Saturday, October 4, 2008

Time To Terrorize The Kids!

Halloween Countdown Day 4

When I was in elementary school--probably in third grade-- one of my favoritest books of all time was Robert Arthur's Ghosts and More Ghosts. Oh, it was great stuff and certainly not a mere collection of ghost stories (which were popular at the time... and boring)--far from it! No, these were creepy-ass tales ranging from the outright scary ("The Rose-Crystal Bell," "Footsteps Invisible," "Do You Believe in Ghosts?") to humorous ("Mr. Milton's Gift," "Don't Be A Goose") to wistful fantasy (the frequently anthologized "The Wonderful Day," "The Marvelous Stamps From El Dorado") to, well, strange ("Obstinate Uncle Otis," "Mr. Dexter's Dragon," "Hank Garvey's Daytime Ghost").

The interesting thing is these stories were originally written for an adult market (pulp magazines) and not for children, which may be why I loved them so much.* People die (sometimes the monster gets them; sometimes they're killed by irony); people disappear, never to be heard from again. In fact, this may be why the damned thing remains out of print (that, and a few anachronisms that puzzled me in '63**)--some of the stories are pretty intense for children even today. Still, they were anthologized and marketed for "young people" in 1963 with a bit of retro-fitting: see Arthur's A Note to the Reader from the 1st edition:

Most of the stories in this book were written at a time when I lived in a large house in the woods in New York state. The house was called Many Stories; first, because it had three floors, plus an attic and a cellar, and secondly because many stories had to be written to pay for it. It was a house just right for the writing of strange and spooky stories. When I moved in with my family, the house had stood empty for years, and it was supposed by the neighbors to be haunted. Late at night, as I wrote, I could hear strange, ghostly sounds in the house--small scurryings in the cellar, scamperings and whisperings in the walls, squeaks and rustlings in the attic just above my head. The sounds in the attic, I discovered, were made by a whole colony of bats that had lived there for many years while the house stood empty. Sometimes, as they came and went through the cracks they used for doorways, the bats made a wrong turning and got into my third-floor workroom by mistake. One night three bats at once were swooping and gliding in the air around my head, as if weaving some ancient magical spell about me. I knew they didn't want to touch me any more than I wanted to touch them. So I kept on writing, and the rustlings in the walls and the whisper of leathery wings in the air all around me made a spooky accompaniment to the tapping of my typewriter keys. It was a grand atmosphere in which to conjure up ghosts and demons and spirits and spells and witchcraft. I hope some of it found its way into Ghosts and More Ghosts, and that you will enjoy reading the stories as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Astute baby-boomers will recognize Arthur as the originator of the (then) wildly-popular Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series; he also edited Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful and Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery (among many other things; see this nice biography by his daughter).

Bottom line? Do yourself a favor, track down a copy of this book, and read it to your kids on Halloween night. You owe it to them to leave them properly terrified!

*Picture me at 8 or 9 huddled (and near-suffocating) under the bedcovers way past my bedtime reading and re-reading by flashlight.

**The story that disturbed me the most*** was "Do You Believe in Ghosts?," which involved a weekly radio show (Dare Danger With Deene!) and its thrill-seeking host. By the time I read it (1963-1964), commercial radio consisted of either round-the-clock news or Top 40 music programs, so I was a little puzzled by its use as a story-telling medium.

***Nick Deene hosts a weekly radio show wherein he travels the world seeking excitement and danger; however, his "travels" are entirely studio-produced and Nick never leaves the comfort of his broadcast booth. Nick realizes his listeners are becoming more sophisticated and significantly less gullible, which means his ratings are dropping precipitously, so he decides to pull off a real-life stunt--spending the night alone handcuffed to a bed in a haunted house. It's all humbuggery, of course, though he really does broadcast alone, handcuffed to a bed, while his crew and a couple of newspaper reporters wait just down the road. At the last minute he rejects the idea of a run-of-the-mill ghost and conjures up a story of some ghastly "oyster-faced" thing that lives in the swamp adjacent to the house, successfully thrilling his listeners and crew as he details his imaginary midnight encounter with the Curse of the Carriday mansion. The broadcast ends, the crew goes to pick him up...

And something happens.

Crystal Head Vodka Update: You may recall my previous post on the subject; apparently there's a sizable Intarweb contingent who believes this is some sort of viral video intended to generate pre-buzz for Ghostbusters III or the DVD release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Well, I can't rule out such things entirely, but Crystal Head Vodka is real enough!


JSaM said...

I just had Joe return a copy of "Ghost and More Ghosts" to the WPL this summer after a six year hiatus at our house. I was seriously considering an addition to the archives (after all, they don't know what they got and, after all, nobody ever checks it out), but the puritan ethic got the best of me. Sigh. I remember the WPL had a copy of Bradbury's "The Black Ferris" in hardback at one time, but that seems to have gone missing some time ago. AAAAARRRGGGG!

JSaM said...

Also, don't that shadow on the wall of the "Ghostly Gallery" cover look an awful lot like a morphed version of the shadow on the stairway from F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu"? That Fred Banberry is such a cheat!

G. W. Ferguson said...

Well, poop! I'd figured you'd archived The Black Ferris!

I found a copy of G&MG (with a nice mylar protective cover--deaquisitioned library copy, maybe?) online at a surprisingly reasonable price some years ago. Forty-some years later and the stories are still fun!

G. W. Ferguson said...

And, oh! I would SO love to have large-ass posters of the front and back covers of Ghostly Gallery and Haunted Houseful, Murnau rip-off or not!

G. W. Ferguson said...

Ya know, if I'd organize my thoughts before posting I could save space with a single message. Obviously, that ain't about to happen.

Anyway, the back cover of Ghostly Gallery so reminds me of the upstairs room I used to stay in when I went to visit my grandparents (old--as in 1828 or earlier--farmhouse). Had there been a swamp adjacent instead of a bunch of hokie family ghost stories* I might never have slept!

*Mysterious opening doors, glowing figures in the three-acre yard...