Nipping at the heels of the word “summer” are the words “summer camp,” and not long after comes the word “campfire,” and it’s a no-brainer that “ghost stories” comes next. Instead of offering the suggestion of a great, bawdy, bodice-ripper to accompany one to the beach, I thought I’d aim for a more family friendly, but not necessarily more literary genre to bring to the campfire after the beach.
The stories in Great Ghost Stories were selected and illustrated by Barry Moser. The tales chosen run the gamut from scary, to funny, to sweet and outright silly (the ghost who resides in a barren apple tree). You don’t have to camp to get the most from this book; a backyard barbecue, or maybe a summer porch with a camp lantern for proper effect? For those who prefer the security of home, read by flashlight with the kids sitting in a storytelling circle. A flashlight for each child to hold chillingly under their chin wouldn’t hurt, either.
The Monkey’s Paw, the first story in the collection (by W. W. Jacobs), is so much fun that it gave me pause and goose bumps when read midday on a sunny deck along the Truckee.
The list of authors chosen by Moser is as surprising as enticing. Among them are: H. G. Wells, Madeleine L’Engle, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, Joyce Carol Oates, E. Nesbit and even Moser, himself. The settings for the tales are as varied as the authors themselves and may suggest why ghost stories almost invite retelling in more familiar locales, proving that familiarity not only breeds contempt, but maybe scariness as well.
Great Ghost Stories is not for the blood-loving, scream curdling, aficionado, but you don’t want to send your family to bed with nightmares waiting beneath their pillows. The lengths of the tales are perfect, long enough to satisfy, but short enough to leave you wanting “just one more, please?”
Among my favorites was The Red Room by H. G. Wells, a tale of scaring the heck out of a young man who doesn’t believe in ghosts. You don’t believe in ghosts either, but Wells tears down that disbelief with such finesse, both readers and listeners will be glad when the story ends. E. Nesbit, the dear author of some beloved children’s literature, writes of a honeymoon gone awry, leaving a widowed groom wishing he’d listened more carefully before taking that Halloween stroll, with his young bride left alone in their rented cottage.
Barry Moser’s art has enlivened and enhanced both children’s and adult literature for many years. I’d recommend anything with Moser’s work attached to it, which is exactly what prompted me to buy Great Ghosts Stories before the closing of Clayton Books. And did I mention that when first hired to work in that store I was told it was haunted? But that’s another story. Check your Clayton cemetery history and get back to me. – Sunny Solomon
Available books illustrated by Barry Moser: A River Runs Through It; Literary Genius; The Robber Bridegroom; Ashen Sky, The Letters of Pliny the Younger on the Eruption of Vesuvius; The King; Prayers from the Ark; The Tinderbox; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; The Adventure Man; The Holy Bible, King James Version; The Three Little Pigs; Jump Again; One Hundred Portraits; Psalm 23; Wood Engraving; Fly, A Brief History; Good and Perfect Gifts; In the Face of Presumptions; Master Richard’s Bestiary; Tucker Pfeffercorn; Gray Soldiers; Polly Vaughn.