“Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories”

Dana Thompson

Image courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishers

Don’t you love it when books just appear on your shelves? I have lately been in the mood for something a little creepy and wouldn’t you know it, a collection of ghost stories hand-selected by one of my favorite authors of all time materializes in our reading room. It was so serendipitous as to be…almost creepy…

Some may be surprised to hear that the celebrated author of such children’s books as “James and the Giant Peach,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (all of which have been made into excellent movies, by the way) had such a keen interest in ghost stories. In fact, as his introduction states, Dahl was so passionate about good ghost stories that he read over three hundred of them, choosing twelve to be made into individual episodes of a TV show called “Ghost Time.” Unfortunately, the pilot episode involved a Catholic priest who told the authorities about a criminal who confessed during the sacrament of Reconciliation to a murder for which another man was about to be hanged. The innocent man was saved, but the priest was haunted forevermore by the ghost of the man whose confidence he betrayed…and the American producers of the TV show, well aware that religion is a bit of a hot-button topic around here, were as Dahl puts it, “apoplectic” over the whole thing. So the show was never made. However, Dahl kept his collection of favorites and published it years later (minus the story about the priest––bad memories, I suppose) in a book covered in––what else?––a glowing moon, skeletal trees, and what appears to be a murder of crows. HOW APPROPRIATE.

My favorite story in this collection was “Playmates” by A. M. Burrage. It started out creepily enough, got REALLY creepy in there for a bit, and ended up so unexpectedly sweet that I finished reading it with a smile on my face. It was a totally unexpected little story, and I kind of enjoy being caught off-guard every once in a while. My least favorite was “Elias and the Draug,” but that’s probably because I’m a little behind the times when it comes to Norwegian folklore. I know. “Jeez, Dana, you don’t know what a draug is? Jeg kan ikke tro deg!”

In his introduction, Dahl also tells us that a ghost story is devilishly hard to write. His own attempt, a magnificent story called “The Landlady,” is not actually a ghost story because––wait for it––there aren’t any ghosts. But it is important to note that the ghosts in a good ghost story don’t go running (gliding?) around moaning and waving chains. No, a ghost in a good ghost story lurks at its edges, never being fully seen or understood…disappearing the moment you turn in its direction.

These stories are neither gory nor incredibly frightening. I am what is called a “complete and utter wimp” when it comes to anything scary, so believe me when I say that you won’t be losing any sleep over this book. The real pull here is the act of being pulled along by a story that tantalizes us with the possibility of answering the question: what happens when life meets death? Check out “Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories” and (maybe) find out.