Friday, February 24, 2012

A Touch of Fiction

For those fond of fictional ghost stories, I have the following recommendations:

1. M.R. James.

2. E.F. Benson.

James was a linguist and archaeologist, among other things. He was a brilliant scholar and historian. He also loved ghost stories, and they were the only fiction he ever wrote.

Am I glad he did!

His interests in history, archaeology, and languages are shown in the stories, many of which deal with a hapless protagonist entrapped by some sort of diabolical being from ages past. They're all written so politely, but the effect! You don't want to turn out the lights after reading his works. They're available on Project Gutenberg; enjoy!

As for Benson, he was among those present when James read his first ghost story at a Christmas Eve celebration in the late 19th century. He wrote many more ghost stories than James, but they aren't (to my mind, at least) as scary, though always keeping the attention. Usually, the protagonist in Benson's stories finds something ghastly when renting an isolated cottage for the holidays, or just visiting a new location. Women tend to be on the side of evil in his stories (especially "Mrs. Amworth" and "The Room in the Tower").

Speaking of the latter story, not only is it one of Benson's best, it's one of the best ghost stories ever written. The main character, in his twenties, has had a recurring dream since childhood, one that always terrifies him. It all relates to the titular room. To find out what happens, you'll have to read it yourself.

Some of Benson's works are available on Project Gutenberg, but since he wrote several novels in addition to his ghost stories, I'm not sure (not having checked) if they're all novels, or if some of his story collections are also in there. At any rate, his works are in the public domain, so they should be easy to find.

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