Bookshots: 'The Doll Collection' edited by Ellen Datlow

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Doll Collection

Who Wrote It?:

It’s impossible to put together an anthology where every single story resonates with a reader, but if anybody can do it, it’s probably Ellen Datlow.

Edited by Ellen Datlow, with fiction by Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen Graham Jones, Tim Lebbon,  Gemma Files, John Langan, and many others.

Plot in a Box:

These are short stories about dolls, in every possible shape, form, and myth.

Invent a New Title For This Book:

Doll Parts

Read This If You Liked:

Other anthologies by Ellen Datlow, such as Fearful Symmetries, Lovecraft Unbound, Nightmare Carnival, and of course The Best Horror of the Year. Outside of Ellen’s work, I’d suggest three I edited: The New Black, Exigencies (2015), and Burnt Tongues (with Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Widmyer) as well as The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, edited by Paula Guran.

Meet the Book’s Lead(s):

Obviously, it’s the dolls. There are all kinds here—masks, kewpies, puppets, poppets, and mannequins.

Said Lead(s) Would Be Portrayed In a Movie By:

The closest I can come is the film Annabelle. She reminds me of a lot of the dolls in this anthology. Of course I’m reminded of the clown in Poltergeist as well, and for some reason The Badadook. And I guess I have to mention Chucky, right?

Setting: Would You Want to Live There?

Oh, God no. I don’t have an insane fear of dolls, but still, these settings are deadly.

What Was Your Favorite Sentence?

When I knelt down by Daniel again, he opened his mouth like a baby bird and I knew I was right: this was part of his process. You save one doll from inside a woman, and you start over with hair from one of the other women. Like paying. Like trading. Like closing a thing you’d opened.

—Stephen Graham Jones, “Daniel’s Theory About Dolls”

The Verdict:

It’s impossible to put together an anthology where every single story resonates with a reader, but if anybody can do it, it’s probably Ellen Datlow. What I love most about this collection is the variety—there are stories that utilize the classic idea of what a doll is, showing us the standard toys and playthings, but then there are other “dolls” that really take you to some unexpected places. By soliciting a wide variety of authors, not just horror, but also dark fantasy, and other surreal voices, Ellen certainly has something for everyone in this book.

I wanted to list my three favorites.

Have you ever picked up an anthology and seen a “big name” and then read the story and thought, “Well, that wasn’t anything special”? I hate when that happens. In this anthology, Joyce Carol Oates brings the goods. Man, she gives us a slow burn that gets darker and darker the longer it’s told. I sat there saying, “Don’t do it, don’t go there,” and still the ending surprised me, upset me, carried such weight—a powerful tale for sure. “The Doll-Master” is the title.

Second, is no surprise, for people who know what I love to read—“Daniel’s Theory About Dolls,” by Stephen Graham Jones. I don’t know how he constantly surprises me, since I’ve read more of his writing than anybody not named Stephen King. And yet, this tale is so dark and strange, so violent and yet peaceful, quiet and still deafening with its impact. He finds a way to tap into our primal fears, and does so in this story with the subtle touch of a maestro.

And finally, the third story that really got to me was, “There is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of Cold,” by Seanan McGuire. Now, Seanon is a new voice to me, but she’s certainly not new to the worlds of fantasy and horror. What I loved about this story was how different it was, tapping into ancient folklore and myth, while remaining in a contemporary setting. The magic is something that’s easy to believe in, the emotion and heart giving the story character and great depth.

Overall, this is a great collection, not a weak story in the bunch, but certainly some that will get to you more than others—depending on where exactly your fears lie.

Richard Thomas

Column by Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books: three novels—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), as well as Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); three short story collections—Staring into the Abyss (Kraken Press), Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press), and Tribulations (Cemetery Dance); and one novella in The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). With over 140 stories published, his credits include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), and Shivers VI (with Stephen King and Peter Straub). He has won contests at ChiZine and One Buck Horror, has received five Pushcart Prize nominations, and has been long-listed for Best Horror of the Year six times. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller awards. In his spare time he is a columnist at Lit Reactor and Editor-in-Chief at Gamut Magazine. His agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch. For more information visit

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Ellen Datlow's picture
Ellen Datlow March 11, 2015 - 9:41am

Thank you for the terrific review. Btw, It's Seanan (with an "a") :-)

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine March 11, 2015 - 11:01am

Thanks. Fixed.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies March 11, 2015 - 8:13pm

Thanks, Ellen. Sorry about the typo. It's not like it's on the COVER IN BIG TYPE or anything. Great job. (Thanks, Josh for the fix.)