The Short & Bloody History Of Ghosts
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Creepy, clever, and has you looking over your own shoulder.
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Another classic of ghost-story writing, with a doomed family and a crumbling, historic house at the heart of it. The narrator, Sarah, returns to her childhood home as a guest, having been obliged to work as a governess.
There, although the halls are brightly lit and the old servants delighted to see her, a sense of disaster hangs over the festivities and Sarah's glimpse of a ghostly hunt forewarns of tragedy to come. A young Englishman and scholar leaves his friends for the day to spend time alone in a claustrophobic, decaying French cathedral city in the Pyrenees.
He is encouraged by the sacristan to buy an antique manuscript volume which is possessed of older and evil memories. Wonderfully atmospheric, wonderfully creepy. This is, possibly, the most exquisite and perfect of all psychological ghost stories. Again, an unnamed narrator, another governess, a different manuscript that claims to tell the story of mysterious country house, a widower and his children and two ghosts of former servants of the house. It is never clear if the ghosts are real or the product of the governess's increasingly unstable mind.
And here, unlike in many ghost stories, there are several strong and engaging characters, not least of all the strange children, Miles and Flora. Simply, a masterpiece. Blackwood is the neglected master of the Edwardian ghost story renaissance. Gentlemen travellers and scholars fill his pages, but always with a psychological — often animist — slant on things. For Blackwood, Nature always has a capital 'N' and was a living, breathing thing, sometimes benign, but often sinister.
The Short and Bloody History of Ghosts
This collection is the place to start, even though my favourite story is "The Man Whom the Trees Loved" , where a wife finds herself powerless to save her husband from the trees he loves. The forest does seem to be alive, getting closer and closer to the house, until the husband vanishes all together. Atmospheric, beautiful, a very subtle story of a peculiar haunting. De la Mare was a significant writer of ghost stories, publishing some 40 supernatural tales in collections such as Eight Tales and On the Edge, but I'm choosing perhaps his most famous work, this lyrical and haunting poem.
It's never clear what bargain the traveller has made, and with whom, only that he has kept his word to come to the deserted house in the wood.
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The opening line still makes my hair stand on end: "'Is there anybody there? The celebrated author of novels such as The House of Mirth, Wharton was also a terrific writer of ghostly tales. A blend of Poe, Hawthorne and Henry James, she has a lightness of touch that belies the often very grisly tale. This story, first published in the Pictorial Review in , has a fabulous sense of place and is a revenant story with a twist.
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It leaves the reader doubting their interpretation of events. Clever stuff. This is my favourite children's ghost story, a wonderful time-slip novel set during the first world war. Lucy and Jamie Allen move with their mother and baby brother to the country, where their mother has been engaged by a mysterious gentleman, Mr Blunden, as caretaker of an abandoned house until the rightful owner can be traced. One day, Lucy is walking in the garden to explore and to pick flowers when she meets Sara and Georgie. It becomes clear that the children are ghosts, children of the house who died years ago in the fire that destroyed the estate.
It's a gentle, thoughtful ghost story, of parallel time and the chance to make amends for mistakes in an earlier life.
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It tells the story of a hotel where one of the rooms is haunted by a ghost, and its interactions with a few guests who decide to spend the night in the room. This story is meant to make the reader laugh. A businessman arrived at a hotel late one night and asked for a room.
The room clerk told him the hotel was all filled up. The man went up to the room. He unpacked his things, and he went to bed. As soon as he did, a ghost came out of the closet. Its fingers were bleeding, and moaning, "Bloody fingers! Bloody fingers! The next night, a woman arrived very late. Again, all of the rooms were taken except the haunted room.
Its fingers still were bleeding.