Reading Apparitions

Tsundoku: Japanese, from tsun (to pile up) and doku (reading). The act of acquiring books faster than one reads them.

Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo, Miyuke Miyabe

I have a serious, and probably uncurable, case of tsundoku. The ever-growing “to-read” stack on my bedside table is continually on the verge of falling over and injuring me. Periodically, for my own survival, I demote part of of the stack to some nearby bookshelf, where the books can languish for years, waiting for me to rediscover them. Finally, in a moment of boredom with whatever I’m reading at the moment, I’ll pick up one of these poor waifs instead. And sometimes, I kick myself for having waited so long. This is one of those times.

Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo (2013) is a wonderful collection of short supernatural tales, based on the folklore and ghost story traditions of Japan. They are set in Old Edo (Tokyo), during what’s known as the Edo Period (1603 to 1868). Each story is a fascinating look at the lives of ordinary people in urban old Edo: shopkeepers and their families, servants, workers, apprentices, landlords and employment agents.

Ghost stories set in this era tend to revolve around the lives of the upper class: the nobility and their retainers; samurai or scholars. So it’s refreshing to get a view of Japanese lives from another milieu. These people aren’t always in control of the ship of their lives; often, they must deal with whatever the winds and tides of fate sail them into. At times, the supernatural serves as a metaphor for the “mundane” issues that the characters struggle with; in other stories, it’s the instrument of karma, or of hope for the future.

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Classic Crime: Thou Art the Man

LitHub’s This Week in Literary History for the week of April 17-23, 2022 commemorated the publication of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in Graham’s Magazine April 1841, thereby launching the modern detective story.

Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe, engraving by Thomas Welch and Adam Walter, circa 1840s. Source: Wikimedia

One might take issue with the statement that Poe “invented” the detective story: E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1819 Mademoiselle de Scuderi certainly counts as a detective story, in my mind; and you can trace demonstrations of Holmesian-style ratiocination all the way back to at least the 1557 story cycle Peregrinaggio (you can find my retelling of the specific tale I’m thinking of here). But it is true that Poe’s Auguste Dupin and the adoring narrator-friend of Dupin’s cases defined the framework that gave us Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and the entire genre of ratiocination-style tales as we know it today.

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The Devil’s Rosebush

Here’s an interesting combination: a pastiche of an eighteenth century German gothic “deal with the devil” story, written by a nineteenth century Spanish author, featuring a protagonist with the not-terribly-Germanic name, “Dick.” How could I resist translating that?

Rosal Del Diablo

This is another odd little tale from Pedro Escamilla, courtesy of that treasure trove of forgotten nineteenth century Spanish periodical literature, Ganso y Pulpo. I’ve just put it up on Ephemera.

  • The Devil’s Rosebush (El rosal del diablo): Our hero Dick is in love with the innkeeper’s daughter, Federica. He’s so desperate to win her hand that he even ventures into the Black Forest on St. John’s Eve, a night when they say the devil is out, looking for souls, and willing to bargain for them. Will Dick gain his heart’s desire?

Unlike, say, Poe’s “Metzengerstein” (“A Tale in Imitation of the German”), or even L.A. Wilmer’s “Spukenswald,” “The Devil’s Rosebush” doesn’t feel in the least like a German story. One gets the impression that Escamilla was only familiar with German gothic to a limited degree, but it’s still a fun piece. I hope you enjoy it.


Illustration for “El rosal del diablo” from El Periódico para Todos, No. 26, 1875. Illustrator unknown. Source: Hemerotica Digital (Digital Periodical Archive), Biblioteca Nacional de España.

Featured image: Vintage rose illustration, artist unknown. Source: Rawpixel Ltd.

Classic Crime: A Ripper of Yesteryear

To be fair, this isn’t really a “crime story,” it’s a narrative that leads up to a crime. But it’s an excellent read, with some striking imagery, and I like it. That’s all the reason I need….

Santiago de Compostela desde atrio Hospital Real acuarela por Mariano Pedrero (detail)

Originally published in 1890, Emilia Pardo Bazán’s “Un destripador de antaño” (“A Ripper of Yesteryear“) tells of the tragic intersection between the lives of a young orphaned peasant girl and a mysterious apothecary. It’s set in the author’s native Galicia, in and around the historic city of Santiago de Compostela, the ending point of the famous pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago. The story’s introduction implies that it may be inspired by an old Galician folktale:

The legend of “The Ripper,” the half-sage, half-sorcerer assassin, is a very old one in my homeland. I heard it at a tender age, whispered or chanted in frightful refrains,… I will tell it to you. Enter valiantly with me into the shadowy regions of the soul.

It’s also seems related to a certain Andean folklegend, which I won’t mention here, for fear of spoilers. But if you’re interested, you’ll find a pointer in the footnotes of my translation.
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The Ghost and Josephine Leslie

Because I always appreciate a good bit of literary sleuthing.

I’m not sure what got me thinking about The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I haven’t seen it in years, but it’s a movie I remember enjoying, one that’s right up my alley. Wikipedia tells me that it’s based on a short novel by R. A. Dick, the pseudonym of an Irish writer named Josephine Leslie (1898-1979).

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Posters

On an impulse, I bought the novel; and while I was at it, I did a little digging for other work by Ms. Leslie. I got intrigued by the title of a play she wrote, Witch Errant; the only plot information I could find is from an old playbill. I can’t find a copy of the play to read.

But while I was searching, I came across something fun.

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Daniel Crowley and the Ghosts

The Twelve Days of Christmas come to an end soon; just time for one more winter tale to close out the season. This particular story, I’m afraid, is not especially wintry, or scary. It’s a humorous folktale, no doubt derived from an oral telling, and well, I just like it.

Party skeletons guadalupe posada

Jeremiah Curtin (1835-1906) was an American ethographer and folklorist. He collected mythologies, folklore and other ethnological information from various Native American tribes, from various peoples of Russia and Eastern Europe, and (most relevant to us today), from Ireland. “Daniel Crowley and the Ghosts” comes from his 1895 folktale collection, Tales of Fairies and the Ghost World.

Daniel Crowley is a coffin-maker who claims to prefer the company of the dead to the living. One evening at a wake, he drunkenly extends an invitation that he probably didn’t expect anyone to take him up on. Surprise!

You can read “Daniel Crowley and the Ghosts” here.

This story has no connection to Christmas, New Year’s or winter, but it is a fun and festive tale, and I can imagine telling it to friends around a fire. It’s also the second year in a row that I’ve closed out Winter Tales season with a story about dancing skeletons. Maybe this will be a trend.

2021 marked the tenth year that I’ve been sharing Christmas ghost stories. The past decade has seen a revival of the tradition, it seems to me; or maybe I’m just more aware of it now than I was ten years ago. Sometimes my choices have wandered a bit outside the lines, but I hope that they’ve all added to your winter reading pleasure. I also hope that you’ve all enjoyed reading these tales as much as I’ve enjoyed finding and sharing them.

All the best to all of you, for 2022.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Featured image: El Jarabe En Ultratumba (loosely, Dancing in the Afterlife), José Guadalupe Posada (1910). Source: Wikimedia. Jarabe is a style of mariachi music; the Jarabe Tapatío is the national dance of Mexico. [Citation]

An elegantly dressed male and female skeleton arm in arm, José Guadalupe Posada (ca. 1890-1910). Source: metmuseum.org.

A Ghost’s Revenge

Today, a New Year’s Eve winter tale from Lettice Galbraith! Last year, I shared a Christmas tale of occult detection by this delightful author; this year’s story runs along more classical lines.

Standing windowsill 768

Gerald Harrison was a skeptic about the supernatural, until he encountered Mallowby Rectory. Now it’s a race against time. Can he save his best friend before an angry ghost takes its New Year’s revenge?

You can read “A Ghost’s Revenge” here.

