In the late '60s, there had been something of an occult revival, with all manner of mysticism, witchcraft and black magic finding its way into pop culture, as the new generation explored a host of alternative beliefs and ideas. However in 1973 things hit a peak with the release of William Friedkin's adaptation of William Peter Blatty's novel The Exorcist. The novel became a global bestseller and the movie was a worldwide box office smash, making The Devil not only hip, but very good business too.
Naturally there was a whole wave of similarly Satanic themed books and movies following not only after. At the time in the UK, publishers were still doing good business with legions of horror anthologies, and naturally in the Exorcist boom years a good few were produced in a demonic vein. And one such anthology was The Devil's Children, assembled by one of the legends of horror anthologies the late great Mr Michael Parry.
Parry, who sadly passed away last year, was one of the holy trinity of editors alongside Peter Haining and Richard Davis, names I soon learned and indeed loved in my early years as a weird fiction fan. He curated many excellent collections of weird fiction, but The Devil's Children has a special place in my heart as the first of his anthologies I ever read. And nostalgia aside it's still a cracking round-up of tales about demons and exorcists - see for yourself!
Enoch by Robert Bloch
Father Meuron’s Tale by R. H. Benson
Vacant Possession by Ramsey Campbell
The Horla by Guy De Maupassant
The Thing on the Doorstep by H. P. Lovecraft
Saunder’s Little Friend by August Derleth
A Porta Inferi by 'Roger Pater' (Dom Gilbert Roger Hudlestone)
The Lips by Henry S. Whitehead
From Shadowed Places by Richard Matheson
The Unspeakable Betrothal by Robert Bloch
Isabo by J. A. Cuddon
The Possession of Angela Bradshaw by John Collier
There's no doubt about it, we have some of the brightest and the best here, along side a few surprises. The likes of Lovecraft, Bloch and Matheson surely need no introduction, and while back when this book was published he was still a young writer making ripples in the horror pond, Ramsey Campbell is now a big fish too. John Collier is a big name too, and while not known for his macabre fiction, he is widely recognised as one of the masters of the short tale. Weird fiction fans will also recognize August Derleth, Henry S Whitehead and RH Benson. Whitehead's The Lips is regarded as one of his finest stories, as is Father Meuron's Tale by RH Benson, brother of noted ghost story writers EF Benson and AC Benson. Maupassant's The Horla of course is a bona fide classic, and while it is more commonly thought of a vampiric tale, in truth it works just as well as a story of demonic invasion.
Aside from a top flight selection of tales and writers, what makes The Devil's Children such fun is the diversity in the tales. Of course we have the traditional confrontations between priests and the possessed as you would expect, but Parry serves up a wide menu of demoniac terrors. Good old Robert Bloch gives us a tale of backwoods American witchcraft in Enoch, and then later gives us a far stranger tale of unholy pacts with otherworldly powers in The Unspeakable Betrothal which plays with hints from the Cthulhu Mythos but without being the usual Mythos tale. Whitehead and Matheson bring us tales not of Christian devils but of the more exotic sorceries of voodoo and juju, while Ramsey Campbell gives us a hallucinatory nightmare of woodland witchcraft and elemental possession. JA Cuddon's Isabo is horrific but rich in jet black humour and John Collier ends the collection with his tongue in his cheek and a knowing devilish wink.
While there have been many short story collections themed around witchcraft, possession and black magic, there are few as rich and varied as The Devil's Children, and fewer still that featured such a talented roster of writers. It's a great introduction to the anthologies of Michael Parry, and one any armchair discipline of the dark arts should have their shelves.