Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Favourite (vintage) Short Stories

Who doesn't love a good short story? A fraction of the effort of a full-length novel; and, if you're lucky, just as much of a punch. Here's a list of some of my favourites:

Adventure:

The Sin of the Bishop of Modenstein by Anthony Hope


You've read The Prisoner of Zenda, we hope. You were intrigued and properly shocked by the wild, the wicked, the strangely attractive Rupert of Hentzau. But did you know that not all Rupert's ancestors were wild and wicked? Some of them were wild and good, and it was said of the Hentzaus that the good ones feared God, and the bad ones didn't, but none of them ever feared anything else beside. The delightful Bishop of Modenstein is a case in point...


The Sire de Maletroit's Door by Robert Louis Stevenson

One should never pass through a door that appears to be open for no discernible reason upon a street full of rascals; but if one should be so foolish as to do so, he might as well be ready for what waits on the other side.


The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell

This is one of the most famous short stories ever written, and the plot has been imitated so many times in so many television shows (as diverse as Get Smart and Dollhouse) that you probably already feel familiar with it; but this is the classic, the first, and the best. Cast away on a sinister island, Rainsford learns the horrible secret of the Most Dangerous Game in the most unpleasant way possible...


The Lemnian by John Buchan

Why are so few stories written about Thermopylae? And yet this one isn't about a Spartan. It's about a Lemnian, a man not even supposed to be there, a man who hates the Spartans. Buchan's unforgettable story brings ancient Greece to life—or, more importantly, to something a little larger.


Mystery:

The Sins of Prince Saradine by GK Chesterton

I admit I haven't read all of Chesterton's Father Brown stories—I seriously doubt anyone could, and remain quite right in the head—but of all the ones I've read, this is one of the most memorable, partly because of the brilliant misdirection and twist...and partly because of the colours, the violent chiaroscuro of sun and sky that Chesterton excelled in evoking with nothing but black ink and white paper.


Horror:


Space by John Buchan

I don't know exactly why, of all Buchan's masterful eerie stories, I find this most disturbing. How did he make the coldly mathematical so much more terrifying than the ancient and bloody numinous (see, for example, The Wind in the Portico or The Grove of Ashtaroth)? However it was done, I find it truly scary—and it's possibly the only entry in the undeveloped genre of mathematical horror!


A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor

This is still the only story I've read by Flannery O'Connor, that sweet Catholic lady who was so given to writing really, really, really disturbing short stories. Unlike 99% of really disturbing short stories about serial killers, however, this one is not about random acts of violence in a meaningless world, but frightening works of Divine Grace in an unsafe universe.


Humour:

Gertrude the Governess by Stephen Leacock

Leacock, the great satirist, here takes on late-Victorian melodrama in the style of Ethel M Dell and her sobbing sisterhood. The result is one long laugh from beginning to end, and I only wish you could have the benefit of my deceased maternal grandfather's copy of this story, which has rude comments written in the margins that somehow manage to make it even funnier. I will not further describe the story to you, save to say that Leacock is in some sort the spiritual father of the celebrated Goon Show, which in turn influenced Monty Python. Enjoy.


The Coming of Gowf by PG Wodehouse

I had reserved this slot for Mulliner's Buck-U-Uppo, my favourite of all Wodehouse's Mulliner stories, but as that is not available online, this is the clear second choice. It is unique among all Wodehouse's short stories in that it is set in an ancient quasi-Babylonian kingdom; it's possibly the only Conan-the-Barbarian-style golf story you'll ever read. Has been one of my favourites for years, despite the fact that it's a golf story and I've never played golf in my life. A Mixed Threesome and Sundered Hearts from the same collection are also particularly good.


The Cast-Iron Canvasser by Banjo Paterson


The Inventor would have argued that it was no good wasting his wonderful invention on a tiny town in the Australian Outback. But the firm of Sloper and Dodge, publishers and printers, were pretty sure it was the ghastly automatic salesman itself that was the problem.


The Loaded Dog by Henry Lawson

Australia's best-loved short story tells of the kind of frantic afternoon three dimwitted prospectors might expect to have if they should be so silly as to let their brainless mutt anywhere near a homemade bomb...

Lawson also wrote some short stories I don't care for at all—I'm a Paterson supporter—but I cannot possibly finish without highly recommending another of his hilarious dog stories, We Called Him “Ally” For Short.

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