Wednesday 24 January 2024

Supernatural Japan (A Documentary, 2018) presented by Chris Harding

THE GOOD UNKNOWN AND OTHER GHOST STORIES by Stephen Volk (Tartarus Press 2023)

Stephen Volk will forever be associated with the groundbreaking BBC TV show Ghostwatch (1992), which remains one of the most controversial programmes ever broadcast in the UK. Not bad for a ghost story. Some writers get a bit peeved when they are always mentioned in connection to just one thing when they have done a lot of things. Volk, however, has always seemed good humoured about Ghostwatch, and one story in this collection underlines the point.

'31/10' adopts the position that the whole thing was 'real' - Michael Parkinson, in this alternate reality, ended up psychiatric care and Sarah Greene disappeared without trace. Ten years after the fateful broadcast they re-enact the show and wackiness ensues. It's an enjoyable take on conspiracy theories, which proliferated around the show even before social media. 

Elsewhere, the various forms and tropes of the literary ghost story are explored. There's a neat homage to Lafcadio Hearn in 'Hojo the Fearless. This is the tale of a samurai sent to protect a village assailed by ghosts. Fans of the film Kwaidan will appreciate how the tone and atmosphere are recaptured. 'The Waiting Room' was, as the author notes, inspired by a true life ghost story involving no less a luminary than Charles Dickens. And 'Baby on Board' employs two of the most effective (for my money) ghostly conventions, the long journey undertaken by night and the down-to-earth copper reporting strange events. The story calls to mind Robert Westall. 

Elsewhere we find something approaching the M.R. Jamesian ghost story in 'Cold Ashton', one of those tales in which a traveller attends a wedding in a small village and then becomes intrigued by a potential mystery. 'Unrecovered' also uses the classic theme of the archaeological dig, here spun differently in terms of who is digging and what ensues. Very different again is 'Three Fingers, One Thumb', with its excursion to a certain kingdom of a magical nature, and the question of what lies behind the smiling (or leering) masks. 

The longest story here is really a short novel, 'Lost Loved Ones', a sequel to Volk's TV series Afterlife. I think fans of the show will find it satisfying, with its exploration of the life of Alison, a troubled medium in our very troubled world. I did feel the character - as I remember her from the series - came to life on the page.

All in all, all of the eleven stories here will more than satisfy fans of the genre. 

Supernatural Tales 56 - contents

The next issue - due out in the autumn - will see a mixture of familiar names and some newbies. I hope, as always, that the stories find fav...