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Picturing a World

Christmas ghost stories

Charles Dickens did not begin the custom of telling ghost stories at Christmas, but his Christmas Carol must be the most famous. On New Year's Eve Eve, I'm posting this illustration of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come by Lisbeth Zwerger because its minimalism seems to me to capture the unknown quality of the future better than the images that make the ghost look scary as a Harry Potter dementor.


 
Dickens published other Christmas ghost stories, and the genre was taken up by Cambridge scholar M. R. James. A recent contribution to the tradition is Jeanette Winterson's Dark Christmas, which is included in her lovely collection Christmas Days: 12 Storeis and 12 Feasts for 12 Days.
 
This fall, I gave the James stories a try and, frankly, didn't like them. He wrote one a year and to read aloud to an audience of select friends. I can see why he still has his devoted fans, but the stories were too archly Male-Common-Room for my taste and not really all that scary. Actually, I don't like horror stories at all, nor suspense.
 
But wait: not all ghost stories are horror stories. Obviously, not A Christmas Carol. By chance, I recently ran across a reference to Elswyth Thane's Tryst (1939) and began reading it this week. A teen-aged girl, an English country house, a locked room, its former inhabitant returning as a ghost … I'd never heard of Thane but I'm loving this book. And I adore Peter Beagle's Tamsin.
 
Maybe the trick for me for the week between Christmas and New Year's Day is an amiable ghost story. Any suggestions?

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