The 5th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, edited by Robert Aickman


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:


27 thoughts on “The 5th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, edited by Robert Aickman

  1. THE FIRMIN CHILD by Richard Blum

    “I’m going to make it go away. Daddy. I’m going to make the ocean drown the noises down. The noises go way in the water. I wave the waves, wave the sounds. Good-waving soundbyes. The fish will drown. Go down. Round with the sound. Down to drown. […] The ocean is wrong, Mommy, the waves are too noisy. It’s too deep and nobody can swim. The fish don’t play anymore, but I’ll wave them away. Then Floppy can play and it won’t scare me like the devil sometimes or an animal.”

    This is not only an insidious story by dint of its plot, but increasingly insidious by dint of its infecting us today. A couple give birth to what they eventually call a “nutty” child by the name of Tommy, the latter insidiously tainting their marriage and their neighbours with his ritual pre-Geller spoon waving and his apparent clairvoyance and Floppy his toy monkey, dancing with whom he makes a “spastic Balinese dance”. And the story involves a ‘coloured’ lady who is seen by his mother to have an evil fetid mouth. Thinking about it, in hindsight, however, the coloured lady is the only real decent person in it? A nutty story in itself that is otherwise well-written but continues to leave a bad taste in my mouth, with my fearing that our own era today has retroactively infected the perceived aura of Blum’s era, not that this story’s aura has proactively infected us the other way about?! Not only Tommy’s mother, but Mother Nature itself…

    “It was as if her whole self as possessed of that mysterious instinct of organs which recognise their kin but reject alien tissue, building antibodies against it. Antibodies generated themselves in her without her willing.”

  2. LORD MOUNT PROSPECT by John Betjeman

    This must have been a major influence on Aickman. It is a masterpiece of absurdism involving obscure Irish Peers, and a strange religious sect in North London, a rhinoceros, a Gilbert and Sullivan opera and a vision of the ruined Taj Mahal in an Irish bog where Aickman’s propensity — that I recognised earlier in these Fontana reviews – to being gluily stuck in Zeno’s Paradox is rife!
    No half measures though (!), as I give you the whole of this story to read here:
    Sorry if there are any textual glitches. When I got rid of some, others appeared! On and on and on…again and again!

  3. As well as being an equivalent to Oliver O’s Oleronous beckoning enchantment, this Oliphant is a novelette with a figurative ‘elephant-in-the-room’ transpiring to be a diamond ring that bites and stings — and do please compare this with the ring that I coincidentally (!?) read about this very day in ‘Him We Adore’ HERE!

    THE LIBRARY WINDOW by Mrs. Oliphant

    “Or was he thinking, still thinking, of what he had been writing and going on with it still?”

    “It is a longing all your life after — it is a looking — for what never comes.”

    …being that gluey never-ending or nullimmortalis that attracts Aickman so much in the stories he chooses for this book series. Here, the so-called window opposite, in the library, that — in this work’s wonderfully evoked conditions of changing light — often looks less like a window at all, and the well-characterised naive girl narrator, amid older ladies as companions, including her aunt, gradually begins to see a man writing endlessly, and beckoning, and waving to her from deep within it, amid the narration’s stray thoughts of enchantments and fairy folk and the conjured covivid bubble of dream and reality. Intensely and incrementally haunting not only for the girl but also for us, as we piece together the intriguing backstories behind it. Her agonising pangs become ours.

  4. Pingback: The Library Window | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  5. THE DANCING PARTNER by Jerome K. Jerome

    “Do you like Wagner?”

    …one of the chat-up lines exemplified here that men issue mindlessly at dance parties in this story. Thankfully, the mechanical doll invented here does not include it in his chat-up armoury; he has far more lethal methods of embrace in this famous brief story. An endless dance of death, the ultimate nullity in token love-lines of lust and mortality?
    Cf the Mark-2 Wife by William Trevor reviewed here.

  6. Pingback: The Dancing Partner | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  7. Somehow the previous story seems to be a powerful, if oblique, appetiser for the next one…

    THE SWORDS by Robert Aickman

    “And I don’t mean I just wanted her body. That comes later in life. I wanted to love her and tousle her and all the other, better things we want before the time comes when we know that however much we want them, we’re not going to get them.”

