“Favorite Stories of Hypnotism” by Don Ward, editor

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Back­ground: When I grad­u­at­ed from junior high school to high school, I con­tin­ued to be a stu­dent vol­un­teer in the library. Again, I would be dis­ap­point­ed (but not sur­prised) that the school library did not have any books on hyp­no­sis. (As opposed to the coun­ty library, where even some­times the mobile library van that would come around the neigh­bor­hood every Fri­day dur­ing the sum­mer would have one or two.) How­ev­er, I was sur­prised to dis­cov­er, at the very end of the sto­ry col­lec­tion shelves, a hard­cov­er copy of “Favorite Sto­ries of Hyp­no­tism” (1965) edit­ed by Don Ward. The black cov­er with its shad­owy female face, con­cen­tric cir­cles radi­at­ing out from her left eye, is just so stereo­typ­i­cal but to my mind back then, so demon­stra­tive of hyp­no­sis that, of course, I had to check it out. I was not dis­ap­point­ed in what I found, and even today, many of the sto­ries are still worth­while, though dated.

Descrip­tion: The sto­ries in this col­lec­tion are:

The sto­ries cov­er a wide range of modes from humor­ous and comedic to dra­mat­ic to mys­tery / sus­pense to hor­ror and rep­re­sent hyp­no­sis from com­plete­ly nat­ur­al to the super­nat­ur­al in scope and appli­ca­tion. It also includ­ed a fore­word by Dr. Mil­ton Kline, a promi­nent psy­chol­o­gist who cham­pi­oned hyp­no­sis as a ther­a­peu­tic med­ical prac­tice and the author of the book “Freud on Hyp­no­sis” .

‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar’ by Poe, Edgar Allan

Prob­a­bly the most famous of the sto­ries in this col­lec­tion, pri­mar­i­ly for the author but also for the grue­some nature and espe­cial­ly the close of the sto­ry. The self-uniden­ti­fied author mes­mer­izes M. Valde­mar at the point of death to pre­vent him from actu­al­ly dying. Over the fol­low­ing months, the process of death slows dra­mat­i­cal­ly but nev­er quite stops, as M. Valde­mar’s body become increas­ing­ly decrepit, until final­ly M. Valde­mar begs his mes­merist to allow him to die. Upon doing so, the body of M Valde­mar col­laps­es into decay and putrification.

‘The Haunted and the Haunters’ by Bulwer-Lytton, Edward

Or, ‘The House and the Brain’ which is the longer ver­sion of the same sto­ry, adding the final con­ver­sa­tion that is sort of an after­thought. The main sto­ry itself is more of a haunt­ed house mys­tery with occult over­tones as opposed to actu­al hyp­no­tism, although mes­merism is ref­er­enced by way of explain­ing some of the mys­te­ri­ous occur­rences tak­ing place inside the house: mes­merism itself as hyp­not­ic dom­i­na­tion is demon­strat­ed dur­ing the final conversation.

‘An Adventure in Brownville’ by Bierce, Ambrose

A young woman believes her sis­ter was mur­dered by their guardian through (but uin­stat­ed) a mes­mer­ic influnce, and she soon fol­lows her sis­ter in death, despite the efforts of the nar­ra­tor to pre­vent it. The sto­ry includes a foot­note “This sto­ry was writ­ten in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Miss Ina Lil­lian Peter­son, to whom is right­ly due the cred­it for what­ev­er mer­it it may have.” Miss Peter­son was def­i­nite­ly a real per­son, not some­one cre­at­ed to be the source of the sto­ry as has been done by some authors, as copies of Bierce’s sto­ry have been found inscried to her.

‘The Hypnotist’ by Bierce, Ambrose

A sar­don­ical­ly humor­ous tale about a man who dis­cov­ers from an ear­ly age the pow­er to hyp­no­tize oth­ers, a gift pow­er­ful enough to cause any­one so entranced to do what­ev­er he commanded.

‘The Magic Egg’ by Stockton, Frank

A young man returns from an extend­ed trip to the Ori­ent and promis­es to show an audi­ence of his friends (and, most impor­tant­ly, his fianceé) the mar­vels he wants to share. First is a mag­ic lantern show of vary­ing col­ors, fol­lowed by a mag­ic show, where­in he presents the Mag­ic Egg, a mar­vel of mag­ic. But it is all an illu­sion, a hyp­not­ic illu­sion caused by the col­ored flash­ing lights of the lantern show, one his fianceé saw through because she did not watch the lantern show.

