The fatness of this volume, clocking in at over 700 pages, bears testimony to E.F. Benson’s prolific output of ghost stories and supernatural tales. Their range, in terms of both subject matter and tone, is wider than that of most who have written in the genre, which should not be surprising given that he was a highly-successful author of the satirical Mapp and Lucia novels, amongst others.
Perhaps the best known of the short stories included in this anthology is The Bus-Conductor, an unnerving tale that was included in the classic 1945 portmanteau horror film Dead of Night, but many readers may well also have encountered his chilling The Face and In the Tube in horror anthologies alongside the works of other authors.
In a collection of this size, the reader is bound to encounter stories that grip the imagination, whilst others may fall a little flat, but this economical Wordsworth edition is worth every penny for those that do hit the mark, and of them there are many. To enumerate all of the titles included would be tedious for any reader of this review, but I shall mention those that I found particularly appealing.
Benson drew heavily upon Scottish folklore in both Gavon’s Eve and The Shootings of Achnaleish, with the latter in particular possessing a notably folk-horror vibe, prefiguring elements of The Wicker Man and Straw Dogs. How Fear Departed the Long Gallery, on the other hand, is a charming ghost story set in an old country house, whose many spectral inhabitants are largely harmless but for those who perished as a consequence of a dastardly act at the close of the age of the Virgin Queen. Perfectly delicious with a touch of whimsy. The House with the Brick-Kiln is quite murderous, whereas Monkeys would appear to have been informed by Benson’s sister’s expertise in the field of Egyptology, and possesses a most chilling twist. Humour comes to the fore in stories such as Mr Tilly’s Séance, Thursday Evenings and the singularly titled The Psychical Mallards, with the latter featuring a pair of levitating mediums who reach the heights of absurdity. Benson thus proved himself to be equally adept at raising a smile and a shudder, and this is to his credit.
Like M.R. James, Benson’s protagonists are more often than not of a particular type, with both men tending to favour bachelors like themselves. Whereas James’s fellows normally proved to be of a scholarly bent, Benson’s were of a more frivolous type – upper-middle-class chaps of independent means who possessed no greater pleasure than a rubber of bridge of an evening (no, I hadn’t heard of that term either until I read these stories), and renting a house for a month or two to escape the unclean air of London. Whilst all of the stories in this volume may be viewed as period pieces, firmly embedded within the social milieu that was familiar to the author, their ability to entertain the reader remains undiminished. This is a volume to be savoured by any lover of ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural.
Click on the following title to view on Amazon: Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E.F. Benson