The 7th 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:


31 thoughts on “The 7th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, edited by Robert Aickman

  1. LEVITATION by Joseph Payne Brennan

    “The natives of Riverville did not demand sophisticated entertainment; consequently the inevitable Fat Lady, the Tattooed Man and the Monkey Boy kept them chattering animatedly for many minutes at a time. They crammed peanuts and buttered popcorn into their mouths, drank cup after cup of pink lemonade, and got their fingers all but stuck together trying to scrape the paper wrappers off colored taffy candies.”

    And such a wrapt crowd watched one of their own — a boisterous rude lad “in the farm-laborer class, neither more nor less capable than the average” — being hypnotised by a carnival hypnotist apparently with a dodgy vengeful heart. And then the lad, duly hypnotised and with no possibility of aborting such a hypnotised state, slowly vanishes upwards to where those watching cannot even scrape him off the sky, I guess.

  2. DEARTH’S FARM by Gerald Bullett

    “Sometimes I fancy that the earth itself is a personality, or a community of souls locked fast in a dream from which at any moment they may awake,…”

    This is the essence of the covivid dream, as we all know it now, I guess. And this famous chilling story is indeed a truth within a lie or, perhaps, a lie within a truth, a story telling of an equine possession-in-mutuality of human and of beast, as elegantly retold by a professional story writer, having been based upon a description couched as truth that he had previously been given by a man with whom he had just been reacquainted by chance, a man who, by the way, was once known as a proponent of theosophy….
    Levitations within lockdowns, or vice versa? Bite the bullet as the bit of fiction or transcend any dearth of belief with a mighty dose of truth?

  3. Pingback: Dearth’s Farm | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  4. 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.”
    Quoted by chance yesterday HERE, quoted from THE GREAT RETURN by Arthur Machen, a story included in the 5th Aickman Fontana book.

    ESMERALDA by John Keir Cross

    “You can’t see far enough down, can you? And even if you could, you couldn’t piece things together, could you? They wouldn’t make sense, even if you did — things never make sense, not real things. It’s all a jumble — it doesn’t connect. Yet sometimes if you look at it all quickly, there suddenly seems to be a sort of thread . . .”

    You can’t see far enough down into this the most morally nauseating work you are ever likely to read (if you are likely to read it at all), until hopefully that flash of gestalt emerges as a counterpart to the Machen above. A fable with a ‘moral’, though, for the ‘in-denial’ of our thought patterns that we might never admit to anyone, even to ourselves, especially to ourselves, as represented here by Felix Broome proud stationery shop and tobacconist owner, who enjoys the smell of shag in jars, jars shaped as “Negro heads”; he is a man with carnal desires, with a once voluptuously buxom wife who now goes to ugliness and fat, a man with fantasies about a thirteen year old girl, and it is a story with a shocking murderous outcome. With an outcome, too, of utter madness that threatens to infect the reader. But it is also a story possibly redeemed by its power of expression, even outdoing William Trevor, and with different avenues of moral or immoral or amoral interpretation, plus, as bonuses, interesting literary references to Othello and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

  5. THE DEAD VALLEY by Ralph Adams Cram

    A tale told by an old yellow-haired Swede to another man over chess, a tale of a journey when he was 12 with another boy into the eponymous valley having bought a little dog but been delayed by “attractive paste-board pigs” used as target practice, and ended up in this valley after dark in underbrush-“tangled” Black Wood trees grown to forest size beneath unLigottian ‘white stars’ — all meaningful in hindsight, but then a perfect, crushing silence, white noise thickened, later into a sea of ashy whiteness, presenting a sheer apotheosis of this Aickman Fontana book series ‘gluey Zenoism’, its nullImmortalis, a stifling stagnancy, a “fever” and “nightmare of madness’ as infected by the previous story’s contiguity, memories airbrushed thereafter by the other boy, but remembered by the yellow-haired Swede: “My feet seemed clogged as in a nightmare […] the writhing mist crept clammily around my ankles, retarding my steps”. Beautifully evoked. With the bony remains of readers of — or listeners to — this story around its central Joyce Marsh tree…
    But the dear little dog, what happened to that? Just a chess pawn, or pasteboard spear-carrier, no doubt.

  6. The ultimate expression of Gluey Zenoism from an author who wrote The Demon Lover in another Aickman Fontana Ghost Book:

    “‘I’ll tell you something, Clara.  Have you ever 
    SEEN a minute? Have you actually had one wriggling inside your hand?  Did you know if you keep your finger inside a clock for a minute, you can pick out that very minute and take it home for your own?’  So it is Paul who stealthily lifts the dome off. It is Paul who selects the finger of Clara’s that is to be guided, shrinking, then forced wincing into the works, to be wedged in them, bruised in them, bitten into and eaten up by the cogs.  ‘No you have got to keep it there, or you will lose the minute.  I am doing the counting – the counting up to sixty.’ . . . But there is to be no sixty.  The ticking stops.”
    From ‘The Inherited Clock’ (1944) by Elizabeth Bowen