‘The Cure for Love’ by Wells, H. G.

This sto­ry is a chap­ter from Wells’ novel­la ‘A Sto­ry of the Days to Come’. In the far-flung future days, a very prop­er Eng­lish­man is per­turbed that his daugh­ter was show­ing an inter­est in a quite unsuit­able young man. The father employs a hyp­no­tist, a respectable prac­tice of its time, to influ­ence her into for­get­ting him and tak­ing an inter­est in the very prop­er gen­tle­man who was select­ed for her.

‘The Great Keinplatz Experiment’ by Doyle, Arthur Conan

Anoth­er humor­ous tale, this one about the great Pro­fes­sor von Baum­garten and his stu­dent Fritz von Hart­mann and an exper­i­ment in hyp­no­sis where the two switch bod­ies, and the comedic com­pli­ca­tions aris­ing therefrom.

‘A Judgment Come to Daniel’ by Cobb, Irvin S.

The great Danel the Mys­tic, mes­merist and stage per­former, encoun­ters some­one who proves remark­ably resis­tant to his hyp­not­ic prowess on stage.

‘Diamond Cut Diamond’ by Austin, F Britten

A tale of espi­onage, mur­der and hyp­no­sis, where mem­bers of a gov­ern­ment counter-espi­onage group are tar­get­ed by oppo­si­tion oper­a­tives. The tac­tic used involves a drugged hyp­not­ic state where­in the vic­tim false­ly con­fess­es to mur­der. How­ev­er, the wily chief of the group is able to turn the tables on the oppo­si­tion, using the same tactics.

‘He Cometh and He Passeth By’ by Wakefield, H. K.

A tale of super­nat­ur­al mur­der and revenge through the same means. Oscar Clin­ton is a pro­found psy­chic who uses his tal­ents to steal and defraud, and his vic­tims some­times meet with a ter­ri­ble death. The last such vic­tim, how­ev­er, has a good friend who is capa­ble of turn­ing Clin­ton’s pow­ers against him, to his doom. ‘He Cometh and He Pas­seth By’ was one of the sto­ries select­ed for August Der­leth’s ground-break­ing anthol­o­gy “Sleep No More” (1944) which would also include sto­ries by H P Love­craft, Clark Ash­ton Smith, Robert Bloch and Robert E Howard: pret­ty hefty company.

‘The Long Road’ by Harvey, William Fryer


Com­men­tary: Unfor­tu­nate­ly most of these sto­ries were dat­ed even back when this vol­ume was pub­lished in 1965 but they still give a good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the fic­tion involv­ing hyp­no­sis and mes­merism at the time.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, out of all the sto­ries, I have not been able to locate a copy of ‘Dia­mond Cut Dia­mond’ online any­where: the sto­ry has been well-enough received to be con­sid­ered one of the best mys­tery short sto­ries of the ear­ly 20th Cen­tu­ry. The same is true for the oth­er two unref­er­enced sto­ries in the list, as they may all be still in copy­right, as they cer­tain­ly were at the time of pub­li­ca­tion, unlike the rest of the collection.

Nor can I find out much about its author F Brit­ten Austin, the only one of the list that does­n’t even have a rudi­men­ta­ry Wikipedia page: I can find more about the author by way of the movies adapt­ed from his nov­els than his life or bibliography.

Rec­om­men­da­tion: This book is def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend­ed for any­one inter­est­ed in hyp­no­sis and espe­cial­ly how it has been rep­re­sent­ed in fic­tion over the ages. Most rec­om­mend­ed are ‘Dia­mond Cut Dia­mond’ and ‘The Haunt­ed and the Haunt­ed’.

Ref­er­ences:

  • “Favorite Sto­ries of Hyp­no­tism”  was used as a ref­er­ence for the entry on Hyp­no­tism in the “Green­wood Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion and Fan­ta­sy Themes, Works and Won­ders” edit­ed by Gary Westfahl.

Triv­ia:

  • Although Edward Butwer-Lyt­ton is now best remem­bered for the infa­mous line ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ he was a promi­nent author of his time peri­od who also cre­at­ed the line ‘The pen is might­i­er than the sword’.
  • Frank Stock­ton is best known for his short sto­ry ‘The Lady, or the Tiger?’.

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