THE OPENER OF THE WAY is a 1946 collection of Robert Bloch short stories (this is the 1970s paperback edition) ranging from the eponymous 1936 story—his first published work—through “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” from 1943. It’s interesting on several levels. (EDIT: It wasn’t his first. I’ll get to the first in the next Bloch book I read in a few weeks).
First off, most of the stories are entertaining (like a lot of anthologies, they’re not all gems). The Ripper story is a classic of horror, “The Cloak” is a slightly humorous story of vampirism and even Bloch’s first story is readable, albeit heavily soaked in Lovecraftian prose (Bloch was one of Lovecraft’s many proteges and the influence shows). Aside from that, the stretch of the stories over seven years shows Bloch developing his own style fairly fast—”The Cloak” came out in 1939 but his style is much more polished (there’s as yet no sign of the farcical humor or cynical polemics that appear in later work, though).
Two aspects of the stories work less well. First, there’s the old Lovecraftian cliché of something that has a vaguely, indefinably horrible air about it but for no real reason (as in Bloch’s “Seal of the Satyr” here). Rather like having an air about him, it’s cheap, asserting a feeling without justifying it. Lovecraft could make it work (most of the time, anyway), but few other people can.
Second, there’s the climactic ending reveal, as in “The Dark Demon.” A Lovecraft-esque writer reveals that his eerie stories are actually based on dream visits to other planes, and his fear that a monstrous demon is about to possess his body. Narrator scoffs, but at the end he realizes—the demon has taken over the man’s body! It’s all true! Aaaagh!
Stories leading up to an ending or climactic shock are hard to bring off. As Fritz Leiber once wrote, it’s hard because everything else (characterization, plot logic) becomes subordinate to setting up the big reveal. It’s even harder to do with an It’s All True ending because it’s never really a surprise: Did anyone reading “The Dark Demon,” even when it was fresh, anticipate an ending where the narrator was right and the writer was crazy?
It doesn’t help that this is another Lovecraftian attempt trying to impress us with visions of cosmic horrors. Bloch couldn’t do that stuff as well as HPL, though he did work some good variations on Lovecraft in his other HPL-influenced story (I’m starting a reread of my Bloch collections, so I’ll get to those eventually)