Uncanny Tales

October 17, 2017

I’m a bad audience for scary stories, and I know it. First, I don’t usually buy into them, and second, the scarier I find them the less likely I am to enjoy them. Fortunately Mrs. Molesworth’s Uncanny Tales aren’t particularly uncanny.

The first of the stories, “The Shadow in the Moonlight,” was my favorite. It features a shadowy presence that travels around the walls of a room, and it is genuinely creepy, but not so creepy that it scared me. I did wonder at times if the family being haunted was so large because they needed more people to independently confirm the haunting, but if it was, I wasn’t bothered: I liked them. It’s easy to figure out where the ghost is coming from, but what it’s doing and how they get rid of it are clever and cool.

The only other proper ghost story in the book is astonishingly boring and pointless, and I didn’t care about the possible ghost and definite industrial espionage one, either. The others are…fine, I guess. I liked, in a lukewarm way, the one about a young man who breaks his engagement and refuses to tell anyone why, but mostly everything is just sadness and coincidences. The last story in the book appears in my notes only as “insufficiently creepy clock.”

Am I purposely going for the Molesworth books I think I’m less likely to enjoy? Well, yes.


  1. “sadness and coincidences” sounds like the name of an indie band

    • I would give them a listen. Also “definite industrial espionage.”

  2. Uncanny Tales sounds inadvertently ironic to my modern ears. The very title diminishes any uncanny effect the tales might have had.

    This Halloween I’m in more of a Beetlejuice kind of mood, but when I want to feel genuinely scared I go for MR James’ scholarly horror stories. You get distracted by the untranslated Latin and Greek passages and suddenly you’re plunged into a chilling ghost story. James is the reason I never buy real antiques, because they are definitely going to be haunted.

    I don’t know if you’ve read him before, but my favourites are, in no particular order, Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad; The Mezzotint; Casting the Runes; and The Diary of Mr Poynter, which manages to make a scrap of fabric frightening.

    • If you’re going to call something Uncanny Tales it should, at the very least, be genuinely uncanny.

      My issue is that I really don’t want to feel scared. I’m sure M.R. James is great, but I have anxiety issues, and I feel reasonlessly scared all the time. When I read I’m often trying to banish that feeling. I know I’m missing out on stuff, but…

      • Yeah, only someone like Road Dahl can get away with calling something uncanny.

        • I think quite a few people can get away with calling things uncanny, but I’ve never before encountered someone who so completely failed to deliver.

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