It’s that time of year again! As the year winds down, the temperature drops and snow covers the ground, the Christmas season lurks. The holiday tunes start a little earlier each year, stores start getting in their Christmas merch in September, and as we get closer to the “Big Day,” it gets harder and harder to avoid the spectre of holiday cheer.
But maybe you like your holiday season with a bit of a darker side, and your ghosts with a bit of bite.
That’s where Biblioasis’s A Ghost Story for Christmas collection comes in.
“The telling of ghost stories during long, dark and cold Christmas nights is a yuletide ritual dating back to at least the eighteenth century, and was once as much a part of Christmas tradition as decorating fir trees, feasting on goose, and the singing of carols” (forward)
So, if you are looking to add a little old world charm to your winter celebrations, this book series just may be for you. This year’s batch in particular offers up stories some fantastic reads, accompanied once again by stark and unsettling (in the best way) illustrations by accomplished illustrator Seth.
The House by the Poppy Field by Marjorie Bowen
A second helping from Marjorie Bowen (Biblioasis’s A Ghost Story for Christmas collection featured Bowen’s The Crown Derby Plate in 2016), The House by the Poppy Field follows the story of Maitland, a man in search of a sense of belonging, who inherits his family’s ancestral estate, Bothal. While getting acquainted with the property, he finds himself drawn time and time again to the poppy field encroaching on the house, and to the gardener who harvests the flowers in silence.
The shortest of the three stories, The House by the Poppy Field moves along at quick pace, as if the ghosts of the property are nudging Maitland through the story. Bowen writes Maitland as a man on the edge of personal discovery, whose arrival triggers the ghosts of Maitland’s ancestral home’s past. Will Maitland find what he’s looking for? Or do the ghosts have other plans for him?
Seth’s illustrations are stark and sinister, adding a level of creeping unease to the book, especially the skull in the flower crown on the cover page.
The Captain of the Polestar by Arthur Conan Doyle
As if the premise wasn’t frightening enough, Doyle added a supernatural element into this story of fear and madness.
The Polestar finds herself and her crew trapped in an ice field in the arctic. While praying for a way out of the ice, things go from bad to worse when the crew starts hearing the screams of ghosts in the darkness, accompanied by a mysterious white figure roaming the ice. On top of that, the Captain has been acting odd and erratic. This only gets worse as the ice closes in…
There is something utterly terrifying about the thought of being trapped in an ice field. You’re in the middle of a large body of water, with no food, shelter or help for miles, with a limited amount of time and resources before you starve or freeze to death, and before the ice sinks your ship. That alone is enough to make one shudder, but add madness and a ghost who screams in the night and unnerves the crew, and you have a story that builds a sense of panic and foreboding quite well. The desperation to get out of the ice field can be felt by the reader (or this reader, at least) and there aren’t any lulls in the increasing tension of the story. Even when the ghost retreats, the ice does not. Seth’s illustrations help ramp up that feeling of isolation and fear, while Seth’s signature style offers the perfect medium to illustrate the bleakness of being trapped in the ice pack.
A Room in a Rectory by Andrew Caldecott
Reverend Nigel arrives at Tilchington Rectory, eager to serve the community and settle into his new home. One room in particular was left locked and kept empty by the previous rector and was only ever opened to clean, as the room had a dark history and was better left alone. Nigel, wanting a place to write his sermons, and thinking the room would be a perfect fit, decides to renovate the room and move in. Once settled, Nigel finds himself having horrible dreams and visions, that may turn his dream office, into a place of nightmares.
A classic version of a ghost driving someone to madness with their evil presence, this story has a good level of Victorian Christianity vs the occult themes, as was popular during time as members of the Christian church started find themselves in a ‘crisis of faith.’ This spawned a lot of the Victorian ghost stories we see from this time, in response to this crisis, bringing forth the spectre of a godless existence corrupting and damning those who stray from the faith. A Room in a Rectory is quite ‘on the nose’ for this moral parable, but still makes for a heck of a ghost story. Seth’s illustrations help amplify the sense of an underlying evil in the rectory and compliment the story nicely.
All three stories are definitely worth checking out. As per usual, they are stocking stuffer sized and lend themselves to reading aloud around a campfire, or be one’s self with a cozy blanket and warm beverage. Again, if you’re looking to add a little ghostly fun to the holiday season, you’ve found it.
The House by the Poppy Field
by Marjorie Bowen, ill. By Seth
Biblioasis, 2023, 48 p.p., $9.95
The Captain of the Polsestar
by Arthur Conan Doyle, ill. By Seth
Biblioasis, 2023, 88 p.p., $9.95
A Room in a Rectory
by Andrew Caldecott, ill. By Seth
Biblioasis, 2023, 97 p.p., $9.95
Lindsey Childs is the Assistant 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.