Throughout the two decades from 1964 to 1984, Fontana published a remarkable skein of ghost story collections, piloted by R. Aikman and later by R. Chetwynd-Hayes, no mean supernatural authors themselves. Some of the paperbacks in this series, which winds its way up to the "20th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories" are now collectors' items and worth over a hundred dollars apiece.
For this first book in the series, Robert Aickman selected eleven supernatural tales, including his own "The Trains." He also writes an introduction in which he states, "There are only about thirty or forty first-class ghost stories in the whole of western literature."
That's a challenge indeed, since this complete series contains well over 200 ghost stories!
These are the stories in the Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories:
"The Travelling Grave" by L.P. Hartley--This is definitely one of Aickman's 'first-class ghost stories' and it is funny in the full meaning of the phrase 'hysterically funny.' A man is invited to spend a week-end in the country, arrives late and discovers that his host and the rest of the guests are playing a game of hide-and-seek.
"The Ghost Ship" by Richard Middleton--This story is also humorous, but it lacks the hysterical edge of "The Travelling Grave." A ghostly galleon runs aground in the middle of a turnip field during a violent wind storm. Unfortunately for the peace of a nearby village, the captain and his ghostly crew are very fond of rum.
"Squire Toby's Will" by J. Sheridan Le Fanu--The roistering, hard-living Squire Toby dies, leaving his two sons at each other's throats through the provisions of his will. The younger son inherits, then discovers another will leaving the property to his older brother. While he dithers about what to do with it, the older brother dies. After the burial, two mourners enter the mansion but are never seen to leave.
"The Voice in the Night" by William Hope Hodgson--A ship becalmed in the Northern Pacific gets a strange visitor. The last line of this story is particularly horrible: "Then the oars were dipped, the boat shot out of the patch of light, and the--the thing went nodding into the mist."
"Three Miles Up" by Elizabeth Jane Howard--The English Canal System has some strange stories told about it, and this is one of the strangest and scariest. Never pick up strangers who want to hitch a ride on your boat, even if she's willing to cook and do the laundry.
"The Rocking-Horse Winner" by D.H. Lawrence--In order to help pay off his parents' debts, a little boy gets racing tips while riding his rocking horse.
"The Wendigo" by Algernon Blackwood-- This author was a pantheist and a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, eventually branching out into Buddhism and Rosicrucianism, and his stories reveal a deep, mystical appreciation of Nature, with a capital 'N.' He spent many summers in the backwoods of Canada and "The Wendigo" is probably the most eerie creation of this idyllic period in his life.
"The Crown Derby Plate" by Marjorie Bowen--Martha Pym is missing one plate from her antique Crown Derby collection. She would do almost anything to complete her set, but when the plate finally falls into her hands, she immediately gives it away. So would you, considering the source.
"The Trains" by Robert Aickman--Two lost hikers on the moors are forced to seek shelter from a rainstorm in a mansion built right over the top of a railroad. MiMi and Margaret learn quite a bit about trains from their host whose grandfather built both the house and the railroad beneath it. A woman seems to be hiding from them in the upper reaches of the house.
"The Old Nurse's Story" by Mrs. Gaskell--Here's an old classic that all ghost story connoisseurs must read at least once. A young orphan and her loving nursemaid must go to live with a distant great-aunt in Northumberland. The five-year-old soon wins over her new relative and the staff of the once-grand mansion, but who is the little girl who keeps begging her to come out and play in the storm?
"Seaton's Aunt" by Walter de la Mare--A rather unlikeable schoolboy has a repulsive aunt who seems to despise him. This is one of those moody stories where I'm never sure whether ghosts or paranoia got the upper hand.