We are for the dark
October 25, 2012 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Robert Aickman wrote some of the best ghost stories of the last fifty years. He also edited one of the finest genre anthology series of his time: The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories. Between 1964 and 1972, he curated eight volumes of horror fiction without repeating an author, favoring always the subtle, the psychological, the poetic, the rare, the neglected. 59 of his selections can be found online.

(Use of Readability or one of its clones is advisable for certain of the stories.)

Featured in the first Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories:

The Ghost Ship, by Richard Middleton
"I must admit that the thing I'm going to tell you about was queer even for our part of the world, where three packs of ghost hounds hunt regularly during the season, and the blacksmith's great-grandfather is busy all night shoeing the dead gentlemen's horses."

Squire Toby's Will, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
"You pass, embowered in melancholy trees, a small and ruinous Saxon chapel, which, time out of mind, has been the burying-place of the family of Marston..."

The Voice in the Night, by William Hope Hodgson
"It was a dark, starless night. We were becalmed in the Northern Pacific."

The Rocking Horse Winner, by D.H. Lawrence
"There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck."

The Wendigo, by Algernon Blackwood
"A considerable number of hunting parties were out that year without finding so much as a fresh trail..."

The Crown Derby Plate, by Marjorie Bowen
"Martha Pym said that she had never seen a ghost and that she would very much like to do so..."

The Trains, by Robert Aickman
"On the moors, as early as this, the air no longer clung about her, impeding her movements, absorbing her energies."

The Old Nurse's Story, by Elizabeth Gaskell
"You know, my dears, that your mother was an orphan, and an only child..."

Seaton's Aunt, by Walter de la Mare
"Seaton, in the hush of confidence, or at any little show of toleration on our part, would remark, "My aunt," or "My old aunt, you know," as if his relative might be a kind of cement to an entente cordiale."

Featured in The Second Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories:

Playing with Fire, by Arthur Conan Doyle
"I cannot pretend to say what occurred on the 14th of April last at No. 17, Badderly Gardens."

Man-size in Marble, by Edith Nesbit
"Although every word of this story is as true as despair, I do not expect people to believe it."

How Love Came to Professor Guildersea, by Robert Hichens
"Dull people often wondered how it came about that Father Murchison and Professor Frederic Guildea were intimate friends."

The Demon Lover, by Elizabeth Bowen
"Toward the end of her day in London Mrs. Drover went round to her shut-up house to look for several things she wanted to take away."

A.V. Laider, by Max Beerbohm
"It was good to be here again in this little old sleepy hostel by the sea. Hostel, I say, though it spelt itself without an 's' and even placed a circumflex above the 'o.'"

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, by Edgar Allen Poe
"Of course I shall not pretend to consider it any matter for wonder, that the extraordinary case of M. Valdemar has excited discussion."

Our Distant Cousins, by Lord Dunsany
"I can show you a man not a mile from here who tells very much taller stories than I do; and they happen to be perfectly true."

The Inner Room, by Robert Aickman
"I realized later that it was the famous Long Summer of 1921, when the water at the bottom of cottage wells turned to salt, and when eels were found baked and edible in their mud."

Thurnley Abbey, by Perceval Landon
"The journey was just like any other...We slept after luncheon; we dawdled the afternoon away with yellow-backed novels; sometimes we exchanged platitudes in the smoking-room, and it was there that I met Alastair Colvin."

The Damned Thing, by Ambrose Bierce
"By the light of a tallow candle, which had been placed on one end of a rough table, a man was reading something written in a book."

Afterward, by Edith Wharton
"Oh, there is one, of course, but you'll never know it."

Featured in The Third Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories:

The Dream, by A.J. Alan
"They’ve asked me to tell you about another of my experiences, and I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try and describe to you a dream I often have."

Negotium Perambulans, by E.F. Benson
"The casual tourist in West Cornwall may just possibly have noticed, as he bowled along over the bare high plateau between Penzance and the Land's End, a dilapidated signpost pointing down a steep lane and bearing on its battered finger the faded inscription POLEARN 2 MILES..."

The Case of Mr. Lucraft, by Walter Besant and James Rice
"I have more than once told the story of the only remarkable thing which ever happened to me in the course of a longish life, but as no one ever believed me, I left off telling it."

The Beckoning Fair One, by Oliver Onions
"The three or four 'To Let' boards had stood within the low paling as long as the inhabitants of the little triangular 'Square' could remember, and if they had ever been vertical it was a very long time ago."

