The 3rd Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, edited by Robert Aickman


I wrote this during my review of the 2nd book: “…the bringing of all these stories together in one volume possibly being Aickman’s most singular and dangerous achievement?!”.

My previous reviews of these Fontana Great Ghosts by Robert Aickman linked here:

My previous reviews regarding this book’s editor:

My previous reviews of older or classic books:


35 thoughts on “The 3rd Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, edited by Robert Aickman


    “There’s much in common between a cat and a fuschia-bush if you look at them closely enough. Everything came out of the slime of the pit, and it’s all going back there.”

    A warning to all of us who dabble in stories like this by the story itself as if to absolve the author of guilt in writing it at all! The author represented by its artist painter in it who lives within an isolated fishing village called Polearn with its steep, often undared entrance ‘road’, a white posting and letter delivery exchange box, and a dependence on a distant ‘fish train’ whereto the boats delivered its fish produce. The narrator, a ‘natural celibate’, now successful in the world, revisits Polearn and stays with his aunt (cf Withers in Seaton’s Aunt reviewed yesterday in this book series) and he relives his childhood there: a childhood that subsumes him as this story written by an otherwise cheerful, sociable author will subsume its reader, as it were, with the horrific legend depicted by the church’s altar panel, including its irresistible references, only some of which dare I give you, viz. the doctrine of guardian angels in a fearful sermon, the pestilence that walks through in our darkness today, the ‘dull book’ of life compared to this book, a fresh corpse drained to skin and bone, “powers and presences”, and ungraspable material in hands otherwise sunk in ‘thick mud’: a resistance of movement the subsuming within which I thought I had escaped by finishing my previously real-time reviewed Aickman Fontana book yesterday! There seems to be no end to such grasp of gestalt… there’s nothing no paler than a memory of Polearn that still never pales.

  2. Pingback: Negotium Perambulans | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  3. THE END OF THE FLIGHT by W. Somerset Maugham

    “…and he’d done something to an Achinese and the Achinese had sworn to kill him.”

    A particularly short story of Colonials in the Dutch East Indies, and a story short enough to be told within the story, as told to someone who was due to sleep in a bungalow room wherein a man — who was being persistently dogged by an avenging native of the Sumatran district of Aceh if not by an asymptomatic native of China, too — had slept before him. Well, to cut a short story even shorter, the kris did not cut him short at all. But his life was foreshortened no doubt by the previous story’s ‘pestilence that walketh in darkness’ that cannot be avoided from following you by being placed within you! It would have of course made no difference when the new man in this room had heard this story told…be it before or after he went to sleep.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  4. One of my favourite writers, ever since I read his collected works in the 1970s…

    THE BECKONING FAIR ONE by Oliver Onions

    I & II

    “The three or four ‘To Let’ boards had stood within the low paling as long as the inhabitants of the little triangular ‘Square’ could remember and if they had ever been vertical it was a very long time ago.”

    …to-let boards like ‘choppers’ or ‘hatchets’ upon run-down buildings that used to have insurance company signs now replaced with the cryptic marks by tramps if not banksies! Strangely, towards the end of these first two chapters – to compare with that triangular square – Oleron, a 44 year old stony broke author bachelor sporadically working on his novel ‘Romilly’, (a title that rings with his own name?), takes up one of these houses – evocatively described here – one that is taken cheaply by him (well, only one floor, leaving the rest untenanted), redecorated by him in elder-white, already furnished with a Derby China plate, an ex- powder closet, a small rosewood cabinet and much else, including some window box seats that he rifles with a chisel revealing, in one of them, not exactly a triangular square…but a large unfolding bag….

    “In shape it was an irregular, a very irregular, triangle, and it had a couple of wide flaps, with the remains of straps and buckles. The patch that had been uppermost in the folding was of a faded yellowish brown, but the rest of it was of various shades of crimson…”

    • III & IV


      GO BACK AT ONCE! Rewrite Romilly…all fifteen chapters of her so far!

      “‘But—but—‘ Miss Bengough protested, ‘you had her so real, so living, Paul!”

