The 2nd Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories


Edited by Robert Aickman (1966)

My previous reviews regarding this book’s editor:

My previous reviews of older or classic books:

When I re-read these stories in the light of recent co-vivid experiences, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

50 thoughts on “The 2nd Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories

  1. PLAYING WITH FIRE by Arthur Conan Doyle

    “When you imagine a thing you make a thing.”

    The famous séance story that involves a foolhardy Frenchman, some honourable if gullible and/or arty English people who, in turn disprove their own gullibility and prove that the arts can create far more than just itself …… and a frightened life-sized unicorn from beyond the veil. It became even more dangerous to read as the latest Late Junction played — by chance in the background while I read it — some music called ‘I No Longer Belong’ by Himukalt….

  2. Pingback: The Art of Playing With Fire | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  3. MAN-SIZE IN MARBLE by Edith Nesbit

    “…stricken by lightening and the vengeance of Heaven.”

    The big house, thus stricken, once built upon which land the cottage now sits wherein the lovey-dovey, arty couple, Laura and and the narrator who called her Pussy, have found to live near an atmospheric but superstitious village and its lonely church. The playing out, in chilling inevitability, of a legend within marble that we all now know about from this famous story from an equally famous horror writer who also wrote, incidentally, children’s books. This couple never bore children thus lightened.
    This story its own memorial to monumental catharsis.

    “…a horror indefinable and indescribable—an overwhelming certainty of supreme and accomplished calamity.”

  4. Pingback: Man-Size in Marble | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews


    “‘That’s just it,’ he said, ‘now we come to it. I’m not imaginative, as you know.’
    ‘You certainly are not.’”

    Every time I read this classic horror story over the years, I actually find it even more disturbing than upon the previous reading! It is as if it cajoles me cloyingly to soak in more and more of its meaning each time I leave, perhaps foolhardily, my door open to it…. the story of a parallel dichotomy or negative symbiosis or even attempted synergy … between a priest and a sceptic professor, both celibate, and the human qualities you would normally associate with each of them, of dichotomies such as friendship and coldness, faith and realism, pragmatic life and an imagination that becomes the ‘thing’ in the first story, a force potentially switching their roles, as metaphorised in a ‘love affair’ channelled by an imitative parrot, a channelling of the amorphous, idiotic, fawning, arguably feminine spirit that cross-fertilises the two men, Pitting them against each other as well as blending them? The shape on the bench in the park and its manners as seen across from where the door is left open is the most Aickman-like monument or memorial of this story’s haunting. And seeing that the next story is by my favourite author, I can now only now try to recall, based on memory, her story The Parrot and, although quite different, its now dawning on me of another possible theme of obsessive attempts at symbiosis?

  6. Pingback: Parrot, Priest and Professor | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  7. THE DEMON LOVER by Elizabeth Bowen

    “You have no time to run from a face you do not expect.”


    Another story, many times read, where I always seem to expect something but always get something else, something ever or even more frightening than I remember it possibly being. Today was no exception. Following this woman, as she returns to her bomb damaged London home, age 44, her life lived, husband, children, and a prior sinister troth to a lover who never returned in 1916 … until, as promised, today. Sleeping till today in some waiting room or gallery of vendettas, I sense, and I somehow find myself acting as her taxi driver for the night. All of this couched in Bowen’s immaculately fractured style of unexpected words and rich covert threat. Tempting the reader to become so involved that words are added that she did not intend but somehow simply knew, if not expected, would be delivered one day. Today.
    A mysterious core that only rare great stories such as this one can harbour. “To smoke with dark”, the smoke of 25 years, those “creeks of London silence.”

    My long-term website for this author:

  8. A. V. LAIDER by Sir Max Beerbohm

    “Our mutual aloofness was a positive bond between us.”

    An engaging and truly ingenious story of two men (one of them AVL and the other the narrator) — reminding me of the combined dichotomy / synergy in the two men in the Guildea story above — men who spend their time, often staying in the same hotel as a convalescence after influenza. Involving a letter on the hotel’s letter board where the letters are gartered till their recipient finds them there, letters that imagination makes converse with each other about how long they have been gartered there, some letters new, some old, and this particular letter — reminding me of the preternaturally fated letter in the Bowen story above — is from the narrator to AVL, and the repercussions are that they overcome their aloofness again and tap each other’s IMAGINATION as Conan Doyle’s real THINGS above, thus deploying their DUPLICITY, the contradictions of FATE and FREE WILL, and whether murder is murder or a weakness …. a train journey, a discussion on PALMISTRY and on various hands’ lifelines and the hole in one particular hand’s lifeline, and other such paradoxes of truth, making me wonder which one of these two men had died of influenza, even though I had no evidence to believe that either of them was still alive! Or now dead!

