Review of ‘Crawling Horror: Creeping Tales of the Insect Weird’ edited by Daisy Butcher and Janette Leaf

Sixteen tales of entomological horror – ‘scary bugs’ to the layperson – spanning 1846 to 1938. And they’re 99.9% spider-free! Moths and ants seemed to predominate but there were beetles, bees, even praying mantises.

A few of the stories are brilli-‘ant’ while the rest are a ‘beetle’ mediocre. Still, they were aw-‘flea’ interesting from a historical perspective, preoccupied with empire and evolution. The introductions to each piece contained spoilers, which ‘bugged’ me so I ended up skipping to the stories and didn’t go back to read them afterwards. I have marked the stories I liked best. I was surprised to find that the best in the collection was by an author I’d never heard of, Clare Winger Harris. I already expected to like the stories by Wells and Blackwood, as I usually do.

‘The Sphinx’ by Edgar Allan Poe – psychological horror during a cholera epidemic.

‘The Blue Beetle: A Confession’ by A G Gray, Jun.Frankenstein-inspired cautionary tale.

‘The Mummy’s Soul’ by Anonymous – a bloodthirsty fly and a mummy’s curse. *

‘After Three Thousand Years’ by Jane G Austin – a tragic story, again with a mummy theme.

‘A Dream of Wild Bees’ by Olive Schreiner – a strange fable, rather than horror.

‘The Moth’ by H G Wells – an academic is haunted by a moth that no one else can see. *

‘The Captivity of the Professor’ by A Lincoln Green – a highly-evolved insect civilisation in the jungle.

‘The Dream of Akinosuke’ and ‘Butterflies’ by Lafcadio Hearn – two stories, sad not scary, set in Japan.

‘Caterpillars’ by E F Benson – terrifying tale of revengeful caterpillars. *

‘An Egyptian Hornet’ by Algernon Blackwood – an encounter with a hornet brings out a vicar’s worse nature. *

‘The Blue Cockroach’ by Christopher Blayre – not keen on the style and didn’t really get this one.

‘The Wicked Flea’ by J U Giesy – eccentric professor breeds an enormous flea.

‘The Miracle of the Lily’ by Clare Winger Harris – brilliant dystopian eco-horror. *

‘Warning Wings’ by Arlton Eadie – supernatural story, set at sea.

‘Beyond the Star Curtain’ by Garth Bentley – pulp science fiction adventure.

‘Leiningen Versus the Ants’ by Carl Stephenson – a plantation owner won’t let the ants win.

This book is a good companion to Evil Roots (also edited by Daisy Butcher) although not quite as marvel-‘louse’. If you’re looking for insect-themed weird fiction, you can’t go wrong with this volume.

Published in the British Library’s ‘Tales of the Weird’ series, 2021.

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