Haunted Legends, eds. Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas

Posted by Glennis Byron on November 15, 2010 in Blog, Reviews tagged with , , , , , ,

Haunted Legends, eds. Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas. New York: Tor, 2010.

This is a collection of stories with a particularly interesting premise.  As Nick Mamatas explains in the brief introduction,

Our concept was simple: ask some of the best writers of horror and dark fantasy in the world to choose their favorite “true” regional ghost story, and to rescue it from the cobwebs of the local tourist shop or academic journal.’ (16)

Lake Crescent

The first and most important criteria for me when reading a ghost story is that it has to scare me: the academic side of my brain can kick in afterwards, but first I want to experience the chill and the shiver. In this respect, the story that really stands out for me is Laird Barron’s ‘The Redfield Girls’, about a group of old friends who spend a weekend in a cabin on the shores of Lake Crescent in the Pacific Northwest. Lake Crescent is apparently one of the coldest and deepest of lakes in North America, and allegedly cursed. Once you’ve read the story, check out the Skulls in the Stars blogpost on ‘The Lady of the Lake’ where you’ll find out more about the background to the story and about the curious process called ‘saponification’.

Oaks Park

M.K. Hobson’s ‘Oaks Park’ was another story that made highly effective use of its setting, here an Amusement park in Oregon that is supposedly haunted by a ghostly child in 1970s style clothing. While I was at first rather irritated by the second-person narrative voice, I quickly got absorbed in this story which, in showing that ‘ghosts might be closer than you think’, manages to be disturbing, horrific and yet also immensely sad. Hobson is definitely someone I want to look into further.

Joe R. Lansdale’s ‘The Folding Man’ comes into the category of the wonderfully weird.  A group of young men are coming home from a Halloween party when one of them decides to moon what appears to be a carload of nuns. Big mistake, no, huge mistake, and the nastiness of these supposed ‘nuns’ is only outdone by the nastiness of what they have in their boot. One of the great things about this story is the rather casual tone in which the most graphic horrors are told: something that could have seemed just plain silly becomes very unnerving indeed.

There are a number of variations on the phantom hitchhiker story, including Gary A Braunbeck’s quite moving ‘Return to Mariabronn’, based on the story of Chicago’s Resurrection Mary, and Pat Cadigan’s  rather humorous ‘Between Heaven and Hull’. And there are stories based on legends from around the world, including Carolyn Turgeon’s ‘La Llorona’; Lily Hoang’s ‘The Foxes’ – not my favourite and perhaps too ‘clever’ to work well as a ghost story, and Catherynne M. Valente’s ‘Fifteen Panels Depicting the Sadness of the Baku and the Jotai’; Valente’s story is another highlight, slightly repulsive and yet poetic, effectively strange, dealing with particularly strange Japanese spirits.

There are twenty stories here, all high quality writing, and while a few didn’t really grab me – to be expected of any anthology – the majority certainly did. There are some genuinely creepy stories here and some just plain wonderfully weird. Definitely worth a look.

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