      A character based upon her: Paul Oleron’s Platonic ‘chum’ Elsie Bengough, and his perhaps unconscious suitress—now faced with tantamount to his mid-life crisis that seems to have been ignited by these new lodgings of his and the plink of its dripping tap, a tune that plays eponymous songs. She is larger-than-life and I really believe it is she who is REAL from the evocative writing of Onions, about to be effectively ditched in face of what really haunts this short novel, a work that he has himself created? Onions and Oleron alike in their separate works of two fitful decades?
      Oleron had simply been “oozing” Romilly. Even the cluster of ‘large-headed hatpins’ in the mouth of Romilly’s model now no longer plucks his heart- nor even his harp-strings.

      “Gulliver had described the Brobdingnagian maids-of-honour thus: and mentally and spiritually she corresponded — was unsensitive, limited, common. The model (he closed his eyes for a moment) — the model stuck out through fifteen vulgar and blatant chapters to such a pitch that, without seeing the reason, he had been unable to begin the sixteenth. He marvelled that it had only just dawned upon him.”

      One day, I will real-time review Aickman’s own ‘Model’?
      Onions’ “general muchness” here? …

      “The mechanism of her was a little obvious; her melting humidity was the result of analysable processes; and behind her there had seemed to lurk some dim shape emblemtic of mortality.”

  5. V & VI

    “He thought how to some men their loved ones were but the dearer for those poor mortal blemishes that tell us we are but sojourners on earth, with a common fate not far distant that makes it hardly worth while to do anything but love for the time remaining. Strangling sobs, blearing tears, bodies buffeted by sickness, hearts and mind callous and hard with the rubs of the world — how little love there would be were these things a barrier to love!”

    Moving pair of chapters where Elsie is spurned, even wounded by its nails and loose stairs, by the house itself, spurned for Oleron’s new Romilly… Amid the pangs of his own guilt and the noises of a House’s natural settling creaks et al, the House’s soul is heard rustling silkily. Not only a ghost prepared for the future, as far as our now today in real-time, but then, too. The words also have a swish, questioning whether they depict wrongness or rightness within their own gestalt or soul. The music of noise. Ill met by moonlight, or a match’s sudden flame.

  6. VII – VIII

    To the man who pays heed to that voice within him which warns him that twilight and danger are settling over his soul, terror is apt to appear an absolute thing, against which his heart must be safeguarded in a twink unless there-is to take place an alteration in the whole range and scale of his nature. Mercifully, he has never far to look for safeguards. Of the immediate and small and common and momentary things of life, of usages and observances and modes and conventions, he builds up fortifications against the powers of darkness. He is even content that, not terror only, but joy also, should for working purposes be placed in the category of the absolute things; and the last treason he will commit will be that breaking down of terms and limits that strikes, not at one man, but at the welfare of the souls of all.“ (My bold)

    This is the seminal work I always thought it was. Stemming from the intense spooking one feels, in empathy with Oleron, and with his fears for Elsie’s safety and reputation, his renewed fears for the fifteen chapters already written of his novel Romilly, fears when outside the House’s influence, plus the need to stiffen his sinews with a brandy at a local pub, its white-haired landlady causing him to wonder whether she brushed her hair every night, too! Not forgetting Elsie’s lack of an otherwise customary long arm’ wave (at the end of these chapters) in ironic contrast to someone else’s actual ‘beckoning’! Yes, stemming from all that and more (including Barrett’s unpunctuated letter text), we have this sense of a communal Jungian gestalt inasmuch as it affects our reading and reviewing of literature, especially by mass triangulation, in attempts of escaping or even sharing a mass spooking or mass sadness or mass joy — and writing literature, too (such as Romilly)… no boldness now…

    He might have spared his craft. The matter was the easiest imaginable. As in time past he had known, in his writing, moments when his thoughts had seemed to rise of themselves and to embody themselves in words not to be altered after wards, so now the question he put himself seemed to be answered even in the moment of their asking. There was exhilaration in the swift, easy processes. He had known no such joy in his own power since the days when his writing had been a daily freshness and a delight to him. It was almost as if the course he must pursue was being dictated to him.

