This one got downloaded to my Kindle because it contains several stories using the Meikle Mythos of Sigils and Totems.
Review: The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror, William Meikle, 2017.
Recently the Criterion Club in London found itself placed in receivership and selling its assets off. In a hidden bookcase, this journal, a collection of lost literary works by club members and visitors transcribed (and perhaps touched up a bit) by Arthur Conan Doyle was found.
The quality of Meikle’s imitations of those writers I can’t, for the most part, speak to. I haven’t read all these authors, and some I have only read a few works by. (I’ll put the putative authors of each story in parentheses next to the relevant title.)
I do think I’ve read enough of H. G. Wells to say that “Farside” is a convincing imitation in style and theme. Its narrator tells us about a demonstration of a Chromoscope, a machine of spinning colored plates that light is passed through and projected onto a wall. It’s a creation of his inventor friend, Hoskins. Hoskins and friends find out, by putting their hands between the projector and the wall, that they have rainbow auras about their hands. Well, all except Dennings who has a “sickly glow, all green” around his. Perhaps its no coincidence that he dies three days later. But why is that green glow now around Hoskins’ hand? Being a Wells’ fan, I was inclined to like this.
I enthusiastically liked so many stories (nine out of 14) that I can’t really call them favorites.
They include “The High Bungalow” (Rudyard Kipling). In the case of this story, that’s probably because of all the time I’ve spend reading my copy of the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. It also happens to be a Sigils and Totems story but a very unusual one influenced by Masonry. Its story-within-a-story tells of a British officer hoping for a nice, quiet weekend with his mistress in a bungalow in the mountains of the Punjab. But then he hears tapping on his floor. He finds a chamber beneath the bungalow, unexpectedly with sights and sounds from the Craft. Of course, since women are not to know the secrets of Masonry, he has to keep his mistress’ curiosity at bay.
I wanted to get this review out for Robert Burns’ birthday since “The Immortal Memory” (Leo Tolstoy) has Burns at its center, but I didn’t make it. Sure, the outlines of its plot are familiar ghost story stuff, but I liked the results of a Robert Burns buff being presented to the Russian Court of Czarina Catherine.
“Once a Jackass” (Mark Twain) actually reminded me, in its morbid plot and an insurance policy being a key element, of Ambrose Bierce more than Twain. But the style seemed Twainish; the story involves a steamship captain, who has had a new ship built, dealing with a very annoying insurance underwriter. Things take a bad turn quickly, and there’s a sting at the end.
“The Black Ziggurat” (H. Rider Haggard) has, as you would expect, a lost civilization. Here the narrator finds himself guiding a headstrong Scottish woman to a mission in the interior of Africa. Things go reasonably well until the hippo attack and the three obnoxious Germans show up. And then things get strange when they find a lost city – with a prophecy of their arrival etched in stone. Its ending is haunting in its mysteries and an alien echo of Christianity.
“To the Moon and Beyond” (Jules Verne) is a fairly typical tale of a brilliant inventor taking, on a rocket he designed, himself and the journalist narrator to the moon. But it’s what they find in a lunar crater, the history of an alien race recorded there – and what may have come back with them – that makes this another memorable story.
“At the Molenzki Junction” (Anton Chekov) has mysteries too though of a less cosmic nature. A railroad junction master, in the dead of winter, finds he’s out of vodka. So, he undertakes a three mile walk to a village to get more. It almost kills him. Who is the mysterious, beautiful woman, who can command wolves, that saves him? And how has the experience changed him?
If I would have come across “The Scrimshaw Set” (Henry James) here for the first time, it would have been a favorite too. However, it’s largely replicated in Meikle’s The Boathouse though this version has a different, but satisfying, ending. Still, a reader coming to it new should find this story of a haunted chess set memorable.
“Wee Davie Makes a Friend” (Robert Louis Stevenson) is a nicely told story of an invalid boy, with a distant father, bonding with a wooden soldier given to him by a kind servant girl.
The last of my favorites is “The Curious Affair on the Embankment” (Arthur Conan Doyle). This one features Inspector Lestrade assigned to find out why women, one prominent, have disappeared into thin air. And his superiors warn him “we do not need you running off to Baker Street for a confab with the amateurs on this one.” Cleopatra’s Needle (as in the London landmark) plays a prominent role in this one.
I didn’t dislike “In the House of the Dead” (Bram Stoker). It’s a classic example of Sigils and Totems story, and it’s the story of the narrator’s doubts that his recently widowed friend has found a way to be with his dead wife and the child she was carrying again. My ho-hum reaction was solely because of my familiarity with the concept. However, if you’re new to the Sigils and Totems series, it’s not a bad starting point along with the stranger “The Scrimshaw Set”.
“To the Manor Born” (Margaret Oliphant) was an interesting ghost story, but I thought the ending was a little abrupt. However, perhaps it was in keeping with Oliphant’s usual stories. A Scottish servant girl finds herself encountering the ghost of her employer’s wife. She killed herself and their child and left a guilt-ridden husband behind.
However, I did dislike two stories – not a bad percentage.
“The Angry Ghost” (Oscar Wilde) has a young boy bothered by a ghost rattling at his bedroom window at night and generally hanging about the grounds and house. His Aunt Agatha won’t hear anything about ghosts. The whole thing ends on a not particularly funny joke.
It would have been odd, given my general aversion to mysticism, if I had liked “Born of Ether” (Helena P. Blavatsky). A seeker after spiritual truth and heir to the family fortune meets, on the astral plane, one of the Ascended Masters of Theosophy. (At least, I think that’s what was going on.) The lamasery he’s staying at kicks him out, and he begins to see a shadowy figure following him. Who that figure was and its significance I think I understood. I just didn’t care.
So, there’s a high proportion of good stories here, and you, dear reader, may be better able to judge Meikle’s imitative skills better than me. So, I would definitely recommend this, and four of these works I’d consider genuinely weird tales.