Folks, we have approached a milestone. This will be the first piece of ghostly literature for which I have listened to a narrator speak the story to me. I followed along with the text on a website as an audio file played on. The story is “A Strange Christmas Game” by J.H. Riddell, (a.k.a. Charlotte Riddell) 1863. You too can read and/or listen to this story. Just click on the link below and listen and listen as famed author and storyteller Michael Whitehouse narrates the story narrates the story.
I found several versions of the telling on the internet, each varying in wording. I wasn’t sure which was the best, most true to the original source, etc. But in the end I paid it no mind and just settled on a version that is hosted by www.vaultofghastlytales.com
Followers of my blog, surely by now you have read my recent article Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses? Here is in excerpt from that article:
“Let’s say, perhaps, that our frolicking friends are feeling “warmly vulnerable” during a ghost story session at a Christmas Eve gathering. Let’s remove the last visages of safety and allow winter’s symbolic doom to come inside. It’s warm. Festive. Have a drink. Merry Christmas! Fires. Games. Ghost stories. And then – real ghosts haunt the house. Frightful! This is what I would call A Christmas Haunted House.”
People of days past used to tell ghosts during the cold winter. Winter was perceived as dark, dreary and scary. At Christmas Eve gatherings, celebrants would eat, drink and be merry. They would play games. And… they would tell ghost stories. Ghost stories are fun when one is beside a warm fire and in the accompaniment of family and friends; feeling all warm and cozy, while the threat of winter rages outside their windows. A story of a Christmas Haunted House takes advantage of the characters’ fragile coziness. They are feeling festive and carefree, just like the real life folks that gather around a fire to hill a grisly take. But the doom and gloom of winter invades their celebration in the form of ghosts. Their gathering is soon invaded my scary phantoms.
Does “A Strange Christmas Game” meet these criteria? I say – Mostly.
In the tale, brother and sister inherit a manor, Martingdale, which is supposedly haunted. Many years ago, original owner Jeremy Lester is playing cards with his friend on Christmas Eve. The clock strikes midnight, Lester’s guest leaves to go home. Out against the brutal elements of winter he wanders, but it is Jeremy that is never heard from again!
Has the winter doom invaded Lester’s home and whooshed him away? Not exactly. When one reads further into the story, a different situation arises. But at this point, the story teases us with the “wintertime ghostly home-invader” scenario. However, it does address the Christmas ghost story theme of “game time gone ghostly.”
For sure, the dreariness of winter plays out symbolically within the story – within the house. For instance, here is an excerpt from the book that points to this:
Altogether, Martingdale seemed dreary enough, and the ghost stories we had laughed at while sunshine flooded the rooms became less unreal when we had nothing but blazing fires and wax candles to dispel the gloom.
When summer ends and winter begins, brother and sister hear footsteps in the night, along with other strange noises. Is this the doings of the spirit of Jeremy Lester? Read or listen to the story and find out for yourself. But one thing for certain – their home is haunted by ghosts that invade on Christmas Eve. However, the ghosts are not interrupting any Christmas festivities. Brother and Sister have been a wee bit too scared to be concentrating on Christmas.
Another thing to note; at the story’s climax, a snowstorm breaks out. There hasn’t been such a storm for forty one years. –The last winter storm occurrs on the same night that Jeremy Lester disappears – on Christmas Eve.
This is a fun story. And it mostly meets my Christmas Haunted House criteria. Now, by all means, J. H. Riddell was under no obligation to adhere to the dictates of my half-baked analysis of Christmas haunted houses in literature. Afterall, I came up with them one hundred and fifty years or more after this story was published (with the help of others of course!)
I hope you give this tale a listen, a read, or both. It’s a perfect story to ingest on a cold, winter’s evening.