  7. IX & X

    How should men know her, this Fair One of Oleron’s, until Oleron himself knew her? Lovely radiant creations are not thrown off like How-d’ye-do’s. The men to whom it is committed to father them must weep wretched tears, as Oleron did, must swell with vain presumptions hopes, as Oleron did, must pursue, as Oleron pursued, the capricious, fair, mocking, slippery, eager Spirit tat, ever eluding, ever sees to it that the chase does not slacken. Let Oleron but hunt this Huntress a little longer . . . he would have her sparkling and panting in his arms yet. . . . Oh no; they were very far from the truth who supposed that Oleron had ceased to work!”

    Oleron, Oleron, the man with No Role heretofore now trying to forge a self-confident role he thought he should fulfil but actually condemning himself with even less than No Role at all. Madness of agoraphobia amid the ‘jugglery’ of lights that are soon blocked out by blinds, with his downcallers baying outside, but Elsie who else desperate but helpless to help him… as he blocks even his own self, as it were, by sacrificing his fifteen chapters to the fire of the fair beckoning one’s conjuring. Amid pith-white walls containing the empty harp-bag he fails to reconcile to, we have here a pair of nightmarishly rhapsodic chapters of failed self-assertion within now tantamount to a photographer’s dark room, as infected by the Madley motions of the previous tenant who had also once submitted to the beckoning wiles within walls — emptying himself down to the bowels of his soul in the process. An importuning to die for.

  8. XI & XII

    “We are not gods. We cannot drive out devils. We must see selfishly to it that devils do not enter into ourselves.
    And this we must do even though Love so transfuse us that we may well deem our nature to be half divine.”

    …and so, it is as if I was meant to read this the same day as I read ‘Heavenly Love’ a few hours ago HERE.

    “Oleron simply couldn’t be bothered. He had his work to do. On the morrow, he must set about the writing of a novel with a heroine so winsome, capricious, adorable, jealous, wicked, beautiful, inflaming, and altogether evil, that men should stand amazed. She was coming over him now; he knew by the alteration of the very air of the room when she was near him; and that soft thrill of bliss that had begun to stir in him never came unless she was beckoning, beckoning. . . .”

    …and so, for me, it is as if Onions has now become Oleron, with all the olfactory dead vegetable matter and detritus material strewn around. ….and if only the novel that beckoned originally had finished with chapter X, it would have been deemed an unfinished masterpiece and taught as literature at university. But now that it has been finished by that hybrid author, it begins to spread itself into elements of hideous nightmare, deliriums, confusions, blurring woman with woman, and a large puddingy thing stretchered out by the police, et al. Wanton destruction of what has proceeded in this novel before, it being now with 12 chapters, instead of 10…not even to reach 15! Blocking or redacting even earlier sentences containing: “and sometimes whole novels, perfect, splendid, established to endure, rose magically before him.” Leaving only bits and pieces like: “blaze of ire that suddenly flooded the twilight of his consciousness with a white infernal light.” And crazy bigoted bystanders who could not or would not understand what was key to its meaning…

    “I remember the number, because of it’s being three ones and three threes — 111333!”

    END of The Beckoning Fair One.

  9. From Oleron’s “pith-white walls” to Alan’s single paragraph of “The walls are all white.”

    THE DREAM by A.J. Alan

    “It’s one of those clocks which pretend they haven’t got any works, like the women of the present day.”

    …with due apologies to all women, except perhaps to this story’s more subtly beckoning one?
    A very strong premonition, perhaps the strongest, of one of our co-vivid dreams today. As well as that ‘co-‘ bit, the fact that it does not follow the “proper rules” of a normal dream (of which AJA gives one example as a comparison*), but a co-vivid dream is “abnormally normal”, and this recurring co-vivid dream depicts a situation timed — inside the dream by an actual clock — to when you start dreaming the dream in real-time outside it. This co-vivid dream depicts a moving population of men attending as an audience to a ‘graceful’ woman in a hat and a simple futuristic black frock who inaudibly interviews them one by one, dream by dream, on the stage where she is seated. The so-called “purest coincidences” that follow in real-time outside the dream are chilling and indeed so-called! I shall now name this type of co-vivid dream aftermath-in-real-time as the Ribblechick Syndrome…

    “Oh, it’s a vivid dream all right.”


