Just as reading aloud spooky ghost stories was a fun Christmas tradition in the Victorian era, Biblioasis and famous Canadian cartoonist Seth now have a firmly established tradition of re-publishing some of these stories, illustrating them and serving them up to today’s readers.
These stories, like a creeping fog, surround the reader in an eerie sense of foreboding, reminding you that it is often what you can’t see, that is far scarier than what you can.
Once again, Seth’s bleak black & white illustrations add to the building feeling of unease that permeates all three of these titles. There is one illustration in The Doll’s Ghost by F. Marion Crawford which used shadows excellently to add an extra dose of creepy to a haunted doll.
Ranging from 52 to 107 pages, these stories are a great way to pass time on a dreary day or a cold, dark winter evening. As these stories are from the late 1800’s and earlier 1900’s, they are written with that era’s tastes in mind and are quite mild by today’s horror standards. They are however, still quite unsettling and spooky. They can also at times, quite self-depreciating and witty. A personal standout was the opening lines of An Eddy on the Floor by Bernard Capes:
“I had the pleasure of an invitation to one of those reunions or seances at the house, in a fashionable quarter, of my distant connection, Lady Barbara Grille, whereat it was my hostess’s humor to gather together those many birds of alien feather and incongruous habit that will flock from hedgerows to the least little flattering crumb of attention.” (13)
This year’s stories are:
An Eddy on the Floor by Bernard Capes
A prison doctor finds himself tending to a “spiritualistic medium, convicted of imposture” (31) who begs to be moved to a different cell as the occupant of the neighbouring cell, number 47, is causing him mental distress. Upon investigation, cell 47 is empty and has been bolted shut. When the doctor inquires, he is told to forget the cell and leave it be, only as the prisoner worsens, so does the doctor’s curiosity about the cell. Thoughts of the cell consume him. What is the secret of cell 47?
I was not expecting this story to disturb me (in a good way) as much as it did. The story of cell 47 is downright chilling and the whole book is a very satisfying read. Seth’s illustrations help cement the feeling of “something is very much wrong here.” Capes’s writing style is quite descriptive and (at least by current standards) embellished, with lines such as:
“Ill and shaken, and, for the time, little in love with life, yet fearing death as I had never dreaded it before, I spent the rest of that horrible night huddled between my crumpled sheets, fearing to look forth, fearing to think, wild only to be far away, to be housed in some green and innocent hamlet, where I might forget the madness and the terror in learning to walk the unvext paths of placid souls.” (66)
An Eddy on the Floor is a wild ride of a story, that does not pull its punches as it plumbs the depths of human cruelty.
The Doll’s Ghost by F. Marion Crawford
Mr. Puckler is a doll doctor, who excels at his craft of fixing broken dolls. When he is brought a beautiful doll named Nina to fix (after Nina suffered considerable damage when the six-year-old child fell down a flight of marble stairs) and instantly feels drawn to this doll. He takes him time repairing the doll, dreading the day he has to give her back. Finally, he is ready to let Nina go home and asks his twelve-year-old daughter to deliver the doll, whose home is only a half mile away.
As the evening wears on, his daughter does not return home, and as he waits for her arrival, fearing the worst, he begins to sense a presence in the shop and hear the sound of tiny feet, following him about the room.
The building fear of a missing child and a supernatural presence give this story its delightful sense of dread and fright. The shortest of the three, the plot moves along at a fairly quick pace and, when things start to escalate, they escalate quickly.
Mr. Jones by Edith Wharton
When Lady Jane inherits a property by the name of Bells, she naturally wants to visit. Only she is turned away upon arrival by the authority of an unseen “Mr. Jones” who insists no one is to be allowed in. Once her ownership is established and she moves into her new home, she discovers that Mr. Jones is still nowhere to be seen, but is still ever present and calling the shots with the servants who are terrified of him. As well, there is the mystery of “Also his wife” a former lady of the manor who, it appears, someone has done their best to hide the details of her life. It appears Mr. Jones holds all the secrets. All Lady Jane has to do in find him.
This story was written in the 1930’s and, while technically not a Victorian era tale, still very much has that flavor and story-telling style. This story is the most dialogue driven of the three, so if you were planning on reading it aloud, you could assign roles. The mystery surrounding Mr. Jones is quite fun to watch unravel and is an enjoyable read.
Again, this year, 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. Whether you pick up one or all three, these books are a great addition to a holiday tradition, or, as any time of the year reading.
An Eddy on the Floor
by Bernard Capes
Biblioasis, 2021, $9.50 CAD, 112 pages.
The Doll’s Ghost
by F. Marion Crawford
Biblioasis, 2021, $9.50 CAD, 56 pages.
by Edith Wharton
Biblioasis, 2021, $9.50 CAD, 96 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 of her overflowing ‘to be reviewed’ bookcase and does a review herself.