This year, after lurking on the sidelines for the last few times, I decided to participate in Carl’s RIP event. The RIP event has many different levels, but I thought that instead of committing myself to a particular level and putting myself under pressure, I will just read in a freestyle way and see how things go. I searched around in my home, looked into forgotten corners of my bookshelves, and then took out all the books which had a horror / supernatural / ghost theme. Then I also picked out some stories which didn’t fit in strictly into these categories, but which could be squeezed in. (‘Mystery’, ‘Suspense’ and ‘Thriller’ are also appropriate categories for RIP – I think I can squeeze in many books here 🙂) But I am not going to cheat – I am going to read mostly books which deal with ghosts and the supernatural and can be considered part of the horror genre. I might try to sneak in a thriller which fits in with this mood.
The first two books I picked for the RIP event were collections of ghost stories. They were slim and were easy reads and so I thought they will be good for warming up for the event.
The first book was ‘Ghost Stories’. Once in a while, I go to the Oxford University Press office in my city and browse in their bookshop for part of the afternoon. The OUP bookshop has a very unique collection of books, when compared to regular bookshops. So I always enjoy browsing there. One of the sections there that I enjoy browsing is the section for younger readers which had abridged classics and original books written for younger readers. These books have end of chapter exercises and activities, a glossary and other interesting extras. It is always a pleasure to read them. When I was in school, I used to love them. I still love them. Once in a while, when I want to feel that I am still a child at school, I buy some of these abridged books and read them from cover to cover. ‘Ghost Stories’ (retold by Rosemary Border) was one of those abridged classics.
‘Ghost Stories’ is a slim collection of six stories. All of them were Victorian (or Victorian-style) ghost stories, mostly written between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The stories in the collection were :
Smee by A.M.Burrage
The Judge’s House by Bram Stoker
The Stranger in the Mist by A.N.L.Munby
The Confessions of Charles Linkworth by E.F.Benson
The Ghost Coach by Amelia B. Edwards
Fullcircle by John Buchan
I liked all the stories in different ways, but I liked some more than the others. My favourite story in the book was John Buchan’s ‘Fullcircle’ which is about a house which has a personality of its own, influences its occupants in subtle ways, shapes their lives to fit its own style but also makes their lives full and rich and happy. It is a gentle, affectionate house. My favourite passage from the book was also from this story. It went like this :
Then, as I looked, the actors and the stage seemed to disappear. I was conscious of only one ‘person’ – the house itself. It sat there in its little valley, smiling at all our modern ideas. And all the time its spirit worked its gentle influence on those who loved it. The house was more than a building; it was an art, a way of life. Its spirit was older than Carteron, older than England. A long time ago, in ancient Greece and Rome, there were places like Fullcircle. But in those days they were called temples, and gods lived in them.
I liked the gentle ghosts in some of the other stories. In ‘The Stranger in the Mist’, a gentle ghost tries to help people who are lost in the mountains at night, but it has the wrong map and so its intentions don’t work as expected. In ‘The Confessions of Charles Linkworth’, a condemned man’s ghost turns up and asks for forgiveness. In ‘Smee’ the ghost of a girl who fell off the stairs while playing hide-and-seek comes back to participate in similar games which others play in that house in later years. ‘The Ghost Coach’ is about a coach which carries ghosts and which re-enacts an accident which happened in the mountains twenty years back, everyday. The scary ghost in the book was the one in Bram Stoker’s ‘The Judge’s House’. It is the ghost of the cruel judge – it is terrible and it doesn’t leave any occupant of the house alone in peace.
The second collection of ghost stories I read was ‘The Rupa Book of Haunted Houses’ edited by Ruskin Bond. It also had Victorian (or Victorian-style) ghost stories. Many of the star writers (of ghost stories) of that era are featured in the book – M.R.James, A.M.Burrage, Bram Stoker, Algernon Blackwood, E.F.Benson, Hugh Walpole. There were fourteen stories and three poems in the collection.
My favourite story in the collection was Hugh Walpole’s ‘The Staircase’. In case you haven’t guessed it already, it is also about a house, which has a life and a personality and which loves its inhabitants. Then a three member family comes to live in the house – a young man, his wife and his sister. The sister tries to poison the young man’s mind against his wife. The wife is an innocent person. The house loves the young man and his wife. What it does to protect the young wife forms the rest of the story. I liked the story so much that I want to read more stories by Hugh Walpole now.
Some of my other favourite stories from the book were ‘A Pair of Hands’ by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (it features a beautiful house with a gentle ghost which reveals itself only through its hands and which keeps the house spic and span while everyone else is sleeping), ‘Nobody’s House’ by A.M.Burrage (about a murder which happened in a house many years back and a mysterious man who has come to the house to investigate it), ‘The Haunted Doll’s House’ by M.R.James (which is about a doll house which mysteriously gets lighted up at night and the dolls suddenly take a life of their own and a story gets enacted which looks eerily real), ‘The Gardener’ by E.F.Benson (about a dead gardener who comes back in search of his wife), ‘Gone Fishing’ by Ruskin Bond (about a servant who faithfully waits for many years for his master to come back and when his master returns he discovers some surprises – the story had a beautiful ending) and the two stories featuring the psychologist who investigates ghosts, Flaxman Low – ‘The Story of Yand Manor House’ and ‘The Story of the Spaniards, Hammersmith’ by E. and H. Heron.
There is a charming passage in the introduction to the book, written by Ruskin Bond, which I liked very much. It goes like this :
“I like to do my late-night reading in an old rocking-chair that I picked up at an antique shop a few months ago. It had once belonged to a former Maharani, I was told. It creaks rather loudly when in motion, but I’ve got used to that. The other night, after I’d gone to bed and switched off the lights, I heard the old chair creaking. Turning on the light, I saw that the chair was quite empty although it was rocking backwards and forwards as though it had an occupant. Presently it was still. This is something that has happened several times during the past few weeks. Perhaps the rocking-chair’s former owner wishes to use it from time to time. I don’t mind her rocking and rolling in the chair, just so long as she doesn’t appear in person…”
I enjoyed reading both the ghost story collections. Looking at my favourite stories from both the collections, it looks like I have a soft corner for stories which feature a house with a gentle, kind personality. I don’t know whether that is a genre – if it is, I would like to read more stories from that genre.
I will leave you with some of my favourite lines from the second book.
And all three laughed together then, though each laugh had a different sound. (from ‘The Decoy’ by Algernon Blackwood)
Thierry, glancing across, was struck by the strange likeness between the faces of the Egyptian goddess and this scientific of the nineteenth century. On both rested the calm, mysterious abstraction of some unfathomable thought. (from ‘The Story of Yand Manor House’ by E. and H. Heron)
You have doubtless been often surprised that neighbours think that such and such events have been the dramatic changing moments in your life – as when you lost your wife or your money or had scarlet fever – when in reality it was the blowing of a window curtain, the buying of a ship in silver, or the cry of a child on the stair. (from ‘The Staircase’ by Hugh Walpole)
I think I have made a slow, quiet start to RIP. I can’t wait to read my next book for the event. You can find more information about the RIP event at these links :
Are you participating in Carl’s RIP event? What books have you read till now?