CHILL TIDINGS: DARK TALES OF THE CHRISTMAS SEASON Edited by Tanya Kirk
The British Library, p/b, £8.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
The editor of this carefully curated collection of spine-chilling short stories originally published between 1868 to 1955 has an enviable job as Lead Curator of Printed Heritage Collections 1601-1900 at the British Library. With access to a profusion of printed works from days gone by, she’s cherry-picked a fantastic selection of classic ghost stories – some scary, some humorous, some with a moral behind them. The majority of the authors were previously unknown to me, save two – H.P. Lovecraft and Jerome K. Jerome, but all the tales contained within these pages are terrific. Despite their age, the language is not difficult to comprehend, making each of the stories very accessible.
All are set within the Christmas seasons of times long passed. The opening tale tells of a poor brother and sister inheriting a haunted and rather neglected country estate. Another depicts a haunted painting that tries to absorb the lifeforce of its owner. In the third, three young friends stay at one’s apparently haunted house, but when one of the three decides to pretend to be a ghost to scare his friends, he soon finds that the ghost he didn’t previously believe in does indeed exist. There are many other very enjoyable stories, which feature haunted cottages, ghosts coming home for Christmas, benevolent spooks ensuring that their miserly relatives give a good Christmas celebration and more.
H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, ‘The Festival’, has a stranger returning to the town that his family once came from to observe the ancient Yuletide festival. While this particular tale was written before he published one of his best-known works, The Call of Cthulhu, there are many similarities that can be found between the circumstances and setting of The Festival and those of The Call of Cthulhu. It is instantly recognisable as Lovecraft’s work and is a joy.
The final tale in the collection comes from the pen of famous humorist Jerome K. Jerome. His novelette weaves a complicated tale of a man telling stories that were shared during a Christmas Eve celebration. Despite the complicated manner of the tale, it is still good fun, and while perhaps not a laugh out loud comedy as we may desire in this day and age, perfectly enjoyable and delightfully silly.
I really enjoyed this collection of spooky tales with a festive bent and will be keeping my eyes open for more of these collections from the British Library. They’re great, easy-reading and a nice way to pass the time on a cold, dark winter’s evening.