Introduction"There are only about thirty or forty first-class ghost stories in the whole of western literature."So opens the introduction to The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, the first of eight volumesRobert Aickman was to edit for the series. The year was 1964, & Aickman had himself had twobooks of his own ghost stories published to that point: We Are For the Dark (featuring threestories by Aickman & three by Elizabeth Jane Howard) & 1964's Dark Entries, Aickman's first solostory collection. For each of his Fontana volumes, save the Sixth, Aickman provided aninformative, engaging introduction, & all of the volumes, save the Fourth & Sixth, feature anAickman story. While the series carried on for an additional dozen volumes post-Aickman, our interest lies with those edited by Aickman.The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories"The Travelling Grave" L.P.Hartley. "One of the greatest stories in its field" says Aickman, & I for one won't disagree. A dinner party in the country turns into a deadly game of hide & seek. Whilethere are no overt supernatural elements in the story, the machine of the title is infused with analmost animate presence, seeming "to have no settled direction, & to move all ways at once, likea crab". As is usual with Hartley, the prose is finely polished, the dialog often witty & humorous, &character's motives deadly."Squire Toby's Will" J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Aickman's selection of this fine tale is just another of itsendorsements. Henry James called it the finest ghost story in the English language, & M.R.James asserted that it, "The Familiar", & "Mr Justice Harbottle" were the best ghost stories in theEnglish language. And to think the story languished in anonymous obscurity in a periodical untilM.R. James included it in his collection of "lost" Le Fanu stories MADAM CROWL'S GHOST. Thestory of a family feud caused by the title document, it positively reeks of gloom, decay, & guilt:Looking up its somber & lifeless avenue from the top of the London coach, as I have oftendone, you are struck with so many signs of desertion & decay — the tufted grass sprouting in thechinks of the steps & window-stones, the smokeless chimneys over which the jackdaws arewheeling, the absence of human life & all its evidence, that you conclude at once that the place isuninhabited & abandoned to decay. The name of this ancient house is Gylingden Hall. Tallhedges & old timber quickly shroud the old place from view, & about a quarter of a mile further onyou pass, embowered in melancholy trees, a small & ruinous Saxon chapel, which, time out of mind, has been the burying-place of the family of Marston, & partakes of the neglect & desolationwhich brood over their ancient dwelling-place.In the night the butler investigates a receeding shadow that appears to have disappeared into anold carved cabinet:In the center panel of this is a sort of boss carved into a wolf's head. The light fell oddly uponthis, & the fugitive shadow seemed to be breaking up, & rearranging itself oddly. The eyeballgleamed with a point of reflected light, which glittered also upon the grinning mouth, & he saw thelong, sharp nose of Scroope Marston, & his fierce eve looking at him, he thought, with a steadfastmeaning.Old Cooper stood gazing upon this sight, unable to move, till he saw the face, & the figure thatbelonged to it, begin gradually to emerge from the wood. At the same time he heard voicesapproaching rapidly up a side gallery, & Cooper, with a loud "Lord a mercy on us!" turned & ranback again, pursued by a sound that seemed to shake the old house like a mighty gust of wind.Le Fanu's stories possess a & timeless quality that set him apart from other Victorians, & everybookshelf of the weird should have a volume of Le Fanu as its cornerstone.