FORBES’ STRANGE GARDENS OF THE MIND REVIEWED
By A.M. Stickel, 3.27.07
…For the darkness often brings,
The soft whispering of wings…
From Chris Forbes’ “Disquietude” (page 67)
Long have I sought a worthy successor
to the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, W.H. Hodgson, and E.A. Poe. Finally, as a BLACK PETALS contributor, I had the lucky chance
of reading for illustration—and later, editing—the short stories of author Chris Forbes, who presently resides
in my home state of California . What a delight to discover his 2006 Fossil Publications limited edition of uniquely eerie
short stories and dark poetry: Strange Gardens of the Mind. Only a leather-bound, parchment-paged, ornately-illustrated copy
of his memoirs would have occasioned greater joy.
these are tales with teeth, they are written with restrained exuberance; readers expecting gore, bloodshed, and crude language
can look elsewhere. Subtle horror like Forbes’ releases the imagination to fly high and far enough to convince fans
to sleep with their night lights on. Shifting shadows, the cloud-shrouded moon, the memory-haunted invalid, derelict manses,
lonely inns, forbidding woods, fever dreams and madness—of such dark enchantments are Forbes’ poetic tales and
their companion poems spun.
First and foremost, the elegant
language of a bygone era vivifies each piece and adds to their authentic flavor of classic horror. Here is an example from
Forbes’ “Legia’s Daughter”: “…her large and darkly expressive eyes seemed to encompass
me in their orbits…” (page 53). For the romantically inclined, the occasional stories or poems of star-crossed
(and even cross-species) lovers include two of my favorites, “At Your Touch I Tremble” and “From Innusmuth
with Love.” Revealing Forbes’ ministerial bent, his few “morality tales,” such as “The People
of the Tower,” are executed in a tasteful and honest manner.
A small number of pages exhibit
copy errors, but not so many as to distract the most meticulous of those among us who love to find the nits (as I confess
I do). This is all to the credit of Forbes’ editor/sponsor, Kenneth Crist of Fossil Publications, who can be counted
among the author’s most ardent supporters. Aside from the dedication, brief biography and introduction, the body of
the book is divided into the following four segments—“Arrivals,” “Departures,” “Visitations,”
and “Epitaphs”—alternating poetry with prose. 15 poems and 17 stories are presented in easy-to-read print
on 96 pages, the front cover featuring a Victorian house with a graveyard “garden,” and the back cover an enigmatic
photo of the stoic-appearing author (who eschews the computer and even the typewriter to write all of his manuscripts by hand).
An aura of melancholy pervades
the collection, of wishes unfulfilled, opportunities missed, youth and strength sapped, and worse…as in this scene from
page 92: “Poverty, exhaustion, despair and epilepsy had rendered a solemn verdict upon my poor friend.” The settings
range from New England—Arkham, Danesport, Dunwich, and the environs of Innusmuth—to old London and even present-day
Afghanistan. Each is exquisitely, yet briefly described, as are the characters set within them…for the most part young
adults. Although the stories appear to address youths and their predicaments, the literary quality of the work will more likely
appeal to their elders. Thus, I hope to see a reissuance of Strange Gardens of the Mind with improved copy in the not-too-distant
future. For now, $12 seems a pittance to pay for one of the finest small paperbacks I’ve come across in quite awhile.
or mail your check and request to Fossil Publications, 11627 Taft Wichita , KS 67209 . And do hurry.