Monday, July 6, 2009

"Late Reviews"

Dupont, Inge, and Hope Mayo (eds). Morgan Library Ghost Stories (New York: Fordham University Press, 1990). Wood engravings by John De Pol. Reprinted from the limited edition published in the same year by The Stone House Press of Roslyn, New York.

A collection of seven original tales, plus an introduction by Hope Mayo—the results of a ghost-story writing competition, the conditions for which being that the stories be in the style of M.R. James, and that they be in some way related to the J. Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City. The connection with M.R. James is facilitated by the fact that James (from Cambridge) worked on the cataloguing of the large number of medieval manuscripts and early printed books from the years 1902-1907, before the collection made its way across the Atlantic.

The seven stories, one of which is in verse, were all written by people associated at some time with the Morgan Library, or who were then professional librarians at other institutions. As a result, it is not surprising that the stories, while mostly competent and amusing, are not particularly original or in any way outstanding. The most interesting item in the volume (outside of the excellent illustrations) is the “Introduction”, which tells the story of the beginnings of Morgan’s Library, and of M.R. James’s connection with it. We learn that Belle de la Costa Greene, who was for many years in charge of Morgan’s library, exchanged letters with James (some of which are quoted in the book). She was also a fan of James’s ghost stories, and even requested new ghost stories from his pen. In 1933, James wrote her that “I am afraid that the vein of ghost stories has run rather dry.” After James’s death, the manuscript of “A Warning to the Curious” was purchased and presented as a gift to the Morgan Library in 1942, where it remains to this day.

Wuorio, Eva-Lis. Escape If You Can: 13 Tales of the Preternatural (New York: Viking Press, 1977)

Wuorio (1918- ), at the time of publication of this book, is described as a Canadian citizen of Finnish descent who has been living and writing in Finland for the last several years. Most of her novels are for young adults.

This short story collection, also marketed for children, has a deftness to the writing and a cosmopolitan feel overall. There is little questioning of the supernatural, or shock at the experience of it: it merely is. Some of the stories are from a child’s perspective, while others are more adult. All are somewhat unconventional, and even when using familiar tropes (like werewolfery) Wuorio creates a story that is uniquely her own, moody and introspective, with a distinct sense of place and setting. I wouldn’t expect these stories to be popular with many children, but some will like them. More adults should read them, despite their being packaged as for children.

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