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Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology Of Ghostly Tales Hardcover – 30 Apr 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 406 pages
  • Publisher: ISI Books (30 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080283938X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802839381
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16.2 x 2.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,062,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
The publication of "Ancestral Shadows" is a major event for fans of the ghost story genre and Russell Kirk but also for the reputation of the literary supernatural tale. Russell Kirk (along with the recently deceased Jack Cady) ranks as one of the few top-notch, modern American ghost story writers, and for far too long Kirk's stories have been out of print. This book collects all but a very few of Kirk's lesser tales (which are available for die-hards and completists in the pricey but gorgeous recent Kirk collection produced by Ash-Tree Press in two volumes).
The stories in this collection include many of the best ghostly tales ever written, including "Lex Talionis", "Fate's Purse", "Watchers at the Straight Gate", & "The Invasion of the Church of the Holy Ghost". Not to mention Kirk's masterpiece, "There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding"--if you can read this one alone in your home after dark and, once you finish it, not be driven to turn on every light in the house (and maybe your stereo as well), then you're a braver soul than I. Kirk indulges several of the genre's conventions and breathes new life into them while giving us a whole host of wonderful characters as unforgettable as the denizens of a Dickens novel. The collection does include two or three stories that drop below the high standard of Kirk's usual tales, but this in no way diminishes the his accomplishments as a virtuoso writer crafting prose that is as cultivated and engaging in its own way as that of Flannery O'Connor or F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The dust jacket blurbs--of the rare, substantive variety--lend much legitimacy to Kirk's status as a significant literary figure, culled as these blurbs are from such diverse sources as Ray Bradbury, Madeline L'Engle, T. S. Eliot, Thomas Howard, and Robert Aickman.
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Format: Hardcover
I approached Ancestral Shadows with great caution. A blind buy is not something I'm in the habit of doing, but on strength of repute I gave this one a go and was not disappointed.

Kirk was a renowned politician, and politics influences this work a lot. Surprisingly, it works well within the ghost story format, rarely becoming too intrusive and gives a different texture to the tales from other authors in the genre. Many of the tales are structured like M.R. James', only his protagonists often occupy political positions such as civil servants, rather than scholars, who meet with some supernatural transgression with unwelcome consequences.

I am not a fan of the modern horror tale, indeed I'm not a fan of modern literature in general. I CAN'T stand post-Victorian prose, but Kirk is one of the better modern writers I've encountered. He doesn't dumb his sentences down like most modern authors, and whilst his prose is to the point it is never patronising. What is patronising however, is Kirk's less than discreet religious perspective. These tales aren't ambiguous in their discussions of man's relation to God. The God Kirk worships and fears is a sadist at times, and I often found it difficult to empathise with such a deity as being "good".

That being said, Kirk isn't nearly as infuriating as some of the more liberal ghost story writers, who merely use the genre as a vehicle to spout feminist propaganda. Most importantly, Kirk achieves the effect of terror with great nuance. Like James, he says little but achieves a lot. In general, I was very impressed by this collection of tales and was fascinated by the introduction of the political into the realm of the spiritual. It gives Kirk's work a unique quality. Post WWII ghost stories in the pre-WWII tradition, both scary and entertaining.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars 13 reviews
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ghost stories to live by 10 Nov. 2004
By Maxwell Goss - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Russell Kirk was not only an exceptional historian, moralist, cultural critic, and man of letters. He was also a superb prose stylist, as anyone who has read The Conservative Mind or The Sword of the Imagination knows. In Ancestral Shadows, a collection of ghostly tales written over a period of roughly twenty-five years, Dr. Kirk displays his mastery of the English language as he weaves startling and often stirring "tales of the preternatural." Eerdmans Publishing has done the reading public a real service in bringing out this handsome volume.

As Vigen Guroian notes in his helpful introduction, Dr. Kirk is widely regarded as having developed the gothic genre by imbuing it with a distinctive moral and metaphysical character. In "A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale," included in this volume, Dr. Kirk himself writes: "Alarming though (I hope) readers may find these tales, I do not write them to impose meaningless terror upon the innocent...What I have attempted, rather, are experiments in the moral imagination." In this he succeeds admirably. The reader of his ghost stories is treated not only to terror and suspense, but to an occasional, delicious glimpse of the eternal order underlying our own.

The heart of the book is found in "A Long, Long Trail A-Winding" and "Watchers at the Straight Gate," a pair of tales about Frank Sarsfield, whose character is modeled after that of Dr. Kirk's hobo friend Clinton Wallace. These stories are eery and beautiful; I confess I never expected to feel uplifted by a ghost story. Other favorites of mine include the early "Ex Tenebris," which conveys, delightfully and gruesomely, Dr. Kirk's contempt for the modern bureaucrat, and "An Encounter by Mortstone Pond," a poignant reflection on the mystery of human existence.

As a native Michigander, I took a special delight in reading Dr. Kirk's descriptions of the region's land and people, especially in the part of the state he calls "stump country." He perfectly captures the essence of the place, both in its native richness and in the desiccation brought upon it by modernity.

