Share this article

print logo

Editor's Choice: Big Book of Ghost Stories

The Big Book of Ghost Stories edited and with an introduction by Otto Penzler; Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Original, 834 pages ($25 paperback).

A list on your computer is one thing. A big, fat, juicy, paperback anthology like this is something else altogether.

Anyone looking for an overview of great ghost stories - or tales of zombies, vampires and adventure stories - could no doubt find one online with just a couple hands full of key strokes and a few elementary zigs and zags with a mouse. Longtime mystery publisher Otto Penzler, though, has been engaged in a fuller and more valuable enterprise between covers. He's been, for a while now, compiling megavolumes of pulp narrative. I don't know if this is, as advertised on its cover, "the most complete collection of uncanny, spooky, creepy tales ever published," but, as Penzler rather too solemnly points out in his introduction, human beings have been telling ghost stories since the Egpytian Book of the Dead and the Bible.

OK, you won't find those tales in Penzler's anthology, but despite his intention to be a "narrow-minded purist" about what actually constitutes a ghost story (there must be, he says, "spirits or specters of the dead"), he discovered "there have been an astonishing number of outstanding ghost stories written by some of the finest authors who ever dared allow their dark creations to be set in paper."

Where then, one might ask, is Henry James' great novella "The Turn of the Screw?" Or Vladimir Nabokov's unique acrostic chiller "The Vane Sisters?" Other than being too fancy for Penzler's taste (or too long), both are nowhere to be found.

But what there is in these 834 pages remains wonderful from a spectacular roster: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rudyard Kipling, Ambrose Bierce, Lafcadio Hearn, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Washington Irving, Ellen Glasgow, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Saki, H.P. Lovecraft, Conrad Aiken and Joyce Carol Oates along with beloved genre favorites Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James. J.R.F. Keating, Fitz-James O'Brien, Wilkie Collins, August Derleth and A.E. Coppard.

- Jeff Simon