  7. THE VISIT TO THE MUSEUM by Vladimir Nabokov

    “I was impatient to leave the unnecessarily spreading museum…”

    Rain set in ‘for good’, the ‘long-necked cathedral’ spire keeps popping up as it forces your to play hide and seek with it, seeking the museum to find a friend’s relative’s portrait in it, a museum that eventually becomes a maze of gluey zenoism galore, trying to leave but not being able, exhibits like ‘frozen frass’, ‘phony tones’ of functionaries, even photographs as art, the ‘Return of the Herd’ painting instead of the sought portrait, ultimately no immunity from exhibits and corridors, a “municipal councillor’s merds” being mucked about with by boisterous museum-goers, an actual museum steam radiator become an exhibit, a “gigantic mock-up of the universe”, endless turnings and exhibits, even false snow in a false outside, where dire futures of Russia come about as truth, even if intrinsically false, “floating fish house” or not, orthographic typos on signs or not. The gluey zenoism never to be stripped off, even if you strip yourself of all that you own, strip naked, stripped even of these words that describe you, stripped of the mis-lettered signages that would take you on or already have taken you on into an ‘in-denial’ of sorts…

    I will now remind myself of what I have said about this story in the past, and post whatever I find below…

    • 2019:

      A VISIT TO THE MUSEUM by Vladimir Nabokov
      Translated by Dmitri Nabokov

      I reviewed this as part of my Gestalt study of the author’s complete stories here:
      As follows:



      “Everything was as it should be: gray tints, the sleep of substance, matter dematerialized.”

      The perfect masterpiece of a museum visit. Mixed with the constructive madness written by a madman about a sane man, as apotheosised later by Ishiguro’s ‘The Unconsoled’ (my review here) arriving at some sort of Narnian outcome beyond the museum! And his Russian paranoia of the time. And the scientifically indeterminate object from Kiernan’s ‘Far From Any Shore’ (reviewed yesterday here). “To dig in the past. […] a dirty bathtub,…”


      Having just re-read it, I can now infer the concept of insanity standing upon the shoulders of insanity, or insanity leapfrogging insanity, to gain even insaner dimensions of insanity. Also, with reference to the joker in the museum claiming its steam radiator was one of the exhibits, I have often been known to point at parts of art galleries themselves as being part of the art being shown.

  8. Please see the Elizabeth Bowen ‘Inherited Clock’ quote above that turns out to be the utterly utterly perfect companion to the next story!

    GONE AWAY by A.E. Coppard

    It is ironic that depressive Anson seeks a copy of ‘The Times’ to anchor himself during a car trip in France with two others, as the speedometer seems to speed up and his ‘world without end’ becomes as mazy and timeless and distanceless as the Museum in the previous story. Daylight fireworks as a disguise earthquake. Is he all three of them in the car at once, so when losing himself he loses all of them, including the story’s narrative protagonist called Lavenham. And the latter’s wife Mary. Absurd but terrifying, concentrating with encroaching random details like the four priests in long black cassocks and a certain dirty-looking pigeon and an advert for stomach trouble … concentrating or focussing ever toward a vanishing point as a cell — symbol of today’s lockdown or nullimmortalis? Anson, Son of Man.

    “What does it all mean? Am I mad, or is it the end of the world?”

  9. GOVERNOR MANCO AND THE SOLDIER by Washington Irving

    “From a walk the horse soon passed to a trot, from a trot to a gallop, and from a gallop to a harum-scarum scamper. It seems as if rocks, trees, houses, everything, flew hurry-scurry behind us.”

    A non-infidel foot-soldier turns up with astounding booty in a bag on an infidel Arabian horse amid the Moorish conflicts around Granada and the Alhambra, on a horse with equine power borrowed from the Bullett above, a horse with the uncanny timelessness over distances in the previous story by Coppard, eventually also, though, as in that latter story, to end up in a dungeon as cell or lockdown because he is suspected, by the eponymous Manco, of colluding with the Moors. Romantic interest, too, with a damsel, and stories of Boabdil and the inimical ‘enchanted’ Moors locked up in a network of mountain caverns ready to pounce on Granada. The story, while competing with the real deceptive hurry-scurry above, seeps with slow history and strange racial innuendos. (“…go and bow the knee to Boabdil”), plus concepts of martyrdoms and ‘stigmas’, and, before an inferred final escape by the foot-soldier, the story seeps with a rampant gluey Zenoism, too!…
    “cities, all buried in sleep”
    “spellbound warriors sleeping from age to age”

    A now significant previous review by me in 2019 of Washington Irving’s RIP VAN WINKLE! —

  10. THE CICERONES by Robert Aickman

    “Men were beginning to wait, one might say, for the year finally to die.”

