I am certainly a braver person after completing this season’s reading. I’ve just finished M.R. James’ Collected Ghost Stories, which were originally published between 1904 and 1925, and were amalgamated in this collection by Penguin Random House in 2018.
I was dreading reading these stories almost as much as I did ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill. The reason for this, is that a few years ago, I watched a 2010 TV dramatisation of ‘O, Whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad’, starring John Hurt. It was a modern re-telling of the original story and it scared the living bejesus out of me.
Now that I’ve read it, however, I think I’ll give the old movies a try as well. There are sixteen other stories in this collection, but I’m not going to review them individually, as it would just take too long. (I’m WAAAY behind on my Goodreads reading challenge this year). Suffice it to say, that there are several reasons why I think these are such great ghost stories, and they are typical to each one.
Firstly, they are presented as true accounts of events. James tells these stories as though they are based on written evidence or have been told as personal recollections of diabolical happenings.
Secondly, the subject of the stories is always an academic; an expert in a particular field, most commonly antiquary. As a result, we infer that this person would not usually succumb to superstition, although they would perhaps listen to it with an academic interest. We trust them as a reliable witness; they have not become anxious, ill or dead for any reason other than because something dreadful, or inexplicable has happened to them.
Thirdly, the stories mostly involve churches, relics found therein, and religious people. Therefore, the comfort, peace of mind and faith held in such places and objects, is ripped from under the feet. There are desecrations and horrors, and no safe haven to be found.
Having said this, they are also rather different from other paranormal stories, in that the settings are more modern than usual, and so are more relatable to the ordinary circumstances in which a reader could find themselves.
There is a touch of the Blair Witch occasionally as well. Sometimes, we are left fairly uncertain as to what has happened, and the story just ends, but I like this.
If I was to make a final point, as a note to self, it would be this:
Don’t investigate any object, or undertake any task, unless it is familiar to you. So, cleaning your house, washing clothes, making beds and going to work are generally SAFE activities.
Digging things up in the garden, noticing anything at all in churches, being too well educated, being overly interested in antiquary, habituating desolate beaches, taking interest in other people’s conversations, reading diaries, doing anything whatsoever in inclement weather, and staying in hotels with windows, are NOT SAFE. I repeat, NOT SAFE.
Beware these stories, but certainly read them. Read them in the dark, and love them, like I did!
So, braver I am. I even relished watching the brilliant Netflix series, ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, and the first four series of American Horror Story.
But then, I watched ‘Elf’ for the first time this year (not the first time ever obvs), and now it’s going to be all about the Christmas reading list. Blog post to follow.
I’m also looking for suggestions for what to read over the festive period. I’m unlikely to be found reading a cosy and comfortable romance, but I’ll try anything! My favourite types of story are usually based on fables and legends. For example, last year, I loved ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey and ‘Followed by Frost’ by Charlie N Holmberg. I’d love to hear from you, if you can think of anything I might enjoy!
Happy reading and best wishes for the winter season,