Monday, 7 November 2011

Lest You Should Suffer Nightmares - Johnny Mains (Screaming Dreams, 2011)

First off, this is a beautiful looking book.  The cover features a painting of Van Thal, the original of which can be seen hanging on the back cover, behind author Johnny Mains on the wall of his study.  Inside, the frontispiece contains another image of Van Thal, above the signatures of author and artist (Les Edwards, incidentally), and a note of which number of the limited run of 100 copies you currently hold (mine is 11).  Even the paper the publishers have used feels richer than the norm, and - although I don't know if this is standard - a bookmark of the cover had been slotted inside my copy.  This is a really lovely artifact...

It's also a fascinating little study of someone who most horror fans could name, but of whom most presumably know nothing beyond his name and the fact he was editor for most of the Pan horror series.  Fortunately Johnny Mains - in many ways Mr Pan Horror, and a genuine book loving eccentric of the sort I always worry are disappearing in this electronic age - is on hand to tease out every possible fact about the man, and then present them in a relaxed, readable (and thankfully not entirely hagiographic) manner. 

I'd read an earlier, shorter version of the essay which serves as the basis of this book in an earlier Mains tome, but there's sufficient new information in this extended version to make the update worthwhile.  Better even than the new info, though, are the reprints of letters from Van Thal to various Pan authors, and the series of interviews Mains carried out with many of the surviving Pan authors.  The book is rounded off by a reprinted article, written by Mains, from SFX magazine, charting the history and possible future of Van Thal's most famous creation, the Pan Book of Horror Stories.

Highly recommended, if you can get your hands on a copy...

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