Here's an index to the Creeps series, 162 stories over 12 volumes (thirteen if you include the Omnibus which is really the first three books - Creeps, Shivers and Shudders- lumped together). we've sections devoted entirely to both the Creeps and the Not At Nights although its fair to say few of the threads have seen much action.
Great! That's a useful index - evidently "Philip Murray" was the publisher Philip Allan, who seems to have liked a good horror story. And interesting to see Frederick Cowles there - he's gained some cachet because of the rarity of his books.
First off; apologies. This really doesn't belong on this thread, but I'm in such a hurry to share it, I can't delay finding the appropriate one.
Item 1: "Eric Duke" refrigerator repair-man, a classic character played by Shea Whigham (whoever he is) doing an atrocious impersonation of Kurt Russell. Item 2: some of the worst acting I've ever seen anywhere. Item 3: cliches so delicious they'll give you a tummy ache. Item 4: If this doesn't make you laugh, what will?
First off; apologies. This really doesn't belong on this thread, but I'm in such a hurry to share it, I can't delay finding the appropriate one.
Item 1: "Eric Duke" refrigerator repair-man, a classic character played by Shea Whigham (whoever he is) doing an atrocious impersonation of Kurt Russell. Item 2: some of the worst acting I've ever seen anywhere. Item 3: cliches so delicious they'll give you a tummy ache. Item 4: If this doesn't make you laugh, what will..
Strange; these events happened to me last night in almost exactly the same order except there was no fridge...
There was one moment where I laughed out loud but I couldn't bring myself to try and find it again.
Thought I'd tackle a few of these before diving back into Mr Laymon. I'm not really a ghost story kind of person on the whole, but am looking forward to a bit of change. The Introduction says they're listed in chronological order so that we can experience the progression of the ghost story over time, so I've started at the beginning with Sir Walter Scott's, The Tapestried Chamber. We'll see how long it takes me to start jumping around, or maybe just losing interest altogether.
I probably enjoyed this more than anyone has a right to really. It didn't strike me as a particularly memorable story but I still seemed to enjoy it quite a lot. I suspect this is because it's quite a different beast from what I've become used to these days. I'm not usually a fan of this old fashioned style of prose but I actually think it aided my relatively good opinion of it this time. This may have been due to the darkened room and lamplight I was reading it in, making for a good atmosphere, or probably just as likely to it being a bit of a departure for me.
I liked it, and I liked the old fashioned 'feel' to whole thing. The story itself was a bit of a non-event for me, more of a 'this happened, then that happened', kind of thing without much else to it. I did enjoy it, but I'm hoping this isn't the best of them.
The Phantom Coach by Amelia B. Edwards, is much more the ticket. I love stories that don't spoon-feed everything to you, and in this story various questions are left(presumably deliberately) up in the air just a little, or it may just be me being stupid again. Either way our protagonist, a Mr James Murray is wandering across the moor in thick snow and darkness when he meets Jacob with his lantern, a servant it would seem from a house nearby and manages to tag along and attempt to gain a little hospitality for the night. After discussing various worldly matters with the Master of the house he decides to snag a lift with the mail coach which is coming through a few miles from the crossroads, but instead climbs aboard an ancient and mildewed old coach with three passengers on-board. We already know at this point from Jacob that nine years previously the old night mail coach crashed through the wall and fell some fifty feet killing all four passengers and two others besides. is our man to be the fourth unhappy passenger? And how is it that there are only three passengers aboard in the first place? Was he always the fourth passenger? Is he in fact dead and simply unaware of it? Or is he a normal, healthy man that's simply boarded the wrong(phantom) coach? And if so, what happened to the original fourth passenger? I don't know really, but if I had to take a guess, I'd like to think he's a perfectly normal, perfectly alive man who just happens to board the phantom coach(the missing fourth passenger still bugs me though).
I loved this one, and I loved it's ambiguity. The descriptions of the mildewed coach and the unresponsive passengers was just a delight to read and of course the ending had me musing and thinking upon the why's and wherefores of it all too. A story absolutely filled to the brim with that particularly wonderful dark, creepy atmosphere and a fantastic little tale to boot.
I've skipped Squire Toby's Will for the moment after having attempted to 'get into it' several times only to have it defeat me. I will go back to it though, probably at the end. So onto The Shadow in the Corner by M. E. BRADDON. We're in another big old house with the Master, Michael Bascom whose time is spent studying the various Sciences with the aid of his beloved books. He doesn't hold with all that superstitious stuff due to being a proud upstanding science-minded type. Mr Skegg, the butler, and his lady wife who takes care of the kitchen, parlour etc tend to his needs and have done for twenty three years. Mr Skegg is concerned that his wife is need of help and so after a matter of weeks manages to turn up a young lady, a foreigner no less due to her not being local but from beyond the village. She had to be 'foreign' of course due to the death in the attic room where a previous Master was found hanging from a hook in the corner of the bedroom, since which time no-one's used the room and it's been kept locked.
