Peter Haining presents the
Freaks, Monsters, Ghouls etc. by Masters of the Macabre
Edited by: Peter Haining
Publisher: Thomas Nelson Inc.
Amazon: Price may vary
Freak shows and carnival acts are all but extinct, but their legacy lives on through Peter Haining presents the FREAK SHOW: Freaks, Monsters, Ghouls, etc. by Masters of the Macabre. This collection of nineteen novelettes and short stories represent the different aspects of a freak show. It was first published in 1970 with five more editions following. For this review, I read the hardback version produced in 1972. Accompanying each brief and hopefully spoiler-free synopsis, I’ve labeled in parentheses, next to the title, what part of the freak show the story represents as outlined in the book.
The Magician by Daniel Defoe – c. 1726 — (Fortune Telling)
A doctor in Bristol Fair with perceived divination powers is often called upon to predict the future, mostly by young maidens wondering if they will marry. One such maiden pays the doctor a visit to ask that very question. After talking with the maiden the doctor comes to find that the girl is pregnant and her lover has abandoned her. The doctor predicts that her lover will return, make restitution, and marry her. The doctor has no power to see into the future but makes his prediction come true.
Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe – c. 1849 — (The Jester)
The story of Hop-frog takes place in an era where monarchs ruled and ridiculed their court jesters for entertainment. Hop-Frog and his partner Trippetta entertained the king and his council. Both are mistreated by the court as most servants were, but Hop-Frog knows how to manipulate this sovereign and his council of nine. Where the court is usually laughing at Hop-Frog and Trippetta, Hop-Frog turns the tables and gets the last laugh on them.
Spurs by Tod Robbins – c. 1923 — (Freaks)
Jacques Courbé, a performing circus dwarf falls in love with a fellow performer, a beautiful bareback horse rider named Jeane. Jacques admires her from afar for she is already involved with another, her riding partner. Jacques doesn’t make his feeling known until inheriting an estate, providing financial comfort for him and Jeane. He bravely asks for her hand in marriage which she accepts, but Jeane is not sincere in her acceptance. She knows a man of Jacques stature would not live long. Jeane plans to bide her time until she inherits all Jacques wealth and then to marry her bareback horse rider lover. After the ceremony on their wedding day and too much wine, she publicly humiliates Jacques in front of their guests, believing she can dominate Jacques due to his short stature. She makes him the subject of ridicule and laughter. She enters into a wager with her horse rider lover, her last insult to her new husband, that she can carry the little man from one end of France to the other. It’s a wager that Jacques makes sure she will win.
The Ampoi Giant by Clark Ashton Smith c. 1949 — (Giant)
Jim Knox, A freak show giant meets an inquisitive doctor who wishes to know the origins of the man’s unnatural stature. Jim tells the doctor that he wasn’t born with a glandular or genetic defect as some with gigantism. His transformation took place when he visited New Guinee in search of a fabled tribe who traded mirrors, beads, and other trinkets for precious rubies and is rumored to have women of giant size.
The Dwarf by Ray Bradbury c. 1948— (Dwarf)
Amiee the proprietor of the ring toss at the carnival pays a visit to Ralph who tends the funhouse. Inside the funhouse among the twisting maze are mirrors which distort one’s appearances. At times when business is slow a single returning customer, a dwarf spends his dime to enjoy the empty funhouse. He losses himself for great lengths in the funhouse enjoying the distorted mirrors that make him appear normal sized. Sympathetic to the shy little patron Amiee secretly tries to raise his self-esteem, while Ralph is only interested in teasing and tormenting his returning customer leading to a deadly situation.
The Gnarly Man by L. Sprague de Camp c. 1939 — (Ape Man)
While visiting a carnival Dr. Matilda Saddler, anthropologist, enters the freak tent to witness the items on display. All are the normal hoaxes but for the last attraction, the Ape Man. There is something familiar about him which she can’t place. She returns several times before brokering a meeting with the Ape Man. In their meeting, the Ape Man relieves that he is, in fact, a Neanderthal and was born around 50,000 BC, surviving by moving often and keeping a low profile. In exchange for insight into the unrecorded lives throughout history and his true identity, Dr. Saddler would get the Ape Man medical attention from Dunbar, a renowned and expensive medical doctor, to fix his pre-medicine healed injuries which impede his movement. Dunbar, however, has something else in mind for the Neanderthal.
