Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Ghost Stories for Autumn

Two terrific collections of ghost stories from the Seventies - one Puffin and a Fontana. The Puffin is somewhat more conventional - with a scattering of Ambrose Bierces and an M.R James. It includes some 'true-life tales', which fall utterly flat and fail to entertain at all. Kathleen Lines frets about this possibility in her foreword. How funny that *actual* manifestations disappoint compared with stories...

Music for both these collections has to be:

the Book tower theme

My spooky experience in reading 'The House of the Nightmare' involved my reading a recent news report about a pig farmer being eaten by his own overweight and vengeful sows. And the title story in the Puffin anthology that I picked up next involved - at one point - murderous-looking pigs.

Saki's 'Gabriel Ernest' has to be my favourite here, I think - though Margaret Irwin's 'The Earlier Service' is a nasty little number.

'Supernatural' is a kind of novelisation of a 1977 BBC TV anthology series. Each of the tales were scripted by Robert Muller, but the writing-up duties for this volume were parcelled out to some of my favourite Fontana stalwarts - Mary Danby and Rosemary Timperley. I've seen this obscure book trashed online in a couple of know-nothing reviews - the authors of both of which failed to enjoy that camp, mordant, histrionic tone of the book. It's a book that takes on some of the gothic tropes we're used to and plays them with a mostly-straight face - and yet somehow juggles them about very wittily and nastily. 'Countess Ilona' - about a werewolf's widow and 'Heirs', which investigates the roots of 'Frankenstein' stand out particularly. Some of the Freudian undertones of the old stories are dragged out and dragged up - a little in advance, i think, of Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber.'

So these are the tales that kept me entertained while we were in Whitby, and since we've been home. While you read spooky stories you must drink fancy tea. My tea of the moment is Twinings' very special blends involving orange blossom, rose petals and lavender. Really!


  1. What a lovely blog post! I've never augmented by ghostly experiences with an exotic brew, but I'll give it a go next time. Watch out for phantom monkeys, though, Paul!

    I like those ladies on the packaging, too. I think you should be sponsored by Twinings and write a little story for each of the ladies on the boxes, to go inside their flaps.

  2. Yes! i could be Twinings' Writer in Residence!

  3. It is indeed the season for the spooky. There's something about dark evenings, with the curtains drawn and the fire lit, and that 'tap tapping' against the window that might (or might not) be only a branch... I'm just in the mood for my M R James collection now!

  4. I might have to read some more James, too. I've got my ancient Wordsworth edition sitting there!