September 23, 2004

A Ghost Story Anthology

I'd like to get something happy on the top of the page--though you should also click here--so I'll make a list, after a bit of preliminary chat. And you should add your own items to the list, should you feel inclined.

Lots of Crooked Timberites are particular fans of particular genres of fiction--Belle of mysteries, Maria of chick lit, Henry of fantasy/SF (mysteries too), frequent commenter Laura of romance novels (and I must figure out some way to work The Romance Writer's Phrase Book into this blog sometime); my pet genre is ghost stories. Not that I prefer ghost stories to any other genre; in fact I probably spend much more time on mysteries, not to mention straight fiction; but I may spend more time hunting down good ghost stories than I do anything else. One reason is that a great ghost story is really hard to pull off--the general theme of "Someone died, and then their ghost appeared, and it sure was scary"* loses its impact with repetition.

So--herewith eight stories that would be in any anthology I put together. Each is unique, except perhaps for the M.R. James, and since he made the rules he gets to follow them. There are lots of great stories that aren't on here because I'd find it hard to include them and not another--if L.P. Hartley's "A Visitor from Down Under" is in, can W.W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw" be out? And "Heat," whose author I forget at the moment? (Which reminds me--I tend to find these in obscurish anthologies, which both makes it hard to track them down and means I've probably forgotten some I'll regret.)

Alphabetical by author:

Marjorie Bowen, "The Accident"
Isak Dinesen, "The Supper at Elsinore"
John Collier, "Thus I Refute Beelzy"
M.R. James, "Mr. Humphreys and His Inheritance" (or any of a dozen others)
H.P. Lovecraft, "The Rats in the Walls"
Joanna Russ, "The Little Dirty Girl"
Muriel Spark, "The Portobello Road"
Bram Stoker, "The Judge's House"
William Wood, "One of the Dead"

My definition of "ghost story" wasn't quite "any story that contains or may be thought to contain a ghost"--otherwise Alice Munro's "Carried Away" would be here--but it's close. I may post more on the characteristic pleasures of ghost stories later. (Also, English only, so I don't have to worry about Kafka.)

Any favorites yourselves?

*That's more or less a verbatim** quote from Walter Scott's
"The Tapestried Chamber," allegedly one of the classics of the genre; give me "Wandering Willie's Tale any day.

**OK, it's not really a more or less verbatim quote. But--" Upon a face which wore the fixed features of a corpse were imprinted the traces of the vilest and most hideous passions which had animated her while she lived. The body of some atrocious criminal seemed to have been given up from the grave, and the soul restored from the penal fire, in order to form for a space a union with the ancient accomplice of its guilt"? "It is enough to say, that in yon fatal apartment incest and unnatural murder were committed"? Show, don't tell, dude.***

***I know, I know. This time it's right.

Posted by Matt Weiner at September 23, 2004 02:29 PM

No Aickman or Onions! What gives!!!

Posted by: Henry at September 23, 2004 05:19 PM

One of my pet peeves is anthologies that include "The Beckoning Fair One"--because it indicates that they're willing to include long stories, and so they have no excuse for omitting "The Supper at Elsinore," which they inevitably do. Anyway, "The Beckoning Fair One" was just a pretty literal transcription of my experience writing my dissertation--you have to crank it up to the level of "The Judge's House" to disturb me. I quite like "Rooum" though.

Aickman I'll have to check out... I told you the list was incomplete... See also M.R. James's comments on dots...

Posted by: Matt Weiner at September 23, 2004 06:00 PM

Your mention of "Heat" made me think of "August Heat"-- a not-quite ghost story. I have looked for it on the web before, but a few well chosen Google searches turned it up this time.

Probably not what you meant, but a creepy little story by any lights.

And how can you not include any Poe?

Posted by: P.D. at September 23, 2004 06:13 PM

"August Heat" (by W.F. Harvey) is exactly what I meant--thanks! It definitely counts as a ghost story by my lights; quite possibly it's more legitimate than "Thus I Refute Beelzy." I may say more about what I mean by a ghost story--and why "August Heat" is a good example of the genre--in a future post on ghost story animadversions.

Speaking of my spotty memory, Robert Aickman turns out to be the author of "Ringing the Changes." That story didn't quite do it for me for some reason--it's good, but not one I'd consider for the top rank. I think I found it a bit too stretched out. I may not have mentioned that I'm very picky about ghost stories for the canon.

Also, Onions is Oliver Onions, author of "The Beckoning Fair One" and "Rooum" among others, and not to be confused with Onion Oliver who is one of the pierogies who runs sideline races at Pittsburgh Pirates games.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at September 24, 2004 12:13 PM

Has any of you-all read Henry James' "The Jolly Corner"? As a bonus to epistemologists, one principal character claims to "know" something and the other questions it.

Posted by: Matt's mom at September 24, 2004 12:23 PM

I say Algernon Blackwood, "The Wendigo".

Posted by: jholbo at September 29, 2004 10:43 PM