Edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas
Published by Tor, 2010
Haunted Legends gathers together 20 tales from the far flung corners of the globe which all focus on local folktales or urban legends. With the Ellen Datlow sign of quality on the cover and an all star line up within, this promised to be a special collection. Lets see how it shaped up.
The writers were tasked with “choosing their favourite ‘true’ ghost story and rescue it from the cobwebs of the local tourist gift shop”. The result is a collection of vast cultural and stylistic variation. We are taken to locations as exotic as Liverpool and Vietnam, from the Humber bridge to Mexico and along the way we meet serial killers, ghosts and downright weirdness. We get nods to traditional legends like Spring Heeled Jack and modern creations such as Sleepy Hollow. Indeed, apart from the theme, the only thing these stories have in common is the consistently high standard, here are my highlights.
The Spring Heel by Steven Pirie is set in Liverpool and introduces us to Ruth a homeless prostitute and the mysterious Spring Heeled Jack. It’s a deeply emotional story which brings the traditional legend, kicking and screaming, into a modern world of drugs, violence and tragedy. There is more tragedy in the worryingly real world of Tin Cans by Ekaterina Sedia. In this story we are given some idea of the depravity that took place behind the closed doors of Stalin’s Russia. It’s the realism present in both these stories which make them so powerful.
In contrast it’s the supernatural which breathes cold life into La Llorona by Carolyn Turgeon. Although also darkened by personal tragedy as a woman seeks refuge in Mexico following the death of her son, it’s her quest for redemption from a mysterious woman in white which makes the story so powerful. Down Atsion Road by Jeffrey Ford emerses us fully in the wilderness landscape of the pine barrens in New Jersey, with its multitude of ghosts and folk tales to great effect.
Return to Mariabronn by Gary A. Braunbeck brings us a rich cast of characters connected through the ages by a road and its ghostly memories. It’s another excellent piece which evokes a powerful melancholia as it explores its character’s guilty secrets. Oaks Park by M. K. Hobson employs an unusual 2nd person narration to make the reader feel the full brunt of the emotional impact of a child ghost in a fun park. It’s unique and highly successful at engaging the readers sympathies.
It’s the final section of the book where the real gems lie though. The Redfield Girls by Laird Barron has one of the more traditional plots in the book. A group of friends meet up for an annual weekend in the country, only for tragedy to strike. In the hands of Laird Barron though, this plot is layered to perfection, ramping up the emotional intensity along with the supernatural threat. Chucky Comes To Liverpool by Ramsey Campbell is a really interesting piece that explores the morals of censorship and media paranoia. It’s made even more powerful by being partly based on real events which still make the headlines nearly 20 years later.
Finally the best is saved for last as Joe R. Lansdale brings us the extraordinary The Folding Man. This story has everything, fast paced adventure, pathos, gore, supernatural threat and it’s all tied together by the authors magnificent writing. When a group of drink fuelled boys decide to moon at a car load of nuns on the way home they have no idea the trouble they are about to get into. The reader can only gasp as the horror ensues in mindblowing fashion.
Haunted Legends is an outstanding collection. While certain stories resonated more clearly with me, the overall collection was very enjoyable . Recommended and worth buying for that Joe R. Lansdale story alone! If you still need proof, however, here is a special belated halloween treat. A dramatised audio version of Gary A. Braunbeck’s, Return To Mariabronn courtesy of Tor, hope you enjoy it.
Rating 4.5 out of 5