The Art of Terror: Robert Aickman’s Strange Tales


In “Ringing the Changes,� one of the great Robert Aickman’s best-known “strange stories,� a woman asks her husband why a place in their inn is called “The Coffee Room� when no coffee is served there. He chalks it up to the lucus a non lucendo explanation, which he explains as the “principle of calling white black.� Out of the darkness comes the authoritative voice of the inn’s only other guest: “On the contrary. The word ‘black’ comes from an ancient root which means ‘to bleach.’� This etymological lesson gets to the core of Aickman’s particular brand of horror writing: strangeness is everywhere, even in the simplest of words. Like the best horror writers, Aickman is a consummate realist. The “real� and “supernatural� worlds are not distinct realms but rather as intertwined as the etymologies of black and white.

Aickman’s stories slip in and out

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