Joy Silence (joysilence) wrote in darkling_tales,
Joy Silence

Eleanor Scott anthology

M.R.James needs no introduction here or anywhere else even remotely concerned with weird fiction, and many of his contemporaries and direct successors such as H Russell Wakefield or A.N.L. Munby are also still in print today. On the other hand, it is not every day that you get the chance to discover a new Jamesian ghost story writer from the old days! That's why I was excited by Oleander Press' paperback edition of Randall's Round, originally published in 1929 and until now only available for eye-watering sums of money in the original edition or the pricey Ash Tree Press reprint. Scott enjoyed some success in her day for novels and stories on a variety of topics, but is now best remembered for this collection of unabashedly Jamesian tales of terror with antiquarian and folklore themes.

The first story, 'Randall's Round', falls into the latter of those two categories. Lovers of strange old British celebrations like Padstow's "Obby Oss", the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance and Wales' Mari Llwyd should enjoy this exploration of England's pagan past, as experienced by a foolhardy upper-class holidaymaker (is there any other type of holidaymaker in the "folk horror" story?) It is told in a fairly understated, conversational style reminiscent of EF Benson or John Buchan. 'The Cure' attempts something similar with Scandinavian mythology, though not as convincingly. Perhaps Scott is best on home ground.

But some of these stories border on the flagrant in their indebtedness to Old Monty! 'The Twelve Apostles' is a "borrow" from James' 'The Treasure of Abbot Thomas' and features an antiquarian treasure hunt that is overlong and certainly won't hold any surprises for anyone who's read the aforementioned story. I love pre-50s ghost stories and their descriptions of genteel country life, but even I baulked a bit at the wealth of detail about the eating practices and other aspects of upper-class rusticity that pad out this story unnecessarily. And of course there's the inevitable explanatory Vicar.

Further lashings of clergy feature in 'Celui-La', Eleanor Scott's version of 'Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You". This story made it into Ghosts and Scholars, the awesome antiquarian ghost story collection edited by Michael Cox, Rosemary Pardoe and Richard Dalby, and it's not too hard to see why it was selected over its peers. Although it features a British holidaymaker who digs up more than he bargained for when exploring a stretch of deserted beach, it's not too blatant a crib on 'Oh Whistle...', since the action takes place in a small village on the coast of Brittany and features a wider variety of spectres than James' solitary "face of crumpled linen". This one's certainly an effective and atmospheric frightener and the "local colour" is convincing.

Scott isn't just a one-trick pony, however, and several of her stories have a distinct tang of decadence a la Vernon Lee. 'Simmel Acres', with its plot of a youth discovering a seductive evil lurking in his family tree after tangling with a curious statue, is the story where this is most obvious.'The Tree' features a Bohemian artist couple who fall under the spell of the titular arborescence, and doubles as an Oliver Onionesque study of the agonies of the creative process. And the evil old female guardian vs. innocent young charge scenario in 'The Old Lady' gives a nod to the brilliant Walter de la Mare story 'Seaton's Aunt', although it is considerably more lurid and its effect is diluted by too many vague allusions to psychic mumbo-jumbo. And there are a couple of stories that don't fit into any neat categories. 'The Old Lady' is a bit of an odd one out with its mournful depiction of a woman haunted by a lost love, and 'The Room' is an odd piece about a room that tailors its horrors to whoever's in it. A good idea but I felt the conclusion was rather wimpy.

Add all this together, however, and you have a collection with easily enough charm and variety to justify the purchase price, which is in the region of ten pounds. Oleander have definitely put together a no-frills package, with binding and jacket art of the sort more commonly seen wrapped around books from vanity e-publishers like Lulu, but once you get inside the font's quite nice and there were far fewer typos than I had been dreading. And if you're an antiquarian ghost story fan, then you really shouldn't miss this one.

You can also find out more about Scott here at The Haunted Library.

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