This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I think Gollancz’s Fantasy Masterworks series is a brilliant guide to the genre for confused outsiders, and plays an important role in resurrecting long-time out of print classics for a new generation. But I begin to wonder whether it hasn’t begun to get just a little sloppy. A while back I purchased a second-hand copy of their epic 800 page anthology of Rudyard Kipling’s fantasy and horror stories for grown-ups. It’s a pretty decent collection – racist and pro-imperialist in places, of course, but that’s because Kipling’s Indian fiction concerns itself primarily wih the British colonial authorities in India as opposed to the locals, and funnily enough the administrators of imperial colonies tend to a) be kind of pro-colonial and pro-imperialism in their views and b) have little-to-know understanding of the culture they are dealing with, and as a result tend to be a little afraid of it.
No, the big problem with The Mark of the Beast isn’t that Kipling’s political views were sometimes unpleasant – as Neil Gaiman points out in the introduction, if we refused to read books by people we didn’t agree with we’d be poorer people – it’s that the editing stinks. Stephen Jones, who appears to have become the curator of Fantasy Masterworks, really isn’t very good at it. A frankly ridiculous number of glaring typos have been allowed to slip through (I don’t think there was a single story which didn’t have a few), and his maddening tendency to append uninsightful biographical essays (which tend to contain little that can’t be found out from a quick glance at wikipedia) to the end of the anthologies he edits is allowed full reign in the Kipling volume; why waste pages which could be used to fit in one more story? These faults – the typos in particular – make The Mark of the Beast seem less like a definitive collection of Kipling’s supernatural fiction and more like a cheap knock-off, like the bootlegs that circulated in Kipling’s day.