Six of My Favourite Ghost Stories
As an author and critic of horror fiction, there’s nothing I love more than a good ghost story. I’ve picked six of my all-time favourites to share in this article. Will yours be among them?
1. At Chrighton Abbey by Mary Elizabeth Braddon – My first choice is a very traditional tale. In the run-up to Christmas, Sarah (a poor relation to the wealthy family who lives at the abbey) returns home from long-term employment abroad as a governess and pays her cousins a visit. She reconnects with her English identity in the best way possible: by fancying that her ancient room is haunted. She dismisses the notion as irrational and foolish and beneath a sensible woman of her age and temperament only to become sucked into her cousin’s concerns about her son, the heir to the abbey. The Chrightons are a cursed family and every hundred years or so something awful happens when a ghostly pack of hounds appears.
2. The Phantom Coach by Amelia B Edwards – My second choice is a variation on the typical ghost story, in that it doesn’t feature a haunted house or castle, although the isolated farmhouse where the narrator takes shelter from a terrible storm has plenty of oddity about it and his host is decidedly unfriendly. Instead, it is a vehicle in which the narrator takes refuge from the heavy snowfall that conveys ghostly passengers along a neglected and dangerous country road in the dead of night. Although this tale is unusual in focusing upon a mode of transport, it sticks true to the other traditions of the ghost story: the wintry season, the isolated house, the lone narrator who starts the tale by reassuring us of his survival. It’s all here!
3. The Kit Bag by Algernon Blackwood – No one tells a ghost story quite like Algernon Blackwood, and he always stamps his own identity upon the tale. I used to be a lawyer before I became a writer, so I like that this story revolves around a barrister who works hard to secure the release of a vicious murderer on the grounds of his insanity. By the end of the trial, his private secretary is so traumatized that he needs a holiday to recuperate. It’s winter, of course, so he’s going to the Alps and asks to borrow a stout canvas kit bag for his ski clothes. This story respects the many traditions of the ghost story, but again here it is an object (the kit bag, of course) where the ghostly spirit resides.
4. The Cicerones by Robert Aickman – ghost stories are such a peculiarly English phenomenon, but just to be perverse some of the best are set abroad. John Trant visits the Cathedral of St Bavon, in Belgium, only half an hour before it will shut for lunch. The guides, or cicerones, who show him the cathedral’s ominous masterpieces are children. Despite the impending deadline, they don’t seem in any hurry to see him leave. I like the way that this story builds up the drama gradually using the artifacts and pictures to give a vivid sense of impending dread and mystery.
5. The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert – I’m going to include a full-length ghost story. Like a lot of James Herbert’s later works, it’s really quite long. It takes considerable skill to keep the tension of a ghost story going over a complete novel, and it’s not an accident that almost all ghost tales are either short stories or novellas. However, you’re in safe hands with James Herbert.
6. The Haunted Dolls’ House by M R James – no list of favourite ghost stories is complete without one from the master of the subgenre. I’ve chosen this story, against some pretty stiff company, because I love the novelty of the haunted house being a child’s dolls’ house, rather than a whole family home itself featuring a ghost. It’s quite a postmodern story, in that the narrator is an observer of events from outside, which we in turn them see through his eyes. Of all the ghost stories I know, this one is probably the most original while at the same time being intensely traditional. M R James is such a genius for ghostly tales.
They have a Postgraduate Certificate in Creative Writing from Newcastle University and were longlisted for the Aeon Award twice. John’s latest horror novel ‘Blackacre Rising’ is available to preorder now on Amazon and Smashwords.
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