Sunday, 11 December 2016

Ghosts, Spooks and Spectres

Charles Molin (ed)
Puffin Books

A collection of horror stories, many with a humorous turn.

One of the real joys of reading for me these days is cracking open another of these anthologies of late 19th / early 20th century ghostly fiction especially when it turns out to be full of stories I've not read before.  This one transpires to be a really nice cross section of the famous and the less so with Wilde, Dickens and Wells rubbing shoulders with folks such as Dora Broome and Richard Bartram.

The book opens with the venerable Oscar Wilde and his lovely tale of penance paid as a thoroughly modern American family drive the resident spirit to despair in 'The Canterbury Ghost', a story I must have read before as many years ago I read the complete works of Mr. Wilde but I had no memory of whatsoever.

Next up is one of several anonymous stories, none of which really bear much scrutiny but here goes. 'Teeny-Tiny' tells of a stolen bone and the disembodied voice demanding it's return, 'The Strange Visitor' is a truly dreadful piece of poetry, 'A Ghostly Wife' finds a ghost taking the place of a Brahman's wife whilst 'The Ghost- Brahman' finds the husband being replaced.  The final one, 'The Ghost Who Was Afraid of Being Bagged' is a silly folk tale about a barber tricking a gullible spirit into helping improve his fortunes and is easily the best of the five but as I said none are really worth the bother.

J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Charles Dickens is represented by one of his most famous and ubiquitous stories, 'The Signal-man', the story of a man haunted by a ghostly figure at the head of a railway tunnel whose appearance precedes a disaster of some kind.  This is followed by J.Sheridan Le Fanu's 'Madam Crowl's Ghost' where a young girl hired to work in the house of the dying Madam Crowl experiences several terrifying events that eventually bring forth the grim truth about the old lady.

Richard Bartram's 'Legend of Hamilton Tighe' is the second, and thankfully last, poem in the book.  Now, I'm not averse to poetry but this was a load of old 'dum-de-dum-de-dum' tosh but it's nautical theme does filter nicely in Captain Marryat's tale of the Flying Dutchman, 'The Phantom Ship'.

H.G. Wells
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Brown Hand' makes a fairly common appearance but it's story of a ghost seeking the return of the titular appendage is one that stands up to an occasional reread as does Richard Middleton's jokey romp 'The Ghost Ship'.  Less successful but continuing the watery theme is 'The Water Ghost' by John Kendrick Bangs which tells of the vindictive ghost of a drowned woman and the attempts to thwart her.

H.G. Wells goes for the more whimsical route as should be expected from a story titled 'The Inexperienced Ghost'.  Here a drunk man finds, berates and eventually aids a pitiful ghost he finds lurking in the corridors of his club in an amusing little ditty of a tale with an ending you can see coming a mile off.

W.F. Harvey
Dora Broome's 'The Buggane and the Tailor' has the feel of a folktale about it and, as is often the case with stories of that ilk, ends poorly.

Another author who is a regular in these books is Saki, especially in the form of his werewolf tale, 'Gabriel-Ernest' but this time out it's a story about vindictiveness and reincarnation as the titular 'Laura' continues her habit of picking on her friends husband in various forms following her demise.

R. Blakeborough's 'The Betrayal of Nance' is another folktale-esque story this time filled to the brim with betrayal, loss and attempts at redemption from beyond the grave whilst redemption is the last thing on the mind of 'The Beast With Five Fingers' as W.F. Harvey spins a terrific yarn about the murderous creature and the attempts to thwart it.

Andrew Lang
Harvey's tale is really the last hurrah of this fun collection as the final two stories, 'The Night the Ghost Got In' by James Thurber and Andrew Lang's 'The Story of Glam' are amusing but very slight in the case of the former and veering once more into pesky folktale territory with the later which is hardly surprising given his status as the author of the 25 collections of variously coloured 'Fairy Books'.

And so the book ends - for me at least - on an undeserved low note.  Undeserved because for the most part this was a thoroughly enjoyable set that offered a number of highlights whilst the few disappointments were also relatively short lived.


  1. I also have this. Puffin were the wing of Penguin devoted to children's publishing, so this is, in effect, a children's book.

    1. yeah. it's an odd idea isn't it that they'd market these often quite dry and old fashioned stories to the children of the 60s and 70s, and it wasn't just Puffin either, other kids publishers were at it too.
      I have a load of them here and they're probably my favourite part of my collection.