by Russell Kirk
Edited, with an Introduction, by John Pelan
Dust jacket by Russell Kirk
Limited Edition Hardcover - $90.00
Fine in fine dj; new and unread, direct from the publisher
OUT OF PRINT FROM THE PUBLISHER
Ash-Tree Press, 2002; 206 pp; limited to 500 copies
The Classical ghost story is traditionally though of as a very British pursuit, a genre which was both influential and popular for more than a century, but which reached its peak and began a steady decline midway through the twentieth century. The American writer Russell Kirk would therefore seem to be an unlikely candidate to assume the mantle of such authors as Sheridan Le Fanu and M. R. James: his first collection of short stories, The Surly Sullen Bell, was not published until 1962, with further collections of stories appearing in 1979 and 1984.
Yet Kirk easily and gracefully took the classic ghost story, infused it with his own cosmopolitan outlook and conservative nature, and demonstrated that it was by no means a dead or even dying genre, but one that could speak of ancient fears, remorseless evil, and quiet courage in a modern world that would seem to have no room for such things. His stories begin with a deceptive calm, in which ordinary people go about their everyday tasks; but soon his protagonists face choices which will forever mark their characters (should they survive) or their souls (should they not). Kirk called his stories 'experiments in the moral imagination;, and time and again he demonstrates how the seemingly isolated actions and choices of one person have echoes which resonate far beyond their immediate situation. This is evident in one of Kirk's most famous tales, 'There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding', which in 1977 won the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story.
In his introduction to this, the first of two volumes for Ash-Tree Press collecting together Russell Kirk's short supernatural fiction, editor John Pelan discusses the author's works, pointing out the connections between Kirk's short stories and novels, which together form a complex tapestry of recurring characters, settings, and themes. Also included is Kirk's essay 'A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale', in which the author writes that his stories are inhabited by 'retributive ghosts, malign magicians, blind angels, beneficent phantoms, conjuring witches, demonic possession, creatures of the twilight, divided selves. . . . But let me say also that my bogles are not to be taken lightly.' On a more hopeful note, however, he affirms his belief—demonstrated in his stories—that dark powers do not rule the universe; that 'by bell, book, and candle, symbolically at least, we can push them down under.'
Introduction—'The Ghosts of Piety Hill—by John Pelan
The Surly Sullen Bell
Behind the Stumps
There's a Long
Long Trail A-Winding
Off the Sand Road
The Princess of All Lands
An Encounter by Mortstone Pond
A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale