Book Review: Hauntings (Anthology)

“Fear is as old as life itself.”

I’ve said it dozens of times: I believe it is coded into our very DNA to want to be told stories. For very many of us, this craving additionally comes wrapped with a bit of thrill seeking—not necessarily a desire to be wholly terrified, but perhaps to experience a bit of a spine-tingling sensation, that love of the tingle on various levels, which would explain why ghost stories, when they began to be told for entertainment’s sake, were such a great hit with a diverse public.

Though there were particular masters—M.R. James, for example—the genre contains perhaps as many styles as there are readers, from the Senecan tragedies mirrored in Shakespeare and Pliny the Younger’s description of a ghost bound in chains that birthed an archetype, used to humorous effect in Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost,” to the modern-day possessions of people and places, event imprints and ghostly re-enactments of horrific bloodbaths, to name just a very few.

Historical tales of ghostly events have been and remain quite popular, an intriguing angle being that this sub-genre seems to be as in-demand amongst those not considering themselves history buffs as those who do. Perhaps this is because mixed within are both recognizable historical figures (of numerous eras) and those who, in life, were more of the ordinary set, such as ourselves, with relatability as an added factor. This is no small achievement, given the sheer variability of perspectives amongst readerships.

Illustration by James McBryde for M. R. James’s story “Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad.” (Image courtesy Wikimedia. Click for further details.)

Yet this is precisely what Stephanie Churchill and nine other authors from the Historical Writers Forum have achieved here with their compilation of Hauntings: A Collection of Ghostly Encounters. Opening with Simon Turney’s tale of a tormented Roman general and proceeding through time, these stories “that take you through a labyrinth of historical horror” indeed weave through the years, echoing events and imprinting in our minds the concerns of the living and the dead. Some of the backgrounds are recognizable, others not; all are followed with historical notes for additional background. One of the best finds I encountered in my own reading is that even eras and cultures I was unfamiliar with or didn’t generally care for before nevertheless drew me in. These are powerful yarns that weave a pathway through the imagination, creating a fascination for the traditions or superstitions behind the events for greater appreciation of what those in the stories endure.

Anthologies can be a tricky chemistry to master: a variety of authors, with different styles; eras and settings that often are poles apart; ghosts that may or may not show up fairly soon into the tale, or perhaps not at all—these run the risk of becoming the anthologies many readers love only a few of the stories from and indeed read them repeatedly, but the rest gather literary dust. In this case, Hauntings rises above that fate not only with its sheer readability, but also marvelously written accounts that at times cause an appreciative intake of breath ~

The clouds above raced past as if they had somewhere to be[.]

~ or occasional self-awareness and/or conversational style:

I thought they were merely a part of the castle’s memories, you see.

What I love about these and other examples is that the entertainment value is kept company by lovely phrases or a reaching out to readers without stepping out of the roles to which characters are assigned. The gripping narratives engender emotions arisen as well for the sake of others, those whose stories we are in the midst of, forgetting that we came to the story for our own ends, in the process gathering a great deal about our own sensibilities as well as those of past societies and individuals within them. Moreover, there is not a filler tale in the lot. One could read the anthology cover to cover or skip around, but I guarantee you will read them all, likely repeatedly. Dust is not in the future of these tales.

Hauntings is a set of stories that will appeal to lovers of ghosts, but also those enamored of history (and even not a few not so enamored!), so I am quite sure it will bring in many who have never picked up a ghost story in their lives. We are, after all, bred to it. We want to know what came before us. We wish to be thrilled. We are looking for a little fear factor, even the exhilaration, the electrified feeling that passes through us when the unexpected comical comes our way. Truly a collection of craft, this anthology delivers what we have been seeking for millennia, and then some.

Hauntings author contributors (click each name to learn more):

Simon Turney

K.S. Barton

Paula Lofting

Stephanie Churchill

Judith Arnopp

Jennifer C. Wilson

Lynn Bryant

Kate Jewell

Samantha Wilcoxson

D. Apple

The blogger was provided with a courtesy copy of Hauntings in order to provide an honest review. 

Hauntings is available for purchase at Amazon and Amazon UK.

Lisl is currently working on a novel set in Anglo-Saxon England, and can be found at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She loves rain, the sea, ghost stories, poetry and Casablanca

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