We’re back and we’re looking at another classic horror short story. This time it’s Karl Edward Wagner’s Sticks, a nasty little tale that is both of the Cthulhu Mythos and about it. The story draws from a number of real people and events, blending them with fiction to create a delirious nightmare. The imagery of Sticks has had a notable impact on horror media, and the lattices that pepper its narrative will be familiar to fans of The Blair Witch Project and True Detective.

Devil Trap

If time really is a flat circle, maybe True Detective used them first.

We also take some time to talk about the man behind the story. Karl Edward Wagner was a complex figure, a giant in both the horror and sword-and-sorcery genres, but one whose battles with alcohol stopped him from building on the promise of his early work. While his body of horror stories is small, with his later work sometimes disappointing, he wrote more genuine classics of the genre than most writers will ever manage. Sadly Wagner’s work is hard to come by these days, and his horror collections have been out of print for decades, barring expensive collectors’ editions. He deserves better.

Karl Edward Wagner

If I weren’t already a writer, this picture would make me want to be one.

Be warned that as with our other fiction discussions, we spoil the bejesus out of Sticks. If you want to read the story first, you can find it anthologies such as Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (only some editions), The Book of Cthulhu 2The Mammoth Book of Zombies, The Dark Descent or, assuming you either have them or a lot of money to spend, the Karl Edward Wagner collections In a Lonely Place and Where the Summer Ends.

Where the Summer Ends

Those bloody things get everywhere!

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9 comments on “Karl Edward Wagner’s Sticks

  1. FYI… I was tracking down 2 Rare Out Of Print books and believe it or not I came across 2 Book sellers online that not only had the books I was looking for listed as Used and in Fair Condition (Which I didn’t care about the condition since I only wanted to read them.) but both came in mint pristine condition and best of all…one was only $1.99usd and the other was $4.99usd . It appears that people do not realize what they have when they get rid of old books. So I decided to search for Karl Edward Wagner and came up with a bunch of them all at cheap prices.
    The sites are: http://www.thriftbooks.com & http://www.abebooks.com.

    You never know….

    • Good find!

      It looks like most of the Wagner books they have are either paperbacks of his Kane series (which I highly recommend if you like sword & sorcery) or anthologies he edited. That said AbeBooks does have his two collections of horror stories, In a Lonely Place and Why Not You and I, at $25 and $20 respectively. That’s far less than they normally go for on eBay.

  2. Note that “Ken Allard” sounds a lot like “Kent Allard,” one of the aliases of The Shadow in the old pulps.

    • And, per Wikipedia, Wagner used “Kent Allard” as his pseudonym for the erotic novel The Other Woman.

      • Bother, I got to your mention of this just after I’d posted the comment. Sorry about that. (“Kent” not “Ken” though.)

        • I am slightly tempted to try and track down a copy of The Other Woman just to see how recognisably Wagner it is. It’s probably not worth it, though.

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