In general, I consider Lettice Galbraith’s ghost stories rather modern for their era, which is part of what makes her interesting to me. “A Ghost’s Revenge” is more traditional than much of her other work — it’s a good old-fashioned haunted house yarn. But it’s also energetic and suspenseful, and just a lot of fun to read. I hope you like it.

May you all stay dry and warm, and please enjoy the last winter tale for 2021! There will be one more, in 2022, before the Twelve Days of Christmas end.

Wishing everyone a Happy and healthy New Year.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Featured Image: New Years New Moon, Theodor Severin Kittelsen. Source: WikiArt

Illustration by Émile Bayard for Contes et romans populaires by Erckmann-Chatrian (1867). Source: Old Book Illustrations.

Crowdy Marsh

In keeping with my tradition of the past few years, I’m sharing a lighter, less scary winter tale for Christmas Eve. As with last year’s Christmas Eve offering, this one is more of a fairy tale. It’s by the minister/scholar/folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924).

Thomas Rowlandson Bodmin Moor Google Art Project

The narrator goes hunting with a friend out on Bodmin Moor, in Cornwall. They get lost after sunset, and wander into the boggy mire of Crowdy Marsh. After being separated from his friend, the narrator stumbles upon a mysterious, lonely cottage on the edge of the Marsh.

You can read “Crowdy Marsh” here.

Like many of Baring-Gould’s supernatural stories, “Crowdy Marsh” has a bit of a moral to it, but it’s not heavy-handed, and it feels rather appropriate to the season. Baring-Gould also gives us a nice interpretation of the Wild Hunt, specifically the version of the Wild Huntsman named Dewer.

Here’s hoping you’re enjoying my winter tales in your cozy abode, not a cold damp marsh! I wish a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and a joyous day to all who don’t.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Featured image: A walk on Bodmin Moor, 30 Sept. 2010 by Phillip Capper (License CC-by-2.0). Source: Wikimedia. It’s not marked, but I believe that’s Brown Willy in the background.

Detail from Bodmin Moor, by Thomas Rowlandson (c. 1825). Source: Wikimedia

The Four-Fifteen Express

Since I have a little extra time, I’ve decided to post an “extra” winter tale this week: namely the one I meant to post the first week of December! I originally chose “The Four-Fifteen Express” as this year’s opening story, because it’s a good transition from the Classic Crime series to Winter Tales.

Clerkenwell tunnel 768

William Langford returns home from business abroad just in time to spend December with some old friends in East Anglia. A chance encounter on the train ride to his hosts’ home leads to a mystery, a scandal, and maybe more….

You can read “The Four-Fifteen Express” here.

Writer and Egyptologist Amelia Edwards (1831-1892) might be best known today for her ghost story “The Phantom Coach” (which is also set at Christmas). In addition to ghost stories, her short fiction includes “whodunnits,” as well as other types of crime stories and tales of the macabre. Many of her supernatural stories have a strong crime fiction sensibility. That’s a good combination, as far as I’m concerned. If you agree, then I hope you will enjoy “The Four-Fifteen Express.”

And be sure to look out for my Christmas eve tale, later this week.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Featured Image: Train in the Snow or The Locomotive, Claude Monet (1875). Source: WikiArt

Metropolitan Railway at Clerkenwell Tunnel, P. Broux, Illustration for Les nouvelles conquêtes de la science, vol. 2 by Louis Figuier. Source: Old Book Illustrations.

A Sworn Statement

Today’s winter tale is by California poet, translator, and author Emma Francis Dawson (1839–1926). She wrote it for the Christmas 1881 edition of The Wasp, a satirical weekly San Francisco periodical, at the request of The Wasp‘s editor, Ambrose Bierce.

The Grand Court of the original Palace Hotel, San Francisco c 1895
The “Grand Court” of the original Palace Hotel, San Francisco, c. 1895. Source: Wikimedia. The Palace Hotel is the scene of a key episode in this tale.

In “A Sworn Statement,” the valet Wilkins relates the story of his former employer, Mr. Audenried, and his relationship (or non-relationship?) with the mysterious silent woman who seems to co-inhabit their dwelling.

You can read “A Sworn Statement” here.

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