Ghost Stories

When I was a kid there was nothing more annoying than having a birthday on Halloween. I mean, other kids were always stealing my sweets. On my birthday. But now I’m not a kid, this time of year is my absolute favourite. October, November and December for me are misty mornings, long evenings, yellow leaves, the smell of bonfire smoke, great costumes, delicious treats (like this cake), floorboards creaking, dogs barking, atmospheric music (think Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain), goosebumps, candles flickering and spooky stories and cartoons – or even charmingly unspooky cartoons like this one:

I love being spooked (a family holiday isn’t a holiday if it doesn’t involve visiting a cemetery), and Halloween might be the start of the spooky season, but luckily for me it continues right up to Christmas. The Victorians were all about gathering around a fire on Christmas Eve and telling each other spine-chilling tales about shipwrecks, dead lovers, murderers, faces at windows and lost children (there’s no better oral story-telling tradition than the ghost story, and that’s a fact).

People had been telling ghost stories long before the Victorians, of course, and around Christmas too (apparently just before Christmas 1642, a number of shepherds reported having seen the spectre of civil war soldiers battling in the skies), but so many of my favourite ghost stories come from that period:

  • MR James (any of them, but maybe especially Canon Alberic’s Scrap Book)
  • Poe (again any of them, but my personal favourite is The Pit and the Pendulum, which isn’t strictly a ghost story, I guess)
  • Dickens (and especially The Signalman)
  • Bram Stoker (The Judge’s House)
  • Henry James (The Turn of the Screw)
  • W.W. Jacobs (The Monkey’s Paw). 

And, of course, The Call of Cthulhu (not Victorian, very un-Christmassy, but a great story). Make yourself a mug of something hot, turn down the lights and freak yourself out.