Christmas Eve is “the perfect time to hunker down and enjoy the special kind of festive cosiness that you could only get from scaring yourself silly with spooky tales,” says editor, Tanya Kirk, in her short introduction to this excellent collection of weird festive short stories.
Chill Tidings is the second anthology of Christmas ghost stories Kirk has put together from the British Library’s collections. The first was two years before this volume and Chill Tidings contains thirteen stories Kirk wishes she could have included in the first book, Spirits of the Season (read our review).
Kirk explains the tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve finds its origins in the “early Christian belief that souls in purgatory were most active on the day before a holy day, and thus more likely to intrude into our world.” Christmas Eve is one of the longest nights of the year in the Northern hemisphere, and by the Victorian period, the tradition of telling ghost stories was “firmly established”.
Kirk suggests other reasons support why the ghost story found such huge popularity during this time. The nineteenth century was a period of rapid change. The industrial revolution was well underway, and science was making huge strides and significant discoveries. The more knowledge people shared, “the more they wondered about what was beyond our ken, and unexplainable.” Interest in all things supernatural soared.
Ghost stories “fitted the brief perfectly” for the proliferation of magazines and periodicals publishing short stories to the increasingly literate population. Improved printing technology made magazines and periodicals cheaply and widely available. Kirk’s baker’s dozen contains stories from 1868 to 1955 arranged chronologically except for the final one by Jerome K. Jerome, Told After Supper, a novelette first published in 1891. Jerome’s full story is in Chill Tidings and “is a linked series of tales which parody the Christmas ghost tradition begun by Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol”.
Kirk briefly introduces each writer, giving a little background and insight to the artist behind the story that follows. It is interesting to see the mix of genders and styles, the background and lives of the writers contributing work throughout the period, and the development of the ghost story itself leading us to the novel form we are familiar with today.
The stories themselves have an array of ghastly phantoms including a ghostly white monk, an inherited haunted estate, and a deadly duel. All are highly enjoyable; some from well-known writers of the genre such as H. P. Lovecraft, The Festival (1925), and Charlotte Riddell, A Strange Christmas Game (1868). A personal favourite is Algernon Blackwood’s Transition (1913). There are other writers that it was a pleasure to discover, such as Andrew Caldecott with Christmas Re-union.
Chill Tidings is a collection of weird seasonal tales that is likely to be loved by those who enjoy traditional ghost stories. All are very readable, including the early stories which benefit from the slightly older writing style which suits the genre. A hugely enjoyable collection just in time for the festive season.