Ancestral Shadows is a treasure. I commend it to lovers of gothic tales, admirers of Russell Kirk, and anyone who perceives, or has forgotten how to perceive, the supernatural character of human life.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Among the best authors of the literary supernatural tale 16 Oct. 2004
By A. C. Walter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The publication of "Ancestral Shadows" is a major event for fans of the ghost story genre and Russell Kirk but also for the reputation of the literary supernatural tale. Russell Kirk (along with the recently deceased Jack Cady) ranks as one of the few top-notch, modern American ghost story writers, and for far too long Kirk's stories have been out of print. This book collects all but a very few of Kirk's lesser tales (which are available for die-hards and completists in the pricey but gorgeous recent Kirk collection produced by Ash-Tree Press in two volumes).
The stories in this collection include many of the best ghostly tales ever written, including "Lex Talionis," "Fate's Purse," "Watchers at the Straight Gate," & "The Invasion of the Church of the Holy Ghost." Not to mention Kirk's masterpiece, "There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding"--if you can read this one alone in your home after dark and, once you finish it, not be driven to turn on every light in the house (and maybe your stereo as well), then you're a braver soul than I. Kirk indulges several of the genre's conventions and breathes new life into them while giving us a whole host of wonderful characters as unforgettable as the denizens of a Dickens novel. The collection does include two or three stories that drop below the high standard of Kirk's usual tales, but this in no way diminishes the his accomplishments as a virtuoso writer crafting prose that is as cultivated and engaging in its own way as that of Flannery O'Connor or F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The dust jacket blurbs--of the rare, substantive variety--lend much legitimacy to Kirk's status as a significant literary figure, culled as these blurbs are from such diverse sources as Ray Bradbury, Madeline L'Engle, T. S. Eliot, Thomas Howard, and Robert Aickman. I fully agree with Bradbury's blurb: "For too many years Russell Kirk, almost like the title of this book, remained half seen in the American literary scene. It is time his critics and readers brought him out into the full light. He deserves to be considered a fine writer and an amazing thinker in literature and in politics."
Kudos to Eerdmans for releasing this relatively inexpensive and very attractive volume. (The gorgeous, black-and-white sketch portrait of Kirk on the cover even has a ghostly tone to it and evokes association with the beautiful woodcuts Kirk made to illustrate his first volume of stories, "The Surly Sullen Bell.") I can only hope this book finds wide placement in libraries and bookstores around the country.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ghosts, Thrills , Chills And Redemption For A Lonely Drifter!!! 13 Nov. 2005
By John Baranyai - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent compilation from the very talented but now sadly deceased Russell Kirk. Dr. Kirk writes about ghosts but there is Hope and Joy to be found in his stories. The story which stands out most in my mind is "There's A Long, Long Trail A'Winding " which is about a drifter's search for some meaning and sense in his life. If you have ever spent a long, lonely night in a big deserted mansion then you wil realize that things are not always what they appear to be.There is true Joy and Redemption to be found in this tale which is a rarity in your everyday ghost story. RIP Dr. Kirk.The Literary world lost a great talent with your passing.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative Ghost Stories 11 Aug. 2010
By Jeff Burton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This collection put me very in much in mind of Flannery O'Conner, another Catholic short story writer (and a better one, for the record). The subject matter, gothic tone, and regional setting are very similar (just substitute Michigan for Georgia). But while the supernatural is always just off stage in O'Conner, in Kirk it breaks out in florid theatrics. Thought provoking theological speculation compel me to give praise this, but uneven quality knocks off a star.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Classic Style Ghost Stories 20 Dec. 2012
By Badman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
If you are a fan of the "classic" ghost story (James, Le Fanu, etc), then you need to read Russell Kirk's "Ancestral Shadows", a collection of the best of Kirk's writing. Kirk was very much in the classic, gothic vein and these 19 stories showcase his religious and intellectual background (lots of churches, priests and Latin in his stories). The "scares" are of the benign kind, not the blood and guts kind, although several tales do pack a punch (especially when Kirk talks about the depth human depravity can sink).

Although many of the tales go on too long and some drag, the best stories here are some of the best ghost tales written in the 20th century. "Lex Talionis", "The Princess of All Lands", "There's a Long, Long Trail Awinding" and "Watchers at the Strait Gate" are by far the best (Long, Long Trail won a World Fantasy Award in 1977), but there are several lesser stories that also admirably cause shivers and a glance over the shoulder if read alone at night.

Kirk's tales are short on action and long on moral conundrums, ethical musings, and themes of religion in modern society (several tales feature characters who scoff at religion and ghostly apparitions equally) as well as things that go bump in the night. If you are a fan of the traditional supernatural tale I think you will enjoy these as much as the classic tales of Le Fanu and James.

One last note, this very affordable volume contains the complete tales of both "Watchers at the Strait Gate" and "Princess of All Lands", two harder to find and more expensive Arkham House collections.
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