"spooky monks, a Vampire lady, a fatal duel, a gruesome Father Christmas and festive gifts from beyond the grave."
How could anyone possibly say no to all that? Each and every story is set at Christmas time, with not a bad story to be found anywhere.
For "Traditional Victorian spookiness" you can't go wrong with Irish writer Charlotte Riddell. Her "A Strange Christmas Game" finds a brother and sister who after years of grinding poverty inherit a house called Martingdale, and in doing so, discover the cause of their kinsman's strange disappearance on Christmas Eve forty years earlier. As the narrator says, "you pooh-pooh the existence of ghosts, and 'only wish you could find a haunted house in which to spend the night ...' but wait until you are left in a dreary, desolate old country mansion .." well, you get the drift. Not to steal thunder from the British Library, but Leonaur has an excellent collection of Riddell's Complete Supernatural and Weird Fiction available for readers who may be interested. Creepiness continues with Hume Nesbit's "The Old Portrait," about which the editor notes that "it's a powerful story of the Fin-de-Siècle period, and is akin to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray and Bram Stoker's Dracula, the latter of which it predates." Once you've read it, you'll immediately see why this is so. In the meantime, not even one baby hint. Next up from Louisa Baldwin (1895) is "The Real and the Counterfeit." In this story, the Christmas holidays bring "three young fellows" to "kick it up alone" at the Musgrave family home, Stonecroft. As one of the three notes, "an old house is not complete unless it is haunted," and to his surprise, he learns that the family has its own ghost, not seen since Grandfather Musgrave's time. Young Musgrave's lifetime desire to "become personally acquainted" with the family ghost just may happen, if his friend Armitage has anything to say about it. As a brief aside, for some reason, I was very much reminded of Montague Summers' "The Man on the Stairs" while reading this one. Described as "sweet rather than scary," and a story that "features a very Victorian idealised Christmas," Frank Richard Stockton's "Old Applejoy's Ghost" takes it very personally when his elderly grandson, "the old curmudgeon," makes absolutely no moves toward celebrating Christmas in the old family home.
|Victorian Christmas card from Ripley's Weird News
From 1913, Algernon Blackwell's "Transition" is the story of "an ordinary man" who finds himself caught up in an extraordinary situation on his way home to deliver Christmas presents to his family, and that's all I will say. A.M. Burrage, whose name you may recognize from his story "Smee," is up next with "The Fourth Wall" from 1915, one of my favorite stories in this volume, and so very different from the others. Solicitor Jack Forran is told he must take time off work to recuperate from severe headaches; he, his wife, her brother, her sister and her sister's boyfriend all share a cottage "just outside the region of the fens." It's an ideally-secluded, "ripping old place" for these "normal, hard-headed people," until one of them begins to feel that the room they're in seems "stagey." Let the weirdness begin. Frankly, I am a bit sad that Burrage's work is not as well known as it should be -- he is one heck of a neglected but great teller of supernatural tales. I was sort of wondering why HP Lovecraft's "The Festival" would show up here, but as it turns out, the poor narrator in this story had absolutely no clue just how terrible his Christmas was about to get -- it's likely he will never, ever forget the strange Yule-rite. Creepsville. Seriously. In "The Crown Derby Plate" Marjorie Bowen has written one of the most effective ghost stories ever. It all begins when Miss Martha Pym hears of a nearby recluse who collects china and begins to wonder if perhaps she might just have a Crown Derby Plate to finish off her set which is one plate short. Going to see her at Hartleys just might provide Martha a double pleasure -- finding the plate and seeing the ghost in that house which is supposedly haunted. After all, as she says, she would very much like to, "particularly at Christmas for you can laugh as you like, that is the correct time to see a ghost."
|more Christmas card fun from Ripley's Weird News