Friday, October 30, 2009

Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories

Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories

Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories.
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984
Originally published: 1983
235 p.

Who better to investigate the literary spirit world than the supreme connoisseur of the unexpected, Roald Dahl? Of the many permutations of the macabre, Dahl was always especially fascinated by the classic ghost story. For this superbly disquieting collection, he selected fourteen of his favorite tales by such authors as E. F. Benson, Rosemary Timperley, and Edith Wharton.

Let me start out by saying that this is a fantastic collection of ghost stories. I was very impressed with his selections. The story is that Roald Dahl and some other dudes wanted to create a TV miniseries of ghost stories, so he read hundreds upon hundreds of the things, many of which were crap, and selected his very favorites. The miniseries never happened, so years later he compiled this book.

It starts with a really great introduction by Dahl talking about his experience exploring the genre and some of the things he learned. Definitely not one of those introductions you should skip over. Then come the stories.

There are too many for me to go through all of them, and I even have too many favorite for me to list them all without this going on and on, so I'm going to go the opposite route and keep it very short.

Basically what I enjoy about these stories is something that Dahl points out in the introduction, which is that in most of the best ghost stories, you never actually see the ghost. That's definitely true in most (not all) of these. As a result, while the ghosts are very often disturbing and creepy, the most haunting characters are the living, not the dead. One of the shortest and best stories in this is called "The Telephone" in which a man desperately makes phone calls to the ghost of his dead wife. It's told from the his new partner's perspective, so there's still this distance from the spirit, and the story is primarily about the man.

So not all the ghosts in this story are malevolent. A couple are bent on revenge, but there are also the ghosts of friendly children, lost loves, and a couple of Obvious Metaphor ghosts in the mix. The stories are mostly from the turn of the 20th century through the 1950's, so they've all got a sort of classic feel to them. This is definitely a collection worth owning and one I'll come back to.

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