Short Stories I: Ghost Stories

Through_the_wild_forest wikimedia public domain

It’s allergy season for me, so I’m spending a lot of time dozy on antihistamines, when I’m not fantasizing about cracking open my stuffed-up sinuses to relieve the pressure in them.  The weather is still a little too chilly and untrustworthy, which makes me feel better about all the time I spend hiding inside on my couch, reading weird tales and ghost stories and horror jaunts.

  • Count Magnus, M.R. James:  I love M.R. James to bits.  He’s the quintessential Victorian ghost story writer for me, always proper and well-mannered and yet hiding genuine terror behind the wainscoting.  It’s hard to pick just one story, but I’ll go with Count Magnus because it’s the kind of travel story you never will see again, because the protagonist, a gentleman of leisure satisfying his curiosity, really can’t exist in the modern age (and it adds a nice humorous undercurrent, reading from a modern perspective about how it was to be curious abroad in the days without the Internet to answer every question).  Also, it’s a relatively straightforward tale for James, who can be a touch too reliant on his scholarly in-jokes at times.
  • The White People, Arthur Machen: Machen does surrealistic, strangely lyrical horror.  I’d liken them to acid trips, but acid trips at this point have been humorized out of horror, and Machen’s stories are certainly horrifying.  Yet they have some of the most vivid and dreamy imagery I’ve ever run across.  This one stars a child–and while demonic children are a cliché these days, the protagonist of this story comes across as less possessed/inhumanly evil as thoughtful and self-willed.  And therein lies the creepiness, as she calmly and consciously goes on her way.
  • Strange Stories from the Lodge of Leisures, Pu Sungling (trans. George Soulié): These are generally more charming than scary, but there’s the occasional The Fault and Its Consequences, which makes you grimace from its matter-of-fact handling of its bloody narrative.  Then you have vignettes like The Dwarf Hunters, and who wouldn’t love a little pack of hunters to kill off your household pests? (speaks one who moved from the ‘burbs, where she never saw a cockroach, to the cockroach-infested city)
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