The completion of the King James Version of the Bible in 1611 is a high-water mark of Western Civilization--really in the history of human culture, and this is no overstatement.
Remarkably, we don't have the names of the translators commissioned to create an English language version of the ancient Hebrew and Greek writings. Yet their work is transcendent, still beloved after 400 years and still regarded as reasonably accurate in translation from the oldest of the known manuscripts. Yes, our language has evolved; some would say devolved. We have more modern, more accessible translations of the Scriptures, but never more beautiful.
I read the Bible on a daily basis. Even if if my life had not been enriched by it, the sheer poetry on each of its pages would delight me. Take in the emotional resonance of the Psalms; the sheer loveliness of 1 Corinthians 13; the narrative power and tragedy of Kings and Chronicles. It has been said that you don't read the Scriptures as much as they read you.
"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of God endureth forever." Isaiah 40:8
There's something very warm and compelling about the writing of Francis Hodgson Burnett. In The Secret Garden, for example, we have a children's story that adults can understand as an allegory that works on social, spiritual, and sexual levels. No Victorian writer understands the secret worlds and sensitivities of children better. "In the Closed Room" is a little gem of a story, a beautiful ghost story that is ultimately a meditation up death. Those who don't understand the Victorian mindset, as usual, will not find this to their liking; but for me, the foundational values that nourished the Victorians often make for refreshing reading today.
If you have a curiosity about classic ghost stories, this is the place to start. M. R. James is considered the greatest of the post-Victorian ghost story writers. These stories were actually written for Christmas Eves, upon which he would read them by candlelight to a gathering of his students and other professors.
It's interesting that, while we consider him a "ghost story" writer, James often gives us something other than a ghost. His true interest is antiquarianism (ancient documents and histories) and his characters are usually pursuing some discovery along those lines when they unearth something best left undisturbed. More often than not, it's not quite a ghost--but it's something quite unpleasant just the same. James had a number of followers who attempted just this formula for writing the supernatural tale. We call them Jamesians.
Read one of these late at night (one is plenty), with a nice glass of wine and perhaps a wavering candle. Then sleep with the lights off. I dare ya.
An excellent ghost novelette by Le Fanu, my favorite Victorian purveyor of the classic ghost story. Ghost stories are dependent upon mood and atmosphere; therefore the short story is their best form. It's difficult to maintain a mood of dread over a longer word-count, but Le Fanu shows how to do it here. Think I'll reread this one soon.
Note: Don't expect modern horror. This is fairly subtle British supernatural fiction. It won't spoon-feed cheap thrills a la Stephen King, but give you something more substantial and thought-provoking.
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