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 Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar' by Poe, Edgar Allan
- 'The Haunted and the Haunters' by Bulwer-Lytton, Edward
- 'An Adventure in Brownville' by Bierce, Ambrose
- 'The Hypnotist' by Bierce, Ambrose
- 'The Magic Egg' by Stockton, Frank
- 'The Cure for Love' by Wells, H. G.
- 'The Great Keinplatz Experiment' by Doyle, Arthur Conan
- 'A Judgment Come to Daniel' by Cobb, Irvin S.
- 'Diamond Cut Diamond' by Austin, F Britten
- 'He Cometh and He Passeth By' by Wakefield, H. K.
- 'The Long Road' by Harvey, William Fryer
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'.
- "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.
- 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?'.