Connections between Christmas and the uncanny, the strange, and the macabre are nothing new. The ideas celebrated on the holiday—whether referring to modern Christian traditions or the ancient pagan traditions of Yule—appear readymade to celebrate and acknowledge that which is strange and unusual. It is a celebration built on the backs of drunken revelry, animal sacrifice, angelic visitation, and, of course, virgin birth.
Though the elements of the uncanny have been toned down over the last century in favor of corporate materialism and saccharine platitudes of togetherness and cheer, the built-in machinations of magic and otherworldliness are still prevalent. Indeed, the modern conception of Christmas is itself built on a ghost story. Tame though A Christmas Carol might be by modern standards, Charles Dickens did largely define how we celebrate and think of Christmas by weaving a story of a man haunted by a pack of ghosts. And, lest we forget, children the world over will spend their December daydreaming of a magical man who will sneak into their houses and creep around in the middle of the night.
For Christmas is still a special time; it is a time of year when all things seem possible, when the idea of magic seems something less than far-fetched, when the lines of reality appear, somehow, redrawn. Try though we might to associate this bending of reality with goodness, we can’t expect to change the rules without a few monsters creeping past the veil. Where there be magic, so exists the potential for horror. That is the playground provided by the new anthology, HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SCREAM.
Edited by esteemed horror author Christopher Golden, HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SCREAM assembles works from across the horror spectrum into a smorgasbord of Yuletide tricks and treats that would delight the stockings of any horror fan. Murder and mayhem; monsters and ghosts; hauntings and sorrow. The 18 stories collected here each harness both the spirit of Christmas and the macabre, delivering a spread of holiday fear that you’ll want to integrate into your annual traditions.
Like any decent anthology, Golden has chosen stories that represent the widest possible variety of horror from the terrifying to the strange to the darkly comedic. Scott Smith, author of the novel, The Ruins, channels the magical possibility of Christmas into a harrowing tale of a vacation gone wrong in “Christmas in Barcelona;” a former cult leader seeking absolution finds no respite in “Tenets,” from Bird Box author Josh Malerman; Jeff Strand, author of How You Ruined My Life, weaves a bitterly hilarious, pitch black story of one man’s attempts to write a new Christmas song in “Good Deeds;” Golden himself lends the bizarre revenge tale, “It’s A Wonderful Knife,” an almost perfect parable for the #metoo era.
Each story featured in HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SCREAM offers a series of fiendish delights that remembers that horror is supposed to be fun; even the darker tales, Like Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Second Floor of the Christmas Hotel” or Elizabeth Hand’s “Farrow Street” add to the almost playful atmosphere of the anthology, which ends up feeling a lot like attending a Christmas gathering of authors who are telling each other stories in between courses of an extravagant holiday feast.
As with any anthology, some entries are better than others while some are worse. Your favorite story will no doubt be another’s least favorite. That’s part of the fun of an anthology, of course, and Golden seems to recognize that each horror fan is coming to the genre for different reasons and does his best to ensure that all fans will walk away loving at least a few tales in his collection.
HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SCREAM is the perfect collection for the horror fan who still believes in the magic of Christmas, but have grown weary of tidings of comfort and joy. For those who are dreaming of a dark Christmas, who revel in the idea of jingle bell schlock, who long for an open fire that roasts more than just chestnuts, Golden acts as both Santa and Krampus giving his blessings of a scary Christmas to all…and to all a good fright.