Swan River Press has been around for a while, but I just recently discovered them. I ordered a back issue of The Green Book (Issue 6, 2015) because it contains a previously forgotten ghost story by Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. The Bram Stoker story is only the beginning. The entire book is chock-full of writings on Irish Gothic, supernatural, and fantastic literature. I highly recommend it!
From the fine purveyors of the peculiar over at Wormwoodiana:
There are at least a handful (of Kiplings eerie tales) that might stand among the most effective in the field. And as well as their strong traditional storytelling qualities, Colin notes that aspects of Kipling’s tales anticipate modern developments in the literature of the supernatural, later found in the work of Shirley Jackson or Robert Aickman. The stories explore states of dream or delirium and can also be psychologically acute.
They say there are only so many stories to tell, just different ways to tell them. Take the classic ghost story about a spirit that cannot rest until something or other is resolved. I never realized how old that story was until I saw this.
Pliny the Younger was an elected official in ancient Rome. He and his uncle, Pliny the Elder, were both witnesses to the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79 AD. The elder Pliny was killed during the eruption while attempting to rescue some friends by boat.
Pliny the Younger was also an author who wrote hundreds of letters that have survived to this day. His letters have enabled historians to learn much about ancient Rome. One of the earliest non-Biblical references to Christianity is in a letter from Pliny to the Greek Emperor Trajan, asking for advice on how to conduct trials for Christians (most likely for the crime of not bowing to statues of the Emperor).
Pliny does not necessarily present the ghost story as fiction. In his letter to a Roman Senator named Sura, Pliny writes, “I am extremely desirous to know whether you believe in the existence of ghosts, and that they have real form . . . or only the visionary impression of terrified imagination.”
Pliny follows up his question with two stories. The first story is about a man who sees a vision of a beautiful woman who accurately predicts his death.
The second story begins:
There was at Athens a large and roomy house, which had a bad name, so that no one could live there. In the dead of the night a noise, resembling the clashing of iron, was frequently heard, which, if you listened more attentively, sounded like the rattling of chains, distant at first, but approaching nearer by degrees: immediately afterwards a spectre appeared in the form of an old man, of extremely emaciated and squalid appearance, with a long beard and dishevelled hair, rattling the chains on his feet and hands. The distressed occupants meanwhile passed their wakeful nights under the most dreadful terrors imaginable. This, as it broke their rest, ruined their health, and brought on distempers, their terror grew upon them, and death ensued.
Naturally, no one wants to live in the house. No one, that is, until a philosopher named Athenodorus comes along and, being fully apprised of the fearful circumstances, decides to buy the house and live in it. The story ends when the philosopher sees the apparition one night and follows it:
The ghost slowly stalked along, as if encumbered with its chains, and, turning into the area of the house, suddenly vanished. Athenodorus, being thus deserted, made a mark with some grass and leaves on the spot where the spirit left him. The next day he gave information to the magistrates, and advised them to order that spot to be dug up. This was accordingly done, and the skeleton of a man in chains was found there; for the body, having lain a considerable time in the ground, was putrefied and mouldered away from the fetters. The bones being collected together were publicly buried, and thus after the ghost was appeased by the proper ceremonies, the house was haunted no more.
You can read the entire letter, and all the letters of Pliny the Younger, here at Project Guttenberg. For the “ghost letter” scroll down to LXXXIII — To SURA.
Cool news from our friends at Wormwoodiana:
“Three stalwarts of the classic ghost story have combined to launch new awards for the best ghost story and the best ghost story collection each year. The journals Ghosts & Scholars and Supernatural Tales and the literary society A Ghostly Company will jointly sponsor the awards. The winners will be chosen by votes of their readers and members.”
Author John Shirley has written an essay on why he likes “dark” literature – those genres that deal with the supernatural, horror, and so forth. The essay appears on Literati Literature Lovers. Here’s an excerpt:
It may be that the appeal of dark beauty is that it bridges these fearful gaps in existence: it brings symmetry to the asymmetrical; it brings liveliness to the symbols of death. In some paradoxical way it shows us how death isn’t the end. The scent of leaves decaying is not unpleasant—yet it’s a smell of decomposition. The glow from a jack-o-lantern is cheerful, though the carved face on the pumpkin may leer wickedly. A moonlit landscape seems to brood, to hint of dark secrets—yet it’s a glorious sight. What’s prettier, really, than an old graveyard with ornate headstones and mossy tombs? We weep at a funeral but we’re celebrating someone’s life.
Because Joshi is so opinionated, Dirda suggests that we “trust Joshi on the books he praises, but look for yourself at those he dismisses or disdains.”
Here’s an excerpt of the review:
Nothing human is alien to supernatural fiction. Transgressive by definition, it ventures into the dark corners within all of us, probing our sexuality, religious beliefs, and family relationships, uncovering shameful yearnings and anxieties, questioning the meaning of life and death, even speculating about the nature of the cosmos. It’s no surprise that almost every canonical writer one can think of has occasionally, or more than occasionally, dabbled in ghostly fiction: Charles Dickens, Henry James, Somerset Maugham, Elizabeth Bowen, John Cheever, even Russell Kirk, to name just a few outstanding examples. The genre’s best stories are, after all, more than divertissements. They are works of art that make us think about who and what we are.
And, yes, they are also scary. Sometimes really scary.
Literary Kicks’ Levi Asher says, “I’ve spent a week surfing his works and reading the exciting biography Derrida: A Biography by Benoît Peeters (as recommended to me by a commenter to last weekend’s Derrida post). I now realize how ridiculous it is that I’ve never studied Derrida or the other deconstructionists and poststructuralists before, since they cover many of the same themes I’ve been long obsessed with: ethics, language, personal identity, political activism. I now find Derrida deftly reaching the same kinds of conclusions I have been groping towards (but, I’m sure, with much less finesse and skill) in these pages. In short, I feel like I’ve been a deconstructionist/post-structuralist all my life, but I didn’t know it until now.”
And here’s a ghost story I wrote a few years ago that makes references to Derrida.
Glen Cavaliero, writing about Charles Williams for The Lost Club Journal, says, “Even devotees of weird fiction have paid insufficient attention to the works of Charles Williams – there is no entry on him in the Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986), for example; perhaps because his ‘spiritual shockers’ had a loftier aim than making the flesh creep. He used his books as vehicles for his brand of religious mysticism. ‘There are no novels anywhere quite like them,’ wrote T. S. Eliot. ‘. . . He really believes in what he is talking about.’ It does not help his reputation that his novels are out of print in Britain. In the US they are published by Eerdman’s.”
Thorne Smith wrote towards the end of Prohibition until the opening years of the Great Depression and left behind one of the most delightful mirrors of contemporary American Life of the era. Thorne was a junior member of the Algonquin Round Table and a friend (maybe lover) of Dorothy Parker, but his books were considered outright scandalous despite their hilarity and popularity. Because of the outrageous nature of his stories, Thorne managed the distinction of being a best selling author that no one would admit to reading. Stephen Dare at Metro Jacksonville explores the legacy of Thorne Smith.