The Seventh Man, by Arthur Quiller-Couch
"In a one-roomed hut, high within the Arctic Circle, and only a little south of the eightieth parallel, six men were sitting—much as they had sat, evening after evening, for months."

Featured in The Fourth Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories:

The Sphinx Without a Secret, by Oscar Wilde
"One afternoon I was sitting outside the Café de la Paix, watching the splendour and shabbiness of Parisian life, and wondering over my vermouth at the strange panorama of pride and poverty that was passing before me, when I heard some one call my name."

When I Was Dead, by Vincent O'Sullivan
"That was the worst of Ravenel Hall. The passages were long and gloomy, the rooms were musty and dull, even the pictures were sombre and their subjects dire."

The Queen of Spades, by Alexander Pushkin
"At the house of Narumov, a cavalry officer, the long winter night had been passed in gambling."

The Snow, by Hugh Walpole
"The second Mrs. Ryder was a young woman not easily frightened, but now she stood in the dusk of the passage leaning back against the wall, her hand on her heart, looking at the grey-faced window beyond which the snow was steadily falling against the lamplight."

A School Story, by M.R. James
"Two men in a smoking-room were talking of their private-school days. 'At our school,' said A., "we had a ghost's footmark on the staircase. What was it like? Oh, very unconvincing...'"

The Wolves of Cernogratz, by Saki
"Are there any old legends attached to the castle?"

Mad Monkton, by Wilkie Collins
"The Monktons of Wincot Abbey bore a sad character for want of sociability in our county. They never went to other people's houses, and, excepting my father, and a lady and her daughter living near them, never received anybody under their own roof. Proud as they all certainly were, it was not pride, but dread, which kept them thus apart from their neighbors."

Featured in The Fifth Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories:

The Library Window, by Margaret Oliphant
"I was not aware at first of the many discussions which had gone on about that window. "

The Dancing Partner, by Jerome K. Jerome
"His business was the making of mechanical toys, at which work he had acquired an almost European reputation."

The Mysterious Stranger[PDF], by Anonymous
"Boreas, that fearful north-west wind, which in the spring and autumn stirs up the lowest depths of the wild Adriatic, and is then so dangerous to vessels, was howling through the woods, and tossing the branches of the old knotty oaks in the Carpathian Mountains..."

Venus, by Maurice Baring
"John Fletcher was an overworked minor official in a Government office."

Jerry Bundler, by W.W. Jacobs
"The narrow streets which had been thronged with people were now almost deserted; the cheap-jack from London, with the remnant of breath left him after his evening's exertions, was making feeble attempts to blow out his naphtha lamp, and the last shops open were rapidly closing for the night."

The Great Return, by Arthur Machen
"There are strange things lost and forgotten in obscure corners of the newspaper."

Featured in The Sixth Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories:

Clarimonde, by Théophile Gautier
"For more than three years I remained the victim of a most singular and diabolical illusion."

The Door in the Wall, by H.G. Wells
"One confidential evening, not three months ago, Lionel Wallace told me this story of the Door in the Wall. And at the time I thought that so far as he was concerned it was a true story."

Priscilla and Emily Lofft, by George Moore
"A blackbird whistled in the garden when Emily flung the drawing-room door open and gazed into the emptiness of the old faded room, her eyes falling straightaway upon a portrait painted in clear tones of two children sitting on a green bank overshadowed by trees..."

Sorworth Place, by Russell Kirk
"In defiance of a faint ancient charm that perfumes its name, Sorworth today is a dirty and dreary little town, fouled by the colliery since the pit was sunk and a blot of hideous industrial workers' houses began to spread around it."

Where their Fire is not Quenched
, by May Sinclair
"There was nobody in the orchard."

A Phantom Lover (a.k.a. "Oke of Okehurst"), by Vernon Lee
"That sketch up there with the boy's cap? Yes; that's the same woman. I wonder whether you could guess who she was."

Featured in The Seventh Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories:

Levitation, by Joseph Payne Brennan
"Morgan's Wonder Carnival moved into Riverville for an overnight stand, setting up its tents in the big ball park on the edge of the village."

Dearth's Farm, by Gerald Bullett
"In the train I amuse myself by summoning up some of those ghosts of the past, a past not distant but sufficiently remote in atmosphere from my present to be invested with a certain sentimental glamour."

The Dead Valley, by Ralph Adams Cram
"I have a friend, Olof Ehrensvärd, a Swede by birth, who yet, by reason of a strange and melancholy mischance of his early boyhood, has thrown his lot with that of the New World."