    “I suppose you would say it was written in my hand that I should be a believer in free will.”

  9. Pingback: A. V. Laider | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  10. Pingback: Synchronicity rampant… | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  11. nullimmortalis July 16, 2019 at 2:00 pm
    The glassy roll of the eye was changed for that expression of uneasy inward examination which is never seen except in cases of sleep-waking,…”
    Sleep-walking, too, for which I at first misread it, but, of course, Valdemar is described latterly as the sleep-waker. We never see him walking. He is too ill. I don’t need to adumbrate the story of this famous work, the halting of death by mesmerism. I will just observe that we read all manner of things about his face, and its apertures, the tongue, the eyes, the eyelids, the mouth, lips, the jaw, the teeth, and the noises and gruesome exudations therefrom, even from the eyes. But, ironically, in view of the previous story, there is nothing here at all about his nose, nor the noises therefrom, nor the more obvious exudations that normally the nose knows. As mention of the nose is thus studiously eschewed, one has to assume the “stertorous breathing” emanated from the mouth that figures so much in the description. Unless I accidentally missed a reference to his nose somewhere in it?
    Dr. D——— resolved at once to remain with the patient all night, while Dr. F——— took leave with a promise to return at daybreak. Mr. L———l and the nurses remained.”


    The above is a copy and paste of Valdemar’s original real-time review by myself from HERE. And when just re-reading Valdemar today in a new real-time, it suddenly dawned on me that this story represents the essence of the state of NULL IMMORTALIS! — and how I have not realised this before is as incredible as the Valdemar story itself, a work that needs FACTS in its title to bring the truth of fiction into full force. It is now the essence, too, of the ‘Playing with Fire’ ‘imagination’ syndrome that ignited this very book and its sequence of works… with the bringing of all these stories together in one volume possibly being Aickman’s most singular and dangerous achievement?!

    My other previous reviews of Edgar Allan Poe works:


  12. Pingback: The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  13. nullimmortalis December 8, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    OUR DISTANT COUSINS by Lord Dunsany
    “There certainly had been an outbreak of disbelief.”
    Another story about Jorkens via the narrator but the tale itself is told by a third party as brokered by Jorkens (cf: the brokering of evils to be bartered between customers in an earlier story). I have long seen fiction making as a pecking order: freehold author – leasehold narrator – sub-leasehold characters etc. The fiction maker (travelling to Mars by aeroplane partially dependent on the Earth going a thousand miles an hour as we stand on it and then many outlandish events with human-like people (one of whom the traveller from Earth fancies) kept in a chicken-run and octopoid beasts that eat them and then the traveller making a half stop on the way home on the asteroid Eros and much else) is called Terner, or as the freeholder probably intended to indicate, by anagram: re-rent
    And that’s what we do, rent the story at each remove to enhance truth at or from a distance. But there is an elephant in the room about this story. Or should I say ‘an elephant bursting out of a matchbox’. The sub-leased Narrator’s silent collusion with the reader beyond the whole pecking-order that he finds himself in. A fine mesh.

    Above is my previous review of the next Fontana story in the 2014 context of reading it here:


    There can be no sane reason why Aickman would include this wild Jules Verne-inspired SF ‘tall story’ in an anthology such as this one, I guess! Even with the story’s arguable Swiftian morals, fables and horrific allegories for humankind’s loves, lives and scepticism!
    The storyteller travels from Earth to Mars and then to the asteroid Eros and back again to Earth as the re-Terner, his travels being based on his brainstorming as well as his calculated trajectories and gravities…

    But then, suddenly, I had a frisson of haunted synchroncity with my own tall story I must tell you, one that is completely true and checkable with dated BBC broadcast archives. As I re-read this story this morning, IT’LL BE ME by Cliff Richard and the Shadows was featured about twenty minutes into the Radio 2 programme on today’s edition of Tony Blackburn’s ‘Sounds of the 60s’, and the song contained these lyrics:
    If you see something shooting out across the stars
    If you see a rocket ship on its way to Mars
    Baby it’ll be me
    I’ll be lookin’ for you

    ‘It’ll be very unlikely that you will be seeing a rocketship going to Mars! Hahaha!’ — was Tony B’s spoken reaction to it!

