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THE CLEFT by Gahan Wilson

THE CLEFT

and Other Odd Tales

By Gahan Wilson

Pub Date: Nov. 13th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-86574-0
Publisher: Tor

Wilson (Everybody’s Favorite Duck, 1988, etc.), the master cartoonist of the macabre, returns with 23 chuckles in the dark, plucked from Playboy, Omni, and elsewhere, covering the last 35 years or so. The primary attraction of the collection are its many illustrations, black pen-and-ink works reminiscent of Beardsley’s illustrations of Faust, although the writing here and there approaches the level of S.J. Perelman (especially in The Casino Mirago). One of the more bizarre moments is the story named . . . well, it has no name, only a black blob for a title—a blob that could be a cat’s paw fresh from the inkwell, perhaps, or a coal-black pear that keeps growing like a Rorschach blot throughout the story. Just what is it? Well, it’s carnivorous—but we’re not saying another word. The (new) title piece tells of a narrow mountain cleft that leads up to a monastery. Only one person at a time can pass through it, so anyone who wants to go up or down must ring a warning gong. The gongs require care, however, and soon a huge Kafkaesque retinue is needed to tend them. —Campfire Story— describes some boys listening to a story so scary that some of them might not live through it. In —The Power of the Mandarin,— only Evan Trowbridge stands between the malevolent Mandarin and his conquest of the world—and the storyteller Aladar Rakas has allowed the Mandarin to kill Trowbridge, Pillar of the Establishment and Pride of the Empire. Now who’s going to fight the diabolical Mandarin in this series? Why not Aladar Rakas himself? But Rakas (the author) finds himself going mad, because—with Trowbridge dead—Rakas (the hero) keeps getting into fixes the author can’t get out of. The thriller grows to massive length (matching Margaret Mitchell’s masterpiece) and the Mandarin threatens to turn the horrified Rakas into a garden ornament. Will the evil humor slithering through these pages slurp off into real life? Unclean, unclean! Read at your own peril.