By Jeff Baker
Some reading for Halloween, now. First I’ll open a can of worms and recommend a queer-themed story by a straight author, something a lot of readers or LGBT fiction won’t touch on principle, but this one’s good; “The Picture of Jonathan Collins,” by Karl Edward Wagner first appeared in the 1995 anthology “Forbidden Acts,” (edited by Collins, Greenberg and Kramer) which is where I first encountered it. Collins is suffering from amnesia of a sort after his house is bombed during the London blitz. Some fifty years earlier, and he hasn’t aged a day since, and can’t remember a thing from before the bombing. Collins collects fin de siècle pornography and has remembered an erotic photo session with Oscar Wilde during which Collins inadvertently becomes the inspiration for Dorian Gray. This causes him to search for and find the black and white photograph which he feels is the source of his immortality. This leads to a clever and shattering denouement.
On now, to the genuine Oscar Wilde; there are two versions of “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” the original, shorter version and a later expanded version. The later version is full of Wilde’s feelings about aestheticism, I recommend the earlier version. Readers unfamiliar with the book will find Gray as much of a monster as Dracula.
Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost” first appeared in 1887 and manages to spoof both Americans (Wilde had toured the U.S. in 1882) and the classic ghost story. In fact it starts out as a tale of the family that moves into the haunted mansion but rather than being terrorized they are more than a match for the ghost in a sequence with the feel of a Chuck Jones cartoon (removing the mysterious bloodstain on the floor with an American spot remover, scaring the phantom with a mock-up spectre and the like.) From this funny, clever opening it shifts into a sympathetic and sweet tale of redemption. The story has been reprinted, including in YA anthologies and is readily available and is well worth the reader’s time.
Fun reads. Happy Halloween!
Jeff Baker blogs about reading and writing sci-fi, horror and other sundry matters around the thirteenth of each month. His story “The Bob Show,” was recently published in Autonomous Press’ “Spoon Knife 3: Incursions,” an anthology of essays and stories by queer and neurodivergent authors. He blogs and posts fiction at http;//authorjeffbaker.com and on Facebook at Jeff Baker, Author. He lives in Wichita, Kansas with his husband Darryl.