    And then, with another frisson of being haunted, I noticed these words in the Dunsany story itself that, in some miraculously uncanny way, suits the gestalt of this anthology so far….


    My previous reviews of Lord Dunsany:

  14. Pingback: Our Distant Cousins | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  15. THE INNER ROOM by Robert Aickman

    “Kleine Lene, wir strecken schön in der Tinte”

    “Little Lene, we’re stretching the ink nicely”, as her German mother says to her daughter during the English father’s now famous car breakdown at the start of this most frightening classic strange story in the 1920s, prefiguring the war with Germany that Lene later lives through. Or we stretch beautifully in the ink, depending on the vagaries of translation? As Lene does ironically at the end when her truly classic premonition of the nature of a covivid dream — that many of us now experience, if without her thunderstorm — pans out amid the equivalent vagaries of the quagmire or marsh around the equally famous ‘dollshouse’, a house then becoming real with Lene herself having by then grown up into older age. The original dollshouse as ‘toy’ was bought for her after the car breakdown when accompanied by both her parents and her young brother and the latter’s ‘pudgy’ book as big as his head, none of which or whom I need describe here. Why were they helped by the man in the other car — because of the beauty of small Lene’s flaxen hair or because of her mother’s more sophisticated honey hair? (I feel sorry, incidentally, that her brother does not get his ‘toy’, the one of ornamental telegraph-wires.) The ink stretching may obliquely be the reason Aickman decided to include this story in an anthology that he himself was editing — possibly because Lene is a reliable narrator divorced from him as the story’s creator, instead of her being its unreliable narrator that we have long assumed her to be, especially in view of some of her cannibalistic hints surrounding the dollshouse’s inner room and trophy room. As Margaret was told to eat her mört in another story (Into the Wood), Lene’s brother is here told to eat his herring. Not only that, but Lene, when still a child, was made to read Moby Dick.

    “…but now I began to perceive how relative and instrumental truth could be.
    I need not say: not in those terms. Such clear concepts, with all they offer of gain and loss, come later, if they come at all. In fact, I need not say that the whole of what goes before is so heavily filtered through later experience as to be of little evidential value. But I am scarcely putting forward evidence. There is so little.”

  16. Pingback: The Inner Room by Robert Aickman | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  17. THURNLEY ABBEY by Perceval Landon

    “‘My own idea,’ said he, ‘is that if a ghost ever does come in one’s way, one ought to speak to it.’”

    Instead he tries to disassemble it!
    A rather convoluted introduction about British colonial men abroad, and who is telling which story to whom! But when we finally get to the core story, it is genuinely horrific, its horror seemingly for horror’s sake, without rhyme, reason or moral. Fair enough. I always enjoy it on that level.
    The man telling this story to a relative stranger on a sea voyage, however, seems to suspect a horrific hoax within his own story, but perhaps in truth his story itself — like Jorkens’ earlier tall story in this book (he mentions ‘Jorrocks’ here in the ironic Aickman-like context of meeting a lady who has discussed “modern fiction” with him and the need, she felt, for “melancholy” in all good literature!) — was the real hoax, in order to rationalise or excuse or hide the concupiscent impulse of his otherwise strange request to the listener to share the listener’s cabin even though the storyteller had a cabin of his own on the ship!

    “…and we talked of partridges past, partridges present, and pheasants to come.”

  18. Pingback: Thurnley Abbey by Perceval Landon | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  19. I was long ago inspired by the next author’s The Smoking Leg and The Feasting Dead, regarding both of which works I now feel the need to revisit, but I can’t remember reading his Nightmare Jack before, although I probably did and have forgotten or made myself forget…

    NIGHTMARE JACK by John Metcalfe

    “Only in his little wicked eyes did the old, evil light yet creep and flicker, and the succulent sin seem still to well and ooze.”

    “You of all men, you Nurse, you mother’s plague, you man-stealer!”

    “It was something like vaccination, and ‘took’ better with some than others.”

