As Andy Williams once sang in his holiday standard, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”: There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.
So what ever happened to the ghost stories? When did the telling of spine-tingling tales of the supernatural fade from our holiday to-do lists?
Book publisher Biblioasis, along with famous Canadian cartoonist Seth have brought this tradition back from the dead with “A Ghost Story for Christmas,” a collection of pocket-sized books by Victorian authors. Each book contains a single story, which is short enough to be read aloud around the fire, or to curl up with and enjoy whilst sipping your hot cocoa. These stories are then illustrated by Seth to add another layer of creepiness.
Like any good ghost story, the suspense and fear do the heavy lifting. These stories don’t contain foul language, gore or gratuitous violence. These are Victorian ghost stories, after all.
Here’s a quick look at this year’s crop of books:
The Toll House by W.W. Jacobs
Jack Barnes doesn’t believe in ghosts. So when his four friends bet that if they all spend a night in Toll House, a large, supposedly haunted manor house which claims the life of at least one family member of each family that’s lived there (along with several caretakers) Jack may change his mind. As the night unravels, it becomes clear that the five men are not alone in the house. Will he and his friends make it out of Toll House alive? Or will the house claim another victim?
How Fear Departed the Long Gallery by E.F. Benson
The Pervil family is quite used to seeing ghosts around their large family estate. For the most part, the ghosts are harmless and are treated in a very casual manner. But there are two ghosts in the house that everyone fears, and no one stays in the long gallery after dark. For whoever sees these two ghosts (the ghosts of twin one-year-old babies) dies shortly afterward. One night, Madge Pervil awakens from a long nap in the gallery and discovers the sun has gone down. Can Madge make it out of the gallery before the ghost babies claim her? Or is Madge doomed just like every other person who has encountered them?
The Empty House by Algernon Blackwood.
When Shorthouse arrives at his Aunt Julia’s home, the last thing he’s expecting if for her to ask him to accompany her to house #13, an empty, haunted house in the town square. Shorthouse agrees to stay the night with Julia in the haunted house. Together, they will see for themselves if house #13 is just an empty house or if the previous tenants still roam the halls.
Like any good ghost stories, these three tales have a quick, consistent pace, enough description to set the scene, but not so much as to drag down the action, and the characters are quickly established to the extent that is needed for the story to move along, and no more. These are campfire stories, and are meant to entertain, thrill and add a little supernatural to your holiday festivities.
It should also be pointed out, they’re the perfect size for stocking stuffers.
The Toll House
by W.W. Jacobs, illustrated by Seth
Biblioasis, 2017, $8.95 CAD, 48 pp.
How Fear Departed the Long Gallery
by E.F. Benson, illustrated by Seth
Biblioasis, 2017, $8.95 CAD, 56 pp.
The Empty House
by Algernon Blackwood, illustrated by Seth
Biblioasis, 2017, $8.95 CAD, 64 pp.
Lindsey Childs is the Assistant Editor for Prairie Fire Press, Inc.