Sunday, September 22, 2019

R.I.P. Charles M. Collins (1935-2019)

I recently learned that my friend Charlie Collins passed away at the end of August. I met him because his company of publisher's representatives, Como Sales, called on me at my Ithaca, New York, bookstore in the 1980s and early 1990s. Charlie didn't call on me himself, but his colleague Ken McConnell did, and Ken often said, in his thick Scots accent, that he must get Charlie and I together because of our shared interests. And eventually he did. He introduced us at a bookseller's convention, and for years afterwards I looked forward to catching up with Charlie at that annual event. We swapped books and a few letters.

Before I knew him, Charlie had been one of the founders (in 1970, with his old friend, Donald M. Grant) of Centaur Books. The first Centaur book was a reprint of The Pathless Trail, by Arthur O. Friel, a pulp adventure novel. It was mass-market sized but printed on much better paper, as were most of the Centaur publications. Between 1970 and 1976, Centaur published over a dozen more such editions, including three by Robert E. Howard (The Moon of Skulls, The Hand of Kane, and Solomon Kane, each of which went through three printings), as well as another Friel, two Atlantis books by J. Allan Dunn, and other reprints, including Alfred H. Bill's werewolf novel, The Wolf in the Garden, City of Wonder by E. Charles Vivian, Caesar Dies by Talbot Mundy, Grey Maiden by Arthur D. Howden Smith, and Dr. Cyclops, originally a movie tie-in novel to the 1940 film of the same name, published under a house pseudonym "Will Garth." One original anthology, Swordsmen and Supermen edited by Donald M. Grant, came out in 1972. In 1976 there was a reprint of H. Warner Munn's The Werewolf of Ponkert, originally collected in a volume published in 1953. Of Centaur's final four titles, published in 1978 and 1980, two are trade paperback reprintings of volumes originally published in limited editions by Donald M. Grant. These include Galad Elflandsson's short novel The Black Wolf, and a collection of William Hope Hodgson stories, Out of the Storm, which omits the long introduction by Sam Moskowitz in the original 1975 Grant edition. There was also a Tolkien-related volume, The World of Tolkien Illustrated, by Lin Carter, with cover and illustrations by David Wenzel. Its first printing of 10,000 copies sold out before publication, and a second printing of the same number was made. The final Centaur book was in essence a showcase of the art of David Wenzel called Kingdom of the Dwarves, with text written by Robb Walsh. It has over one hundred illustrations, with twenty-five in color. It is a kind of pseudo-archeological book about dwarf artifacts supposedly found in northern England.

Even further back in time before I knew Charlie, he edited three mass market horror anthologies for Avon Books, and these are the main reason for attention here.  These books are Fright (1963), A Feast of Blood (1967), and A Walk with the Beast (1969).  Each went through multiple printings, and Fright was retitled Harvest of Fear in its 1975 printing.

Fright contains six tales, by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, L.P. Hartley, Seabury Quinn, C. Hall Thompson, and H.P. Lovecraft. The Hoffmann tale, "The Forest Warden," is of the most lasting interest because it is presented as a lost early version of Hoffmann's more famous tale "Ignaz Denner." In the brief foreword to the story, Collins notes that the tale "received limited circulation in a Bamburg periodical in early 1814, and was later modified as 'Ignaz Denner.'" The story was translated by Haywood P. Norton.  But the history of this text, and of the translation as published, has problems.  First, no Hoffmann scholarship that I have seen gives any periodical appearance for the tale in 1814. In fact, "Der Revierjäger" (better translated as "The Gamekeeper") was  Hoffmann's intended title for the story when he wrote it (according to his diary) in late May and early June 1814 for inclusion in a volume of Fantasiestücke, but his publisher did not like it and it appeared, slightly revised (with an altered ending), in 1816 in Nachtstücke.* 

By the time I queried Charlie about this, his recollections were no longer clear. He said that the translator had brought him the text, and that the translation was quite messy and took a lot of work to get it into publishable shape.  The translator, Haywood P. Norton, was by then no longer around, having died in early 1977 at the age of thirty-four.  Norton is known to have contributed a piece ("The Caliph of Auburn") on Clark Ashton Smith to Pat and Dick Lupoff's fanzine, Xero, and is understood to have assisted (without credit) Calvin Beck in the compilation of The Frankenstein Reader (Ballantine, 1962). His translation of the Hoffmann tale must remain as questionable and unsourced unless some German original actually turns up. 

A Walk with the Beast contains nine stories, four in "supernatural" section, and five in a "human" section.  Some of the authors (Vernon Lee, Ambrose Bierce, David H. Keller, Nugent Barker) are fairly well-known, but others are uncommon (William Wood, Sir Frederick Treves Bart).
A Feast of Blood contains nine vampire stories, including classic stories like Polidori's "The Vampyre", "The Mysterious Stranger" (here unattributed, but by Karl von Wachtsman), "Wake Not the Dead" (here misattributed to Johan Ludwig Tieck, when it was by Ernst Raupach), and Bram Stoker's "Dracula's Guest." More recent tales are by Carl Jacobi, Clark Ashton Smith and Richard Matheson.

Though Charlie's three anthologies are no longer cutting-edge, they remain good basic anthologies for their time, with some occasional worthwhile obscurities.  Rest in Peace, Charlie. Here is a link to a more formal obituary.

* The one account I know of of the manuscript of "Der Revierjäger" is in an appendix to volume 3 (1909) of Carl Georg von Maassen's Sämtliche Werk by Hoffmann, pp. 386-408, which includes about twenty pages of readings of variants in the text of the manuscript from the printed story "Ignaz Denner" (as given in the same volume, pp. 43-103), the most significant being at the beginning and the end of the story. 


  1. How synchronous that you should bring up "Fright." It sits at this very moment on the piano in the living room. When I was prepping for for a panel on E.T. A. Hoffmann at NecronomiCon, I happened upon a copy of Fright at the local Friends of the Library store. I bought it for the Hoffmann story, but kept feeling there was something wrong about it. So I never mentioned The Forest Warden at the panel. I did check Bleiler's Guide and he only says that the known version, "Ignaz Denner," was written right after "The Golden Pot." What struck Bleiler is that Hoffmann could produce one of his very worse stories right after his very best.
    To add to the synchronicity, I also found my interest in Robert E. Howard reignited by conversation with Rusty Burke and so looked for Howard paperbacks at the same friends store--and came away with Centaur's The Hand of Kane. Not sure why, since I have all the Kane stories in other editions.
    I wish I could have been there at your talks with Charlie Coffin.--md

    1. Kismet indeed. I wish I could have attended your Hoffmann panel at Necronomicon!

  2. Hi Doug, I don't think I knew Charles, yet I suspect our careers overlapped. I think I knew Ken. I hate to see ex-bookmen die. It is the end of an era in an industry that is changing all too fast, though I doubt for the better. Cheers, RonKo

    1. Ron (I presume!). Yes, too many bookmen of that era that I knew are gone already, or out of the (diminished) business. Charlie called on NYC accounts, and didn't stray much beyond the City. The largest account that Como Sales represented (back then) was Workman, and I always found Charlie at the Workman booth at the ABAs.

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