVIL

    You note PRIME EVIL as an original anthology, but at least one of the stories (Thomas Ligotti’s “Alice’s Last Adventure”) is a reprint. (The bibliography in THE THOMAS LIGOTTI READER says this story first appeared in SONGS FORDEAD DREAMER, three years prior to its appearance in PRIME EVIL).

    That having been said, I hear really good things about PRIME EVIL. A couple of months ago, I stumbled onto a first edition, first print version of this antho for about five bucks at my local Half-Price Books! Working on THE DARK DESCENT and several other anthos right now, but looking forward to digging into it.

  15. Allo Nicole,

    Whilst I was aware that “Alice’s Last Adventure” had been printed earlier, it was in a painfully limited venue (300 copies when Ligotti’s profile was considerably lower) and I believe that like most of the stories originally printed in the Silver Scarab Edition, it was considerably revised for its future reprintings; as such, I felt safe in referring to PRIME EVIL as an original anthology without that caveat. Mea culpa! I should have known better. Hahaha.

    I hope you enjoy PRIME EVIL once you get to it. It is something of a mixed affair as I noted, but the Cady story is masterful and I suspect that you will find much to enjoy in Harrison and Morrell’s contributions (also masterful).

    Upon reflection, I overlooked so much: the masterful BORDERLANDS and SHADOWS series, METAHORROR, Winter’s later REVELATIONS, John Pelan’s DARKSIDE anthologies (though much like Jones’ MAMMOTH BOOK anthologies, the transcendent resides alongside the banal), SHADES OF DARKNESS …

  16. Dark Forces!

    I suspect come Christmas morning it will become a tie w/ The Weird.

    A very close 2nd, perhaps only to me, would be Ellison’s Dangerous Visions.

  17. I’ll go for these three:

    The Supernatural Omnibus (edited by Montague Summers)
    Because it handily brings together a pretty representative cross-section of weird fiction from the genre’s first Golden Age; and because my own copy is falling to pieces after more than thirty years’ re-reading.

    The Dark Descent (edited by David G. Hartwell)
    Because it brings the reader up to date with developments in the second half of the 20th century, tying them in to the earlier traditions and showing how the genre had evolved.

    Black Water — The Book of Fantastic Literature (edited by Alberto Manguel)
    Because its breadth of reference — not to say its ambition — is unmatched, except in very recent times by (ahem) THE WEIRD. Everything that was missing from the first two books in this list, you will find here.

  18. 1) Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, ed. Phyllis Cerf Wagner and Herbert Wise — Ralph’s right. This is widely considered THE primer on classic supernatural and weird fiction. Many of the very best stories stories in the genre are collected in it’s pages, and the lesser known stories are mostly brilliant. Even the more naturalistic ‘terror’ tales are so vivid, grotesque and atmospheric that, supernatural or not, they fit snugly in the weird category. An obvious pick maybe, but for good reason.

    2) The Dark Descent, ed. David G. Hartwell — A massive collection of stories old and new, known and unknown, David G. Hartwell does a magnificent job of showing the imaginative range of horror/dark fantasy. Offering masterpieces from M.R. James, Dennis Etchison, Jean Ray, Robert Aickman, etc., this is the modern day equivalent to my number one pick. Hartwell’s companion piece ‘Foundations of Fear’ is also fantastic.

    3) Medley Macabre, ed. Bryan A. Netherwood — Another feast of weirdness, this jumbo collection features authors and stories the others missed (Wakefield’s utterly malignant “Lucky’s Grove”, with its nasty Christmas decorations, is a personal favorite), and once again covers an admirably wide variety of inexplicable occurrences and ghastly horrors. Sections include “Malign Influences, Sorceries, Evil Powers”, “Phantoms and Ghostly Visitations”, “Possession By Evil Influences”, “Prediction and Doom”, “Spiritualism and Magic”, and “Witchcraft and Satanism”; all the good stuff. A treasure trove, and a worthy companion to the better known collections above.

  19. I can’t believe no one has mentioned Borges and his Book of Fantasy. If books could mate and procreate, it would be Black Water’s mum, I think. 

    The book that I have is not English. It’s a lovely hardcover of a size of mass-market paperback with a spine you just want to pet. It’s not young, but it still smells right. (You don’t sniff books between their pages? Do you read them or something?) Unfortunately it misses a few stories from the original compilation (that are present in the American version) and it doesn’t have Ursula Le Guin’s foreword, but it starts with this story:

    How eerie!’ said the girl, advancing cautiously. And what a heavy door!’ She touched it as she spoke and it suddenly swung to with a click.
    ‘Good Lord!’ said the man, ‘I don’t believe there’s a handle inside. Why, you’ve locked us both in!’
    ‘Not both of us. Only one of us,’ said the girl, and before his eyes she passed straight through the door, and vanished.

    A good anthologist is like the girl from this story. He takes you down to the dungeon and closes the door. You can hear his receding demonic laughter as he takes his leave. But in a while you discover that you’re not alone. The book is there, the stories are good, and if you read carefully, you might even find out how to get out of the dungeon. Because among the stories where the protagonist has done everything wrong (and perished), there are hints that will increase your chances of survival if… well, just in case.

    Of course, you may never find such an attractive edition that I have, but the copies that are currently available would still enjoy a gentle spine rub.

  20. Gosh — this was a tough decision. All these delicious recommendations make me want to curl up with a good book instead of sitting here on the computer. Please note that many of these books are on our Top 10 list (which we will post later) but we were also looking for the best argument for a particular anthology.

    Our winner for this contest is Ralph Robert (Rob) Moore for his case for the classic Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, edited by Phyllis Cerf Wagner and Herbert Wise. Although we don’t condone ‘permanently borrowing’ books from the library, we certainly understand the motivation behind it. It is essential to instill the importance of good weird literature into people at a young age. Rob makes a great claim for this classic.

    We’d also like to mention the tempting Dutch book Leesgoed, presented by Léon Mulder. And now we’ve simply got to get our hands on this one. Although we won’t be able to read it, our daughter Erin can! And it’s yet another case of getting them hooked on the good stuff while they are young.

    One last entry that caught our attention was from Next Friday. We appreciated the description of this well-loved edition of The Book of Fantasy, edited by Jorge Luis Borges. And true bibliophiles understand the enticement to smell the books.

  21. What an odd site I have stumbled upon here? Fellow anthology enthuiasts! For years I was beginning to think I was stuck in a twilight zone episode? Asking for a gem by greenburg or silva was aparently the equivalent of requesting a fetus?(judging by their bewildered stares). So it is a delight,and as a thank you my top 3 are- Masques‑J.N. Williamson. 999-Al Sarrantonio. October Dreams-Richard Chizmar. Till next read…