Archive | December, 2012

Have yourself a scary little Christmas!

23 Dec

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To celebrate the swift onset of Christmas (as well as the minor matter of the 150th post on Ghost Cities!) I thought I’d re-blog a selection of past festive posts that have appeared on this site for you all to enjoy. The blog is going on hiatus now until the New Year but I hope that this little collection will keep you amused until then.

Wishing a Merry (Scary) Christmas and New Year to everyone!

Ghost Stories for Christmas

A Very Dickensian Christmas

The Ghost Stories of Charles Dickens

Yuletide Chills: The Wild Hunt

Christmas Re-union

21 Dec

Sir Andrew Caldecott only turned to fiction after retiring from the civil service but, having done so, he allowed his lifelong fascination with the supernatural full rein in a collection of simple yet remarkably chilling tales penned in the 1940s. Taking his inspiration from the master of the ghost story, M R James, who chilled by implication rather than by gory description, Caldecott created believable but unsettling scenarios which effectively produced a sense of unease in the reader. In Caldecott’s hands the mundane became horrific; the everyday became unnerving; and the commonplace became utterly terrifying. And yet – if this doesn’t seem like too much of a contradiction in terms – there is something strangely cozy and comfortable to me about reading a Caldecott ghost story today. The passage of years has really brought out the charm and intrinsic quality of these particular supernatural tales, which are almost like miniature works of art compared with a lot of fiction that’s out there these days. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the stories Caldecott wrote and had published during the festive season. Christmas, with its combination of cold dark nights and spiritual significance, seemed to somehow bring out the very best in Caldecott as a writer, for this was the theme of some of his most famous stories, among them the oft-anthologised Christmas Re-union.

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The Ghosts of Sleath

16 Dec

Just as Stephen King is regarded as the best and most popular living American horror writer, James Herbert is arguably the finest living British author in the horror genre. A contemporary of King’s, Herbert also made his debut at around the same time – the mid-seventies – with his horror novel Rats. A chilling disaster novel featuring giant, man-eating rats, Herbert’s first book is very different from many of the later books which cemented his reputation at the forefront of supernatural fiction. Today, he is better known for supernatural scares rather than the science fiction horror of Rats and his other early novels, The Fog, Lair and Domain. The Survivor and Shrine, for example, are ghost stories, whilst in Haunted Herbert introduced the psychic investigator and ghost hunter David Ash, who was later to reappear in The Ghosts of Sleath. Other novels by Herbert could almost be classed as straight thrillers, with few traditional horror elements. Books that can be included in this category are The City, Sepulchre and Spear, all of which include conspiracy theories or unsolved mysteries at their heart. All of this demonstrates that Herbert, like King, is actually a hugely versatile as well as talented writer, not restricted by genre labels. Another thing that Herbert has in common with King, as the recent BBC adaptation of his novel The Secret of Crickley Hall shows, is that he is fast becoming the darling of film and TV.

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Edith Nesbit’s Tales of Terror

9 Dec

Edith Nesbit, best known as the author of The Railway Children, The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Treasure Seekers and many other children’s classics, was also the mistress of the ghost story and tales of terror. She was able to create genuinely chilling narratives in which the returning dead featured strongly. Her flesh-creeping yarns included love that transcended the grave, reanimated corpses, vampiric vines, vengeful ghosts and a whole host of other dark delights. However, Nesbit’s vintage spooky stories, tinged with horror, are all told in a bold, forthright manner that makes them seem fresh and unsettling even when read now. There was even something striking and otherworldly about Nesbit’s appearance, for she was described by those who saw her as having ‘a long full throat and dark luxuriant hair’. For some unfathomable reason, although Nesbit is still a well-known author today, her contribution to the ghost story genre is virtually unknown and unremarked upon, for the most part neglected by publishers and out of print for years. While there is no clear explanation for this, given the unquestionable quality of her supernatural fiction, one possibility is that Nesbit has simply been pigeon-holed conveniently as a children’s author. As a consequence, her writings in other areas have perhaps by default been disregarded – a fate that, in my opinion at least, is undeserved.

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Malleus Maleficarum

2 Dec

The idea of the Inquisitor, the Catholic witch hunter of the Middle Ages, is potent: the grim-faced man with brands and scourges, thumbscrews and chains, who burns, strangles and drowns innocent and guilty alike to find the truth. It is comforting to know that such practices have not existed now for a couple of hundred years but one cannot help but shudder to think that they ever happened. There were Inquisition courts in many countries but the most famous were the Medieval Inquisition, which started in France and Italy, and the later Spanish Inquisition. Initially these Inquisitions were set up to combat the spread of heresy and apostasy, but eventually they came to be associated with an altogether darker enemy. It all began in the 15th century, when a pair of zealots published a book, a guide to witch-hunting bearing the name Malleus Maleficarum. It proved influential enough to bring about the painful deaths of thousands until well into the 18th century. Within a few years the Pope had condemned it as heretical, however, this did not stop people from using it. ‘The Hammer of the Witches’, as it was literally translated from Latin, was a detailed legal and theological document that came to be regarded as the standard handbook on witchcraft, including its detection and extirpation. Its appearance did much to spur on and sustain some two centuries of witch-hunting hysteria in Europe.

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