The Visit to the Museum, by Vladimir Nabokov
"Several years ago a friend of mine in Paris—a person with oddities, to put it mildly—learning that I was going to spend two or three days at Montisert, asked me to drop in at the local museum where there hung, he was told, a portrait of his grandfather by Leroy."

Gone Away, by A.E. Coppard
"Three people were touring through France in a fast motor car..."

Governor Manco and the Soldier, by Washington Irving
"While Governor Manco, or the "one-armed," kept up a show of military state in the Alhambra, he became nettled at the reproaches continually cast upon his fortress, of being a nestling-place of rogues and smugglers. On a sudden, the old potentate determined to reform, and setting vigorously to work, ejected whole nests of vagabonds out of the fortress and the gypsy caves with which the surrounding hills are honeycombed."

"The Cicerones," by Robert Aickman
(Not available online. But here's an adaptation starring Mark Gatiss.)

Over an Absinthe Bottle, by W.C. Morrow
"Arthur Kimberlin, a young man of very high spirit, found himself a total stranger in San Francisco one rainy evening, at a time when his heart was breaking; for his hunger was of that most poignant kind in which physical suffering is forced to the highest point without impairment of the mental functions."

Where the Woodbine Twineth, by Davis Grubb
"She had countless times reminded the little girl that we must all strive to make ourselves useful in this life and that five years old wasn’t too young to begin to learn."

Featured in The Eighth Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories:

The Red Lodge, by H.R. Wakefield
"I am writing this from an imperative sense of duty, for I consider The Red Lodge is a foul death-trap and utterly unfit to be a human habitation—it has its own proper denizens—and because I know its owner to be an unspeakable blackguard to allow it so to be used for his financial advantage."

Midnight Express, by Alfred Noyes
"It was a battered old book, bound in red buckram. He found it, when he was twelve years old, on an upper shelf in his father’s library; and, against all the rules, he took it to his bedroom to read by candlelight, when the rest of the rambling old Elizabethan house was flooded with darkness."

The Gorgon's Head, by Gertrude Bacon
"'They that go down to the sea in ships' see strange things, but what they tell is ofttimes stranger still."

The Haunted and the Haunters, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
"A friend of mine, who is a man of letters and a philosopher, said to me one day, as if between jest and earnest, 'Fancy! since we last met I have discovered a haunted house in the midst of London.'"

Bezhin Lea[PDF], by Ivan Turgenev
"I did not finally decide to make my way home until the evening glow had already died away and chill shadows began to thicken and proliferate in air that was still bright, though no longer illumined by the rays of the sunset."

The Last Séance, by Agatha Christie
"How should she be well, poor lamb? Seances, seances, and always seances! It is not right - not natural, not what the good God intended for us. For me, I say straight out, it is trafficking with the devil."

And a bonus, to get us to an even sixty: a CBC radio adaptation of Aickman's "Ringing the Changes."
posted by Iridic (21 comments total) 129 users marked this as a favorite
Damn, it's like there's an unannounced great post contest this month.
posted by Zed at 10:41 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Golly gee.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:44 AM on October 25, 2012

I love Robert Aickman. As well as Charles Beaumont, Manly Wade Wellman, Basil Copper, and R. Chetwynd-Hayes (all of whom are also FPP-worthy).

Yes, I do seem to prefer a certain era of ghost stories, it seems.
posted by Kitteh at 10:56 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

The only problem I have with this post is that it didn't happen sooner.
posted by MetalFingerz at 10:58 AM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

I always liked the stories of M.R. James. One of my favourites is Rats.
posted by Pendragon at 11:10 AM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

God help me, I hate horror films, but I love ghost stories. These will be fun to read.
posted by LN at 11:14 AM on October 25, 2012

You are awesome and this post is awesome.
posted by ostro at 11:39 AM on October 25, 2012

I see your awesome, and I raise you!
Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!
posted by BlueHorse at 12:41 PM on October 25, 2012

Fantastic post. Love ghost stories (who doesn't?) and this is an amazing amount of fabulousness.
posted by OolooKitty at 1:11 PM on October 25, 2012

A couple of his own short story collections are available at your favorite online bookseller in both epub and AZW for around ten bucks each. Three books, I guess, but there is some content overlap.
posted by merelyglib at 1:29 PM on October 25, 2012

What a wonderful post: many thanks for putting this together, Iridic. I’m an Aickman fan, but have never looked into his selections for the Fontana books. Ramsey Campbell apparently described Aickman as having ‘the worst teeth I have ever seen in a living mouth.’ A little flavour of Aickman’s outlook can be discerned from the chapter titles in his autobiography The Attempted Rescue, wherein a chapter entitled I Loom, concerning his parents’ lives just before his birth is followed by I am Born and Immediately Fall Ill.
posted by misteraitch at 1:35 PM on October 25, 2012


-The Agatha Christie story is black text on black; hit ctrl+a to read it. (Or enable the full version, if you like popups.)

