Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

A Book Of Dreams And Ghosts: Andrew Lang

Andrew Lang (1844-1912) was a man of many potboilers- an all-round literateur with 249 books to his credit plus huge quantities of uncollected journalism. He wrote everything from novels to popular history to poems to translations of Homer but is best remembered now for his "rainbow" series of fairy story books which- ironically- were mostly the work of his wife. An acquaintance once asked him- by way of making conversation- if he were writing anything and he snapped back, "What else do I ever do?"

A Book of Dreams and Ghosts is a collection of "true" ghost stories- mostly from out-of-the way published sources- a large proportion of them Scottish. Lang, who was a ghost-seer himself and later served a term as president of The Society for Psychical Research, coaxes his presumed-to-be-sceptical Victorian reader along- moving by stages from stories that are relatively easy to explain away to those that are well-attested and mind-bending- including two or three from the Icelandic sagas. Medieval Icelandic ghosts are remarkably corporeal, and can fight and kill and cook meals and turn up at night to sit in groups round the fire in the hall- either dripping (if they were lost at sea) or shedding earth (if they were buried.)

I have a mental picture of Lang dotting in the final full stop of Dreams and Ghosts, reaching for another sheet of foolscap and asking himself, "Now what shall we write next?" This may not be how masterpieces are produced- but Lang's clarity of style and teasing sense of humour make him eminently readable- even though a century has passed. 249 books! How did he do it? Really, there were giants in those days!
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