And now, with the winter Solstice upon us, here’s the conclusion of my ghost story, ‘Creeping Forth Upon Their Hands’. If you missed the first one, it’s in the previous post. As you can see there’s a Christmas tree to the side of me, but why ghosts and Christmas? You may ask. It’s supposed to be a time of celebration and cheer, not grim, dark stuff, isn’t it? To which I’d first counter: Any more nightmarish than The Sun photo-shopping Boris Johnson’s face onto Noddy Holder’s spangly top hat?
As I mentioned in my first post on this Blogvent Calendar, Christmas is associated with the ghost story, in this country at least. For some reason, there’s a tradition of telling them at this time of year. Before they were published, M.R. James road-tested them in front of an audience of Etonian students at the ‘Chit-Chat Club’. Perhaps this context and his own background accounts for the shortage of any working class characters in the stories, except for as comic relief, something the 1972 BBC adaptation of ‘A Warning to the Curious’ went some way towards remedying, with not just one but three members of the lower orders, including the main character — and even a female! — and all believable human beings, rather than grotesque caricatures.
The ritual of competitively exchanging supernatural tales around a blazing hearth became the basis of a particular version of the literary convention of a framing device. In this trope, different characters would be in the throes of a contest to frighten each other with their stories, but in the frame narrative, the main story would emerge as the hands-down winner because of the realism of their traumatic, lived experience, as opposed to the gimcrack gimmickry of the other pretenders to the title.
Perhaps the most well-known example of this device is used in Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, a radio adaptation of which is playing on Radio 4 Xtra this week, for anyone interested.