Friday, October 30, 2009 Halloween Countdown: Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum

I was in the second or third grade when I received a copy of Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum as a gift. The anthology, ghost-edited by Robert Arthur, contained such classics as Stephen Vincent Benet's "King of the Cats" and Ray Bradbury's "Homecoming". It was also my introduction to Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John tales. But the stories weren't the scariest thing about the tome. The illustrations were.

The pictures were pure nightmare fuel, repulsively terrifying and yet horribly fascinating to my kid brother and me. They're almost too scary for a book aimed at tweens, and I'm certain they would never be used as such today. I guess we were just tougher back then. I don't know what ever happened to the book - it probably disintegrated from sheer use - but the illustrations haunted through the years.

Thirty years later, I'm standing in a used bookstore in Bangalore, looking for something to relieve the long weeks of tedium. This particular shop was an Aladdin's cave, three floors of books from all over the English-reading world. On every trip I'd find some oddity, some rarity that would cause me to wonder just how it ended up on that quiet little side street in India. And on that particular trip, I fond a copy of Monster Museum. The edges were yellow and spotted, but otherwise the book was in great shape. I had to buy it, of course. But I didn't dare look at the pictures until I was safe back home again.

The pictures from Monster Museum were the work of Earl Mayan, a prolific American illustrator and educator. They are atypical of his work, being photo-collages as opposed to the "hyper-realist" paintings he was known for. You can read a brief biography of Mayan here and see examples of his illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post and other "slicks" here.

As for the book itself, you can find used copies on-line for as little as five dollars. It makes a great gift for the little Wednesdays and Pugsleys in your life.


Beatriz said...

The images in this book were so ghastly that as a child I had to black-out some of the scarier parts with a marker. I found a clean copy on ebay a few years ago. Thanks for posting.

Veronica said...

I have had a copy of this book since 1974, when a neighbourhood friend gave me a copy. The illustrations have always FASCINATED me, from the youngest age...although I can't say they didn't give me nightmares. :-) I love this book and just re-read it this week.