    *The ‘normal’ dream comparison is of another woman – this time an old beggar and hideous – who claims the coins you find within rocky “interstices” to belong to her!

  10. Pingback: The Co-Vivid Dream | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  11. THE STRANGER by Hugh MacDiarmid

    “‘I’m the last man in the world to base much on women’s nonsense as a rule.”

    A brief fable about a stranger buying you all drinks in the pub, and your having prejudices about such seemingly alien people, and the practical as well as moral mistakes in misogyny or blasphemy, and “the difference between a man and a woman.”. A companionable, arguably balancing piece for your having misunderstood the previous story.

  12. THE CASE OF MR. LUCRAFT by Sir Walter Besant and James Rice

    “Then I became a cabin-boy, but only for a single voyage, on board a collier. The ship belonged to a philanthropist, who was too much occupied with the wrongs of the West Indian ni**ers to think about the rights of his own sailors;…”

    The ship, the ‘Spanking Sally’, sank soon after the Narrator, LUCRAFT, had run away… but its West Indians may have evoked creation of the infernally CLUCK-CLUCKING Boule-de-Neige character later in his story! There are many other wildly and unforgivably impolitical references here, but no doubt the work’s overwhelming themes of overeating and overlarge meals influenced some of Aickman’s own fiction, as well as influencing the latter’s sporadically obsessional or long-covividly attritional strains of literary absurdism.
    Ever food-hungry and penniless, Lucraft tells us a truly remarkable tale, stemming from his time as a strolling actor and his unrequited love affair with young Juliet. Then when, spurned by her father, Lucraft moves to London, he faces us with some of the most incredible descriptions of food and unappeased appetite events ever written in literature, as well as describing his Faustian pact with a larger than life man whose name is always just beyond the tip of Lucraft’s tongue, a Rabelaisian man whose speech is disruptively peppered with incessant GRUNTS — a pact of transferring to this man the gargantuan appetite of young Lucraft for food and drink. With all the repercussions that such a pact entails!!! Replete with “green fat”, underdone mutton, “calipash and calipee” and much much else — and “Like an ostrich, as you say. Ho ho! Ha! Ha! like an ostrich!”


    I cannot stress enough how literally overwhelming this obsessional and attritional text is upon the reader. And I wonder if the two authors knew what LOO would mean later in linguistic history or simply prophesied its meaning through the magic of fiction. But the story reeks and tastes of LOOCRAFT to me!
    Ebenezer GRUMBELOW, too, eventually the tantalising missing name regained as GRUNTS BELOW, I suggest!!
    SPOILER — Luke Lucraft’s own new ship called LOVECRAFT, I infer, with Juliet aboard eventually comes to harbour, but I will not here give you all the twists and turns of plot leading to that finale of a romantic event.

    “For, as I discovered, man is one and inseparable; you cannot split him up;…”

  13. THE SEVENTH MAN by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

    “The cards were so thumbed and tattered that by the backs of them each player guessed pretty shrewdly what the other held. Yet they went on playing night after night;…”

    “Whist!” And beware, this is a very chilling tale (literally and scarily), till — SPOILER — the sun comes out at the end, but comes out for whom? Paradise Lost – and Regained?
    It’s always night because the stopped clock — in inexact tune with the clock in the AJA story above — ever thus says it is night in or out of this dream of madness dreamt or actually lived by a group of meticulously named men, shipwrecked upon a desolate Arctic shore, if there is such a shore to be had, and their sleeping in cupboard-bunks possibly with quills in their couches to keep them awake, within a possibly ready-made or self-made one-roomed hut with trap-doors in the roof to let out the smoke of the warming fire. The number of the men was once seven, I guess, but one has been buried outside under the snow. But their names and personal derivations confuse me and, no doubt, confuse them, too, and it is never certain who knocks on the door, who goes out a trap door to investigate, and who comes back frozen almost stiff. The counting — like the clock’s or that of the scheming playing-cards — is interminable and even lasts beyond the ending of this excellent ghostly work. Still lasts now as I write this — beyond any lost conceit of Paradise, I guess. [Not forgetting the “interloper” in this work’s inner ballet scenario reminiscent of Elena’s model in Aickman’s ‘The Model’ that I am now equally slowly and attritionally reviewing here!]

