Rhys Hughes has a voice and whimsically horrific outlook as distinct as that of nearly any other contemporary writer. TALLEST STORIES is an exhaustive--and exhausting--collection of short pieces, each around 3-5 pages in length, that take the form of tales told by the denizens of The Tall Story, an Irish pub that exists in its own universe. Among the patrons are the Irish novelist Flann O'Brien, whose brand of comedic Irish-centric whimsy turns out to fit right in with Rhys Hughes' unique brand of fantasy, while the proprietor is one Hywel Price, an irrepressible raconteur who's the source of many of the “tallest tales.”
Those tales include "Learning to Fly," about a young man who attempts to learn the secrets of levitation with only partial success; "The Banshee," about a mystic woman who can see into the past yet is haunted by her future self; “The Queen of Jazz,” a typically Hughesian take on the old bargain-with-the-Devil trope; and “Three Friends,” about three friends entertaining each other with scary stories, one of which isn’t entirely fictional.
In “The Man who Gargled with Gargoyle Juice” we learn why it is that Gargoyle innards are better for a sore throat than those of leprechauns or goblins. "The Tallest Midget" is just that, and hails, appropriately enough, from the Valley of Tall Midgets. “The Mirror in the Looking Glass” is about a sentient mirror that goes to pieces (pun intended) when it gets a look at itself in a(nother) mirror. Then there’s “Chianti’s Inferno,” in which a man finds a note in a bottle and mentally retraces his steps, discovering who wrote the note and what said note really means, and "Gaspar Jangle's Séance," about a most unusual séance whose guests, it transpires, are in fact the very spirits Mr. Jangle intends to call up.
All of this is quite pleasing and enjoyable. However, as anyone familiar with his earlier collections WORMING THE HARPY or THE SMELL OF TELESCOPES can attest, a little of Rhys Hughes’ delirious fiction goes a long way, and at 363 pages TALLEST STORIES contains more Hughesian mania than any sane person can possibly stand.