20 September 2022 Handheld Weirds 7
Strange Relics is an anthology of classic short stories in which the supernatural and archaeology are combined, originally published from 1895 to 1954. Never before have so many relics from the past caused such delicious and intriguing shivers down the spine.
Archaeological historian Amara Thornton of the University of London, and Classical archaeologist Katy Soar from the University of Winchester have curated a selection of twelve outstanding short stories encompassing horror, ghosts, hauntings, and possession, all from archaeological excavation. From a Neolithic rite to Egyptian religion to Roman remains to medieval masonry to some uncanny ceramic tiles in a perfectly ordinary American sun lounge, the relics in these stories are, frankly, horrible.
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The stories in Strange Relics are:
- ‘The Ape’, by E F Benson (at his command)
- ‘Roman Remains’, by Algernon Blackwood (bestial rites in Wales)
- ‘Ho! The Merry Masons’, by John Buchan (a haunted medieval house)
- ‘Through the Veil’, by Arthur Conan Doyle (Roman ghosts)
- ‘View From A Hill’, M R James (beastly binoculars)
- ‘Curse of the Stillborn’, by Margery Lawrence (Egyptian death rites)
- ‘Whitewash’, by Rose Macaulay (the death caves of the Emperor)
- ‘The Shining Pyramid’, by Arthur Machen (prehistoric survival)
- ‘Cracks of Time’, by Dorothy Quick (the tiles are possessed)
- ‘The Cure’, by Eleanor Scott (Viking rituals)
- ‘The Next Heir’ by H D Everett (inherit at peril)
- ‘The Golden Ring’ by Alan J B Wace (Mycenaean treasure)
With a cover endorsement from Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology: ‘An entertaining selection that will take you closer to the past – not in ways you might have wanted – than mere archaeology could ever achieve. The book opens up new areas for research.’
‘Ancient remains and ghostly narratives often coincide in the popular imagination, providing fruitful inspiration for chilling tales … an insightful introduction placing the stories within their historical context – from 19th-century tourism to wartime preoccupations and the evolution of archaeology itself – an absorbing and unsettling read.’ – Current Archaeology
‘Even if they don’t cause sleepless nights, these stories offer plenty of food for thought about the ways in which survivals from the past have long provided inspiration for all manner of literary unpleasantness. An excellent introductory chapter by the editors discusses key themes and provides important context – in common with the sites and relics at the heart of these tales, the stories themselves are very much products of their time.’ – British Archaeology
‘A well put-together volume combining familiar favourites with lesser-known works.’ – British Science Fiction Association Review
‘The editors were upfront about their intention to avoid collecting only stories of white, male archaeologists discovering long-buried “exotic” horrors, and to avoid racism and othering as much as they could. They are also upfront that they haven’t been entirely successful, which I think says a lot about the canon they’re working with, and feels like a genuine regret … the collection is a step in the right direction towards highlighting that there does exist more to Weird archaeology than colonialism.’ – A Cat, A Book and A Cup of Tea
‘Handheld Press is doing a wonderful job of bringing attention to the various subgenres of 19th- and 20th-century supernatural and weird tales, and the focus of this volume is on what is perhaps my favourite subgenre of all – the archaeological supernatural story … a magnificent and well-chosen collection of stories that brings to light an important and intriguing subgenre of weird tale – the archaeological uncanny.’ – Francis Young
‘Strange Relics’ introduction from the editors highlights a very thoughtful approach to compiling the anthology. Determined not to include stories with racist tones or themes, the editors also explained that it was difficult to find stories that omitted these elements completely. Many of the explorations of the past in Strange Relics’ tales center around Roman ruins found in Britain, or British-occupied Egypt. But even with the motif of the colonizer, this assemblage of stories introduces an incredibly compelling idea: that we, the living in our forgetfulness, are colonizing the half-forgotten past of the dead.’ – What Sleeps Beneath
‘A satisfying collection of uncanny, although Handheld is the sort of press that makes me want to use unheimlich instead … ‘Ho! The Merry Masons’ for my money is one of the scarier entries (based almost entirely on my deep antipathy for Roslyn Chapel which is both a virtuoso display of the master masons work and deeply unheimlich). I absolutely go with the mood in this one. ‘Roman Remains’ by Algernon Blackwood, Rose Macaulay’s ‘Whitewash’, and Eleanor Scott’s ‘The Cure’ have the same effect. It’s altogether a really strong collection of stories that work well together thematically with several tropes reappearing in ways that underline their significance in the decades they’re being written in. In turn, this reflects our corresponding preoccupations of the times. It’s also just excellent as a collection of the weird.’ – Desperate Reader
‘To gather together a collection of short stories linking archaeology and the supernatural might appear blindingly obvious to fans of horror and ghost stories, as it has must have been done before. However I couldn’t find previous evidence of such a literary project. So, Strange Relics is a very welcome book: the intersection of the past and present, with ancient relics, being the catalyst for a disaster or profound shock, is a compelling idea.’ – Magonia
‘This collection provides some fascinating insight into how the boom in archeology influenced our horror literature.’ – The Gothic Library
‘Strange Relics is yet another excellent anthology in Handheld’s run of weird writing and the editors’ selection of tales, some old favourites but many less well-known pieces like Rose Macaulay’s slight but still-chilling “Whitewash,” is only heightened by their overarching philosophy of what archeology is and how it can be used to reflect on one of the key elements of horror—is it worse for things to end prematurely or for them to persist beyond their allotted span?’ – Dead Reckonings
We made a short series of short videos about the stories in Strange Relics: watch them here!
Amara Thornton talks about E F Benson’s ‘The Ape’
Katy Soar talks about Arthur Machen’s ‘The Shining Pyramid’
Amara Thornton talks about H D Evwritt’s ‘The Next Heir’
Katy Soar talks about Alan J B Wace’s ‘The Golden Ring’
You can watch the launch talk with Amara and Katy for Westminster Libraries here.
You may also be interested in these other Handheld Weirds
Women’s Weird: the original anthology edited by Melissa Edmundson. Contains thirteen excellent supernatural stories encompassing the boundaries of Weird by outstanding women authors. Includes stories by Edith Wharton, May Sinclair, Margery Lawrence and E Nesbit.
Women’s Weird 2: our second anthology edited by Melissa Edmundson, this collection of short supernatural fiction from 1893 to 1937 covers new geographical territory with fiction from Canada, Australia, India, the USA and New Zealand.
British Weird: edited by James Machin, this collection of short supernatural fiction from 1981 to 1937 displays an unsettling mastery of Weird preoccupations.
The Villa and The Vortex, by Elinor Mordaunt: we bring this exceptionally good writer of Weird fiction back into print with this new anthology of her best supernatural writing.
The Outcast and The Rite, by the Australian writer Helen De Guerry Simpson, this collects the best of her unsettling supernatural writing, adding some little-known stories to her 1925 collection The Baseless Fabric.
From the Abyss, by D K Broster, a spectacularly good collection of the Weird short fiction that this very popular historical novelist wrote alongside her fiction of the eighteenth century.
The Unknown, by Algernon Blackwood. A collection of his essays and short fiction about the immeasurable, the inconceivable, and incomprehensible.
The Living Stone, curated by Henry Bartholomew. An anthology of classic short stories to evoke the sensation of something heavy scraping its way up the stairs, or a granite-cold hand on your shoulder.
The House of Silence, a new anthology of the best of E Nesbit’s ghost stories, from 1891 to 1922. To be published on 14th May 2024.