Monday, October 31, 2011

The Haunted Looking Glass – Ghost Stories selected by Edward Gorey

I’m not normally very organised when it comes to themed seasonal reading – it’s rare that an event coincides with a book I want to pick up and it’s hard to see why I should read something that doesn’t immediately appeal to fit the calendar (though truthfully I have a sneaking admiration for those well organised souls who have a proper reading plan and seem to stick to it – I’m sure it must be far more productive and illuminating to be that disciplined.) However last week I had a train journey and for train journeys I like short stories.

Looking for something suitable I found ‘The Haunted Looking Glass’ which I bought last year after I saw it mentioned (I wish I could remember where – if anyone has blogged about how they read this every Halloween I owe you a thank you). I wanted it because I’m a fan of Edward Gorey’s illustrations particularly and books generally. His personal selection of ghost stories would be far too good to miss out on – or so I reasoned. I was right; it’s also a bit of a bonus that this is such a lovely nyrb edition (if you like that sort of thing).

I find short story collections make the perfect travelling companions for shortish journeys with lots of stops and starts and only partly because I’m exactly the sort of person who could miss a stop because I’m absorbed in a book. A really long journey will accommodate an equally epic novel but being away from home for a night, especially if it means going through somewhere like London – well so many impressions make it hard to know what sort of book will strike the right mood. A good anthology (or I will begrudgingly admit, a Kindle) should have something that hits the spot, the extra advantage of the short story is that it only ask for short bursts of concentration at a time.

The Haunted Looking Glass’ was a very well mannered companion, Gorey’s selection picks a fine line between gloriously camp and a little bit scary (fortunately for a woman spending a night in a strange room, buried deep in a nest of labyrinthine corridors, in an old country house, on an isolated golf course blasted heath nothing was outright terrifying). The most disturbing tale from my point of view was R. H. Maldon’s ‘The Thirteenth Tree’; Maldon relies on some suspicious shadows to inflict the shivers on his readers to good effect. I could laugh off Bram Stoker’s rats, had no fear of R. L. Stevenson’s body snatchers, admired E. Nesbit’s ‘Man Sized in Marble’ – but nothing was getting me out of bed until daylight after the Maldon.

These are all good old fashioned ghost stories, perfect for dark nights accompanied by warm drinks, so much so that I can see it becoming a tradition to pick up this book every time the clocks go back (although to be strictly accurate I read most of it in broad daylight – which is perhaps why I’m so blasé about the rats...) 


  1. Sorry to be shallow, but are there any pictures in the Gorey book?

    Coincidentally. I read the Stoker rats story for Hallowe'en, after dark, I did find it a bit silly towards the end which is never good with a ghost story. Mind you, we have rats in our ceiling (not because we are especially filthy, ahem, but because there's a hay barn built onto the side of our house where the landlord keeps hay) and I've always felt kindly disposed towards them but now even more so.

  2. Helen, there are a few pictures - he does an illustration for each story.

    I will admit I like my ghost stories on the silly side, especially at night, otherwise I scare myself silly. I liked the rats story partly because of the students addiction to strong tea, partly because the role of the rats was so unexpected. Truthfully this isn't the scariest collection but it's atmospheric and I really enjoyed it.

  3. Hmmm, in that case I shall definitely consider it (I think I already have some at least of the stories in The Oxford Book of Ghost Stories).

    You are quite right, it IS atmospheric and the stern words about the tea-drinking were lovely. And I enjoyed it! But just the very end, it was a bit much. Although perhaps I was trying to find it ridiculous to keep myself from getting scared.

  4. Helen - it was silly, though not I think too silly, but it's how I like ghost stories - I don't have the stomach for really scary. I don't have the oxford book, I looked at it but have a Virago collection which doubled up a lot of the ones I was interested in.

  5. sharing knowledge with others