Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories edited by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories
Roald Dahl, ed.
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York: 1983)

Originally published in the United Kingdom in 1983.

READ: August-November 2007

In the late 1950s, Roald Dahl started collecting ghost stories. He was looking for the best of the best, the cream of the crop, with the intention of making a television series based on these stories. The series died after the pilot episode, but it left Dahl with an appreciation for the difficulties in finding truly good ghost stories:

The best ghost stories don't have ghosts in them. At least you don't see the ghost. Instead you see only the result of his actions. Occasionally you can feel it brushing past you, or you are made aware of its presence by subtle means. [...] If a story does permit a ghost to be seen, then he doesn't look like one. He looks like an ordinary person.

In preparation for the ill-fated television series, Dahl read over 700 ghost stories. He published this collection almost 25 years later, adding a few stories he hadn't included in his original list, and removing some others. The result isn't the scariest book ever. You can't pick up this book expecting to be scared out of your boots. Many of these stories are, to be honest, not very scary. But they are all well-written, and many of them were quite successful at making me feel fairly unnerved. A few positively rose the hairs on the back of my neck. I still think, for example, of Harry by Rosemary Timperley with a chill and a shudder. Others are just clever; for example, W.S. by L. P. Hartley and Playmates by A. M. Burrage. The bulk of the stories are from the first half of the 20th century, so the writing style may not be to everyone's liking, but overall, the stories are fairly entertaining and interesting, and it's a fairly worthwhile read.

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