Bertie and I go back a long way. Not that he knew it of course, but his Panthologies were an ever present entity during my teenage years. And I have more than once wondered if my exposure to some of the more extreme writing in the series affected by emotional development in some detrimental, or perhaps even beneficial, manner. I guess I shall never know.
My book reading career had begun in earnest sometime in the late 1960s when for my seventh or eighth birthday I was given my first real book; some cowboy tosh called Gun Town Marshall. I recall being less than enthralled by the storyline, but intrigued enough by the potential the book held to whisk one off to another world to ask my Mum to buy me another. This second was was Black Beauty, which I plodded on through; the only memorable part I can recall today being where some obnoxious young boy pulled the wings off flies.
But Mum hit paydirt with her next one: Enid Blyton’s The Rubadub Mystery. Quite what a scruffy little urchin from a working-class former mining town in the Scottish central belt found of interest in the fanciful antics of a group of precocious English toffs, I cannot answer. Perhaps it was the age similarity, but something certainly clicked, because for the next few years I avidly devoured all the Blyton I could get my hands on.
Not just those well-know ones (The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, The Adventure series etc), but now forgotten obscurios like The Put ‘em Rights. I was addicted. And whilst I enjoyed brief flings with Frank Richards and Richmall Crompton during these times, my heart truly belonged to
But with the arrival of hormones came, perhaps not surprisingly, a change in my reading tastes. For whilst I was still hooked on EB, I can recall during book shop browses, regularly coming across these Pan Books of Horror Stories anthologies. Me delighting guiltily in their lurid covers and pondering what forbidden terrors lay within.
Late in 1972, I passed up the opportunity to buy some Secret Seven yarn I had yet to read and, almost on a whim (perhaps even impelled by some external force), picked up The Third Pan Book of Horror Stories and took it to the counter of my local bookshop in Bathgate. I almost expected to be asked my age, as if this was a copy of Club International or
I was attempting to purchase. But the elderly
chap who ran the shop (with the unlikely sounding name of Zanre’s), simply popped
my choice into a white bag and presented me with my prize.
That evening, I ensconced myself in my bedroom to indulge in who-knows-what wonders which I felt sure must lay within – with as much trepidation and anticipation, when I think about it, as if it had been my first copy of Mayfair.
The opening story, some dull sounding thing about a secretary looked way too long to start with, so I plumped instead almost at random for Lord Dunsany’s Two Bottles of Relish”. And put the book down fifteen baffled minutes later, wondering what on earth all that was about? The next couple I chose were equally low key affairs, and I began to think I had been sold a pup. Where was the scary-looking teddy bear thingy on the cover? Surely he/she/it must be in here somewhere?
But then I came across Unburied Bane, and was scared shitless. This was the clearly the business I thought, as I lay in bed saucer-eyed reading
N. Dennetts ghostly yarn. Thus began my affair with TPBoHS which lasted
pretty much until the end of my teens, as I collected all of the back copies
and read the things incessantly.
I noted with pleasure that the series had begun in 1959, the same year I was born. And in another surely intended quirk, because new volumes were published annually and there had been a gap in 1961, it meant that each new Pan volume would have the same number as my age. I had been four years old the year Pan4 was published, was now thirteen years old reading Pan13, and Pan14 would come out when I fourteen and so on. If that was not significant I don’t know what is.
Throughout the 1970s I read and re-read the volumes over and over, delighting, I am slightly embarrassed to admit these days, in the gore, cruelty and general nastiness which went on. I even invented my own system for grading the tales, with marks out of five for Scaryness, Goriness and Sexiness. And as seasoned Pan readers will testify, the amount of sex in the collections took a fairy steep tilt upwards after the first half-dozen or so.
But my path and Bertie’s diverged, I think it was, with Pan20. My reading tastes, which were never anything less than eclectic to the point of whimsy, now stretched to PG Wodehouse and JRR Tolkein, and I had noted the Pan volumes were becoming slimmer and more expensive each year.
And it was with a sigh that, having picked up the newly published Pan20, I placed it back on the shelf and reached instead for a copy of The Two Towers. For I knew a period in my life was over. Quite what happened to all those well-thumbed PBoHS volumes I cannot really recall; some given away with others going to second-hand book shops I imagine.
And it was only really with the advent of the internet, and access to the global jumble sale that is eBay, that I decided gathering all these lost friends around me once more might be quite fun. Whether there was an element of a middle-aged man somehow wishing to attempt to recapture a small part of his lost youth also going on, I would perhaps rather not speculate.
Anyway, I took me about 18 months to track down the whole set, including the allegedly difficult-to-find Pan30. So it seemed a logical next step to sit down and actually read the blighters once more – or in the case of Pans20-30 to experience for the first time!
And then to go one step further and to scribble down my thoughts and impressions.
So here goes………….