Review of ‘Evil Roots: Killer Tales of the Botanical Gothic’ edited by Daisy Butcher

Villainous vines, odious orchids and terrifying trees run riot through this creepy collection. They are almost as frightening as the amount of alliteration I used in that sentence! The coincidence of the editor’s name is quite odd. The theme of this book is scary plants – or as classier persons say, the botanical gothic. This is the first of the British Library Tales of the Weird series that I’ve read but the format is the same as the Science Fiction series.

There are 14 stories in this collection. I only disliked 2 of them, so that makes this book a winner. I’d only read one of them before. They all date from the late 19th century to the early 20th. Some of the authors are well-known, others more obscure. The introduction was quite interesting but strangely had no mention of The Day of the Triffids. I ended up skipping the mini introduction to each story as they were thin on biographical details but had spoilers in them! There are some line drawings of plants included, which are nice but I don’t feel they are necessary. Here are the stories, with asterisks by the ones that impressed me the most:

‘Rappaccini’s Daughter’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne – a melodrama of poison and passion in Padua.

‘The American’s Tale’ by Arthur Conan Doyle – American western with a lot of dialect, which I didn’t enjoy.

‘Carnivorine’ by Lucy H Hooper – horror story about the mixing of animal and vegetable kingdoms in Italy.

‘The Giant Wistaria’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – feminist ghost story, which I’d previously read.*

‘The Flowering of the Strange Orchid’ by H G Wells – an entertaining narrative which engages with Darwinism and colonialism.*

‘The Guardian of Mystery Island’ by Edmond Nolcini – a yarn of fishermen, treasure and a devil-plant.

‘The Ash Tree’ by M R James – creepy tale of witchcraft in a country house.

‘A Vine on a House’ by Ambrose Bierce – mysterious goings-on in rural Missouri.

‘Professor Jonkin’s Cannibal Plant’ by Howard R Garis – sci-fi b-movie romp about a man-eating pitcher plant.

‘The Voice in the Night’ by William Hope Hodgson – dark and eerie, probably the grimmest tale in the collection.*

‘The Pavilion’ by Edith Nesbit – a tale of female rivalry and reputations.

‘The Green Death’ by H C McNeile – unenjoyable country house murder mystery.

‘The Woman of the Wood’ by Abraham Merritt – a startling piece of eco-fiction.*

‘The Moaning Lily’ by Emma Vane – fascinating story of botanical obsession.*

If we look at this collection with our ‘lit crit’ spectacles on, we’d say that the frequency of carnivorous plants being associated with females in these stories is evidence of the male fear of the threat to patriarchy posed by female power and sexuality. If we take these spectacles off, we’d say that this a very entertaining book which is perfect for the spooky season.

First published in 2019.

7 thoughts on “Review of ‘Evil Roots: Killer Tales of the Botanical Gothic’ edited by Daisy Butcher”

    1. That’s right – I thought it was strange how the book was deliberately not mentioned. Anyway, it’s a good read and an unusual theme!

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