Archive for oh whistle and i’ll come to you my lad

Horror Stories for a Snowy Night

Posted in Best Of with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2015 by smuckyproductions

 

Yuletide is upon us! The nights grow dark, the air cold, and the wind carries voices of ice… the perfect time for a few fireside shivers. Here is a (partial) list of classic and contemporary stories that suit themselves for a cold night, when you tremble from something other than temperature.

  1. THE WENDIGO by ALGERNON BLACKWOOD

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Algernon Blackwood is the unchallenged master of the terrified awe that nature inspires – like an evil twin of the Romantics. “Wendigo” is my personal favorite of his famous tales. His ill-fated group of hunters who encounter the titular spirit in the winter woods are witnesses to a horror that we all understand: being at the mercy of the elements. It evokes a sense of ever-present dread, lurking over the treetops and blowing in on the snow – something that we can’t see, but it sure sees us.

  1. OH, WHISTLE AND I’LL COME TO YOU, MY LAD by M.R. JAMES

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No December reading list is complete without M.R. James – he is one of the best practitioners of the fireside ghost story. While many of his stories are worth reading, “Whistle” combines the best traits of them all: chilly seaside atmosphere, ancient relics, and slow-building uncanny events that blow up into shocking terror. All with a cheeky sense of humor. Suffice to say that James actually makes the ghost-in-a-sheet cliché frightening.

  1. THE COMPANY OF WOLVES by ANGELA CARTER

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As with the entirety of her collection, Angela Carter is phenomenal at paying tribute to fairy tales while also subverting them. Here, we find a deeply dark version of Red Riding Hood – a snow-shrouded village in Eastern Europe; a young girl with a vital task, and the boy who seduces her; the horrible, animal secret that might kill her. It’s both frightening and hideously erotic, realizing the full potential of the werewolf/sexual awakening metaphor.

  1. SILENT SNOW, SECRET SNOW by CONRAD AIKEN

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Cited by some as one of the first psychological thrillers in short American fiction, this story has a bizarrely simple premise: a boy becomes obsessed with snow. Somehow it manages to be weirder than it sounds. On one hand, it’s a deeply disturbing supernatural horror story; on the other, it’s an upending exploration of mental illness and obsession. All while having a supremely chilling atmosphere.

  1. MIRIAM by TRUMAN CAPOTE

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What would you do if a helpless little girl follows you home… and refuses to leave you alone? Set in a bitter, empty New York winter, this shivery tale reads like the purest of nightmares: surreal, impossible, but inescapable. It’s also a horrifying meditation on loneliness and manipulation. Capote knew how to scare readers with his true stories, but he also could craft fictional terror, all too well.

  1. THE YATTERING AND JACK by CLIVE BARKER

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No one in their right mind would call this scary. But it’s an absolute blast to read – a combination of demonic horror clichés and brilliant dark humor, often bordering on slapstick. And it all takes place during a traditional Suburban Christmas. Clive Barker has an imagination of dark gold, and it’s displayed beautifully in this tale of holiday Satanism, with a hefty dose of satire as well.

  1. SNOW, GLASS, APPLES by NEIL GAIMAN

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Only someone like Neil Gaiman could take such a classic, overdone story – Snow White, in this case – and completely invert it, so the original is unrecognizable. I won’t tell you how he does it, but the effect is astonishing and wholly terrifying. This wintry fairy tale is a bleak and brilliant nightmare. Its minute twists of the source material alter the reader’s perception so fully that they can never go back.

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Forbidden Tomes (Halloween edition): GHOST STORIES of M.R. JAMES

Posted in Forbidden Tomes, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2015 by smuckyproductions

One of the most ancient, and perhaps overdone, horror subgenres is the ghost story. No matter how oversaturated the market becomes, we always look for truly spine-tingling and chilling tales of the supernatural. For the best offerings of this tradition, I argue that it’s best to go back to the roots – those creepy Victorians, and most wonderful of all are the GHOST STORIES OF M.R. JAMES.

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With his first two collections in particular, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and More Ghost Stories, James explores what happens when innocent explorers stumble on something from the other side. Usually the consequences are a fainting spell and a good shock, but sometimes the ghosts are more dangerous. Set in crumbling cathedrals, dreary manor homes and drafty seaside inns, his stories are full of the best sort of atmosphere. Their protagonists are hardly unique or memorable, but what happens to them in these spooky locales is always hard to forget, especially late at night.

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James is one of those authors who, if you haven’t actually read a story of his, you’ve seen them referenced or redone. If he’s not the inventor, he’s the popularizer of the white-sheeted, object-cursing, revenge-seeking spirit in popular culture. His stories are simple and often tongue-in-cheek, but there’s something about their subtlety and lack of grotesque flair that makes them far too easy to believe. James is blunt about his supernatural occurrences, which makes them all the more frightening.

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By today’s standards his images are basic and silly – but he handles them in a way that makes the horror visceral and undeniable. It’s worth noting as well that James introduced some of our standard ghost tropes, too – evil dolls, man-hungry spiders, and child demons, amongst others. His almost sardonic treatment of these images is strikingly modern. He has a great sense of sadistic humour, torturing his audience with gossipy grotesqueries and blurted horrors. One can imagine him watching the reader from afar, smirking in delight as the goosebumps rise.

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His best stories – such as “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” and “A Warning to the Curious” – have sustained amazingly, still frightening after all these decades. Their wind-swept climes and shadowy twists are best navigated in the dark of an October night – they were traditionally read by James in pitch-black rooms as an after-dinner form of entertainment. And somehow, across the crawl of time, his autumnal voice still echoes.