Fiction Reviews

The Doll Collection

(2015) Ellen Datlow, Tor Books (US), £18.50 / US$27.99, hrdbk, 350 pp, ISBN 978-0-765-37680-0


Ellen Datlowís The Doll Collection is not all screams and horror. Itís creepy, itís eerier, itís unsettling as Datlow has collected a stellar cast consisting of the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, Tim Lebbon, Stephen Gallagher, Gemma Files, Pat Cadigan and many others.

Datlow also collects dolls and doll parts. Dolls hold no fear for her: pediophobia is the name for that, and in her introduction she gives us some examples from stories and films of creepy dolls that graced the works of Richard Matheson (particularly in the film Trilogy of Terror from his short story 'Prey') and William Goldmanís Magic and dolls have also been in horror films from the 1930s film The Devil Doll to the 'Chucky' films and more recently The Conjuring and its spin-off film featuring the doll, Annabelle.  In Freudís 1919 essay 'The Uncanny' our discomfort at seeing a doll is because it should be alive, but isnít. Masahiro Moriís theory from the 1970s of the 'uncanny valley' is that things which look and move almost like humans make us squirm. If you didnít think the idea of a collection of doll stories was creepy enough, Datlow and Ellen Klages and Richard Bowes have also provided an accompanying doll photograph to go with every story.

As for the stories themselves? In many cases the writers have taken the idea of a doll and jumped off in several different directions. In Tim Lebbonís bleak and claustrophobic 'Skin and Bone' the dolls here could be store-front manikins as one of two explorers finds the remains of a former camp and two life-size dolls that are featureless, but perhaps not for long.

Creepy, and sad, is the revelation made by the ventriloquistís doll in Stephen Gallagherís 'Heroes and Villains' where the truth about a tragic fire is finally revealed years later.

Anyone who knows me, will know how much I love the work of Joyce Carol Oates and she provides one of the stand-out tales of the collection in 'The Doll-Master' when a little boy steals the doll of his dead cousin, and when his parents take it away from him years later he must find other dolls to collect.

In Gemma Filesí 'Gaze', there is no doll as such just an extremely rare 'eye miniature', which might be one of a pair painted from the dead eyes of a witch Ė but is it such a good idea to collect such things, and bring both miniatures together?

Another stand-out tale and probably the most entertaining in the collection is Pat Cadiganís 'In Case of Zebras' as the voice, and setting are just perfect.

Almost as much fun is John Langanís 'Homemade Monsters' when a boyís obsession with the film Godzilla and unobtainable toys of the lizard-king leads him to transform a Captain Kirk doll into his favourite toy of all... until, well, read the story.

In a collection of excellent stories, and really unusual takes on the doll theme, we have a doll court communicating through the dreams of those who have committed crimes against doll-dom in their youth and must now pay for their actions in 'Doll Court' by Richard Bowes; and in Richard Kadreyís 'Ambitious Boys Like You' two thieves break into a house to steal an old manís fortune in a fast-paced story that reads a bit like Saw meets Hostel but turns into something so much more.

'Word Doll' by Jeffrey Ford ends the collection and features one Jeffrey Ford who discovers the Word Doll Museum dedicated to the rather creepy practise of giving 'word dolls' to children to help them work in the fields and hears the story of one womanís revenge on a boy, and the doll he was given.

Before we reach Fordís tale we have fortune telling dolls and Shirley Temple dolls, and dolls that might be conduits for the dead to speak to the living and while I did have a problem with a 1940s door-to-door sales man in London referring to Autumn as 'the fall' in 'Visit Lovely Cornwall on the Western Railway Line' by Genevieve Valentine, her contribution is the eeriest and most unsettling, especially for those passengers whose lives are going to be changed when they encounter a little girl and her doll.

Arguably, the best fantasy horror anthology of 2015, make sure you read it.

Ian Hunter

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