Pan Book of Horror Stories

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The Pan Book of Horror Stories was a paperback series of short horror story anthologies published by Pan Books Ltd. The series ran to thirty volumes, the first published in 1959.

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The series was initially collected and edited by Herbert Van Thal. On Van Thal’s death Clarence Paget edited the series, from volume twenty-six until its demise with volume thirty in 1989.

Although Van Thal was synonymous with the series, it’s interesting to note that, unlike the editors of some similar collections, he didn’t write any sort of introduction to the stories.

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The early editions of the Pan Book of Horror Stories were notable for Van Thal’s introduction of stories by new authors alongside classics of the genre. The first edition included works by Joan Aiken, Jack Finney, Nigel Kneale, Peter Fleming, Muriel Spark, Bram Stoker and C. S. Forester. Later volumes feature Ray Bradbury and Lord Dunsany among others.

After volume nine, Van Thal placed a heavier reliance on new authors. The series grew in popularity and was the stepping stone for much blossoming talent. However, in the early eighties a slow decline in standards was observed. Many critics decried the series for its emphasis on gruesome and sadistic stories and increasingly lurid and gory covers, similar to the works of James Herbert, Guy N. Smith and other so-called ‘nasty’ authors. But while the horror literary establishment increasingly held their noses at the mere though of the books, for many younger readers – some of whom would go on to become writers themselves – the books were a first introduction to horror fiction. In the era of the Video Nasty, the very fact that these books were so un-respectable made them all the more exciting for teenagers.

The mainstream popularity of the series rose again in the late eighties but a multitude of reprint stories from Stephen King and a severe slide in quality ended the iconic series in 1989. The last book is now a rare collectors item, due to the small print run it received.

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A US edition of the first Pan book was released by Gold Medal, an imprint of Fawcett Publications and books 3 – 5 were released by Berkley Medallion. While the first book was complete in its contents – the other three books gave only a small selection of its UK counterparts.

A reprint of the initial Pan Book of Horror was published in October 2010, with an introduction by Pan expert Johnny Mains. A revival of the series has often been discussed, but has yet to come to fruition – the British paperback market is now very different than in the 1970s and 80s, and there may well be no room in the mainstream for such collections anymore. However, other ongoing series such as The Black Book of Horror (now in its ninth edition) have taken inspiration from these classic titles, in terms of style, cover design and content.

Further reading:

Pandaemonian blog – All thirty volumes analysed and reviewed

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2 Comments on “Pan Book of Horror Stories”

  1. I totally agree with you regarding the standard of the books in the later series. Contrary to what some have said about the deterioration of the quality of the stories, they did NOT; they were, in fact, just as good as those tales in the earlier volumes. Nobody, but nobody, should criticise the Pan Books of Horror, as they did a lot to promote horror literature and will never be forgotten.

  2. I was fortunate to be included in book 29, and strongly disagree that the standard had, by then, slipped as badly as many at the time felt. Stories by the likes of Alan Temperley, J.P.Dixon, and the fabulous Stephen King, are certainly worthy of great praise. I was honoured to be included alongside them.

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