Beyond Scrooge: Illustrator Seth revives the Christmas ghost story
Reading Christmas ghost stories connects to old tradition, Canadian illustrator says
Once upon a time, Christmas ghost stories were popular at this time of year.
But after their peak in Victorian England, holiday ghost stories have survived thanks to Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.
The book publisher Biblioasis is trying to bring those stories back. The Windsor bookmaker has created special editions of two scary holiday classics, One Who Saw and The Signal-Man.
These versions are illustrated by award-winning cartoonist Seth, author of acclaimed graphic novel It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken.
"I've been reading these classic Victorian ghost stories since the late 1980s," said Seth. "I just love the atmosphere, not even the supernatural element either. The details of the landscape and buildings."
Seth said there was nostalgia about both Christmas and scary stories.
"I like old, classic horror movies and to be scared. I think there's childhood nostalgia in the desire to be frightened," said the cartoonist. "Human beings like to play around with our emotions. We like a thrill."
The Signal-Man is a short story by Dickens about a railway worker who gets premonitions about a train disaster.
One Who Saw is by a more obscure writer, A.M. Burrage, and was released in 1931, much later than the Christmas ghost story heyday.
"The glory years of Christmas ghost stories are from around the mid 19th century to early 20th century. They often have nothing to do with Christmas at all — and neither of these two do either," he said. "They used to be called Winter's Tales, basically ghosts tales people used to tell around the fire, like a folk activity around Christmas."
Electricity (you can turn on the light to see who lurks in the shadows) and Hollywood movies are two possible reason for the decline of ghost stories around the holidays. But Seth still believes the stories are more frightening, because "nothing is scarier than the ghost you make up in your head."
"Reading these books on Christmas with the family or by yourself connects to an old tradition, a quiet, singular experience," Seth said. "It's the opposite of the connected activity we have every day. Any new tradition that isn't playing more video games on Christmas sounds good to me."
The publisher, Biblioasis, hopes to release a few new stories every year.