This next winter tale is a good old-fashioned, creepy haunted house story — but a modern one, by Jeanette Winterson, author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and The Passion.
I found it as one of five Christmas ghost stories (all excellent) published by the Guardian Weekend magazine in 2013. Each of the stories has its own strengths; I liked them all. I chose Ms. Winterson’s story because of the five, it feels the most traditional to me.
We had borrowed the house from a friend none of us seemed to know.
A lone narrator in a mysterious, isolated house; footsteps in empty rooms; bats; flakey electricity, and of course (that modern touch) a phone that gets no signal. Oh, and an incomplete Nativity scene. What more could you want for a Christmas ghost story?
Reading this called up a lot of my favorite ghost stories, like Edith Wharton’s “Afterward” and M.R. James’ “Lost Hearts” — not that this story resembles either of those. There are just passing moments in “Dark Christmas” that brought those other stories to my mind. A good thing, in my opinion.
With A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens practically invented the modern notion of the Christmas season for Britain and much of the English-speaking world (along with Queen Victoria’s consort Albert, who brought German Christmas traditions like the Christmas tree to the UK). I shared Dickens’ “A Christmas Tree” for one of my early series of winter tales, but mostly I try to avoid the more obvious Christmas classics in favor of tales that you might not have read before.
That said, Dickens wrote some fun ghost stories, and ’tis the season…. So today I’ll share a lesser-known Dickens Christmas tale, “The Trial for Murder,” originally titled “To be Taken with a Grain of Salt.” This story first appeared in the 1865 Extra Christmas number of All the Year Round. This issue is collectively known as Dr. Marigold’s Prescriptions — hence, each of the stories had a title with some variation of “To be taken with…”.
Though “The Trial for Murder” is generally credited to Dickens alone, Philip Allingham at The Victorian Web says the story is likely a collaboration with Charles Allston Collins, Dickens’ son-in-law and Wilkie Collins’ brother.
Every year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I like to share some winter tales — stories to tell or to read around a warm fire on a cold dark night, preferably with a steamy hot drink to wrap your hands around. This year I’ll open with a lesser-known story from F. Marion Crawford.
“The Doll’s Ghost” first appeared in the 1896 Christmas supplement of the Illustrated London News1, and again in Crawford’s posthumous 1911 collection Wandering Ghosts (Uncanny Tales in the UK). In his lifetime, Crawford was well known and well regarded for his historical novels and romances; today, he is mostly known for his supernatural tales, especially “The Upper Berth,” which M.R. James called a “horrid story” — in the positive sense of “full of horror” — in “Some Remarks on Ghost Stories.”
I picked “The Doll’s Ghost” to open up this year’s series because I like it, of course; also because the doll of the title shares my name, and Mr. Crawford and I share a birthday. It’s a “benign ghost” story, the kind M.R. James disapproved of, but it does have its creepy moments. For parents, it has genuinely scary moments. I think it’s good for the season. Continue reading →
In my last post I shared the legend of Pele’s curse: the belief that taking lava rocks or sand from volcanos in Hawaii (especially Kilauea) brings bad luck because of the goddess Pele’s anger. As I mentioned, this legend is a tourist legend, and not a part of traditional Hawaiian folklore or mythology. As far as I can tell, it’s not particularly believed by non-indigenous residents of Hawaii, either.
But I did find a fairly similar item in a collection of local-but-non-indigenous folk stories. This anecdote is interesting to me, for a few reasons. First, the story.
My mother told me. One day when a man was walking he kick a stone. The stone roll away [from] where it was. That night when the man was sleeping the stone came to him and started to smash him. The wife thought why he was struggling on so she asked him what he did today but the man said nothing. The second night it happen the same way but when the wife asked him the same question he said nothing. The third night the wife couldn’t stand it so she prayed. Then the man knew what he did so he went back to where he kick the stone and put it where it was. This stone was a stone which belong to the old Hawaiian.
Gwladys F. Hughes collected this story from a 14 year old, Kauai-born, ethnically Japanese girl in Waialua, Oahu, in the winter of 1946-1947. The girl was an eighth grader at Waialua High and Intermediate School.
This story caught my attention because it’s somewhat similar to the “take a rock, suffer bad luck” tourist legend that I had been researching: sort of the “locals’ version” of that belief. But then I realized it’s also similar to another piece of folklore that I explored before starting on the Pele legends: the Filipino stories of the batibat, and the phenomenon of bangugot.
A followup to my #FolkloreThursday article on the Saga of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanos and fire, and her sister Hiiaka.
