John's Reviews > Grim Tales

Grim Tales by E. Nesbit
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Jul 10, 2017

really liked it

A short collection of seven ghostly tales by the author better known for her works for younger readers, like The Railway Children and Five Children and It. Of the seven, two are extraordinarily slight (one has the feel of a retold urban legend), and most of the seven are a tad predictable in that they hinge on the meme of love being more powerful than death.

That said, I really enjoyed four of the stories.

The eponymous frame of "The Ebony Frame" surrounds a painting of a beautiful woman that our journalist narrator finds, clipped together with a painting of his own double but clad in archaic garb, when going through the attic of an inherited family home. The woman in the painting emerges to tell him that, if he sells his soul to the Devil like she did centuries ago, they can spend the rest of a mortal lifetime together before the inevitable descent (in her case re-descent) to Hell.

In "From the Dead" a new wife admits to her husband that she employed some trickery to inveigle him into marriage. Even though he's overjoyed to be wedded to her, he petulantly drives her away and then, immediately realizing his stupidity, can't find her. Until months later, when he's a matter of hours too late to have a final rapprochement with her before her death from childbirth. Predictably -- within the context of this collection, although less so in the context of this story on its own -- she rises from her deathbed one last time . . . Again, a story that I really liked.

"The Mass for the Dead" sees a woman change her mind the night before her marriage to a rich man whom she doesn't love because she hears ghostly funereal music on the air. She instead elopes with the poor man whom she does love, and who also heard that ethereally beautiful music. But for whom was the music being played . . .? This is perhaps the tale I enjoyed most in the collection, although it's not really a ghost story so much as a fantasy.

The star of the show is undoubtedly "Man-size in Marble," about a young husband who foolishly ignores local warnings that the marble grave effigies of two evil knights of yore rise up on All Souls' Night and heaven spare anyone whom they might meet on their travels. Of all the tales here, this is the creepiest: there's a definite frisson of fear, and of that terrifying futility you find in anxiety dreams.

I've read both "The Ebony Frame" and "Man-size in Marble" before, presumably in anthologies of classic ghost stories. The book is available from Project Gutenberg, and is well the hour or two spent reading it.
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