    “That night I really grasped the fact that most of the time we have no notion of what we really want, or we lose sight of it. And the even more important fact that what we really want just doesn’t fit in with life as a whole, or very seldom. Most folk learn slowly, and never altogether learn at all. I seemed to learn all at once.
    Or perhaps not quite, because there was very much more to come.” (my italics)

    I have always thought this story to be the most tawdry one in literature. Now it takes on an even greater power of attrition in the context of what I have discovered to be the prevailing Gestalt of this series of Fontana Great Ghost Stories as chosen by Robert Aickman. The gluey torpor here of the callow, sexually inexperienced narrator, a commercial traveller in seedy digs in seedy townships and currently staying in a “nasty bedroom” in Wolverhampton. I once had the ‘pleasure’ of attritionally having to struggle through 30 locks in a canal boat through a relatively short distance in Wolverhampton, at first looking forward to later visiting more scenic sights on the canal ring, but was unexpectedly made to laboriously turn the boat in a winding-hole and struggle back through the same 30 locks because of weather conditions! This feels like the Words of The Swords. The narrator’s witnessing, at a seedy fairground, a woman being somehow penetrated, and later being given himself the same chance to do so to the same woman in the nasty bedroom of his digs. The inability to unburden himself of a “silly pie”, as a metaphor for something else he can’t rid himself of. The dead meat of the woman to be penetrated, with her too easy dismemberment. Her unpromising burdensome blouse and her other garments. The disarming nature of the seaman and the seamen’s trousers, ‘seaman’ as a homophone?
    I, Des, wonder if Mr. Edis actually got to hear the full story to quench his vicarious desires.
    “Suddenly it had all become rather like a nightmare.”
    Only the actual reality around you can be LIKE a nightmare. Nightmares themselves can be woken up from.
    Just like that silly pie, I can’t get this story out of my brain’s ownership. It teases and ‘tousles’ away at me like an endless worry.

  8. Pingback: The Swords | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews


    “Even pain may become a pleasure if it saves one from the shallow monotony of everyday life — a thing I shall hate till the hour of my death.”

    “Azzo stretched forth his hand, and grasping the sword in the middle, it snapped like a broken reed. ‘I warn you for the last time,’ he said in a voice of thunder, as he threw the pieces into the moat. ‘Now, away — away, boy, from my path, or, by those below us, you are lost!’”

    For me, interesting, as an example of a nemonymous story that has maybe subsequently been late-labelled, but also as an apparently historic pre-Dracula Vampire fiction in a Wagnerian (see quote from JKJ story above) atmosphere of forested Germany, with elements of swords and sorcery per se rather than as a genre, AND it is also interesting by being significant within the context of this book series, with the, at times, gluey attrition theme and also, most significantly, with this story immediately following the editor’s own ‘The Swords’, where, in this story, a female implants the metaphorical ‘swords’ as a series of very long nails into the momentary dead meat of a male within a coffin!
    A story, otherwise, with much bravado of Knights in the various ancient wars and the courting of young maidens where one fair lass here scorns a man with effeminateness rather than fighting, but this prejudice is transcended at the story’s happy ending.
    It also involves a Knight with a hand made of gold. A blood wound, like an inch-long red line as if readying itself for some deadening dismantlement, in the woman victim’s accretive dead meat body, and her “strange dream”, until she was cured by the story’s happy ending. Reed-wolves, too, Gothic castles, the Fiend of Klatka, and other striking prose descriptions.
    Some more quotes to support my claims as to its contextual place within the Aickman Fontana series and also it’s contiguity with ‘The Swords’:
    “As far as one could see in the dusky light, the stranger was a man of a tall and well-built frame; he wore a sword by his side, and a broad-brimmed hat was on his head.”
    “Who is not either the pursuer or the pursued? All persecute or are persecuted, and Fate persecutes all.”
    “I belong, you must know, to that class of persons who turn day into night, and night into day, and who love everything uncommon and peculiar.”
    “…a sort of liquid will flow from the coffin; in this dip your finger, and besmear the scratch on your throat.”
    “Taking heart, the maiden grasped the hammer with both hands, and struck the nail twice with all her might, right up to the head into the wood. At this moment commenced a rustling noise; it seemed as though something in the interior began to move and to struggle.”

    And I honestly included the above picture of a knight with a sword in a gluey soup before I read this story!

  10. …to a young people’s party in an era when they spent time “always necking” with each other… this story having been first published in 1967, if not 1612!…

    A QUESTION OF TIME by Elizabeth Walter

    “So he was put to the question, to use the contemporary euphemistic phrase.”

