Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Small Shadows Creep

Andre Norton (ed)
Puffin Books

An antiquarian bookseller takes a sinister interest in a schoolboy who visits his shop; a pair of twins hardly old enough to walk, strike deadly terror into anyone who sees them; a young girl who died for love finds being a ghost much too enjoyable to give up. This assortment of ghost stories is eerie, touching or funny, and never quite what you expect.

One of a stack of old Puffin books I've been picking up lately and the one that jumped out at me from the pile. This is a selection of Victorian, and slightly later, ghost stories all of which feature children. It is split into three parts - Ancient Evils, Vengeful Spirits & Quiet Visitors - and features eight stories - split 3, 3, 2.

Opening, proceedings is 'Salooky' by Margery Lawrence, a very fine tale featuring her occult investigator Dr. Miles Pennoyer as he removes the deeply malevolent spirit of an Elizabethan sorcerer that is haunting his sisters new home and having a deeply troubling impact on his nephew. This is followed by what is easily the most vicious, and modern feeling, of the eight, 'Herodes Redivivus' by A.N.L. (here credited as A.B.L.) Munby. In this a young man meets a supremely creepy antiquarian bookseller and after a close call finds himself somewhat in tune with the going ons at the shop. Closing out this section was a cool little piece of rural horror - H.R. Wakefield's 'The First Sheaf' - involving intractable locals, pagan rites, an intrusive Christian and a something.

The second set features spirits of a more purposeful nature and begins with E.F. Benson's 'How Fear Departed From The Long Gallery' which is a humorous little tale whose fairly obvious ending isn't spoilt in the telling. Next is probably the book's weakest tale, Mrs Gaskell's 'The Old Nurse's Story' is a fairly transparent story of spinsters, children and past regrets. Not bad but as I said a bit obvious. The section ends with M.R. James' fabulous 'Lost Hearts' where the ghosts of children murdered in an alchemical procedure take gruesome revenge.

The final two stories are a very different kettle of fish with the ghosts being very much the benevolent heart of each tale. Hugh Walpole's 'A Little Ghost' puts a man mourning the death of his friend into a house filled with exuberant children. Escaping to his room he finds comfort and solace in the presence of a shy spirit of a young girl.

The final tale has an almost Dickensian feel to it with its tale of a crusty, aloof academic taking an orphan child into his home and allowing her free range over his library. The story, 'Playmates' by A.M. Burrage eventually finds the girl befriended by the seven ghosts who inhabit the old schoolhouse where they live. As time and circumstances soften the hearts of he and her (but not of his crotchety assistant) they both come to find a level of affection for each other and grow closer before he finally opens himself up in frankly fabulous finale.

It's a thoroughly enjoyable book. It's varied and intriguing and filled with invention, fear and finally, love.

No comments:

Post a Comment