Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce – book review

Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce
Selected and introduced by E.F. Bleiler
Dover Books

Ambrose BierceExactly as the title states, this is a collection of short stories dealing with supernatural horror by Bierce. Although sometimes compared with his contemporaries, Poe and Blackwood, his stories are told in a no-nonsense way for the average man rather than poetically told or stemming from a larger ideology. His tales often spring from the guilt in the minds of his characters, people who often had a hand in wrong-doing. Most would recognize these as traditional ghost stories, perhaps common ideas in this day and age, but most likely unnerving when they were first published in the late 1800’s.

In ‘Beyond the Wall’, a son of a well-to-do family, often chased by women trying to climb the social ladder, mistakes rapping on the wall as a flirtatious message from the young lady in the next room. In the morning he discovers she had died in the room that night and her knocking was actually a call for help. Now, many years later, he confesses his dismissal of her communiqué’ as he also reveals that the knocking has resumed. The clever ending of ‘The Middle Toe on the Right Foot’ foreshadows ‘Twilight Zone’ style endings and the last sentence reveal of many a horror tale to come. ‘A Watcher by the Dead’ displays the intellect of Bierce in a complex story that needs to be unraveled to its end in order to understand what had transpired. These, along with ‘The Spook House’, ’The Moonlit Road’ and  ‘The Damned Thing’ are my favorites in the collection.

Some stories, only a few pages long read like classic ‘campfire’ ghost stories, great for telling on a Halloween night. Whether long or short, all of Bierce’s stories are told from his cynical point of view, where no one is free of blame either directly or indirectly. Bierce is also famous for his Civil War accounts for which he served in the Ninth Indiana Volunteers and became a successful field officer. In addition he was an active journalist on the West Coast effectively exposing political scams, favoritism, and wrong-doings in his newspaper columns. If you like classic ghost stories, there are some great tales to be read in this collection.

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