Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories

I chose to review Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories because I had exhausted my supply of other short story collections. I had searched fruitlessly through my bookshelves, so my mom gave me this book to read. In the introduction, Roald Dahl talks about how he read almost a thousand ghost stories and found only twenty-four that he deemed good enough for consideration. He’s picky and also very sexist, talking about how women have never really been very talented at painting, sculpture, or writing music. He was surprised to find that of the first three hundred stories he’d read, the seven ghost stories that he thought good enough were all written by women. But eventually, he found just as many good ones written by men. The introduction and collection were published in 1983, so his opinions represent the sexist views of a patriarchal society of that time. Since I read the stories before the intro, I decided which stories I liked based on content, not bias about the author.

“On The Brighton Road” by Richard Middleton is about a tramp, who is traveling through the British countryside. He wakes up in the snow, after having fallen asleep from exhaustion the night before, marveling at the fact that he didn’t die of hypothermia. Later in the day, he meets an eighteen-year-old boy named Tommy who says he’s been on the run for six years. They have a good time talking, but then Tommy starts talking morbidly about how everyone who travels the roads dies, and how he’s died several times. “I was drowned bathing at Margate, and I was killed by a gypsy with a spike…and twice I was frozen like you last night, and a motor cut me down on this very road, and yet I’m walking along here now, walking to London to walk away from it again, because I can’t help it.” The boy starts coughing and collapses, just as a car pulls up. A man jumps out and says that he’s a doctor who will take Tommy to a hospital. The next day, the tramp is walking along, when he hears Tommy greet him. He looks up in astonishment, asking how the boy was alive. He responds “I died at Crawley this morning.”

Tommy is a bit creepy, being a ghost and all, but seems all right because he doesn’t try to kill anyone, unlike some ghosts in this collection. The only reason I wouldn’t want to meet him is that he’s very morbid and seems depressed. I understand why you’d be depressed after six years of wandering a road, being killed every once in a while. It seems a little silly, though, to keep doing something you appear to hate. I think he should just give up the ghost. Ha ha. See what I did there?

This book is similar to another book of creepy stories I read years ago, but I have forgotten the title. I don’t tend to read ghost stories since I have a vivid imagination so they creep me out a little more than they should. Some of the stories in this collection weren’t creepy as much as sad or depressing.

Many different themes are represented in these stories, but they mostly involve not sticking your nose in places where it doesn’t belong, and to not let spooky ghosts brutally murder you. One of the only stories I liked was called “W.S.” by L. P. Hartley. It was very creepy, since the ghost sends stalker-like postcards to the main character, from places closer and closer to his house each time. This story gave me serious chills, so I think it’s great.

I don’t think this is a very spooky book, but I’m not a big ghost stories fan, so I don’t know how to rate this one. Two ghosts out of five? The stories were all published from fifty to a hundred years ago, so the language is very antiquated and it’s hard to read. As someone who really enjoys action-packed space adventures, I didn’t really like many of the stories, as they were slow, and most weren’t very spooky.

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