The tales that local people tell just to frighten the incomers
October 28, 2018 2:37 AM   Subscribe

News from Norfolk, 'the occasional diary of someone who lives in an old house in East Anglia', has three tales for Halloween: all set in Norfolk, and all in the classic tradition of the English ghost story. The Old Road. Incomers. Old Tom.
posted by verstegan (13 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
These are awfully good. They distracted me for forty minutes or so from the way things are.

I like how each one pastiches a different sort/period of ghost story and has slightly different concerns with history.

I don't think I've read a small child/first person story set during the reign of King James, either. Are there a lot of ghost stories that are actually set in early modern times?

It makes you think about the pastness of ghost stories. Both "Incomers" and "Old Tom" seem to focus on people who don't always get centered in ghost stories, at least the ones I've read. The Victorian ones and the sort of "about the time of the Napoleonic Wars" ones usually seem more remotely tragic; there isn't what you'd call political shame attached to them. You read some about colonialism that have political shame - and some that don't - but there's a sense of "these things happened in a physically remote even if politically real place".

Also working class or ordinary ghosts who aren't ghosts known to the narrator - I can think of a lot of stories with ordinary ghosts who are known, or ordinary ghosts whose ordinariness (eg EF Benson stories) is a source of horror or comedy.

Those early modern wars when guns were just coming in...They do seem to sum up a lot of the blank horror of human life. Or the German Peasants' War, which IIRC was just pikes and armor, but the landsknechts might as well have had tanks compared to the peasants. You feel like it's proof that the universe is completely empty and without meaning, all those people fighting who don't even have a chance.

Ghost stories are all basically optimistic, no matter how horrifying, because they postulate that there's either some power in humans to persist if they want it badly enough or some structure in the universe which makes things persist. Even if basically the only thing that survives of you is your trauma, at least what you suffered doesn't just vanish into the air and get forgotten.
posted by Frowner at 4:54 AM on October 28, 2018 [17 favorites]

Thank you for this. What I particularly liked about the story "Incomers" was how it captured what happens when you have a supernatural experience.* It's not the same as being spooked up by a jumpscare; it's not even the same as the fear you feel of a real person or animal that threatens you. When something like this happened to me,** many years ago, I was flooded with an absolute, paralyzing dread of the future, of all that was and all that would be, of the void of malice that was this entity.

* Which do not exist.
** Of course it had to be sleep paralysis.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:17 AM on October 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

Thanks for posting this. I really enjoyed these, and, like Frowner, they provided me with an excellent distraction from things.
posted by lagreen at 9:33 AM on October 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

It makes you think about the pastness of ghost stories. Both "Incomers" and "Old Tom" seem to focus on people who don't always get centered in ghost stories, at least the ones I've read.

Those early modern wars when guns were just coming in...They do seem to sum up a lot of the blank horror of human life.

From the references to King James and Newry, it's clear the war in question was the Nine Years War, the last serious campaign by Gaelic Irish chieftains against English rule (although far from the last rebellion in Ireland). O'Donnell and O'Neill had both Gaelic speaking Scottish mercenaries and supplies from Catholic Spain.

There were many Old Toms:
Demobilisation was anticipated with dread in many ports and shires of England and Wales; some of the soldiers had been vagrants and criminals whose return from Ireland was not expected and certainly not wanted. Those who had performed honourably often came back wounded to their native parishes sorry victims of the horrors of war; unable to take up their former employment, many became a burden on the poor law. As a direct result of the Irish wars the shires in England and Wales began to pay pensions for maimed soldiers but the steady increase of masterless men added to the problems of poverty and vagrancy and therefore strained the meagre resources of the poor law administration. The privy council admitted that it was the war in Ireland rather than those in France and Spain which had impoverished England. Sir Robert Cecil echoed their sentiments when he punned: ‘How that land of Ire hath exhausted this land of Promise’.
- The Dead, Sick and Wounded of the Nine Years War (1594-1603)

After early successes due to local knowledge, innovative tactics, military engineering (such as blocking roads and digging ditches to funnel opposing troops towards advantageous locations), and O'Neill managing to get English veterans to train his troops in musket use pre-war, the tide turned against the rebellion after more competent commanders were appointed by London and an English scorched earth policy resulted in widespread famine:
“No spectacle was more frequent in towns and ditches and especially in the wasted countries, than to see multitudes of these poor people dead with their mouths all coloured green by eating nettles”.[12]

Chichester’s forces found that the locals were reduced to cannibalism, in one instance coming upon five children eating a dead woman, their mother.
- War and Famine in Ireland, 1580-1700

After the war, the majority of land in Ulster (where O'Donnell and O'Neill were based) was confiscated, and given by King James (the first King of both England and Scotland) to English and Scottish settlers. The descendants of these settlers are the reason Northern Ireland was created in 1921, and the main reason the UK appears poised to crash out of the EU with no deal.
posted by kersplunk at 11:22 AM on October 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

News from Norfolk is also exceedingly eloquent when laying out their reasons for turning away from the Conservative party over Brexit.

The author used to work for the Conservative party central office, they've been on the inside of the changes to the Tories over the past twenty years. The Tories have shifted from a broad church that included some pragmatic Euroskeptics. Now, they're a squabbling rabble too caught up in their petty and vindictive troubles to understand the damage they're doing.
posted by happyinmotion at 11:24 AM on October 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

Very nice tales.
I was impressed at how they picked up the Gothic's interest in war and military experience.
posted by doctornemo at 11:34 AM on October 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Glorious and gorgeous and really almost perfect examples of the form (see also MR James, previously), thank you!

I most enjoyed Incomers and its wood-smoke and damp leaf-scented air.

I also went a-roving on the site and came across the Brexit essay linked by happyinmotion above (it's from 2017, prior to May calling an election) - prescient and insightful and worthy of attention because it has only become truer.
posted by Quagkapi at 2:07 PM on October 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Great stories. Makes me wonder when Susanna Clarke’s next novel will come out.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:02 PM on October 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I had to look up the definition of "recusant". Interesting.
posted by ovvl at 4:36 PM on October 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

This was perfect gloomy rainy Sunday evening in October reading. Thank you so much for posting it! (also Jimeny Chrissmas, Kersplunk - that's a heck of a post script)
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 6:20 PM on October 28, 2018

As the author of the stories mentioned above, I just want to thank everyone for the thoughtful, perceptive and generous comments you have posted here.

I wrote the stories just for fun - or, I suppose, as a playful response to the history of my local area - so it's a thrill to find that others are enjoying them. It's one of the best feelings any writer can have, full stop.

Before yesterday, I had never even heard of MetaFilter! It seems like a great place, so I'm off to do some exploring. But again, thanks for your kind words.
posted by fugitive ink at 10:28 PM on October 28, 2018 [19 favorites]

Plaudits. What makes Incomers and Old Tom work so well, is that a ghost story is a buried history... whether Stir of Echoes or The Others or The Ring (to cite some of the finer recent cinema), a ghost story plays within the idea that (a) The Past is a Foreign Place and (b) The Past is Not as Gone as you think it is. There are never any ghosts of people who died pleasantly in their sleep; all phantoms have some unavenged violence preceding them. Hearkening to medieval and classical times, the reflect a fear of theodicy- that our uncaring and nihilistic universe is actually underpinned by a slow and subtle justice or karma.

Good stuff, good enough to make me pine for England, even when it is October and I am long settled in golden California. Keep writing.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 12:09 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

These are marvelous stories. These remind me of the old books in the library that hadn't been checked out for 40-50 years but were full of an old world whose voice is seldom heard nowadays.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:54 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture   |   A New Orleans brass band reinterpret Love Will... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments