Memento Mori

Memorial Day

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day which was originally begun as a remembrance day for the veterans of the Union. The North and the South each had their own remembrance days until they were combined in the 20th century. Now Veterans Day is for the living veterans and Memorial Day is to remember the dead.

I recently did a post on horror and World War II. However, while World War II is a popular war for horror fiction I wanted to make this post a little more general. With all due respect to active members of the service at this time, I’d like to focus on those past writers who have used their war experiences to shape their future writings. I will focus on more recently active members and their works on Veteran’s Day.

Contrary to my plans to make this a more general post and to my surprise, many authors who were called into service for World War II focused more on Science Fiction than the Horror genre. It could be that after witnessing so many real-life horrors it was harder to produce fictional horror. Perhaps they wanted to focus on what the future could be. Whether it be a grim future or hopeful one it is still an interesting genre to bring up many of the themes and psychology of war. Names like Robert Heinlen, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and L. Sprague de Camp are just a few of the Science Fiction pioneers that served in world War II.

There were, however, horror authors that also wrote fiction afterwards. Ambrose Bierce was one such author. Bierce served in the American Civil War. He was a journalist and a lot of his stories reflect that. They have an air of ‘reporting the facts’ to them coupled with a satirical and dark sense of humour. For example, in regards to his story “The Damned Thing” the first chapter is titled “One Does Not Always Eat What is on the Table”, referencing a body laid out on the table for burial. A later chapter is also entitled “A Man Though Naked May Be In Rags”, referencing the state of the body, having been mauled by an unseen predator. He disappeared after travelling to Mexico to cover the revolution there from a first-hand perspective.




Dennis Wheatley served during World War I and World War II. He wrote a series of occult thrillers, the two most well-known of which were The Devil Rides Out and The Duke de Richleau series, the first of which was The Prisoner in the Mask. His books show a wide range of the historical and the occult. He also edited several collections and supervised a series called The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult in which he selected the titles and wrote introductions for the books chosen. He also created several board games. The series mentioned below would be really awesome to have the originals of because they sound really cool and if someone did this now I’d be the first in line to buy them (thriller writers take note!).

“During the 1930s, he conceived a series of mysteries, presented as case files, with testimonies, letters, and pieces of evidence such as hairs or pills. The reader had to inspect this evidence to solve the mystery before unsealing the last pages of the file, which gave the answer. Four of these ‘Crime Dossiers’ were published: Murder Off Miami, Who Killed Robert Prentice, The Malinsay Massacre, and Herewith The Clues!.”  – Wikia – Fandom

Certainly a man of many talents.

Before being killed in action at the age of 40 during World War I, William Hope Hodgson led a very full life. He ran away from boarding school at the age of 13, hoping to become a sailor. After being caught and sent back to his family he eventually gained his father’s permission to become an apprentice. While at sea,Hodgson quickly developed a regimen of physical conditioning, a result of being on the receiving end of some vicious bullying while at sea. The theme of older sailors bullying their subordinates is a theme in many of his works. While at sea he also practiced another hobby of his. Photography. he also picked up the hobby of stamp collecting, practiced marksmanship during hunting parties while on land and kept journals of his time at sea. In 1898 he received the Royal Humane Society medal for heroism for rescuing another sailor who had fallen overboard into shark infested waters.

After returning home at the age of 22 he opened  W. H. Hodgson’s School of Physical Culture in Blackburn, England. The Blackburn Police force was among it’s members. After he closed the school he began writing newspaper articles (articles of physical health culture and pieces exposing the deplorable conditions under which apprentices in the Mercantile Navy were treated, giving facts and figures to support his claims), along with a few fiction pieces (inspired by Edgar Allan Poe) and some poetry. Much of the poetry was published posthumously.

What does all of this have to do with horror you might ask? His most well-known works are The Boats of the Glen Carrig, The House on the Borderland, and The Ghost Pirates. He considered these three to be a loose trilogy. During that time he also wrote short horror pieces. Inspired by Algernon Blackwood’s ‘John Silence’ occult detective stories he wrote a loose collection of short stories under the title Carnacki, the Ghost Finder. The title may be rather clunky but I personally loved them. As do others, going by the resurgence in ‘Carnacki’ pastiches.His last full length novel was The Night Land, which received critical praise.

As World War I was raging he received a commission as a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. In 1916 he was thrown from is horse and received a broken jaw and head injuries. For these injuries he received a mandatory discharge. After recovering enough to re-enlist he was killed by the direct impact of an artillery shell at the Fourth Battle of Ypres in April 1918.

Edith Wharton was born near the end of the American Civil War and was 3 years old when it ended. This was not the end of her involvement with war, though. Wanting more education and choices than the time offered she was not encouraged by her family nor her social circle. She eventually married but divorced her husband after 28 years of marriage. While living in Paris when World War I broke out, many Americans fled home. She, however, stayed in France and became a supporter of the French war effort. She opened a work-room for unemployed women in which they were fed and paid for their work. What began with thirty women soon grew to sixty. When the Germans invaded Belgium France was flooded with Belgium refugees. She helped set up American Hostels for Refugees which helped feed, clothe, shelter and helped to find employment. The next year she organized the Children of Flanders rescue Committee which gave shelter to nearly 900 displaced Belgians. Some of her efforts included the previously mentioned workrooms for the unemployed, charitable concerts to employ unemployed musicians, raising money for the war effort and opening tuberculosis hospitals. She also edited a book titled The Book of the Homeless which included essays, poetry, art and musical scores in an effort to raise more funds. She not only edited it but handled the business arrangements, lined up the contributors and translated the French pieces into English.

While she is best known for her novels The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth and Custom of the Country, she also wrote two collections of ghost stories: Tales of Men and Ghosts and Ghosts. She also referred to those who could sense spirits as Ghost-Feelers and believed that she herself was sensitive to them. They were later collected in a book titled The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. The two most well-known and most anthologized are Afterward and Kerfol.

Thank you for bearing with my rather long post. What I was hoping to reveal was that while war can bring out the worst in people it can also bring out the best. How many great works in Science Fiction and Horror might we be missing out on if not for the inspiration these authors gained? On the flip side how much more might some authors have written if not for their careers having been cut short? If I have missed any authors that you think should have been mentioned please do let me know in the comments below.  All of the author’s images link to their Goodreads author page.

2 thoughts on “Memento Mori

  1. For that matter, many of Bierce’s war stories are psychological horror stories as well. Consider “Chickamauga,” available online.

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