CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 10. . . .January 9, 2009
The Unexplained: A Haunted Canada Book. [Former title: The Unseen.]
Janet Lunn, ed. Illustrated by Colin Mayne.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2008.
145 pp., pbk., $7.99.
Ghost stories, Canadian (English).
Children's stories, Canadian (English).
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Janet Grafton.
His heart pounding fast, Jeremy carried the skeleton out the front door of his uncle's house.
"Bury me," the ghost whispered from somewhere nearby.
Jeremy began to disassemble the bones. "I'm not burying you with any bolts attached."
When he was finished, Jeremy took off his pyjama top and tied the bones inside. He gently carried the shirt across the lawn to where the swimming pool was being constructed. He found a shovel and began to dig where the concrete deck would be poured. "They'll never find you here," he muttered.
Suddenly Jeremy heard a noise behind him. He spun around. His father was standing three metres away.
"What are you doing out here in your pyjamas? Where's your top? What the heck's going on?"
"I'm burying the skeleton, Dad. I saw it."
"We all saw it, but that doesn't mean you can steal . . . "
"No, Dad. I saw the ghost of the skeleton."
"No, you didn't, Jeremy," said Dad slowly. "There is no such thing as a ghost. You're a daydreamer, Jeremy. Just like your Uncle Gus."
"I'm not anything like Uncle Gus!"
"Well, you've sure got his imagination."
"Ghost!" shouted Jeremy. "If you want your skeleton to get buried, you'd better say something."
A breeze gently rocked the trees. An owl hooted.
"Bury me," whispered the ghost. "Bury me." (From "The Closet" by Ken Roberts.)
Previously published as The Unseen in 1994, Janet Lunn's collection of Canadian ghost stories has been reprinted by Scholastic as The Unexplained: A Haunted Canada Book. The anthology has a new forward, updated author information, and a beautifully eerie cover photo that kept this faint-hearted reviewer from being able to read the collection before bed.
Editor and author Janet Lunn has compiled a diverse collection of 15 stories written by a wide range of Canadian authors, from instructors and librarians to journalists and well-known writers like Kit Pearson and Jean Little. While several tales come from previously published works, the bulk were written for this anthology. Among the standout stories is Brian Doyle's "Carrot Cake," which has the second best unexpected twist of the collection and is the only truly gory tale of the bunch. The best unexpected twist is found in Karleen Bradford's "Who's Invisible Now?," a quick, third-person narrative with strong characterization. In "The Haunting of the Orion Queen," author Monica Hughes achieves something unusual and sophisticated: a literary science fiction ghost story. From the old-fashioned deathbed promises of L. M. Montgomery's "The Return of Hester" and the pillaging pirates of Joyce Barkhouse's "Haunted Island" to the sorrow of Jean Little's "Without Beth" and the malice of "The Mackenzie Homestead" by Andrew MacFarlane, the range of the ghostly and the unexplained in these 15 stories is satisfying and thoughtful.
There are a variety of narrative voices and composition styles in this anthology: one story is in letter format, some are in first-person, others in third-person; some are distant legend and others are immediate and contemporary. The protagonists are mainly female, but male characters abound in brothers, friends, uncles, and fathers. Many regions of Canada are covered, though not all – the Prairies and the West appear to be left out. But eastern areas such as the Maritimes, Ontario, Quebec, and even Upper Canada provide a range of settings. A few of the tales are playful in tone; others are sad, or menacing, or even strangely comforting. Some stories are just two pages long; others are much longer. Pencil illustrations at the start of each story give glimpses and hints of aspects to come. Most of the tales suggest creepiness without giving in to the full gore of the horror genre, with Brian Doyle's lively tale being the exception. Some stories are pure fiction, while it is suggested that others are taken from real-life events. The quality of the storytelling is a little inconsistent: many of the tales are sophisticated narratives, but a few read more like patchy reports. However, the lasting sense this anthology gives is an appreciation for the diversity of its stories.
Lunn's anthology is aptly titled as the ghostly elements of many of the tales are left "unexplained," making them all the more creepy and intriguing. They leave spaces for the imagination to address the questions left by these gaps, which is a very effective ghost storytelling tactic. This reviewer hoped to avoid words like spine-chilling and spooky, but shivers actually ran down her spine so may times while reading these stories that it cannot be avoided:
Spine-chilling and spookily suggestive, The Unexplained is a smart, diverse collection of some of Canada's ghosts, past and present, real and fictional.
Janet Grafton is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. She spooks easily and is not ashamed to admit she has to turn her night-light on after reading scary stories.
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