    A deceptively slow journey through a Belgian cathedral by an Englishman called Trant, deceptive because he entered it just before they closed, and he needed to rush to get round before it did. Yet, his watch and thus time itself seem to stop as this becomes a travelling tantamount along a parallel journey to the Nabokov and Coppard stories, with the same sense of pent-up time that often pervades Aickman’s Fontana. A story that is stiflingly clammy with religion and terrifying, as we are led along with Trant, taken through increasingly morbid artworks or domains, one by one (including a depiction of a ‘Martyrdom’, a word I happened to mention in connection with the previous Irving story), taken into deepening levels of crypt, first guided by young men, then a choir boy, finally by another boy who may be a girl for whom — we sense, by some of the hints — Trant feels an attraction, as he goes willingly into darker places with ‘it’. (Cf the Keir Cross).
    Only a Truant can carry its own skin?
    (And is the tableau of four bishops the same men now grown older from the four priests in the Coppard?)

    “The twelves strokes of the hour took a surprisingly long time to complete.”

  11. OLD MRS JONES by Mrs Riddell

    It is as if one Mrs becomes a riddle of another… see the end of this review entry.
    This is disarmingly even more disturbing than it seems to be on a single surface reading. The house where a cab man Mr Tippens and his wife and children and horse, with various lodgers now again upstairs, start to live, with honest endeavour, “gettings” to earn, and “flittings” of lodgers. But overtaken by the reputed haunting by a Mrs Jones whom it is generally suspected was murdered in the house by her husband Dr Jones, a doctor with not just one demon inside but a legion of them. And, then, we also gradually accrete information and, thus, dread of Mrs Jones herself, not necessarily as an explicitly described “blackamoor”, if more brown than black, as her endemic complexion, but with more acceptable perceived ‘evils’ to dread than face colour, I suspect Aickman not only loved this story for its other intensely disturbing qualities but also included it here as a resonance with the brown-a-Moors, as it were, in the above Irving story, and as an echo with that story’s pent-up caverns housing the lurking Moors, and this story’s Pendell lodgers who “pell-mell” came down the stairs in echo of the harum-scarum or hurry-scurry in the Irving work, come down in fear from the upper part of the house, in contrast to, in the Riddell, “those underground regions Mr Tippens well described as caverns.” The coincidences become too many to ignore.
    Genuinely creepy, as there grows the haunting upon the characters and upon us by our knowledge also growing of the Joneses, and by the arrival of a young woman to stay in the house with them, a woman who is first cousin of Mr Tippens. Her eventual dream is explicitly described as “just like a reality”, an intrinsic type of co-vivid dream quality we all now understand more about. Later, a visitor to the house comments upon this cousin’s cataplectic faraway look and the nature of her face: “and what a thick white complexion, if I may use the term.” Those words, as dialogue, seem slipped into the text surreptitiously or even inadvertently by dint of some secret riddle, a riddle of what or whom this first cousin is actually becoming piecemeal and trying to disguise her transformation. When read thus closely, there is much else that makes this one of the most frightening stories you are ever likely to read, as if it holds further secrets or riddles that a second reading, if you dare, might reveal…

  12. Pingback: Old Mrs Jones | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews


    “His imperturbability was amazing, his absolute stillness terrifying.”

    It is somehow appropriate that the author’s initials are an expendable vessel for gorgeable food as WC and his surname an ever Morrow as tomorrow in perpetuity, an ever-tantalising tension between greed (or, say, in other stories, lust or filthy lucre or filthy luck) and self-restraint, between chance (of, say, a dice throw) and certainty, between self-knowledge and ‘in-denial’, so fitting for this Aickman Fontana book series wherein an earlier Lucraft (or Loocraft!) tempted another starving innocent young man in the city with gorgings of food as now listed again by these words, in a story so fitting of another writer like O Henry whose stories I have also been reviewing in recent months…
    A tension between life and death or even death and death: this series’ nullimmortalis. A tension, too, between disguise and display, between absinthe and an “absent-minded” stroking of a bank-robber’s newly shaved-off beard.

  14. From sought provender to assuage hunger to a necessary Grubb…


    A necessary coda to this book if not this whole series – where the coffee face in the Riddell becomes that of the NUMA, now a new word for nullimmortalis, where the oppressed does box up the oppressor in the shape of a golden-eyed white girl, as it were. The tension released? In-denial assuaged. The Gluey Zenoism at its transcendent still point? Whatever the authorial intentions.
    On another level, a charmingly written story of childhood, in the New Orleans river steamer fields of yore, whereby a girl receives a dark doll amid an argument with her guardian aunt about the imaginary friends with whom the girl purports to play and speak. A domestic world with black servants. Naive and disarming, of its age, and with an inner truth that we can all now see via such gestalt scrutiny? From hubris to nirvana, from fear of the self’s ghosts to perfect numa. From horror to catharsis. A purging by or for Aickman? The ache in man.

    These Aickman Fontana books have now all been duly read and reviewed, by guided chance choice, in this order: 2, 4, 6, 8, 1, 3, 5 and finally this one: 7.

  15. Pingback: The Aickman Absolution | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  16. Pingback: Loocraft | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

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