The young lady, Maria, is a happy, cheery little thing at first but we soon see the effect the room has on her. Before long she's pale and thin and not herself at all. She sees a shadow of a man in the corner of her room at night and after telling the Master he tries the room for himself that very night. Experiencing similar shadows in the corner along with the sense that there's just something wrong in this room, he investigates the corner finding an old rusty hook and decides that Maria would be better off in a different room. Informing the butler Skegg has no effect at all since after twenty three years in the job he now has a high opinion of himself and his place in the house, and simply ignores his Master's instructions to move Maria to another room.
Of course, the next morning when Maria doesn't show we suspect the worst and are proved correct as Skegg breaks the lock off the door and finds poor Maria hanging in the very same shadowy corner. Now at this point I was fully expecting, and it has to be said, looking forward to being flooded with feelings of sadness at the undoubted several pages of depressing prose that were surely lined up for me once I'd turned the next page. I turned the page with a knowing smile on my lips at the prospect of said assault on my senses to discover that the author had ended the tale with a single solitary remaining paragraph informing me that Master Bascom had had enough and upped sticks and headed for Oxford, where he apparently lived quite happily studying books and mixing with like minded science chaps.
I exagerate a little in that he is both angry at the Skeggs for what he calls her murder, and sad when he pictures her little face, but I really feel a little cheated by what seemed like a rush-job at the end. Where's my pages and pages of morose prose? Where's the little lump in my throat as I read line after line of sadness? Where's the little tear that is torn from the corner of my eye as I struggle to get to the end of these few pages of emotional turmoil?
So in the end, very enjoyable, but I felt cheated of my sadness at the end.
Am enjoying the guided tour, Mr. The Horror. Just revisited The Phantom Coach (AKA, The North Mail) for first time in so long, I actually had the ending confused with E. Nesbit's John Charrington's Wedding. Will try fit in a rematch with Mrs. Braddon's The Shadow In The Corner over weekend, as, under my tragic pre-Vault rating system the story warranted two red asterisks, denoting "an all time classic." Needless to say, I can't remember anything about it.
N.B. I hope Marillionboy won't mind, but I amended the thread title from 'Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories - The Clock' for convenience sake.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.
The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford. I love the sea. Just something about that vast open expanse of nothing but choppy waters as far as the eye can see, and the knowledge that just about anything could be lurking beneath, and that's exactly what we find here. I've not read much pure ghosty stuff so maybe Atlantic Steam Ships aren't as scarce in ghost stories as I think, but I'd be surprised. Here we have a cabin with a little round porthole that just does not want to stay closed. Our man(whose name I forget, I'm writing this from memory several days later) is intent upon discovering the whys and wherefores of the mysterious disappearing passengers in this particular cabin(cabin no. 105 I seem to recall). So far four people have vanished from the cabin and never been seen again. We're at sea and there's literally nowhere to go so our man decides to spend the night in the cabin himself and get to the bottom of it all.
I don't know what it is about these stories so far but the characters just don't seem to be grabbing me. I'm finding it difficult to picture them as anything beyond stock, two-dimensional characters that are there just because someone has to be. I find it very difficult to invest any emotion in them. Maybe it's the old fashioned style of prose? I don't know. Anyway, I mention this because there's a wonderful little description of the sea monster/creature/thing. It's not a lengthy description but then it doesn't need to be because it paints a fantastic picture of a terrifying sea creature without giving us too much and overdoing it. Our imaginations are tweaked and then left to do the rest. It really works and I love this style of writing. It's just a shame the same thing can't be said for the other characters.
So anyway our man(still can't remember his name!) and the captain end up in a bit of a struggle with the foul thing after it enters through the porthole and somehow ends up almost instantly in the upper berth. It's strong, has the strength of ten men in fact and is slimy and smells of the sea. Wonderful. I loved this part. We're left in no doubt as to who, or what in this case, gets the upper hand and the creature escapes leaving the two men flailing helplessly on the cabin floor. The door is subsequently nailed shut and we're left with a warning that if ever we find ourselves on this particular steamer, to under no circumstances take cabin no. 105.
For all my bitching about the characters I did enjoy this one quite a bit. It helps that I truly love anything set in, on or around the sea, and of course sea monsters are always good. I'll be interested to see if characters in subsequent stories begin to feel a little more real to me or not. I've a notion it has a lot to do with that old fashioned feel to the prose I mentioned above. Very good on the whole. Liked it.
It has been a while since I read it, but I seem to remember it being the ghost of a drowned man in The Upper Berth (possibly the first of the berth's occupants to have gone missing?), rather than an actual sea monster. I've only read a handful of Marion Crawford's short stories, but they all left a favourable impression - his vampire short For The Blood Is The Life is well worth checking out. I wonder if the lack of characterization you refer to is a deliberate part of some older short stories - the idea that this is happening to a very ordinary, practically nondescript, person so it could happen to anyone? That and the obvious limitations in space for developing the character, when developing an atmosphere is much more crucial to the story?