The Gay Deceiver by Mildred Clingerman c. 1961 — (The Entertainer)
Verna, a young lady, travels with a much older man, Papa Frolic from town to town as he puts on musical performances with his flutes at fairs and civic events. Verna finds his music hypnotizing and euphoric. It evokes images of returning to her place of origin
s but not to her home or place of birth. She cooks and cleans the low rent hotel rooms they stay in and is content with her place. Papa Frolic, however, could care less if Verna stays or goes.
Upon entering a new town they usually take a room in the poorest section of town. While Papa Frolic is selling and out handing out balloons to the underprivileged children, Verna must buy papers from the surrounding towns. She checks for festivals or events in which Papa Frolic can perform at. She is also told to pick up a newspaper from the town they just left, which always concerns her. The same story always shows up after they leave town. Young children found inside abandoned refrigerators; trapping themselves inside and suffocating to death.
The Rabbit Prince by Davis Grubb c. 1964 — (Magician)
Tom Spoon is not a good student and hates his third-grade teacher Miss Tinkens. He can’t wait to be rid of her. Unfortunately, Tom is such a poor student Miss Tinkens would not allow him to move up to the next grade. He will have to endure her for another semester. Not allowed to take part in the advancement celebration Tom walks back home. Fuming about his situation he comes across the wagon of a traveling magician just outside of town. The magician is not allowed to perform in town and has had no customers. Tom needing some cheering up pays the magician to put on his show with the money his mother gave him to pay for the school party. The magician does so with great enthusiasm. After the show the magician thanks Tom for his patronage and tells him he may have any wish he wants. He thinks hard and asks that the magician turn Miss Tinkens into a rabbit. Tom gets his wish but quickly wishes he didn’t.
Beidenbauer’s Flea by Stanley Ellin c. 1964 — (Flea Circus)
On a park bench in Central Park, Thaddeus Beidenbauer a former fleas circus owner retells the tragic story of his famous flea circus. Thaddeus had the greatest fleas circus anyone had seen. It all changed when his strong man got ill, died, and replaced. Thaddeus wanted only the best for his circus which lead him to Berlin. His new strong man, Casimir took the spotlight away from the current star of the show, Sebastian, the great Punchinello, a clown. To make matters worse Selina, Sebastian’s lover fell in love with Casimir which triggered a flea’s murder.
The Power of the Puppets by Fritz Leiber c. 1941 — (Puppet Show)
Delia is worried about her husband Jock, a puppeteer, and asks an old detective friend George to help out. Jock hasn’t been the same since his accident in London where he crushed his fingers. He no longer allows her to perform with him on stage. Instead, he puts on a one-man show, a Punch and Judy show, which only requires two puppets. He doesn’t allow her access to his workshop and his hands are always covered or in his pockets. She fears he has no hands at all. But even stranger is the way his puppets move. Their movements are too fluid and possess greater dexterity than a puppeteer could give. She shows George one of the new puppets. They aren’t puppets but masks. She hears voices other than her husbands in his workshop that threaten him. Delia believes Jock is using trained mice which he forces to perform inside his new puppets. George looks into the matter and reveals the puppeteer’s tricks.
The Rising Man by Joseph Payne Brennan c. 1958 — (Levitation)
The hypnotist at Morgan’s Wonder Carnival searches the crowd for a volunteer to demonstrate his power of hypnosis. A volunteer steps up and is quickly put into a trance. But a disruptive spectator throws a popcorn ball at the volunteer, breaking the hypnotist’s spell. Unable to hypnotize the volunteer again, the hypnotist looks for a replacement among the audience; the man who threw the popcorn ball. The distributive spectator takes the stage and the hypnotist puts the man into a trance. He has the man lie down on the stage and then tells him to rise. Rise as in levitate which the man’s body does. As the man’s body raises off the wooden stage the hypnotist falls dead after clutching his chest. With the hypnotist dead the volunteer continues to play out his last command.
Jizzle by John Wyndham c. 1954 — (Mind Reader)
Ted Torby, an elixir salesman at the circus purchases a monkey named Jizzle from a man at a bar who tells him that the monkey will make him rich. The monkey will draw whatever is in front of her. Ted sets up a test show for the other members of the circus which is a great success. To prove it’s not a trick Ted even gets John Dindell, El Magnifico the lion tamer to have his portrait made by Jizzle.
Tom’s show is a great success and each performance full of paying customers. Rosie his wife, is not happy though. She feels the Jizzle is constantly mocking her and leaves her husband’s show to work with others acts in the circus. This causes a large rift in their marriage. Then one day Tom, steaming mad, confronts Rosie with a picture drawn by Jizzle of Rosie and El Magnifico in a romantic embrace. Rosie and El Magnifico runoff together; never heard from again. Distraught Tom no longer wishes to continue the show and has George Haythorpe of the rifle range to take over the show while retaining a percentage of the earnings. Then one day George, steaming mad, bangs on Tom’s door with fire in his eyes, holding a rifle in one hand and Jizzle’s drawing in the other.
