"short passages regarding ghosts, witches, deals with the devil, and so on from works of local history and folklore, then writing a longer story of his own from that germ of an idea and resetting the events around Christmas."
Personally, I think that was a good choice on his part, starting with the familiar and then embellishing, and that concept takes shape at the very beginning of this collection, with the first story, "A Weird Wooing." It begins on Christmas Eve in January, 1748 and concerns an ill-fated romance between a young woman and her ardent suitor whose lands had been confiscated because he "drawn his sword, on the losing side, during the Civil War of 1745 and 1746." It seems that this guy means to make his fortune and win the girl back by going to Edinburgh where a treasure lies hidden in a house beset by the plague in 1645, sealed up "lest the pestilence should burst forth ..." It seems that Death guards the place, so we shall wish him well. The titular story, "The Shrieking Skull," set in Lancashire, begins in 1650, the year after Charles I was executed at the hands of Oliver Cromwell. Once again politics divides a young couple in love. She, Ruth, the daughter of a Puritan is being (once again -- a very common theme throughout many of these stories) forced into a marriage to which she refuses to agree, and he, Ralph Osbaldiston, a Cavalier having lost his ancestral lands to her father when they were confiscated by Cromwell. His family has long been known to have the "second sight," and he puts a curse on her groom-to-be that on the wedding day, he will either die "the death of a wolf" or will live "the life of a tortured fiend in hell." As the next chapter heading begins, "Enter the Shrieking Skull." I did not know this, but according to the editor, a shrieking skull is a "British tradition," and with just a bit of googling, I found a few examples of this phenomenon. Actually, there are two different skull stories in the book, but this one is the best. Yet another story, "The Black Cat or The Witch Branks of Loughborough," goes back even further in history, set in Leicestershire in the 1630s in a small town of Loughborough, where one young woman, Madge Calvert, covets the admirer of Muriel Fenton and will do absolutely anything to have him for herself. The idea of just how to obtain her goal begins when Muriel finds a black kitten. You may likely guess where this might be heading, but there are a few surprises yet to come.
|from Folk Horror Revival, Twitter|
"... this first collection of so many of his Christmas ghost stories should provide an informative and enjoyable window into the tastes of the Victorian era."
"Victorian readers' concept of 'ghost stories' generally and 'Christmas ghost stories' in particular was broader than the conception of some readers today,"