It has been a while since I read it, but I seem to remember it being the ghost of a drowned man in The Upper Berth (possibly the first of the berth's occupants to have gone missing?), rather than an actual sea monster. I've only read a handful of Marion Crawford's short stories, but they all left a favourable impression - his vampire short "For The Blood Is The Life" is well worth checking out. I wonder if the lack of characterization you refer to is a deliberate part of some older short stories - the idea that this is happening to a very ordinary, practically nondescript, person so it could happen to anyone? That and the obvious limitations in space for developing the character, when developing an atmosphere is much more crucial to the story?
Ah yes, that would make more sense. I did wonder why a sea monster was appearing in a volume of ghost stories It hadn't occurred to me that the characterisation might be deliberate. Interesting.
If I remember correctly, the thing in the upper berth is the ghost (to give it a name, though it is definitely physical) of a man who threw himself off the ship and was staying in that particular cabin. It is also said that the man was insane but managed to evade those caring for him and board the ship--it is either the captain or doctor who tell the narrator all this but I can't recall which one. This is my favourite of Marion Crawford's supernatural stories, though The Screaming Skull comes a close second.
A Wicked Voice by Vernon Lee. Sometimes with this highfalutin' literature stuff I find myself grasping for a foothold, and end up going through the whole story just barely holding on. This was one of those stories. It seemed to enjoy tormenting me by name-dropping various Composers and then taunted me with a few Arias just to drive home the point. From what I can gather a singer named Balthasar Cesari, nicknamed Zaffarini is killing people by singing at them, or 'to' them depending on your viewpoint I think. It's a likable enough story when all's said and done and I enjoyed it nearly as much as the others I've read, but I felt like it was something of a personal achievement on my part to have gotten through it at all, and even with a small understanding of what it was about too. This, I feel, is not the overriding feeling I should be left with after reading a story, and just makes me wonder if I should have learned more about music history before now than I have. I wouldn't mind so much but I pride myself on my little collection of opera Arias and not inconsiderable classical music selection I've managed to obtain for my ipod. But for all my whingeing I truly did like this. I'm beginning to actually enjoy the style used in these older stories much more than I ever expected to. Take this little bit for example from the very end,
O wicked, wicked voice, violin of flesh and blood made by the Evil One's hand, may I not even execrate thee in peace; but is it necessary that, at the moment when I curse, the longing to hear thee again should parch my soul like hell-thirst? And since I have satiated thy lust for revenge, since thou hast withered my life and withered my genius, is it not time for pity? May I not hear one note, only one note of thine, O singer, O wicked and contemptible wretch?
See now, even I get glorious little chills sweeping through me when I read something like that. I just know that sometime in the future I'll remember this story and re-read it, and wonder just what it was that I was blathering about the first time round. It really does have a wonderful feel to it, even if I do prefer Britain as a setting rather than, as is the case here, Venice, it still manages to create a great atmosphere around it. I'll look forward to the day when I happen upon it again. Even I can see it deserves a re-read.
Oh, and apologies for the p!ss-poor synopsis here. This one really did deserve better than me. Sorry Mr Lee!
'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad' by M. R. James. A Professor of Ontography heads off to the East Coast, Burnstow and promises to visit the site of a Templar's Preceptory to see if it's worthy of a dig. Upon arriving in Burnstow he takes a room in the Globe Inn and is soon strolling along the shingle beach of an evening when he happens upon the very Preceptory he said he'd visit. Digging about with his pocket-knife he soon finds an old whistle, about four inches long and of a not insignificant age at the bottom of a square hole in the earth. He pockets it and later in his room cleans it up and blows upon it. It's at this point he probably should have taken heed of the signs and turned tail and ran, but he's not a great believer in the supernatural and so finds natural justifications for the strange things that then happen. He sees a weird figure stooping and running to and fro as he walks on the beach and in fact when he blows the whistle in the first place, is rewarded with a terrific surge of wind, howling through his room and blowing open windows and so forth. I'd have taken the hint I think. Things get worse for the Professor as the days pass and soon the bedclothes on the unused bed in his room are tangled and twisted when he wakes. This happens a couple of times and being ever the sceptic he persists in his belief that he did it himself without realizing when he unpacked his things. He's pretty soundly divested of this scepticism when finally the figure appears in his room, entirely without substance in it's natural state, but with a face of white linen here. They struggle and the Professor is left on his knees with nothing but a crumpled heap of linen in front of him. It's a fantastic story with a terrific ghostly, eerie atmosphere to it and definitely the best I've read thus far.
If you're wondering why I've skipped ahead to this story instead of proceeding in order as planned, there is a reason for it. I've had a DVD sitting in my TV cabinet for years now which I realised contained not one but two different versions of this story. One starring Michael Hordern(1968), the other John Hurt(2010). My wife advised me to read the story before watching the DVD, hence my skipping to it now.Interestingly the synopsis for the 2010 version has the Professor finding a ring on the beach rather than the whistle of the story. Anyway, I've pulled the DVD cover off google. Here it is,
The special features on the DVD include an Introduction by Ramsey Cambell(2001, 16 mins), and Ramsey reading '...his own MR James-inspired story The Guide'. I'm looking forward to watching this sometime over the weekend.