Sunday, August 11, 2013


A. N. L. Munby (1913-1974) was a man after my own heart. A rare-book dealer and librarian, he also served in WWII and while in a German POW camp wrote a series of low-key ghost stories in the antiquarian tradition of M. R. James. They were collected and published in 1949 (I think the image above is the hardcover) and for many years it was a much sought-after collector's item, accessible only to a few. The lovely people at Ash-Tree Press resurrected it first as a print book, and now it's happily available as an e-book.

And now for an overview. "Herodes Redivivus" is a fairly forward-thinking story, of a boy whose taste for old books almost delivers him into the hands of a Satanist and presumed pedophile, with some possible deliverance from beyond. "The Inscription" is a nicely spooky tale of a haunting driven by old sorceries. And then there's the title story, a gentle tale of a haunted church and its clerical phantom who has a unique manifestation.

"The Topley Place Sale" is a nicely morbid tale of an estate sale and a ghost that takes exception to the belongings being scattered to the wind. In "The Tudor Chimney" proposed renovations to an old house unleash a phantom. Playing "A Christmas Game" leads to horrifying results as vengeance takes a hand. "The White Sack" takes us to a trek in the mountains that almost leads to death at the hands of a malignant and unknowable local fiend.

"The Four-Poster" has an old bed with a vengeful haunting...not as fiendish as that legendary bad movie, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, but bad enough, and with a surprising cause. "The Negro's Head" is a rather surprising tale of wry reflections on race relations and their repercussions. "The Tregannet Book of Hours" is a fun tale of a book that gives hints of a dire haunting in the past. "An Encounter in the Mist" is along the lines of "The White Sack," in which a traveler almost meets doom at the hands of a malignant specter.

"The Lectern" is a tale of spectral revenge, and "Number Seventy-Nine" has evil surrounding an old book. The final story, "The Devil's Autograph", is about the rarest collectible of them all.

 I've downloaded a handful of Ash-Tree Press ebooks, and I'm most impressed with them so far. There's good introductions and biographical material, and they do a great job of bringing obscure ghost fiction to light. And Munby's tales are a joy. The usual ghosts and chills are there, although not as vivid as some authors' work, like James or the Benson boys. Munby is low-key and especially in the first story it's easy to miss the supernatural content. In a number of tales the haunting is not a present menace, but something to be read about in the past. But they're full of the usual antiquarian stuff...old books, old houses, old churches, as well as some excursions into the wild. But he's also a bit more liberal that some; "The Negro's Head" especially gives thanks that the author is in more enlightened times, but also some of that in "A Christmas Game" as well. There is a fondness for the old and for tradition, especially with "The Topley Place Sale" which is almost funny in its depiction of a ghost who doesn't want to see the family antiques sold off, but there's also an acceptance of renovation, like in "The Tudor Chimney" in which respectful renovation is the key to ending the haunting, and even in tales like "The Inscription" it's the best thing for all involved that the haunted building be razed. Something like that would give M. R. James twitches; he abhorred the thought of renovating. But Munby was a bit more forward-thinking than the usual antiquarian storyteller.

Get this and read it, folks. This is a joy.

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