Archive for Christmas

The Ghost Stories of Charles Dickens

Posted in Books, Christmas, Ghosts with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2014 by mysearchformagic

There something about this time of year, with its early sunsets and long, dark nights, that lends itself to the reading of ghost stories. Huddled close to the fire with the wind howling outside, there is nothing more magical than enjoying a supernatural tale or two on a chilly evening. This winter I have been dipping into the ghost stories of Charles Dickens, and very good they are too.

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Everyone has heard of A Christmas Carol of course, with its assorted spooks and ghouls who teach the miserly Scrooge some important lessons about goodwill to all men. This all-time classic has inspired all sorts of films, plays and TV adaptations, and I never tire of reading the original. The edition of the stories that I have, which is entitled The Complete Ghost Stories of Charles Dickens, also features some lovely reproductions of the original Victorian illustrations. This famous image of Scrooge visited by Marley’s Ghost, drawn by John Leech in 1843, is particularly chilling.

Marley's Ghost by John Leech

Marley’s Ghost by John Leech

But there is more to Dickens’ ghost stories than just A Christmas Carol. The rest of the tales in this volume are a diverse bunch, a few of them a bit silly and fun, and some really rather scary. There is even another seasonal piece, the lesser known Christmas Ghosts, which includes a number of short vignettes featuring festive phantoms. Dickens himself was apparently rather sceptical when it came to things that go bump in the night, but that didn’t stop him from writing some fabulous stories on the subject. In fact, he is now recognised as one of the first authors to take the ghost story out of the of fantastical Gothic mansion of previous tales, and place it in a more recognisable domestic setting.

It seems a bit strange that the festive season is now associated with ghost stories, but I am certainly not going to complain. While I love such paranormal yarns at any time of year, I enjoy them even more around the winter holidays. So if, like me, you enjoy a bit of a creepy Christmas, then check out the ghost stories of Charles Dickens – if you dare!

Midwinter Graces, Tori Amos

Posted in Christmas, Music with tags , , , on December 18, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Well here we are again, that most magical time of the year approaching fast. I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me feel more Christmassy than some lovely seasonal music. This time last year I was getting excited about Kate Bush’s December Will Be Magic Again. This year I have just got hold of a copy of a Christmas CD by another one of my favourite ladies, Tori Amos.

Midwinter Graces, Tori Amos

Midwinter Graces, Tori Amos

Midwinter Graces is a beautiful album, a typical mixture of delicate, intricate harmonies and powerful, magical lyrics. Tori sings songs old and new, bringing her own unique style to some traditional Christmas classics and totally reworking some old favourites, as well as adding a few of her own compositions for good measure. Even the hardest-hearted Christmas humbug would struggle not to feel festive after a listen to it. The unmistakably Renaissance sounds of Coventry Carol make it my favourite, and there enough sleighbells on this CD to melt even the hardest, most cynical of hearts.

Check out one of the songs, Winter’s Carol, accompanied by a rather magical video here.

The Tale of an Empty House and Other Ghost Stories, E.F. Benson

Posted in Books, Ghosts, Superstition, Sussex with tags , , , , , , , on December 3, 2013 by mysearchformagic

I always think it is strange that Christmas time is now so closely linked with ghost stories. Recently it seems like the tales of M.R. James have become a festive perennial, and hardly a year goes by that they don’t appear somewhere, be it in print or on TV or radio. Much as I love James’s creepy stories, this year I fancied something a little bit different. And so it was I delved into my library and came out with a well-thumbed copy of The Tale of an Empty House and Other Ghost Stories by E.F. Benson.

The Tale of an Empty House, E.F. Benson

The Tale of an Empty House, E.F. Benson

Born in 1867, Benson is perhaps best known for his Mapp and Lucia books, which were successfully recreated for TV in the mid 1980s. Anyone familiar with these light, comic tales of high society in rural 1920s Tilling may be surprised to find out that Benson was also a master of the supernatural yarn, with the stories in this book a world away from the curtain twitching and idle gossip of the Tillingites.

Having said that, most of his ghostly tales are set in a world long gone, an country inhabited by dapper bachelors who rent country houses for the summer and frequent polite garden parties. Benson writes about an early 20th Century England, a place of good manners and good breeding, in the human protagonists at least. The author himself believed in the supernatural, and claimed to have experienced a couple of ghostly visitations himself, including one at his charming Georgian home, Lamb’s House in Rye.

E.F. Benson

E.F. Benson

Some of the stories in this collection are rather traditional, featuring hauntings in places where terrible things have happened and spirits that need to be appeased. Vampires make an appearance too, with one of the respectable inhabitants of a village turning out to be not so respectable after all. A couple of the tales are just downright weird, particularly the one entitled And No Birds Sing; quite what that strange thing lurking in the woods was is never quite explained, which inevitably adds to the scariness of it all. How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery was apparently the author’s favourite, and in fact is a rather touching tale of contact from beyond the grave.

So next time you fancy settling down in front of a roaring fire on a dark, chilly evening, the ghost stories of E.F. Benson come highly recommended. While the characters and settings of the stories are very much of their time, the narrative thrills that they provide are never old fashioned. I guess terror is timeless!

December Will Be Magic Again, Kate Bush

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on December 20, 2012 by mysearchformagic

You’ve probably heard of Kate Bush, but even if you know her work quite well it’s likely you won’t have heard of her rather obscure 1980 single December Will Be Magic Again.

The cover for December Will Magic Again, Kate Bush

The cover for December Will Magic Again, Kate Bush

A classic piece of unconventional, unique and slightly loopy Kate Bush, the song was released on 18th November 1980, and limped to an unimpressive 29 in the charts. No video was ever made for it, and it didn’t appear on any of Bush albums (except of course her 1990 anthology This Woman’s Work, which includes just about everything she ever recorded).

The only place you can easily get hold of it online is here, where you can watch Bush’s performance of the song on her 1979 TV Christmas special. With its jingling bells, swooping vocals and references to Saint Nick and Bing Crosby, its all wonderfully Christmassy, if a little bonkers.

Here’s to a truly magical Christmas!