Thursday, October 29, 2009
There is something about late autumn that cries out for the telling of ghost stories. Is it because we’re surrounded by summer’s decay as flowers shrivel and desiccated leaves are chased by biting breezes? Is it the withering daylight and deep, dark nights? Is it the skeletal trees that reach bony fingers toward the lowering sky or claw on windowpanes? (The spectral Catherine Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights comes to mind.) Is it the superstition that spirits wander the earth on Halloween night when the veil between the living and dead becomes gossamer thin? Whatever it is that conjures up some atavistic fears at this season, it’s spine-tingling fun.
One of our favourite family stories that perfectly evokes this autumnal eeriness is called The Ghost-Eye Tree by Bill Martin Jr. We had a "ghost-eye tree" in a riverside park close to our previous home, and always felt the story’s thrill as we passed it. Interesting how that became part of our family lexicon.
For adult books, I prefer creepy rather than gory (which I refuse to read or watch), and find that the most chilling tales are the subtle ones. Stephen King can make a hedge or a fire hose seem like the most malevolent danger, as he did in The Shining. (I remember that from 30+ years ago!) But I think that the scariest book I ever read was The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. It’s haunted me for way too many years. What a great writer she was!
To celebrate this spooky season, ghosts and skeletons have already invaded our house, and a grimacing jack-o-lantern is soon to join them. On Halloween night we’ll don our witches’ hats and demons’ cloaks so that we can’t be singled out from the real ones that may be about - and to scare the little goblins who dare to come to our door for treats. Candles will flicker… medieval chants will echo… Imaginations will delight…. Bwahahaaaaaaa.