Sunday, October 16, 2011
The First Book of Ghost Stories: Widdershins, by Oliver Onions
(pb; 1911, 1935, 1971, 1978: ghost anthology)
From the back cover:
"Oliver Onions (1873-1961) held a particular view about ghosts. In his 'Credo' he wrote that ghosts are like stars in the daytime. They cannot be seen, but if all the senses are put to work and all clues are followed up, they can be detected. Onions, known as well for his psychological and detective stories as he was for his stories about ghosts, was one of the best to do the detecting. From a few apparently innocent clues and a few actions which otherwise seem ordinary, you are on the scent or perhaps the feel of a ghost who wants to say something to you. These ghosts are intricately reacting to you as well as to situations of which you have no comprehension. . ."
Widdershin is an uneven, but okay ghost anthology. Onions employs varied structures and settings for these mostly mood-effective tales, which keeps them sharp and distinctive from each other.
The stories that don't work still show flashes of what an excellent writer Onions can be; they fail, in comparison to the other stories, because: they're predictable ("Benlian"); or needed to be trimmed and simplified, word choice-wise, to make the story flow better ("Hic Jacet").
Because of the stories that do work, Widdershins is worth checking out from the library.
Review, story by story:
1.) "The Beckoning Fair One" - A writer (Paul Oleron), seeking to communicate with his haunted flat, becomes obsessed with it, even as his potential fiancée, Elsie Bengough, tries to save him from himself and his murderous abode.
Elegant, engaging (if occasionally chatty) mounting-mood read.
This story became an episode of the television show Journey to the Unknown, which aired on December 12, 1968.
Robert Lansing played Jon Holden. Gabrielle Drake played Kit Beaumont. John Fraser played Derek Wilson. Larry Noble played Mr. Barrett. Gretchen Franklin played Mrs. Barrett. Clive Francis played Crichton.
Don Chaffey directed the episode, from a teleplay by John Gould and William Woods.
2.) "Phantas" - Abel Keeling, a sailor on a slowly sinking ship, reflects on his past life and impending death, when - out of the dead water mists - another ship appears: are its crew members rescuers, or harbingers of demise?
Solid, atmospheric work.
3.) "Rooum" - A talented and frazzled co-worker, Rooum, proves to have good reason for being so, according to this tale's narrator.
Intriguing, unique piece.
4.) "Benlian" - Predictable, overly long story about the titular character, a sculptor who gets too much into his work.
Skip this piece.
5.) "The Accident" - Romarin and Marsden, estranged friends, sup together four decades after a terrible brawl.
Good - again, intriguing - read.
6.) "The Lost Thyrsus" - Entertaining, dramatic-finish story about a woman (Bess), whose wild dreams have changed her, distressing her fiancé.
7.) "Hic Jacet" - I couldn't get through this one; "Hic Jacet" is confusing and is filled with artsy-fartsy/obscure verbiage, as if Onions, while writing this tale, caught an exaggerated case of Lovecraftitus - which usually works for Lovecraft, but not for other authors. There's a glean of a good story here, but it's buried under obfuscatory language.
8.) "The Cigarette Case" - A casual comment about a lost (and oddly found) cigarette case leads to a story about a memorable night with some odd English ladies.
Solid, fun, if (again) chatty, piece.