Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe!

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(Card made by my wonderfully creative wife)

Were he still alive, Edgar Allan Poe would be 207 today. If you haven’t read all of his stories, stop wasting your time on my dumb blog and check them out. It would be rather difficult for me to overstate how much I love Poe. Teaching English, I’ve had to read the Tell-Tale Heart, the Cask of Amontillado, and Masque of the Red Death more times than I can count, and I still get excited every time I get the opportunity to go back to them. There’s so many other great tales though. The Black CatThe Imp of the Perverse, and Fall of the House of Usher are some of my other favourites, but he wrote plenty more that are equally as brilliant.

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The pictured books are just some cheap collections I’ve picked up in the last few years. There are countless editions of Poe’s works out there, and I can’t recommend any in particular. (I will say, as I have said before, that the Complete Poetry Collection is a handy one for taking into the bathroom on a slow Sunday morning.) When I get rich, I’m going to buy a hardback edition of his collected works for my fine mahogany bookshelves. I’d also love a copy of Tales of Mystery and Imagination with the illustrations by Harry Clarke, but I guess shitty thrift store collections and the internet will have to suffice until I hit the big time. Anyways, Happy Birthday Edgar!!!

And just so ye know; I’m right in the middle of the busiest part of my course at the moment, and this blog might get a little slow for the next month or so, but don’t fret; it won’t be long until I get to put down the textbooks and take up some quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore!

Here is just some of the utter garbage that I’ve picked up recently:2016-01-13 22.56.47

The World’s Most Famous Ghosts – Daniel Cohen

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Archway Pocket Books – 1985

I picked this one up as part of a collection a few weeks ago. I’m not really interested in ghosts, and I’m pretty sure this is a kids’ book, but its size and short chapters made this a perfect book for some potty-reading.

So this is a collection of accounts of different ghosts and hauntings, from the ghost of Abraham Lincoln to the Flying Dutchman. It’s written in the style of writing that 12 year olds are taught to use; every paragraph in here has an introductory sentence and a concluding sentence that rephrases the introductory sentence (Teachers call this the sandwich or hamburger paragraph.). What follows is an actual paragraph from the book:

The local people were very happy. They gave Dickie all the credit. They said he didn’t want noisy trains so close to his home. So he used his supernatural powers to stop them. Dickie is a great favourite.

Come on Daniel! You’re an author; please try to use some complex or compound sentences!

While it doesn’t contain the most eloquent writing in the world, it does contain some cool stories ( And I mean, the writing is bad, but it’s not Gothic Ghosts bad.). I like the chapter on Sarah Winchester, the millionaire’s mad widow who designed a mansion to house ghosts. There’s also the tale of the Baychimo, a ghost ship from Vancouver. I’ll definitely be doing a little more research on that one. The section I found most interesting though, was the chapter on the Screaming Skulls. These cacophonic crania are alledged to shriek whenever they are moved from their particular resting spots in certain  English mansions. I looked the skulls up, and I found the following on their wikipedia page:

skull
Whoever captioned that is a genius.

Like I said, I’m not hugely interested in ghosts, and I can’t say I believe in them, but three days ago, I spent about half an hour in the certainty that my home had been invaded by a poltergeist. My wife and I were sitting down, watching tv when our couch was lifted half a foot off the ground and instantly dropped back down. We don’t have any room-mates or pets, and nothing else in the room had moved. Neither of us had stirred, and our couch is right up against the wall, so we were able to deduce that whatever had done this wasn’t visible.  It wasn’t just a little bump either; this is a heavy couch, and it would take something very powerful to move it with the two of us sitting on it. Now I’ve spent the last two weeks reading books about ghosts and monsters, and so I immediately assumed that we were under some kind of infernal assault. I thought that I had perhaps awoken an evil spirit through my perusal of forbidden texts. I couldn’t sit back on that couch again without a weapon in my hand, and so I took down my trusty bullwhip from its mount and prepared to give 50 lashes to any intrusive ghoul! On seeing that I was ready for business, the spectre took his leave, and we were free to watch tv in relative peace. A while later, my wife checked facebook and saw that there had actually been an earthquake. I had never experienced an earthquake before, and so the thought hadn’t really crossed my mind. It was pretty funny to see how easily my scepticism was shaken in just a few moments of uncertainty.

