It’s always a delight to discover scholarship on the ghost story, such as the following essay by Michael Newton. It is my favorite subject—ghosts in literature that is—hands down. I read them—new ones, old ones. I dread them (and dream them). I love both short stories and novella-length ones; novels, too, but real good ones are rare. I also like true stories of specters and spirits, haints and hauntings—they scare the bejeezus outta me, but they also fill me with a ferocious glee! I suppose it’s the idea that we may never know for sure—right?—whether they’re real or a figment of the global imagination. Either way, I love my ghost stories. I trust you do, too. So, here’s Newton’s Introduction from the Penguin Book of Ghost Stories, published in 2010. (I highly recommend every story in this collection. I recently finished Elizabeth Gaskell’s creeper “The Old Nurse’s Story.” It was superb.)
Leave a light on!
Note: Any photographs or images that follow—along with accompanying captions—are additions of mine, and are not part of the Introduction as it originally appeared in The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories. —Sanguine Woods
Introduction to The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories
Michael Newton, 2010
“The ghost is the most enduring figure in supernatural fiction. He is absolutely indestructible … He changes with the styles in fiction but he never goes out of fashion. He is the really permanent citizen of the earth, for mortals, at best, are but transients.”
—Dr. Dorothy Scarborough*, The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction
GHOST, n. The outward and visible sign of an inward fear.
—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
“It is the haunted who haunt.”
—Elizabeth Bowen, ‘The Happy Autumn Fields’
Above (click to enlarge): The famous “writing on the wall”** at England’s Borley Rectory is one of the most interesting manifestations of ghost writing ever encountered. The events and investigations at the rectory were among the very first cases of “ghost hunting” in the history of the modern world. Investigators, including Ed and Lorraine Warren, demonologists for the Church, believed the writings had come from the spirit of a young Catholic woman who wanted her body to be discovered and to be given a proper Christian burial. “Marianne” and her husband, Reverend Lionel Foyster, lived in the rectory during October 1930–her writing is in printed script and attempts to get clarification from the spirit as to the meaning of her scribbles, which include: “Marianne… please help get” and “Marianne light mass prayers”. Click here (and see other “Links” following this post) to learn more about The Borley Rectory Hauntings.
Someone is afraid. In a dark house or on an empty railway platform, at the foot of the staircase or there on a lonely beach. When critics discuss the ghost story, they often pay no more than lip-service to the intended impact of the tale itself. The critics’ words remove us from the place where the story’s words first took us. In the ghost story, through the representation of another’s fear, we become afraid. We take on the sensation of terror, the alert uneasiness that translates random sounds into intentions, a room’s chill into watchfulness, and leaves us with the anxious apprehension of an other’s presence. The stories fix images of profound uneasiness in our minds. These images remain and act afterwards, when the story is over, as paths to renewed anxiety. From the stories in this collection, memories rise up of Thrawn Janet’s crooked walk, like a rag doll that has been hanged; the bereaved mother desperately reaching for the bolt to the door in ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, with the visitor outside; or in M. R. James’s tale, on a sunless day, in a dream, a man running along the sands, breathless, worn out, pursued inexorably by a blind, muffled figure.
The ghost story aims at the retention of such pictures; it intends the production of such fears. It wants sympathetic shudders.
The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft
Nick Mamatas and Tim Pratt, 2008
Originally appeared at Chizinepub.com (Chizine Press), 2008.
I drove a brand-new rental car I couldn’t afford—next year’s model, so in a way it was a car from the future—from the Amherst Amtrak stop and into the Vermont countryside, which was just as picturesque as all the calendar photos had led me to expect. The green mountains flared with red and gold from the changing leaves of fall. I had to stop a couple of times in somnambulant little towns, first for gas and later to use the toilet, and while everyone was polite, talkative even, I felt a few stares. They don’t get a lot of black people around here. Some of these towns: South Shaftsbury and Shaftsbury, East Arlington, and then Arlington—as if having two stoplights or a three-block-long main drag were enough to fission a town into two—were positively nineteenth century. My cell phone didn’t work. They sold maple syrup by the gallon even in the dumpiest of gas stations.
I thought about the brittle old letters in my briefcase, which included (among genial advice on writing and cranky complaints about publishers) a few passages of deep loathing about “the niggers and immigrants who fester and shamble in the slums of our fallen cities.” Ah, Lovecraft. I always wondered how my great-grandfather’s letters back to him might have read. I doubted if old Cavanaugh Payne ever told his idol that he was a “miscegenator” himself. Three generations later, I was fresh out of white skin privilege myself, but I had enough of Cavanaugh’s legacy to clear all my debts, assuming I could ever find the isolated country house where this collector lived.
The hand-drawn map Fremgen had mailed me was crude, and obviously not to scale, so it was a little like following a treasure map made by a pirate with a spatial perception disorder. I’d tried to find better directions online, but none of the map sites even recognized the name of the street he lived on: Goodenough Road. I understood why when, as late afternoon shaded into evening, I found his signless dirt road surrounded by maple and pine trees. The only marker by the rutted track was a squat statue carved out of some black marble; the figure looked like the offspring of a toad and a jellfyish, wearing a weathered, white stone crown. The collector had drawn a little picture of the stone road marker on my map. I’d assumed it was a childish scrawl, but in truth it wasn’t a bad likeness. It wasn’t a bad likeness of a bad likeness anyway.
After bumping down the road—dotted with other even more indescribable statues—for about five minutes I found the house, a three-story wooden monstrosity with a vast front porch wrapped around at least three sides, and carriage house sagging down into itself off to one side. Whatever color these buildings had once been, the boards had faded to a sort of stoney gray, and they both looked on the verge of disintegration. Trees pressing in close, eager to take back the land. I parked the car and got out, and in the silence of dusk the slamming car door was the loudest thing I’d ever heard. I approached the house, with its windows all blinded by curtains, and went up the paint-flecked steps to the porch, where a swing hung broken from one chain. This wasn’t promising. I’d been assured that this collector was wealthy, but he didn’t look rich from here. Maybe I’d turned down the wrong road, and was about to be attacked by some backroads cannibal who wore the skin of his victims as an apron. Well, probably not.
I knocked on the solid wooden door.
Terrifying Real-Life Encounter Inspires New Horror Film “The Nun”…
“I feel the presence of a nun in this church…”
—Lorraine Warren, psychic investigator/demonologist, speaking to a group of psychic researchers and photographers (including husband Ed Warren) at Borley Rectory in England, during a trip there in the 1970s; it is noted that Lorraine uttered the remark immediately upon entering the building at 12:00 A.M.
In The Nun, the latest movie in the ever-expanding Conjuring universe, a cowl-clad demon with piercing yellow eyes and dagger-like teeth haunts the cloisters of a Romanian abbey and terrorizes local clergy. The film is a prequel to The Conjuring, which detailed the real case files of noted demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. Those case files have also inspired film classics such as The Conjuring 2, Anabelle, Annabelle: Creation, and the 1979 horror classic The Amityville Horror.
So how much of the story about The Nun is based on actual events?
The Warren’s son-in-law, Tony Spera, said that The Nun’s ecclesiastical phantom bears resemblance to a “real” spectral nun the Warrens encountered during a 1970s trip to the much-haunted Borley Rectory in southern England.
Below: Rare color photographs of Borley Rectory taken in 1929 (left) and 1943 after the fire (right) by England’s own famous (and infamous) ghost hunter Harry Price (Source: www.harrypricewebsite.co.uk/Borley)