The film director, Alfred Hitchcock once said that the audience wants a good scare, not a bad one.
The rush of anxious excitement that a person feels when they are watching or reading a scary tale and the knowledge something bad is going to happen can be a thrill. However, this thrill is only a good one as long as the person being sacred is not in any danger.
So watching a horror movie or reading a ghost story does a good job of providing this and the emotional engagement it provides all adds to a riveting form of entertainment.
This popular tradition of telling horror and ghost stories started long before Alfred Hitchcock and one of the earliest ghost stories is known to have been written over 2000 years ago, by a Roman called Pliny the Younger. But long before him there are European and Chinese Ghost stories that date back even further.
However, it was the Victorians that really made it a tradition to tell haunting tales and at Christmas time. After all, there is nothing more engaging than a group of well-known friends or family gathering around a warm fireplace and being engaged by frightening tales or ghostly stories that provide a good scare.
If you are looking for recommendations on what good ghost stories there are to read at Christmas time, whether to your family, friends or just yourself then please read on for some ghostly recommendations!
A good writer to start with and perhaps one of the most famous writers of Ghost stories is M.R. James. He first told his original ghostly tales to friends at Christmas time and these become a popular social feature for him during the festive season.
Later his scary fables were published into anthologies and below are recommendations for some of this best ghost stories, although readers who know his work well may have different opinions, I am sure all would agree he never wrote a bad one.
- The Treasure of Abbot Thomas (Ghost Stories of an Antiquary 1904)
- Count Magnus (Ghost Stories of an Antiquary 1904)
- Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book (Ghost Stories of an Antiquary of 1904.)
- The Tractate Middoth (Published in More Ghost Stories 1911)
- “Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come to You, My Lad” (Published in Ghost Stories of Antiquary 1904).
Although James is most well known for writing Victorian-style ghost stories (told during Victorian times, but published just after in the Edwardian period). He said one of his biggest influences when it came to writing ghost stories was an Irish writer by the name of Sheridan Le Fanu.
Wikipedia: He was leading ghost-story writer of the nineteenth century and was central to the development of the genre in the Victorian era. M.R. James described Le Fanu as “absolutely in the first rank as a writer of ghost stories.”
Sheridan Le Fanu who is little known of today, apart from in a few select reading circles and horror fans, wrote a large collection of ghost and horror stories that thrilled readers at the time.
Some of his best known and most well-respected work:
- The locked-room mystery Uncle Silas
- The lesbian vampire novella Carmilla
- The historical novel The House by the Churchyard.
Reading his work is more than recommended and can be purchased at the Bookshop or other online retailers.
Edgar Allen Poe is, of course, when it comes to macabre and scary tales one of the most famous writers from the 19th Century.
He is well known for his haunting stories and has become famous in the halls of gothic literature. Many of his stories are worth a mention here, but a few of his most famous are referenced below and make a good start if you want to read a scary tale over Christmas.
Ghosts of Christmas Past: A chilling collection of modern and classic Christmas ghost stories
This anthology of ghost stories is edited by Tim Martin and contains a great combination of famous and some not so famous writers. From Neil Gaiman to M.R. James there is a wonderful collection here to read at Christmas. One point to consider before purchasing this book is that the story from Neil Gaiman is very short and is perhaps not worth purchasing just if you are buying, in part, to read his story.
See the articles below for further haunting tales, how to write them, their history and also ghostly book recommendations:
The Corpse Light from Dick Donovon: The Corpse Light (Victorian Ghost Story)
An audio reading from Jerome K Jerome: The Haunted Mill – A Victorian Christmas Ghost Story
Animated Ghost and Horror Stories: Animated Horror and Supernatural Stories – From Llama Arts
A non-fiction article taking an academic look at the history of ghosts: A Concise History of Ghosts and Famous Accounts in Literature
Christmas Books You Need to Read that aren’t Christmas Carol: Christmas Books You Need to Read that aren’t Christmas Carol
M.R James and his Ghost Stories: M. R. James and his Ghost Stories
How to terrify your readers with a well-written monster: How to Terrify your readers with a well-written Monster!
Turn the Monsters Loose: “Turn the monsters loose”
A short Introduction to Edgar Allen Poe: A Short Introduction to Edgar Allen Poe