    The euphemism for ‘torture’, here used about Farther Furnivall in hiding who had been betrayed to those who were then persecuting Catholics, betrayed by a painter who now happens to be reincarnated as one of these wide boys at the 1960s party, and this story, if with some elegant prose, has indeed a slightly torturous plot, if not also a tritely tortuous one, but then the ending with its finely rendered hands redeemed it…

    Yesterday, I saw for the first time a portrait of my favourite writer Elizabeth Bowen (as shown HERE), depicted. with the most finely rendered hands I’ve ever seen in a painting, indeed a combined gesture of fingers and eyes that speaks some message to me across time. Perhaps true of naive Emily who was at the story’s party, too? Or of another Elizabeth who wrote this story?

  11. VENUS by Maurice Baring

    “‘I shall get there in time, he said to himself,…[…]
    ‘I shall get there in time,’ he thought.”

    Not Alice’s but Aickman’s choice of a gluey Zeno’s Paradox story again! This one is about a slovenly train-spotter working as an office clerk whom nobody likes, and who ends up in a dream ironically with his own “big, buoyant strides”!
    He ends up in his own Null Immortalis, though, as they all do! Worth reading for the dream itself — evoked by an image of Venus, the “classical lady”, on a soap advert in a telephone box — a dream about a land of gigantic mushrooms, broad-winged butterflies, big juicy fruit, giant caterpillars etc. all beautifully described. The ending effectively reminds me of that in Brennan’s ‘Levitation’ in the 7th Fontana book in this series, a story that I happen to have already reviewed.

  12. JERRY BUNDLER by W.W. Jacobs

    A cliché ridden tale of Christmas and a number of men in a hotel who want to sleep with each other because of a scary ghost of a highwayman that turns out to be more bogus than boggart. An ending that makes this non-ghost ghost story ironically interesting to Aickman? Seems to fit the mindset of these books. More blatantly WWW than WW? More closely cloistered in catastrophe than cosy comedy?

    “‘I told him not to,’ he said, in a suffocating voice. ‘I told him not to. I told him—‘“

  13. THE GREAT RETURN by Arthur Machen

    Coincidence and chance and unsearchable causes will now and again make clouds that are undeniable fiery dragons, and potatoes that resemble eminent statesmen exactly and minutely in every feature, and rocks that are like eagles and lions. All this is nothing; it is when you get your set of odd shapes and find that they fit into one another, and at last that they are but parts of a large design; it is then that research grows interesting and indeed amazing, it is then that one queer form confirms the other, that the whole plan displayed justifies, corroborates, explains each separate piece.”

    …and this strikes me as gestalt real-time reviewing of literature in a hindsight nutshell, not a jigsaw solution, as Machen may suggest consciously, but an epiphany that he knows from within his complex soul or simply from within his simple instinct. Beyond the “Iconostasis” and any “tmesis” mentioned here, we follow a thread from Protestants through Catholic incense within a Welsh chapel into a cross between “Freemasons” and “Fishermen”, towards the holy “Graal”, the latter two terms at least making me ask the eternal question (that earlier ‘question of time’ above in this review): ‘Is it a Tench?’ — and giving me the certainty I now have that Aickman (based at least partly on the “evidence” of this being his choice of such a Machen work for the climax of this anthology) was imbued with the works of John Cowper Powys, even though, I am told, there is no evidence to this fact in Aickman’s memorabilia. But mere evidence (!) is not everything, as this Machen work proves. A visit to Llantrisant by the narrator during the other ‘lights’ of the then world war to sort out a personal ‘jigsaw’ about what the Welsh natives there had experienced — those “mysteries in sound” of bell or bells, that gorgeous light of rosy fire above the sea, “fragments of dreams” that Machen miraculously expresses though the narrator, the changes in the perfumes of their local church and in their churchman himself. The Dream of Olwen and other healings. References to Railers and Dissenters. The “paradise” in meat and drink, and in many other things. A farmer who is a “little black man” and the arrival of forgiveness in bitter local disputes. The Rosicrucian triangulation as seen by the consumptive Olwen during her healing. A rose on fire. Is this all a “collective hallucination” or the genuine pervasive “glow” of transfiguration, an epiphany beyond our understanding? Reading this story makes you understand, though, indeed makes you KNOW — ironically despite what it says in its very last sentence! Aickman’s swords in our side?


  14. Pingback: The Great Return | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

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