  14. Pingback: The Seventh Man | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  15. NO SHIPS PASS by Lady Eleanor Smith

    “What should have been paradise was only a pretty hell.”

    I won’t detain you long with this review of a truly classic story, once read never can it be UNread. Never to escape its own version of Null Immortalis. As if I invented this two-word expression for an anthology book that I edited some while ago, invented it, by premonition or instinct, to encapsulate this very story, just read by me for the first time! Furthermore, I don’t know how I possibly predicted the paradise lost/regained element based on someone in the previous story above reading Paradise Lost by Milton, when I wrote the previous review above of a single hut and surrounding hummocks, and now here huts in the plural and hammocks inside — here on a perfect archetypal desert island, a Mirage Island, where death does not exist. And with no escape from it. The believable POV of Patterson shipwrecked here, as the others had been years ago, even centuries ago, and the characters of Captain Micah Thunder and Doña Inés, the elegant and evocative descriptions of these people and of the island itself and of its flickers of parakeets as well as flickers of sorrow beyond the looks of happiness — none of this will you ever forget. Even its arguably empty ending as a story has already fitted into its own scheme of endless ‘nullimmortalis’. Yet I am somehow blown away by the work’s magic and style, while ever fated to be blown back to its doldrums or fated never to leave them in the first place, even temporarily.

  16. THE MAN WHO CAME BACK by William Gerhardi

    I could not resist reproducing the whole of this short marvellous portrait HERE of an old man. It is substantially about me and my pretentious readerly and reviewer-ly essence, and also harkens back to the Immortality as now a perhaps more positive version of the Null Immortalis syndrome in the previous story above.
    Beware! I shall be back.
    At least, ironically, I still currently have the outlet of my gestalt real-time on-line dissemination and, so, I do not need, like he does, to depend on the odd face-to-face visitor or quilled interloper to my home in order to soak up my preternatural wisdoms! His white villa miles by sea from Toulon was the equivalent to his Covid lockdown or Lady Eleanor Smith’s island?

  17. Pingback: The Man Who Came Back | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  18. THE VISITING STAR by Robert Aickman

    “She nodded. ‘Will you take me down a mine?’”

    Incredibly, I cannot remember reading this story before, although I surely must have done! It is, equally surely, his masterpiece. The Reggie Oliver-like theatrical story, here, of course, pre-apotheosised by Aickman, taking place in a town of coal mining, where, despite this, the young narrator is studying outdated lead and plumbago mining and I learned more about this activity than I would ever have wished! As well as theatrical — and here there is a wonderful character of a local theatre to die for and its manager and its faulty scenery ‘grid’ and its old timer of an actor called Ludlow also to die for — there is the Aickman classic ambiance of a lodging-house where dinner one night is luncheon meat and chips … and two people sitting in a bar munch interminably on mounds of margarine and bread, without talking to each other, as if in the midst of an argument. Above all, the trans- (Cf trains) triangulation of the actress Arabella Rokeby and the evasive Mr Superbus with his inscrutable luggage and the wan and frail Myrrha is a characterisation that outdoes all else in literature, I suspect. The implications of the story’s denouement in the light of this very triangulation are insidious and manifold and lasting. They will, in fact, enduringly last for any stretches of Null Immortalis that happen to ensue after reading this cracker of an Aickman, I promise you. And the intermissionary visit by the narrator with Arabella (carrying a single flashlight between them) into a lead/plumbago mine is absolutely ace. I can’t help noticing, too, that Aickman seems to have included, for its first publication, this story in this his own edited Fontana Ghosts anthology and he even labels it with a special ‘© 1966 Robert Aickman’ on the story’s title page as if to mark it proudly as ‘mine’!

    “Then that will look after you. Where’s the mine? Conduct me.”


  19. Pingback: The Visiting Star, © Robert Aickman 1966 | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  20. Pingback: The Visiting Star, © Robert Aickman 1966 | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  21. Pingback: TRAGIC CASEMENTS by Oliver Onions | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

  22. Pingback: ROOUM by Oliver Onions | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

  23. Pingback: THE ROPE IN THE RAFTERS (1935) by Oliver Onions | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

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