Some time in the early or mid 1980s, a package arrived at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, containing lava sand taken from Black Sands Beach in 1969. The woman who took the sand evidently loved the Hawaiian islands a lot, as she and her husband returned frequently, despite the gradually escalating mishaps that struck them every time:
1st time-Cut my foot
2nd time-Scraped my arm at airport
3rd time-Lost my hearing and broke eardrum on crater in Maui
4th time-Sprained two toes on cement steps
5th time-Cut my finger
6th time-Husband had heart attack and I fell twice-1st time broke my left elbow; 2nd fall broke my kneecap in two places and crushed it.
Finally, in 1982, our two unlucky tourists saw a display at Volcano House, the historical hotel on the edge of Kilauea volcano, traditionally said to be Pele’s dwelling place. This display showcased letters from other tourists who had suffered the Curse of Pele: bad luck that struck them after they had taken lava rocks from Pele’s volcano. All these victims returned what they had taken, in hopes of lifting the curse. And so this couple did, too. I hope their future trips to the islands went better.
I have another article on the #FolkloreThursday blog! This one tells the saga of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele and her sister Hiiaka.
This one especially struck me because I started the research soon after Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman movie came out. That movie was a big sensation among (especially) female action movie and comic fans: finally, we have a movie of our own! Everyone loved the strong portrayals of woman by Gal Godot, Robin Wright, and even (in a minor, but not completely fluff, role) Lucy Davis as Steve Trevor’s secretary Etta Candy.
And then I started reading about Pele and Hiiaka and I realized — Hawaiian mythology has had this all along! The women in this saga — both major and minor characters — rule their own lives, with all the good and bad that this entails. It was a pleasure to discover it, and a joy to share it with other folklore aficionados.
A fiery-tempered, jealous deity; passionate friendship and love; brave warriors on a quest. These are elements of great myths and sagas from all over the world, but the saga of the volcano goddess Pele and her sister Hiiaka is special: it is a saga of powerful, self-actuated women. As John Charlot wrote, the Pele saga is “among the fullest, most interesting characterizations [of women] in world literature.”
In addition to the fascinating story, one of the best parts for me was discovering the hula and chant, Ke Ha`a Ala Puna, which commemorates one episode of the saga. I included a performance of the hula in the post.
It started as a quote in Maximo Ramos’ The Aswang Complex in Philippine Folklore. Ramos was explaining how rural Filipinos often prefer to sleep on the edge of the room, rather than the middle, for protection against the viscera sucking version of the aswang — the kind who climbs on the house and drops its tongue down between the chinks of the roof to suck out its victims innards.
Sleep towards the edge of the room, Ramos warned, but not too near a post:
for the posts may harbor a tree-dwelling mythical demon like the bangugot or batibat. This is a nightmare-inducing, insanity-causing creature resembling the genii of the Near East. It is said to have refused to leave its tree when it was felled and stubbornly to have gone on living in a crevice of cavity in the wood, emerging to sit on a tenant’s chest and suffocate him by plugging his mouth with its phallus and his nostrils with its testicles.
I got inspired to do this post while browsing through the interesting list of recommended books on the #FolkloreThursday blog. As wonderful as the list is, I couldn’t help noticing that it feels a bit skewed towards Europe and the UK. Since the booklist is compiled from Twitter recommendations with the #FolkloreThursday hashtag, this skewness is a bit on folks like me, who have interests outside of Europe and the UK, for not tweeting the texts that we use and love. Hence, this blog post.
Obviously, my list is also skewed towards my own interests, and the limits of my time and resources. I compiled it from the reference sections of several of my blog posts, and by scouring my bookshelves and hard drive. Just for the sake of some structure, I limited and organized the list into dictionary-style references, handbooks, and mythic overviews: the kind of resources one might want when beginning to learn about the stories of a particular culture. Since these are all books I’ve used or at least looked through, I added some comments about them, as well. I alphabetized each sublist by title.
One thing I did notice is that I don’t have any good Filipino folk dictionaries or bestiaries. I’ve tried to remedy that, and I’ll add those books to the list when I get them.
John Bruno Hare, the founder of the Internet Sacred Text Archive, wrote that one focus of his archive was “remedying the underrepresentation of traditional cultures on the Internet.” I offer this list in somewhat the same spirit. I hope it’s helpful, and I encourage other people to post their favorite dictionaries, bestiaries, etc., too.
I discovered Glen Grant’s noirish Honolulu detective Arthur McDougal in Grant’s collection Obake: Ghost Stories in Hawaii. The two McDougal tales in Obake have supernatural villains, so one could say that McDougal in these stories is a (reluctant) occult detective. The other tales in Obake, which mostly focus on aspects of Japanese supernatural folklore that “migrated” to Hawaii, are also delightful.
The short stories in Honolulu Mysteries are different. Although the tales include various aspects of Hawaiian folklore and sometimes even feature a touch of Hawaiian supernatural phenomena, the bad guys are all definitely human — just as they ought to be, in McDougal’s view.