It’s that time of year again – a time of ghosts and goblins, of sudden chills and flickering candle flames at the stroke of midnight, of frights and haunts and things that go bump in the night. No, this isn’t a leftover post from Hallowe’en. For the Victorians, the spookiest holiday of the year was Christmas. Here’s British writer Jerome K. Jerome in 1891:
“There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas — something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails… Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters. For ghost stories to be told on any other evening than the evening of the twenty-fourth of December would be impossible in English society as at present regulated.”
There is one ghost story we still associate with the season, and every year since 1976 audiences have flocked to ACT Theatre to see it staged. I’m referring of course to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which you can find at the library in myriad editions, from the original manuscript to graphic novel adaptations; as read for you by Jim Dale or Jonathan Winters, or enacted by Alastair Sim, Patrick Stewart, Kelsey Grammer, George C. Scott, Barbie, Mickey Mouse, Mister Magoo, or The Muppets! Still, there’s nothing quite like live theatre, and here’s a list we did to accompany and inform your enjoyment ACT Theatre’s 41st Annual staging of the play.
Wouldn’t it be fun to revive the Victorian tradition of ghost story readalouds this year? Here are some handy collections to get you started:
The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, Tara Moore editor. Partake in the classic Yuletide tradition with these thirteen deliciously atmospheric tales drawn from 19th century Christmas annuals.
Supernatural Short Stories, by Charles Dickens. Jacob Marley wasn’t the only ghost Dickens wrote about. Ranging from eerily haunting to humorous, these spectral tales and excerpts span his career.
The Phantom Coach: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Ghost Stories, Michael Sims, editor. The master storytellers of the Victorian era invented the ghost story as we know it, excelling at a wide spectrum of spectral tales that move beyond mere horror to romance, social commentary and strikingly modern psychological suspense.
Novels more your thing? Here are some truly creepy Dickensian spin-offs for your enjoyment:
Drood: A Novel, by Dan Simmons. Was it a ghost, or something even more ghoulish and malevolent that first visited Dickens during a disastrous train wreck in 1865? We have only the grim drug-addled recollections of his envious friend and fellow novelist Wilkie Collins to rely upon, in this riveting supernatural thriller.
Mr. Timothy, by Louis Bayard. Now twenty, his crutch long ago jettisoned thanks to the largess of a generous – and eventually penniless – Scrooge, the no longer “tiny” Timothy Cratchit battles his own demons, haunted by the memory of his saintly father. A chance at redemption presents itself when a fiendish pedophile ring sends him chasing down evil amidst the depraved denizens of Victorian London.
The Humbug Murders: An Ebenezer Scrooge Mystery, by L.J. Oliver. When Old Fezziwig is found slain, and the word “Humbug” is scrawled on the wall in his blood, a young Scrooge becomes prime suspect. Can a young clerk named Charles Dickens help catch the real killer before more grisly murders take place?
Wishing you all holidays filled with warmth, good cheer, creeping unease and utter terror!
– Posted by David W.