I first read the four Tales for the Midnight Hour collections by J. B. Stamper as a preteen and was pretty impressed. Over the years since, I had forgotten most of the stories, but remembered enjoying the books and even being pretty creeped out by some of the stories. A few days ago I was going through some books stored in my old bedroom at my mom’s place and found the two omnibus editions Tales for the Midnight Hour, Volume 1 (collecting the first two books Tales for the Midnight Hour and More Tales for the Midnight Hour) and Tales for the Midnight Hour, Volume 2 (collecting Still More Tales for the Midnight Hour and Even More Tales for the Midnight Hour). I decided to reread Volume 1 and see if it held up after all these years.
The first part of Volume 1 (the stories from the original Tales for the Midnight Hour) starts off with “The Furry Collar,” which while somewhat nonsensical is still suitably creepy. Two other stories, “The Ten Claws” and “The Jigsaw Puzzle” were also effective, even if they didn’t manage to invoke the same shivers they gave me when I was younger. In these stories the brevity works to Stamper’s advantage. The best entries in the collection all play out like the recitation of an urban legend and would make good tales to tell around a campfire.
Speaking of urban legends, some stories are directly lifted from famous ones. “The Black Velvet Ribbon” tells the familiar tale of a lovely young woman with a ribbon around her neck, which she refuses to take off. When her lover defies her wishes and removes it, he realizes too late why she was so insistent. Another story, “A Free Place to Sleep” is set at 50 Berkley Square, a notoriously haunted London home.
Some stories, however, suffer from their shortness. These are the stories that are less fable-like. Stories such as “The Face” and “The Stuffed Dog” are more original, but that’s not necessarily to their advantage. They don’t feel fully thought out and end abruptly. They also don’t make a lot of sense.
In the second section of Volume 1 (the stories from More Tales for the Midnight Hour), we’re treated to some slightly longer stories. While none of them reach the creep factor of the best stories of the early segment, they are overall more even in tone. The writing is slightly better in this collection, and the stories are mostly fun, if occasionally predictable. I particularly enjoyed “The Hearse” and “The Black Mare.” ” A Night in the Woods” started off pretty strong but ultimately would have been creepier if Stamper had gone in a different direction with it. The werewolf angle seemed kind of silly.
So did the collection hold up? Unfortunately, not really. But that shouldn’t stop kids from picking it up. Preteens will likely still be creeped out by the same stories I was at their age. I might go back and reread Volume 2 at some point. Maybe it will hold up a little better.