Hey guys, and welcome back to The Book Reviewer! This week I have decided to try something new than the usual one post per book and have decided to create a 5-part series on The Folio Book of Ghost Stories. Released in 2015, this 273-page book contains 19 ghost stories, including works by E. F. Benson, W. W. Jacobs, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Charles Dickens.
I wish to post each installment fortnightly, with a small review dedicated to 3-4 ghost stories.
In this week’s post I plan to look at: The Signalman by Charles Dickens, The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs, and The Treasure of Abbot Thomas by M. R. Jones.
Hope you enjoy!
The Signalman by Charles Dickens
The Signalman was first published in the 1866 Christmas edition of All the Year Round as part of the Mugby Junction collection of short stories. It centres around our narrator’s encounter with a railway signalman, who is being haunted by an apparition that predicts upcoming tragedies that take place on the tracks. Stationed in his signal box, the man tells our narrator of the warnings the ghost dispels that have eventually led to the deaths of several passengers, either by a collision between two trains, or by sudden, mysterious circumstances when passing. And although sceptical of the supernatural, our narrator comes to learn that – perhaps – such apparitions do exist, and are capable of cautioning the living…
The Signalman provides us with that classic Victorian, Gothic experience, with language we are less familiar with in the current day. There is no doubt that in its time, it made for a perfect and haunting telling during the cold Christmas period. Perhaps, it still does today.
Interestingly, it has been suggested that the influence behind Dicken’s work here may be due to his own brush with death in the Staplehurst rail crash, which killed 10 and injured 40 in 1865. It has also been suggested that the collision which takes place within The Signalman may be inspired by the Clayton Tunnel rail crash in 1861, where one train plowed into the back on another, killing 23 and injuring 176 people.
The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs
The Monkey’s Paw is a eerie story that represents the consequences of tampering with fate. Retrieving the paw from an open fire, the White family go against previous warnings and decide to wish upon it as they believe it has been bewitched by a Fakir. Mr White, at the suggestion of his son, wishes for £200, but learns such a want comes at a deadly price.
Thought provoking and atmospheric, Jacobs work takes the maxim “Be careful what you wish for” to the extreme, showing that even an inch of curious greed can equal in the unthinkable. It is a timeless short horror story; most likely one of the best.
The Monkey’s Paw was first published in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, vol. 105 (1902). The Folio Book edition includes a haunting illustration by David McConochie.
The Treasure of Abbot Thomas by M. R. James
Published as one of many short stories in his collection – Ghost-Stories of an Antiquary (London: Edward Arnold, 1994) – The Treasure of Abbot Thomas provides the story of a Reverend’s search for answers, when, while searching through a library in an abbey, he uncovers hidden messages in a stained-glass window. Yet, what he discovers on his journey is something beyond the the realms of the natural world.
James grips the reader from start to end with this charming short tale. It draws on what is now likely a modern trope of having something dark and horrendous lurking under stone, ready to grip and frighten anything that comes close. However, it leaves many questions unanswered, something that has previously provoked mixed responses by readers of this story.
Another beautiful illustration is provided by David McConochie in The Folio Book, depicting the Reverend.