A CS is made up of two elements: (a) a Frame Story, which describes a place (normally a club) and the people (in the 19th century almost always gentlemen) who foregather there, and which serves as a template venue for the telling of as many tales as the author wishes to tell; (b) the tale itself, which is told by a person who probably claims to have participated in the events being narrated, and which has subsequently been written down by one of the club members in attendance.
When it is understood as sf the CS gains some of its appeal from the contrast between the rational club world and the tale itself, which is often highly improbable. When it is understood as fantasy – a genre where impossible events are assumed to occur – the CS loses some of the contrast between frame and tale but benefits from the greater leeway authors have to tell serious stories. For when the CS structure can be used to generate a sense of worldly verisimilitude – as in Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw" (1898) or Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" (1899) – the story itself can range far without seeming to be a Tall Tale, though a sense that one may be hearing a whopper is inherent in the CS structure: stories told aloud by fictional characters are inherently unreliable.
Some Taproot Texts – like Boccaccio's Decameron (written circa 1350) and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (written before 1400) – clearly prefigure the form; and Count Potocki's Manuscript Found at Saragossa (written before 1815; full text 1989) arguably amalgamates those models with the example of the Arabian Nights, and might be considered the first true fantasy CS sequence. The Christmas Annuals generated by UK publishers from about the middle of the 19th century had a seemingly similar structure to that of the pure CS, but were in fact Anthologies whose contributors wrote tales to fit a pre-existing frame; some contemporary CS titles – like Darrell Schweitzer's and George Scithers's Tales from the Spaceport Bar (anth 1987) – are closer in feel to the annuals than they are to single-author collections. The first single-author book to present the CS ambience to a wide audience was Robert Louis Stevenson's New Arabian Nights (coll 1882 in 2 vols; 1st vol only vt The Suicide Club, and The Rajah's Diamond 1894) and its successor, More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter (coll 1885), the second being with his wife Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson; and it was his model that late-19th- and early-20th-century writers followed. Titles include: M Y Halidom's Tales of the Wonder Club (coll 1899-1900 3 vols as by Dryasdust; rev as Tales of the Wonder Club: First Series 1903, Second 1904 and Third 1905, all as by Halidom); Jerome K Jerome's After Supper Ghost Stories (coll 1891); Andrew Lang's The Disentanglers (coll of linked stories 1902); G K Chesterton's The Club of Queer Trades (coll 1905); William Dean Howells's Questionable Shapes (coll 1903) and Between the Dark and the Daylight (coll 1907); Robert Hugh Benson's A Mirror of Shalott, Composed of Tales Told at a Symposium (coll 1907); Saki's The Chronicles of Clovis (coll 1907); and Alfred Noyes's verse Tales of the Mermaid Tavern (coll 1914).
CSs from after 1918 begin to exude a sense of nostalgia, understandable when clubs themselves began to seem bastions of another age; but by this point the form itself had acquired considerable momentum, and sequences like Lord Dunsany's Jorkens books were clearly successful, though a tendency to revert to the tall tale may have marked the increasing artifice of the form. Other CS texts include: Margery Lawrence's sequence Nights of the Round Table (coll 1924) and The Terraces of Night (coll 1932); Arthur Greening's The Better Yarn: Being Some Chronicles of the Merrythought Club (coll 1919); John Buchan's The Runagates Club (coll 1928), with various of his novels, such as The Dancing Floor (1926), deploying the same structure; The Salzburg Tales (coll 1934) by Christina Stead (1902-1983); T H White's Gone to Ground (coll of linked stories 1935); R Chetwynd-Hayes's The Monster Club (coll 1976); Isaac Asimov's Azazel (coll of linked stories 1988) and some stories assembled in Magic: The Final Fantasy Collection (coll 1996); and John Gregory Betancourt's Slab's Tavern and Other Uncanny Places (coll 1991 chap). [JC]