Biblioasis and famous Canadian cartoonist Seth, kept their holiday tradition alive by once again releasing three ghost stories for Christmas.
Taking a break from publishing mostly Victorian era ghost stories, two of this year’s offerings are a little closer to the modern day, with The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance by Montague Rhodes (M.R.) James having originally come out in 1913 and The Morgan Trust by Leslie Purnell Davies (Writing as Richard Bridgeman) in 1973.
Seth has once again added sparse, but unnerving illustrations to each volume, using shades of gray and shadow-play to cement you in these creepy tales. (One story in particular, and I would argue, the standout of this year’s batch The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance by M.R. James, has an illustration of a man in a field with a bag on his head that is particularly sparse and unsettling.)
Ranging from 49 to 151 pages, these stories are perfect to read aloud or curl up on the couch with for an evening of spooky entertainment. These stories are, by today’s standards, on the mild side. There is no gore, gratuitous violence or foul language.
This year’s stories are:
The Morgan Trust by R. Bridgeman
Amateur psychic investigator, Shelby Pyle decides to visit the picturesque Welsh village of Cwmbach, after reading that the town has more than it’s fair share of hauntings, mostly centering around arguably the town’s most popular former resident (and failed businessman), Ifor Morgan, who had aspired to build a new utopian town next to Cwmbach. Many of the residents of Cwmbach had invested sizable amounts of money in the failed project, but continue to revere the man who ultimately did not deliver on his promises. Intrigued about the supposed hauntings near the site of Morgan’s town, Shelby heads to Cwmbach, in search of answers about Ifor and the hauntings in the area. Will this be the time he time he finally brushes up against the paranormal?
I found this story to be a bit of an anomaly. While the story unravels a mystery and deals with the paranormal, it is also just a really nice, even keeled read that would be hard pressed to scare or even unnerve most people. It’s by far the least spooky A Ghost Story for Christmas I have reviewed, but I would still advise giving it a read, as it is just a really nice little story. Plus, it’s 49 pages, so it can be read fairly quickly.
The Open Door by Mrs. Margaret Oliphant
When Roland, the son of retired Colonel Mortimer falls ill, Mortimer rushes to his side, only to be told of a strange, bodyless voice that Roland has heard near their new home. According to Roland, the voice is so sad and wretched that Roland cannot stand it and begs his father to help the poor being. Flabbergasted at how to help his son, Mortimer heads out to the ‘scene of the crime,’ an old, vacant doorway nearby where a house used to stand. He experiences the same voice and feelings of despair his son had, and attempts to solve the problem, by enlisting the help of his man servant, then his son’s doctor, and finally the town’s minister. Will anyone be able to help him decipher what is going on and how to help this poor lost soul? If Mortimer fails, he fears his son will never recover, and the disembodied voice will be doomed to repeat itself indefinitely.
The Open Door is a slow-build of a story. It is also the only Victorian era ghost story of the bunch, so, compared to the others, it does move at a slower pace. The character of Colonel Mortimer is relatable in his intense desire to help his son. I also found the town minister Dr. Moncrieff to be a great addition to the story, adding weight to the theory that there is more to life (and death) that what we see, and also adding humour to the story with his attitude towards going ghost hunting, stating “I’m an old man. I’m less liable to be frightened than those further off the world unseen” (101). Coming in at 151 pages, this story can still be read relatively quickly and has a satisfying conclusion.
The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance by Montague Rhodes M.R. James
The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance is a series of letters sent my W. R. to his brother Robert. W.R. & Robert’s clergyman uncle has gone missing right before Christmas and W.R. has traveled to his uncle’s home town to aid in the search. W.R. soon suspects his uncle may have already perished, and decides to stay to help solve the mystery. After meeting a traveling sales man whose behavior is erratic and odd, W.R. has a dream of horribly gruesome Punch and Judy show, and a ghostly clergyman.
My personal favorite of the batch, The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance, is less of a ghost story and more of a murder mystery, with a ghost thrown in for added spookiness. Plus, there’s a Punch & Judy show, which, but their very nature are both horror and comedy. I found this story quick and enjoyable read to be the scariest of the three.
As per usual, these books are ‘stocking stuffer’ sized and small enough to fit comfortably in a coat pocket if you want to read them outside around a campfire. I would advise picking up one or all three books from Biblioasis and adding a little ghostly fun to this year’s holiday season.
The Morgan Trust
by R. Bridgeman
Biblioasis, 2020, $9.50 CAD, 49 pages.
The Open Door
by Mrs. Oliphant
Biblioasis, 2020, $9.50 CAD, 151 pages.
The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance
by M.R. James
Biblioasis, 2020, $9.50 CAD, 52 pages.
Lindsey Childs is the Assistant Editor and Book Reviews Editor for Prairie Fire. She normally edits the book reviews, but occasionally snags a book off her overflowing ‘to be reviewed’ bookcase and does a review herself.