Ginger Nuts of Horror
by Ramsey Campbell
There has been a lot of guarded whispers going around the internet chat forums these past few years about a mysterious series of horror books apparently penned anonymously by some of the greatest names in horror fiction, secret books never openly sold to the public. Such was the air of mystery that presided over them they quickly became the stuff of legends.
Established in 1919, The Eden Book Society was a private publisher of horror for almost 100 years.
Presided over by the Eden family, it was handed down through the generations issuing short horror novellas to a confidential list of subscribers. Eden books were always written under pseudonyms and rumoured to have been written by some of the greatest horror authors of their day.
Until now they have never been available to the public.
Are these books real or just another case of of the Mandela Effect, or did these book really exist, well horror legend Ramsey Campbell remembers them, and has agreed to talk about them in the article below. Then click here to find out more about this project to bring these lost texts into the public domain!
I still recall when I originally heard of the mysterious Eden Project, that series of macabre books pseudonymously penned by some of the greats in the field. It was in 1975, during my first trip to America. I’d been a guest of the first World Fantasy Convention and now was staying with Manly Wade Wellman and his wife Frances in Chapel Hill. The Wellmans had organised a get-together in my honour, including a local journalist who managed to misreport both Manly and me in the local newspaper. Most of the guests had gone, but Karl Edward Wagner had stayed for a last glass or two of bourbon. I believe I’d enthused about some of the rarities on Manly’s shelves, which led either Karl or me to ask Manly if there was work in our field he wished he’d collected. (Manly’s knowledge of obscurities in the field alerted Karl to several of the novels he included in his famous list of thirty-nine great horror novels in the Twilight Zone magazine.) Manly cited the Eden Project, of which he’d apparently learned from no less a luminary than Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales. Wright had planned to reprint several of the novellas, but for some reason was unable to secure the rights. Manly thought one had actually been announced as forthcoming in an issue of Weird Tales, but none of the authorities on the history of the magazine have been able to locate the reference.
That same year I visited Sauk City and met the personnel of Arkham House. Over dinner I mentioned the Eden books to James Turner, then the Arkham editor. He’d heard of them and encouraged me to track down any I could in Britain, with an eye to publishing at least one omnibus. I duly kept an eye out for them in second-hand bookshops and asked various friends who were booksellers – John Roles in Liverpool, Richard Dalby in Scarborough – to do likewise on my behalf. John, who had served in India before taking up his profession, told a frustrating tale of encountering a set of several dozen volumes in Delhi. Although they were displayed in a bookshop, the owner refused to part with them, declaring that he wanted to reread them. John had the impression that they exerted a strange fascination over him, or perhaps just their rarity did.
The following year I attended the World Fantasy Convention in New York. By now I was sufficiently obsessed with the Eden books to question various veterans of the field about them. This produced one intriguing anecdote, although by now Frank Belknap Long (the source) was somewhat unreliable in his memories (as Jim Turner learned when he edited Frank’s memoir of Lovecraft). According to Long, he and Lovecraft found a set of all the Eden Project up to 1927 in a Brooklyn bookshop (a statement he revised on being reminded that Lovecraft returned to Providence from New York in 1926). Long said that he and Lovecraft could afford only one book each at that time, but asked the bookseller to hold the rest until their return. When Long went back, the bookseller told him the items had been sold. Frank remembered his own acquisition as Lightless Water, apparently the name of a fictitious lake in Wales that acts as a focus for the infinite. He was unable to recall the title of the book Lovecraft bought, and when Frank lent him Lightless Water it went astray in the mail.
Years later T. E. D. Klein asked Karl Wagner to list his favourite horror novels for Twilight Zone, the magazine Ted then edited. Though Karl provided three lists of thirteen titles each (supernatural, science fiction and non-supernatural), no Eden Project books were included. I feel a little guilty about this. Before he made up his lists Karl wrote to me, saying that he’d traced a substantial set of Eden books to a bookseller in Preston. Apparently because of their rarity, the seller refused to take responsibility for shipping them and would only yield them up for cash to a personal caller. I drove the forty miles to Preston, only to find the shop shut although there was no indication of an early closing day. Several of the books Karl had listed in his letter were displayed in the window, and I was dismayed to see that the bindings were badly sunned. I left a note to indicate that I was shopping on Karl’s behalf and then rang the number at least a dozen times without result over the next few days. At last the phone was answered, and the bookseller insisted that he had sold the entire Eden Project set (which he claimed was absolutely complete and in very fine condition) before receiving my note.
That’s as close as I’ve ever come to the publications until now. Richard Dalby almost secured a set on my behalf, but the seller then withdrew the offer and sold the books to some buyer who doubled the asking price. I look forward to reading these legendary books at last and attempting to determine who wrote them.
14 November 2017
Dead Ink Books is pleased to announce that it has secured the rights to the entire Eden Book Society backlist and archives. For the first time, these books – nearly a century of unseen British horror – will be available to the public. The original authors are lost to time, but their work remains, and Dead Ink will be faithfully reproducing the publications by reprinting them one year at a time.
Dead Ink hopes that you will join us as we explore the evolving fears of British society throughout the 20th Century and eventually entering the 21st. We will begin our reproduction with 1972, a year of exciting and original horror for the Society.
Click here for more information on The Eden Society and how you can help support their Kickstarter campaign to make these lost texts public