Anyways, this book is alright. I wouldn’t recommend that you run out and buy a copy, but if you’re stuck on the crapper with nothing else, this will do trick. First you can use the ghastly tales to entertain your mind, and then you can use the nice soft pages to wipe your shitty rim.

Le Fanu’s Short Stories – Madam Crowl’s Ghost and In a Glass Darkly

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Sheridan Le Fanu – Madam Crowl’s Ghost & Other Stories / In A Glass Darkly
Wordsworth Editions – 2006 and 2008

Here are two collections of short stories from one of my favourite writers. I would recommend the Oxford edition of In A Glass Darkly, as that one contains nice notes at the back. Wordsworth editions are bare bones and rarely contain annotation. They are cheap however, and I own quite a few of them.

In A Glass Darkly is the better of the two collections. It’s been a few years since I read it, but I distinctly remember the joy I felt when the evil monkey appeared the first story. It’s also great because it contains lesbian vampires in a vampire story that predates Dracula. I think my favourite story in here is the novella: The Room in Le Dragon Volant. It’s not as spooky as the others, but I really like Le Fanu’s writing

Madam Crowl’s Ghost is a nice collection of ghost stories compiled by none other than M.R James. I read this one more recently, but I read the first two stories on a transatlantic flight and didn’t end up enjoying them as much as I would have were I to read them on the couch at midnight with a cup of peppermint tea. The stories in here are collected from different sources, and the quality and tone varies quite a bit. Some are great though, and most of them are set in Ireland. You can imagine my sheer delight on finding a story in here about a man from my hometown who shares my name. I loved this book, but the other collection is probably a better place to start if you haven’t read Le Fanu before.

The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James

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I recently reviewed Hans Holzer’s Gothic Ghosts. It was an absolutely atrocious piece of garbage, but in retrospect, I think that one of the reasons that book seemed so shitty to me was the fact that I had been reading it on my commute into work each morning while simultaneously spending my evenings reading the ghost stories of M.R. James. Holzer is shit at best, but in comparison to James, he is the shit of a shit.

Ironically, James’s ghost stories, while hugely entertaining and infinitely better than Holzer’s tripe, are also quite formulaic. They’re nearly all about elderly, educated, asexual gentlemen who find some kind of ancient artifact whilst on a vacation in a rural town. This ancient whistle, book, photograph, map, key, dollhouse or manuscript will prove to be haunted, and terror will ensue. That might seem unenjoyably predictable, but it’s the atmosphere and sense of impending doom that make these stories so entertaining. You know from the start that something fucked is going to happen; it’s the build up that allows the ghouls to get right in under your skin. I found audiobook versions of some of the stories on youtube, and listened to them whilst lying in bed.  While doing so I took great precautions to avoid the icy grasp of any skeletal hands that may have been reaching up from underneath my bed. I kept my arms, legs and head safely under the blanket.

These stories are magnificent. The Tractate Middoth, A View from a Hill, A Warning to the Curious, and Wailing Well might be my favourites, but most of the stories in here are top notch. There are a few stinkers; Two Doctors is crap, and The Story of a Disappearance and Appearance, although it does contain a chilling nightmare sequence, is fairly disappointing. The book I am reviewing here is the Collected Ghost Stories, not the Complete Ghost Stories. James wrote 4 other ghost stories that are not included in this publication. They are:
The Experiment
The Malice of Inanimate Objects
A Vignette
The Fenstanton Witch
They’re not James’s best, but they’re all worth reading if you like the stories in this book. A quick google search will sort you out.

I don’t want to spend too much time discussing James or his tales, as there is an abundance of information on both him and his writing online. I really enjoyed the BBC documentary on his life, and the M.R. James Podcast is good for additional information on each of the tales.

I’ve already mentioned that the cover of this book is fairly shit, but the real disappointment with this edition is the lack of notes. James was an exceptionally well-read individual, and he makes reference to many peculiar characters, events and texts. It would be really nice if the book included short explanations of these obscure references. I’m not sure if other publisher’s editions have notes sections either, but I know that the Wordsworth Series are crap for this kind of thing. I read the Oxford edition of Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly, which had extensive helpful notes, but the Wordsworth edition that I bought has none. (Incidentally, M.R. James was a huge fan of Le Fanu.) Also, it bears repeating that this is not the complete collection of his ghost stories. I don’t know which is the best edition of James’s tales, but I know for sure that this isn’t it.

Either way, this gets an 8.5/10. It’s an extremely enjoyable read, and one that I will surely come back to in the future.