    This otherwise old-fashioned seeming Limehouse tale can only be read properly today in the light of recent events — a tale of evil and retribution and greed creeping and flickering back along with Chambers’ Yellow Sign of a seeping God (now stigmata on crooked cheeks and crazed by recurrent finger pointing) with East London smells and stretching stuckness of the headily atmospheric river, sheathed claws, crooks and neerdowells, their cursed rubies stolen from Burmah. And its importance as a prophetic work is now assured. Welcome or unwelcome as a catharsis, you must decide for yourself. The eponymous dying frizzled man behind the “locked door” and we grizzlers who crowd and listen to his eluded or elided words. The dreams that outlast covividly their own dreams’ dreams; Pongo the cat to symbolise ironically a yearned for loss of smell, the most evil of the evil men also ironically christened — by the eponymous natterjack or Nark — with the name Nurse. For God’s sake, don’t look behind you! This story points at you!, as you recall “windows drummed like blood against the brain.” That dry, brown face haunted and haunting, ‘giggling like a girl.’ This work surely outdoes even the insidious book of King in Yellow with, now, an otherwise inscrutable “mythos of the Web and Loaf, and the faded terror of the Triple Scum.” The rubies’ juice, those blood clots, making you describe your nightmares parrot fashion or like a schoolboy in rote.

    Save me; save me from their bloody Nark . . . The man ’oo speaks like a girl an’ smells like a goat . . . the cat ‘as . . .

  20. Pingback: Natterjack and Nark | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  21. Someone on Instagram yesterday, before my reading of the Ambrose Bierce below, drew attention to one of my past photographs with this statement: “This is a brilliant picture, Des.” I then decided to repost it (again, yesterday) here: and it now seems to make the following story even more frightening, playing with this whole book’s amorphous fire as well as its crystallised imagination of or from or about damned ‘things’…

    THE DAMNED THING by Ambrose Bierce

    “Soldiers in the intervals of battle laugh easily, and a jest in the death-chamber conquers by surprise.”

    …even when the corpse’s blood is ‘extravasated from contusions’. Excavated from words. The story of this countrified and natterjack-grizzled inquest of a dead man and the writer as witness in the wilds of hunting could have come from O. Henry’s pen (see my recent reviews of his work HERE) with additional words tapped from the Devil’s dictionary. My photo linked above is crucial to this review, too. The only monster that you can or cannot visualise by using this work’s explicit “aerial perspective”?

  22. nullimmortalis November 23, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    AFTERWARD by Edith Wharton

    “: that so few miles made a distance, and so short a distance a difference.”

    England for visiting Americans as a geographical Zeno’s Paradox?
    This story is so famous, possibly the greatest ever ghost story, that it would be pointless for me to re-rehearse the plot of Ned and Mary Boyne, on the suggestion of Alida Stair, staying, with their new obtained business-wrought fortune, at this remote Dorsetshire house with few “vulgar necessities.” And Alida’s answer to their question about whether there it has a ghost…
    But it seems apt that — for hindsight’s obvious reasons of the future crystallisation of something as embedded in the past via the anxiety of Zeno’s Paradox — I reread this Wharton tale about the “afterward” ghost after having just read Ted Chiang’s novelette ‘Story of Your Life’ for the first time and reviewed it here (a work I subsequently discovered has recently been filmed under the title ARRIVAL.)

    “– as if this dim questioning of the future, and startled return upon the past — had between them liquidated the arrears…”
    “there were infinite gradations of pleasure in the fixed recurrence of habit.”
    “and a beautiful legend grew up about this imaginary state of waiting.”

    “It leaped out at her suddenly, like a grin out of the dark, that they had often called England so little — ‘such a confoundedly hard place to get lost in.'”
    (Apt, too, perhaps, that I am also currently reviewing here ‘The Searching Dead’ by Ramsey Campbell?)

    That was my previous review of the story as part of a detailed examination of the author’s ghost stories here:

    That was it?”
    This book of individual stories itself is that waiting house of secrets, that stoical ‘enjoyment’ of retirement from the fray. Each of the authors, each story’s secret, till someone is guilty of bringing them together, physically within common covers, then someone else bringing them together spiritually. as the welcome or unwelcome ‘guestalt.’ The floor has felt my tread, the books on its shelves, including this one, have seen my face. Only in hindsight one can feel the ‘Horror’ of that ‘it’, as the ‘thing’ imagined, the ‘fixity’ of all damned things, and the self as a ‘perpetual presence’. Whether it be straight or not straight. Even if guilt comes to reclaim us all in the end.
    The business of ghosts. Playing with fire.

    When you imagine a thing you make a thing.

  23. I wrote this in my Fontana review above: “… the bringing of all these stories together in one volume possibly being Aickman’s most singular and dangerous achievement?!”

  24. Pingback: The 4th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, edited by Robert Aickman | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

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