Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales
© 2004 ISI Distributed Titles
Stories written by Russell Kirk 1950s and produced first in various magazines
“Ghost stories” invariably makes me think of legends and folklore, but Ancestral Shadows is an altogether different anthology. Instead, its stories all feature ghostly characters and themes of redemption, revenge, or realization. The ghosts here are not transparent wraiths, scaring mortals or playing tricks with the furniture. They are in the midst, caught in the veil between the living and the dead, dwelling in their own moments of time. Some are corporeal enough that they believe themselves still living, and the news of their death comes as a surprise to both them and the reader. Ancestral Shadows enmeshes its characters in tradition and place; ghosts are inherently localists, but most of the the living featured here are likewise bound to their villages, family homes, and familiar places. The collection opens, for instance, with a ailing woman who lives in a mostly-abandoned village that is targeted for destruction by the local planning authorities. Living more in her memories than reality, she visits a church graveyard regularly to sweep the tombstones; her distress at the hands of the bully-planner, and devotion to the departed, bring an unexpected ally in the form of a vicar who died mysteriously decades ago. Time makes itself substantial in these stories; in one, a pecuilar man faced with a blizzard breaks into an abandoned home, and experiences a violent moment in the home’s history — but was it a moment etched into the memory of the house, or was it his? The stories are set in the United States, Great Britain, the Italio-Austrian border, and even east Africa, and each draw the reader and the main character deeper into a mystery, until — fully enveloped by it — there is a line dropped, a corner turned, and suddenly both parties realize something that had been hitherto hidden . These stories aren’t written just to envelope the mind in mystery; the clarity of the end-page doesn’t dispel a puzzle so much as it centers the character; before they were lost, now they are found. That’s not to say they’re feel-good parables, for the tales also include moments of vengeance and retribution.
If you can find it, this is an excellent collection of stories, both chilling and thoughtful. I obtained a copy through interlibrary loan.