Strangers and Pilgrims by Walter de la Mare

Ambivalent about this one, but at its best it was certainly worth me reading. It’s a collection of short stories about ghosts, fairies and the uncanny in general. The stories are arranged in the chronological order of writing, which perhaps accounts for my feeling most positive about this in the middle. Some of them are quite fairytale-y, some are stories of early 20th century life with an unexplained feeling of something disturbingly inexplicable lurking, and some of them are fairly traditional ghost stories. There are lots of churches and churchyards. They’re atmospheric. The words are pretty. I’m not entirely sure they were always in the right order, but then again I’m not sure they were in the wrong order either. De la Mare is all about the uncanny as experience of otherness, chilling not quite so much in the sense of frightening but in its lack of the warmth of familiarity. The occasional fairy plays basically much the same role as a ghost: the sighting transfixes and transfigures the seer; they never get to know anything beyond their initial confrontation with its existence and they are marked by the knowledge that it, and another kind of reality, exists. The introduction makes much of the idea that most of the uncanny cannot be proven to be outside the characters’ minds and what really haunts them is themselves. This is kind of true of most ghost stories and I’m not sure it seemed to be more true of these. It’s usually the mental effects of the uncanny that is presented as the real horror. But yes, De la Mare has his own version of this. He puts you into that cold, unhuman place but then I guess I wanted him to do more with it, at least sometimes. After a while I started to want there to be a next step.


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