Reading Ghost Gleams

I found Ghost Gleams (1921) thanks to a post by Tim Prasil, the hunter of occult detectives. It’s a collection of fifteen stories written by William James Wintle, an Oblate (lay brother) at the Abbey of Caldey Island, off the coast of Wales. Presumably he was a teacher there as well; the stories were originally composed as campfire entertainment for the boys who attended the Abbey school.

Caldeyabbey North Elevation of Caldey Abbey. Illustration from The Benedictines of Caldey Island, 1912.

The stories are delightful. Many of them have an M.R. James-ish feel to them, with their scholarly bachelor protagonists who are sometimes a little too curious or a little too skeptical for their own good… .

Truth be told, Wintle (in these stories) has some of the shortcomings that James is also accused of. The stories are “merely” ghost stories: not too deep, a bit short on explanation. More than once, I got to the end of a story and thought “that’s it? But why? How? Tell me more!” James’s stories have additional layers, thanks to James’ antiquarian and church history background, not to mention his love and appreciation for folklore, and for its “rules”. I come away from a James story wanting to hunt things down, look things up — what was he referring to in this story? What did it mean? Wintle’s stories, unfortunately, don’t have that extra layer.

But they’re still cracking good stories, and lots of fun. They come in a variety of scariness levels, from creepy to not scary at all; though as Wintle writes in the preface, “the gruesome ones met with the best reception. Boys like highly flavoured dishes.” I don’t need my ghost stories to be scary, and I liked the sweet “Father Thornton’s Visitor”. I also got a chuckle out of “The Ghost at the ‘Blue Dragon'”, a comedic cross between James’ “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, my Lad” and “The Seventh Voyage” chapter of Stanislaw Lem’s The Star Diaries. I won’t tell you which was my favorite creepy story, because I’m saving it for Winter Tale season… .

So if you are looking for some pleasantly shiversome bedtime reading, or for fun old-school ghost stories, check this one out. You can find free ebook versions in three formats at the Mystery and Imagination blog (which is a cool blog, so thanks to Tim for that pointer, too!).

Recommended.

9 thoughts on “Reading Ghost Gleams

  1. Sounds good. Also, thanks for including the link to the other blog.

    I sometimes feel the same way (“That’s it? But Why?”) with older ghost/scary stories. True, they were proto-types just laying stones for later scary fare, but this seems to be something that always stood out to me when reading older one. Like you said, that extra layer can sometimes be missing.

    • In this case (and with James, too), the stories were originally told orally (and specifically for the spook/shock value), so they couldn’t be too long. I can’t imagine that pre-teen boys have all that long an attention span. So I guess we ought to cut the stories some slack for that. They are fun for what they are, and I enjoyed them, I just wouldn’t want to read *only* them.

      I have a similar reaction to many of the so-called “well-made story” type of literary short story. Penelope Fitzgerald’s short stories are a good example. They just… end. And my reaction is “but…. wait… there should be more!”. I think the idea is that there is some kind of subtle understated revelation at the end, but I guess I’m not a very subtle person.

      I like her longer short stories, though.

      • Ha, I didn’t know that about the ghost stories but now that makes all so much sense. I always find that those horror stories are great insights into the culture/time period from which they came. They sometimes can be a stand in for what really frightens people or in the case of boys–what the adults think they should be frighten of.

  2. I love MR James stories, and completely agree that sometimes they just …end. And you want more. In a way, I sometimes like that, I mean, ‘real-life’ ghost stories often don’t have a neat ending…Ghost Gleams sound like lots of fun.

    Have you ever read any of William Hope Hodgesons ‘Carnacki the ghost finder’ tales? They are pretty interesting, he uses ‘modern’ Edwardian technology to track down ghosts or frauds like some kind of ghost-busing Sherlock Holmes!

    • Ghost Gleams was lots of fun — despite my quibbles, I really enjoyed it quite a bit.

      Yes, I have read Carnacki! I’m a big fan of the “occult detective” genre, and Carnacki is near the top of the list. I like Algernon Blackwood’s “John Silence” stories, too. It’s been a while, but I seem to remember that Silence didn’t lean as much on the gadgets as Carnacki did; he’s more of a trained psychic, “secrets learned in the mysterious Orient” kind of guy.

      Oh, and by the way, if you haven’t heard, there a volume of new Carnacki stories by modern authors coming soonish: http://williamhopehodgson.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/carnacki-the-new-adventures-contents/

      • What a coincidence – I am just reading a collection of Algernon Blackwood stories now. A friend lent me her childhood copy after reading about Robert the Doll, because she was reminded of Blackwood’s ‘The Doll’ short story. I have just read that and ‘Running Wolf’ and loved them both (although Ifound the casual imperial/colonialist style racism a bit off-putting). Thanks for the tip-ff – I will look out for the new Carnacki stories!

  3. Pingback: Winter Tale Time! The House on the Cliff | Multo (Ghost)

  4. Pingback: Lost Hearts by M.R. James | Excursions Into Imagination

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