John Silence, Physician Extraordinary
(1908) written by Algernon Blackwood
These are gripping tales predate Lovecraft, with all the intensity of a good Call of Cthulhu game about a psychic detective. Great stories made all the more interesting due to their relatively early date.
(1932) written and directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
This obscure masterpiece shares Nosferatu’s (1922) sense of not being an entertainment, not for fun, almost as though we were daring to view found footage. This is serious surrealism, unnerving from the outset and very powerful cinema. Created by an independent film maker, Dreyer was a dilettante, the footage is unsettling, and the air of threat ever present. No amount of modern special effects could equal this.
Bride of Frankenstein
(1935) directed by James Whale
This is possibly the finest horror of the period. There are so many iconic moments in this film, and if you watch it in the right frame of mind, not with a modern sensibility and a jaded slasher movie temperament, but as if it is being screened for the first time, it still causes judders. Ernest Thesiger toasting to “Gods and Monsters” and Elsa Lanchester’s spine tingling appearance at the end are incredible.
(1981) written by John Crowley
This meandering tale is not outright fantasy and this is what I love about it. Folklore and legend seem to weave their way through the real world. Crammed with wondrous ideas, the story is slow-paced, free from conflict, but memorable. It has lingered in my mind since 1983, when I read it first.
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
(1977) written by Stephen Donaldson
If there was any series of books which influenced my dungeon mastering more than any other, it was this. The shear breadth of concepts and ideas kept me page-turning through all the first six books, in around two months of reading. Many of these ideas have since found their way into my games.
(1983) written by Mark Helprin
Similar to Little, Big, this tale takes a parallel world like our own and drenches it in an urban mythology of heroism. A fantastical and thoroughly absorbing parallel world we can identify with. This is how I want my games to be.
Casting the Runes
(1911 onwards) and other stories written by M.R. James
Similar to Lovecraft, M.R.James warns us to refrain from unguarded curiosity, that just beneath the surface of the mundane, lie ancient terrors, ghosts and malevolent spirits waiting to be released. The musty scent of the English flavours of these tales reflects the fact that James was a medieval scholar and provost of King’s College who counted Christopher Lee as one of his students.
Now I need to go off and rekindle my love of Blackwood‘s weird and wonderful work!