The 19th-century writer Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) is now far better known in Japan than in the U.S., but he once had fame in America, chiefly for his 1887 collection Some Chinese Ghosts and 1904's Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (the basis of the 1964 film Kwaidan). Fantastics and Other Fancies (1914) is a posthumous collection of 36 early works which, because of their brevity (the longest by far is 16 pages) and their lushly romantic style, might more accurately be described as prose poems. These often-supernatural short-shorts were written for New Orleans newspapers and rescued from obscurity by Hearn's friends and admirers; the majority are from the pages of the Daily Item, and six are from the Times-Democrat.|
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of Hearn's short-shorts are dreams; in "The Idyl of a French Snuff-Box," the art on the box lid inspires a dream as fascinating and as sadly interrupted as Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," while "The One Pill-Box" presents the struggles of a man trapped in a fever dream. A few of Hearn's sketches are twice-told tales; "Aida" summarizes Verdi's opera with impressively rich brevity, while "The Devil's Carbuncle" retells a South American legend of greedy Spanish invaders and an accursed gem. Short-shorts like "Hereditary Memories," "When I Was a Flower," and "Metempsychosis" explore reincarnation. "The Fountain of Gold" is a fairy tale about a Spaniard who finds love and the fountain of youth, and still is not content. In "The Ghostly Kiss," a masterpiece of chilling horror, a man is mysteriously compelled to kiss a beautiful stranger at a vast theater and discovers he is in a quite different and far more dreadful place. "A River Reverie" was inspired by the New Orleans visit of a famous contemporary, Mark Twain. "Hiouen-Thsang," an example of the Orientalia for which Hearn would gain fame, follows a Buddhist's dangerous journey to distant India to revive the faith in his native China.
Melancholy, obsessed with the "twin-idea of Love and Death," and haunted by ghosts, classical gods, and beautiful, often dead or dying women, Hearn's "fantastics" and "fancies" are gothic in a sense far removed from black-leather-clad club-hoppers in vampire dentures, but it would not be surprising to learn these doom-laden, atmospheric pieces were an influence on New Orleans's modern-day queens of horror, Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite.