Friday, October 5, 2012

The Monkey Reads: Roald Knows How to Pick 'Em

Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories
Various; Introduction by Roald Dahl
To curate this collection of haunted tales, Dahl read more than 700 short stories, which he admits with a wry “so you don’t have to” attitude in his superb introduction. Note, these are not stories written by Dahl, but rather stories he found to be of high quality and wanted to share.
His original intent was to adapt these stories for an American television program – an anthology show in the vein of The Twilight Zone and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. But after a pilot was produced, the show was nixed and Dahl was left with a stack of stories to share.

The best entry in Ghost Stories is Robert Aikman’s “Ringing the Changes.” This tale of a newlywed couple on their honeymoon in a quiet, nearly abandoned seaside village in England has its own strange rhythm that rewards greatly with sheer creativity as it builds a genuine sense of dread at what’s coming.

Edith Wharton and Cynthia Asquith contribute a story each, with Wharton’s “Afterward” burying the scares under an affecting sense of loss, confusion and grief, as a woman attempts to figure out what happened to her missing husband. Asquith’s “In the Corner Shop” has such descriptive prose that it works even though you know where she’s headed after a page or two.

Jaded, over-stimulated modern brains will recognize the plots of some of these stories, as they’ve been repurposed many times, and, as with “On the Brighton Road” by Richard Middleton, read like urban legends.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t still take pleasure in high quality writing of A.M. Burrage’s “Playmates” or F. Marion Crawford’s “The Upper Berth.”

Reference material: Own a copy of The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories? You may have already read some of these, but can likely find something new. And anyone who will stay up late to watch a favorite episode of The Twilight Zone should enjoy Dahl’s collection.