-Lots of salient commentary on Aickman in today's other horror story post.

-It's not quite true that Aickman "never repeated an author." He slipped six of his own pieces into the series, several of which aren't in any way ghost stories. (Pretty much all of them legitimately great, though.)

-Tartarus Press does a nice line of Aickman editions. Of those pieces from the Fontana series not available online, many can be found with the good folks at Ash-Tree Press.

-Though dead, Aickman maintains a Twitter account.
posted by Iridic at 1:56 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is fantastic. Thanks, Iridic!
posted by sarcasticah at 2:35 PM on October 25, 2012

Oh man, your yearly Halloween posts are delightful, Iridic.
posted by merelyglib at 4:16 PM on October 25, 2012

Amazing. I know what I will be reading for the next few weeks.
posted by snowleopard at 5:05 PM on October 25, 2012

Victorian and Edwardian ghost stories are an interest of mine - I've probably got a couple of hundred or so on the bookshelves here, and I can attest to the strength of the Fontana anthologies.

A peril for the Victorian and Edwardian ghost story lover is that the same excellent stories tend to get repeated again and again in anthologies. I stopped buying anthologies after I bought one because it had only 2 stories I didn't already own - and those 2 were the only reason I bought it!

Of the above, some personal favourites include: The Ghost Ship; The Wendigo; the superlative How Love Came to Professor Guildea; Afterward (I do wish Wharton had written more supernatural stories, it's terrific) and The Beckoning Fair One (be warned; it's more of a novella). Also Ringing The Changes is probably my favourite Aickman story ever. A real cracker. William Hope Hodgson is on there, but the Carnacki The Ghost-Finder stories come with a very strong recommendation from me. As some of the stories involve him discovering a fraud, there's an exciting tension to each one as you try to discover whether it's "real" or not. Hodgson also gets some genuinely scary moments which can be hard to do. I also recommend Arthur Machen, but prefer The Great God Pan to the story linked above (but if we're playing that game, Blackwood's The Willows is better than The Wendigo, too.)

I love ghost stories. I've tried in vain to find contemporary horror novels with similar qualities, but to no avail. The prose is typically rubbish, they neglect the true genius of ghost stories as metaphors for human anxieties and fears - if the metaphor is good, the story takes care of itself - and generally resort to cheap gore and sex instead of eerie atmospherics.

If anyone can recommend some contemporary novels - not short stories like that, I would be very grateful.
posted by smoke at 5:23 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is fabulous! As someone who read all the ghost-story books in the library as a kid, I have to say, thank you!
posted by limeonaire at 6:38 PM on October 25, 2012

Seconding The Wendigo (which is available via Gutenberg Project). It's got a slow start, lulling you into thinking that it's another lame summer camp story. Then the horror at the finish! Fantastic stuff.
posted by orrnyereg at 7:47 PM on October 25, 2012

Oh hooray hooray hooray! Thank you so much for all this!
posted by Kit W at 3:00 AM on October 26, 2012

As an aside, there’s a very brief snippet of home movie footage of Aickman in the recent BBC4 documentary The Golden Age of Canals (video see ca. 11m30s–22m30s), regarding his work as co-founder of the IWA, which also includes an interview with his one-time co-author Elizabeth Jane Howard.
posted by misteraitch at 3:56 AM on October 26, 2012

The Wendigo is good,but no Blackwood moves me like The Willows does. I first read it in my early teens, when I was either coming down with flu or recovering from the worst of it. I was dizzy, the world was strange and distant and floated around me, and the prose carried me on like it was the river around the island, and fever dreams and the story got mixed up and I wasn't sure where one ended and the other began.

One of the greatest reading experiences of my life, and the story still makes me feel...weird.

Getting back to Aickman - short film version of my favourite of his short stories, The Cicerones. Written by Jeremy Dyson (League of Gentlemen) and starring Mark Gatiss (LoG, Sherlock, Dr Who, er, everything).

Incidentally, those with access to UK TV who enjoyed Gatiss' A History Of Horror, watch out on BBC4 for his feature length history of European horror film at the end of this month.
posted by reynir at 2:48 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

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