Carousel by August Derleth c. 1945 — (Side Show)
At an abandoned amusement park, shut down after a black man went on a murderous rampage, Marcia rides the carousel operated by her dark-skinned playmate. She often loses track of time and is late for dinner much to her stepmother’s displeasure and ire.
Marcia tells her father who only wants to hear the truth from her, that black man who operates the carousel for her and is going to protect her and her father from their mean stepmother who finds excuses to discipline her. Knowing no such person of color lives in the area he believes the friend is an imaginary one. Marcia goes to ride the carousel after her stepmother forbids her too but she has no fear as her stepmother pursues. She has protection.
Heads You Win by Esther Carlson c. 1953 — (The Man With A Tail)
A young man writes to a health column in a newspaper because he feels he has a problem, he has a tail. The author replies that the young man should embrace his differences. Emboldened, the young man sets off to find a use for his rear appendage and not the way he originally thought.
Girl from Mars by Robert Bloch c. 1950 — (The Platinum Girl)
Ace Clawson the owner of a sideshow is experiencing a string of bad luck. Low attendance and his lover, the girl from Mars has run off with another man. One rainy afternoon, Ace sends his crew out to get lunch knowing he isn’t going to get any business in this weather. He sits and sulks in the quiet midway until a beautiful young platinum blond with a nice figure dressed in a grey jumper lifts his spirit. She talks kinda funny, not really having a good grasp on the English language. Ace assumes she’s Swedish. In her broken English, she claims, she’s the girl from Mars and is hungry. Ace a predatory chauvinist directs the girl to the empty sideshow tent to take advantage of her but feeds the girl first.
At Last, the True Story of Frankenstein by Harry Harrison c. 1965 — (The Monster)
As a reporter for the News Syndicate, it is Dan Bream’s job to find a good story and write about it. Dan caught wind of a carnival show run by a man calling himself Frankenstein V. He had a real Frankenstein’s monster as part of his act which was obviously fake but that wasn’t the story Dan was going to break. Dan follows the show on its tour waiting for the right time to get the last bit of information for his piece. Things are going great until Dan finds out he isn’t the first reporter to pursue this story.
Mutants for Sale by Eric Frank Russel c. 1962 — (Animal Freaks)
Nobody likes being taken advantage of, even Albert Edward Malachi Jenson reporter for the Morning Call. When Jenson sees the sign “Mutants for Sale” in the shop window he believes it’s a gag. When he makes inquiries to the proprietor, a dwarf, he discovers the sign is no gag and one should be careful about what you wish for.
Horror Howce by Margaret St Clair c. 1952— (The Horror Show)
Horror houses are big money and Dickson-Hawes’ job is to look out and buy new attractions for his company. He pays a visit to Freeman who creates extremely detailed and immersive attractions. Freeman’s unmatched in his technical skill with the machinery that brings to life his horror house attractions. Oddly, Freeman is nervous during the tour and constantly asks Dickson-Hawes to keep his voice down at each attraction. The reason becomes clear by the end of the story.
Big Sam Was My Friend by Harlan Ellison c. 1958 — (The Future)
In the future when men live among the stars, the circus still thrives. Their acts are a bit different from the way they were centuries ago. Trapeze artists are only in danger of falling if they lose their powers of anti-grav. Even the lion tamer had a device to get him out of danger if he can’t mental control his big cats. Then there is Sam whose act was teleporting from place to place. Though for Sam even with the power to get himself out of danger he has to want too which he chooses not to do on Giuliu II.
Going into this book I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the list of authors, I expected to get a few stories that I would like and maybe ideas to use later in an RPG session. I did like some of the stories but not most. Hop-Frog, Spurs, The Power of the Puppets, The Rising Man, Girl from Mars, and At Last, the True Story of Frankenstein provided me with the most enjoyment and inspiration. Most of the stories seem better-suited as episodes on shows like “The Night Gallery” or “Tales from the Darkside” where you can get away with a half-hour story that lacks depth but provides a punch at the end for the viewers. The horror content inside was not nearly as scary as the antiquated commonplace attitudes depicted in some of the stories. Personally, I wouldn’t suggest putting this on your Amazon wishlist anytime soon. Though if you find this in a used book store for cheap or in the stacks in your local library take a chance and read through a couple of stories, they are short. You might find inspiration to use in your games.
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