Evening Primrose by John Collier

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John Collier (1901-1980) saw his haunting short story “Evening Primrose” published in 1940. It is perhaps his most recognizable and justly famed story (though there are quite a few more equally bizarre and worthy of note). Collier penned many such dark and rather macabre tales throughout his career, some fifty (including “Evening Primrose”) assembled in his wonderful 1951 collection Fancies and Goodnights.

“Evening Primrose,” a rather benign title for all its dark look at a specific underclass of humanity, begins with a disenchanted poet who, having had his fill of the world, decides to hide out in a large, top of the line department store. There are many floors, dusty nooks and crannies, and forgotten storerooms where he can secret himself. He makes his presence known only after the store has closed each evening, filching food and clothing from the store’s large and varied inventory. He believes he has found the peace and serenity he seeks–away from humankind–in order to write his poetry.

To his initial horror, he finds he is not alone. There are Others who have also sought refuge in the dark places of the department store, Others who have their own strange customs and who will go to any lengths to protect their shadowy existence. He quickly finds himself at the mercy of this clandestine social underclass, for none may leave and risk exposing those who have spent years in the store. What quickly evolves is a chilling tale involving the poet and a young woman who had lost her way in the store while a mere child, and who has since spent her entire life as the downtrodden handmaid to the evil matriarch who rules her clan with an iron fist.

Rule Number One: those who attempt escape are never heard from again in the outer world. Those poor souls caught are sent to the enigmatic Dark Men. Are the Dark Men as real and frightening as the poet and girl are led to believe? Or merely a figment of the old matriarch’s twisted imagination, meant to frighten into submission those who desire to leave? Who or what are the Dark Men, whether real or imaginary? You’ll soon discover the loathe secret of the Others and the Dark Men when you curl up on the divan with the lights low, the chill autumn wind gently rattling the windows, your young, impressionable children leaning on your familiar warmth, one on each side, not realizing they are about to be scared to death.

John Collier’s monumental collection of dark, smartly written tales, Fancies and Goodnights, would win the second-ever International Fantasy Award (1951-1957) in 1952, beating out The Day of the Triffids (2nd place) by John Beynon Harris (aka John Wyndham), and Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man (3rd place). “Evening Primrose” has been adapted in many forms over the years, including a recording (read by Vincent Price), and in 1966 the renowned Stephen Sondheim adapted it as a musical for tv.

“Evening Primrose” first aired on Escape on November 5, 1947. It proved so popular it was repeated on September 12, 1948 and August 25, 1949. While the host and the introduction differ with each airing, the dramatization remains the same. Listen now to this September 12, 1948 rebroadcast of John Collier’s eerie tale of hidden people, dark motives, and Dark Men, of which there is no…Escape!


Play Time: 29:31