Tag Archives: A Ghost Story for Christmas

Ghosts of Christmas Past

20 Dec

‘There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas,’ wrote Jerome K. Jerome in the introduction to his darkly comic collection Told After Supper (1891), ‘something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails’. Dickens would no doubt agree, as well as anyone who grew up in the 1970s and was scarred for life by the BBC’s annual Ghost Story for Christmas. It is often assumed that this is a tradition inaugurated by the publication of A Christmas Carol on December 19, 1843. But Dickens had been channelling something much more ancient, something, in fact, much older than Christmas itself. These are the fireside tales of the Winter Solstice, when our Neolithic ancestors worshipped their death and resurrection gods and the Germanic tribes celebrated Yule, when the wild hunt rose and the Draugr – the ‘again walkers’ – gave up their graves on the darkest day of the year. People have always got together at this time of the year. And as these pagan echoes blend with quasi-Victorian religiosity, like rum and ginger in a winter punch, folk are bound to tell some pretty strange stories. When the unnamed framing narrator of Henry James’ seminal ghost story The Turn of the Screw listens to a friend reading the eerie manuscript, for example, it is on Christmas Eve. This was doubly so before radio and then television took over, and friends and families still had to entertain themselves. And why stand starchily around an upright piano singing carols when you can scare each other witless? This was the point of Jerome’s book, which both satirised and affirmed the genre of the late-Victorian ghost story, a particular type of English gothic that had become clichéd and ripe for parody by the end of the century. The form was, however, about to be accidently revitalised by M R James, a prestigious academic who took a ghoulish delight in frightening the life out of friends, colleagues and students by writing a single ghost story every year and reading it aloud to them in his rooms at King’s on Christmas Eve, extinguishing every candle but one. As he later explained, ‘If any of them succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable when walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours, my purpose in writing them will have been attained.’

Continue reading

Ghost Stories for Christmas

21 Dec

Although Halloween is the time of year that is popularly associated with ghost stories, it should not be forgotten that traditionally Christmas is every bit as appropriate a time for telling tales of the supernatural. Over the years, dozens of newspapers and magazines have echoed the words of the editor of Eve magazine addressing his readers in 1921: ‘Ghosts prosper at Christmas time: they like the long evenings when the fire is low and the house hushed for the night. After you have sat up late reading or talking about them they love to hear your heart beating and hammering as you steal upstairs to bed in the dark…’. It was the master of the ghost story genre, M R James, who arguably enshrined the traditional of the festive spine chiller, although others had contributed to this before him, most notably Charles Dickens and J S Le Fanu. At the dawn of the 20th century, James was telling ghost stories to friends at Christmas gatherings in the shadowy, candle-lit gloom of his rooms at King’s College, Cambridge. It is therefore fitting that, many years later, the works of James inspired a BBC series, A Ghost Story for Christmas,whose remit was to provide a television adaptation of a classic ghost story referencing the oral tradition of telling supernatural tales at Christmas.

Continue reading

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: