Christmas Ghost Stories

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Christmas Ghost Stories

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Editat: des. 13, 2019, 11:11am

From what I understand, it is a tradition in England/Britain/UK? to share ghost stories around the hearth at Christmastime.

In the Dracula thread, houseful recently mentioned this:
"It's also time to check the radio listings for treasures over the Christmas period!" (post #60) ...
which made me wonder where any obscure favourites might be listed. I see nothing glaring after a quick Gothic glimpse, so thought this might be a good place to sort out top5/top10 or best recalled from childhood or most famous spooky seasonal stories overall.

The obvious is Dickens. Most are familiar with A Christmas Carol with endearing curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge but there is a cricket story that caught my eye. Until I read it, I'm uncertain whether it's simply a short story or ghostly in nature. I read the book each year and have the dvd with George C. Scott to fit in at some point. My offspring enjoy Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) with Michael Caine best. Typical.

My favourite thus far, is one discovered last year, as nudged into view by alaudacorax. The youtube version with Denham Elliot is just as creepy.

The Signalman (1976)

des. 13, 2019, 8:33pm

I think there were a further four "Christmas books" after "A Christmas Carol", none as good, which is probably not surprising but not anywhere near as good, to my mind. They either stray too far into sermonising or (reflecting Dickens' increasingly gloomy cast of mind, no doubt) being really quite dark. The Cricket on the Hearth, The Chimes, The Battle of Life, The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain Hey. i seem to have remembered all the titles! (by the way, I think Michael Caine is an excellent Scrooge in the Muppet version).

I have to confess that we don't tell ghost stories in my family and my taste for them, and TV and radio adaptations, date from when I was already in my twenties.

That said, I don't think you can go wrong with the M.R. James adaptations from the 1970s in the "Ghost Stories for Christmas" series. That said, some critics think The Signalman the best ghost story in the language and the adaptation you linked to the best single entry in the "Ghost Stories for Christmas". The revival this century has been a bit hit and miss but A View from a Hill is good albeit it borrows from a couple of those earlier stories.

Thinking about Christmas stories and I get pulled from straight ghost stories to children's fiction and films with a supernatural element. Ghosts may or my not be present. The Amazing Mr Blunden (original novel The Ghosts by Antonia Barber) and The Box of Delights, for instance.

I don't think you can go far wrong reading M. R. James's stories over Christmas. How many have a Christmas setting though? "The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance" has a travelling Punch and Judy show in it. Do they set up their pitch over the Christmas holiday though? "There Was a Man Dwelt by a Churchyard" explicitly references the "winter's tale" that doesn't get told in The Winter's Tale. Neither of these is among James' best, though.

I think you know Robertson Davies' tongue-in-cheek ghost stories collected in High Spirits.

The Folio Society produced a whole volume of Christmas Ghost Stories a few years back. I'll try to upload a picture of the contents page at some point over the weekend.

Quick look at the Radio Times shows 2019 isn't going to be a bumper year for Gothic and spooky broadcasting. We've got repeats of Northanger Abbey (not sure if it's a reading rather than a dramatisation) and an abridged reading of Dracula's Ghost. Eccentric but more promising may be a spin-off from the long-running agricultural radio soap The Archers. Beginning on 30 December "Jim Lloyd (Archers star John Rowe) enthralls an assembly of Ambridge residents with".."three chilling tales": The Room in the Tower, Lost Hearts, The Monkey's Paw (The Archers did The Canterbury Tales (not the whole thing!!) last year.).

des. 14, 2019, 8:35am

- here's the contents page for the Folio Society anthology of Christmas ghost stories.

des. 14, 2019, 8:39am

>2 housefulofpaper: The M R James short story 'Martin's Ghost' is this year's new Ghost Story for Christmas, adapted by Mark Gatiss, starring Peter Capaldi - BBC4 on Christmas Eve 10pm. We also have the new 'Dracula' - BBC1 9pm on 1 & 2 & 3 of January.

I agree with you about Dickens' follow ups to 'A Christmas Carol'. My favourite of the bunch is 'The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain', which I have read a few times. He subsequently did special Christmas editions of his periodicals 'All The Year Round' and 'Household Words'. There are some great stories there, none better than 'The Signalman', which first appeared in 'All The Year Round' in 1866, the Christmas Edition, with a set of themed stories under the umbrella title 'Mugby Junction' (Hesperus books republished this in 2005).

My family don't tell each other ghost stories at Christmas either. I think this oral storytelling tradition was commonplace in the past, when there was no mass media and many people were illiterate. There is anecdotal evidence for example, that Dickens' Christmas stories were often read aloud by one member of the family to the rest; and that poorer families shared their copies with other families. Indeed, the first Christmas edition of Dickens' 'Household Words' in 1852, was called 'A Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire'; and starts: "He was very reluctant to take precedence of so many respected members of the family, by beginning the round of stories they were to relate in a goodly circle by the Christmas fire...". This collection included the first publication of Elizabeth Gaskell's ghost story "The Old Nurses Story'. In 1853, Dickens Christmas edition was called 'Another Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire.'!

'The Amazing Mr Blunden' is one of my favourite childhood films. I still watch it about every other Christmas. Magical film.

des. 14, 2019, 12:49pm

>4 Rembetis:
Thanks for reminding me, also Channel 5 have an adaptation of one of Susan Hill's other ghost stories at some time over the holidays (I just checked and it's an adaptation of The Small Hand, 9:00 pm on Boxing Day.)

I think a number of classic ghost stories (including some on that contents page above) owe their existence to Dickens commissioning them from other writers for his periodicals. He would not write the whole thing but create a frame story where a number of characters could contribute a tale...a tale which would be authored by, e.g. Mrs Gaskell or Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Of course Dickens did also contribute stories himself. The year when the frame story concerned a range of people met with at the fictional railway station of Mugby Junction is where "The Signalman" comes from.

Editat: des. 14, 2019, 1:29pm

>3 housefulofpaper: The Gaskell and Wharton stories are included in my ebook inventory of novels/shorts/poetry gathered this past year yet remain TBR. Happy also to see Braddon listed, as I enjoyed my first taste of her work in Jan2019 (At Chrighton Abbey 1hr online audiobook) with my daily short story attempt, which lasted 5wks. I'd love to consume 365 in 2020! I enjoyed those Blackwood and Davies options also. What a gorgeous Folio edition to strive for (for which to strive?). =)

Another weakness at this festive time is A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, also featuring Denham Elliot, if only for the scene where the four boys gather at the end of a lane outside the daunting doorway to carol Good King Wenceslas, then scatter in terror when a voice answers them back. Adrenaline rush every time! We have all felt that thrill, similar to Jem touching the door on the porch of Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Three more books now on my (Cmas gifts to myself) wishlist; Robert Aickman's two short 'strange' stories Cold Hand in Mine and Dark Entries, and Ghosts of Christmas Past including Gaiman/James, etc. I have read no Gaiman yet, nor Aickman. A quick trek through Chapters/Indigo Christmas Ghosts (Amazon will never get a buck out of me!) showed a few promising crumbs. All in time.

>4 Rembetis: I will look for Gaskell's 'nurse' story in my table of contents!

Editat: des. 14, 2019, 2:07pm

>5 housefulofpaper: Reading Hill's novel then watching The Woman in Black (2012) with Hinds/McTeer/Radcliffe and its train station scenes, then led to picking up Anna Karenina after seeing a similar train station scene in one of the many film adaptations. I'd also like to see Plummer play Tolstoy in The Last Station. Those steam trains look terrifying from far away let alone up close. Great travel theme for Dickens to choose in December. Dares or writing prompts often inspire great art, as with Frankenstein and The Vampyre bad weather Alps getaway.

Editat: des. 14, 2019, 1:48pm

In children's books, The Children of Green Knowe is a beautiful Christmas ghost story of the non-frightening kind..

Editat: des. 15, 2019, 1:39pm

Speaking of mild ghost stories, The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde was a fun romp, even reading it for the first time past age 50. If it contains no Christmas fare, it will get honourable mention if I indulge again before the twelfth night!

des. 15, 2019, 1:25pm

A View From a Hill made for an enjoyable 40min. The BBC4 version had minimal dialogue with only a smattering of characters which I prefer, so an active imagination can fill in those claustrophobic silences. I was glad not to have read it first, but look forward to fleshing out the details with intact visuals. Thanks for pointing that one out. Themes of things looking one way from a distance and very different up close were nicely highlighted then inverted. I haven't yet read enough of his works to notice overlaps. The slow burn lingers. MRJames is a treasure.

Editat: des. 16, 2019, 9:50am

Dusted off a few JTSLeFanu short stories left hovering in my shadowy Kobo/ebook corners, and although none shrieked Christmas, I could picture each of them with a chilly yuletide theme:
The Child That Went With The Fairies (1870)
Ghost Stories of Chapelizod (1851)
The Vision of Tom Chuff (1870)
The Familiar (1872)

This 'Top12' link also made my mouth water with those yet unheard/unread. An audiobook with a good voice behind it is almost better than a book in hand, which might also be preferable to the visual of a short film or tv adaptation, with personal/individual dormant or active fears unleashed by any sinister voice.

I acquired The House by the Churchyard earlier this year, and might use Christmas Break to indulge that novel fancy. Opted to post in this thread more for self-accountability than anything else, as shorter works often get shoved aside during yearend mayhem.

des. 18, 2019, 9:03am

Oo! So many 'long meaning to's and new 'wanna reads' in this thread. Not to mention old favourites I haven't thought about for years, like the Dylan Thomas in >6 frahealee:

des. 21, 2019, 2:04am

>3 housefulofpaper: I just listened to "The Phantom Coach" on Horrorbabble while driving home. Not so Christmasy, but winter for sure, and some new love sweetness.

I am also of the opinion that The Muppet Christmas Carol is the best adaptation of the story, after having read the story finally. It might not be the most visually accurate, but it captures the spirit best in my mind. And dang but I can never get those songs outside of my head once I start thinking about them.

"It's the singing of a street corner choir
It's going home and getting warm by the fire
It's true wherever you find love it feels like Chriiiiiiistmaaaaaaaas!"

Editat: des. 23, 2019, 2:02pm

>4 Rembetis:
>3 housefulofpaper:
I enjoyed the online audiobook version of The Old Nurse's Story as I read along with my ebook of Gaskell's works. An artist sketched a scene as the vocals rolled on. The same situation was encountered with Blackwood's The Willows last year. Unusual? Or is that 'a thing'?! The narrative chill was more effective than our current Canadian heatwave. =) Just what I needed! No one looks forward to a rainy Christmas Day.

Also found The Monkey's Paw - ugh! Keeping eyes & ears peeled for Dickens...

Editat: feb. 7, 2020, 11:02pm

>14 frahealee: It made me laugh this weekend, to watch The House With a Clock in its Walls (2018) again with my daughter, while my son disappeared into the ether to replace our outdated modem, since I noticed something new during the director commentary bonus features segment. The Monkey's Paw! Of course it was there all along, and I remember seeing it, but it had zero significance except to look creepy. Now I know better.

feb. 5, 2020, 7:11pm

>15 frahealee:

There's often an incredible amount of work that goes into designing film and TV. Scroll back about a month on Richard Wells (@Slippery-Jack) / Twitter for some examples of the work he did on the BBC's recent Dracula.

I haven't read or seen The House With a Clock in its Walls, but I did buy the book as a Christmas present for one of my nieces.

feb. 6, 2020, 8:33am

>16 housefulofpaper: The book is excellent and has a different ending than the film, for cinematic purposes I suppose, but the location of the key in the book was a stunning revelation. The author knew his stuff, how to set gothic tropes one after another like following a garden path with a hopscotch stone, or crumbs for Hansel and Gretel, so kids cannot help but be lured through the book from one page to the next. Creepy enough I suppose for some to develop nightmares but hopefully your niece will fall in love with Gothic Literature instead. =) That monkey's paw is tough image to shake now that I've seen it. Reading and imagining is a very different experience, and with the film, Eli Roth and the prop master had a blast cramming the sets with things borrowed from Spielberg's home. Some things his wife and children would not allow him to keep within view! The house they used and other locations were perfect for a period film set in the same era as the original story. I truly hope they make a sequel, which they did talk about in the director commentary. Jack Black certainly made it hilarious. They hid a goat in his trailer, and when he opened the door, he thought he was face to face with the black horned face of the devil! The cast got along so well, that they can't wait to reunite. That is happy Hollywood news for a change.