This monthly column, by our own H.L. Rudd, will feature book reviews for books she loves including genres like Southern Gothic, horror, fantasy, and more.
As a child, I adored our school library.
And every elementary school library in rural Alabama had a copy of 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey, by Kathryn Tucker Windham. Huddling around the librarian and listening to this charming collection of local ghost stories was a right of passage during my youth.
Thirteen Alabama Ghosts is treasured as a part of southern folklore. According to legend, the author was inspired to write it after buying a haunted house and encountering its ghost, Jeffrey. After her own haunting, Windham decided to compile a series of ghost stories from across the state of Alabama.
That’s something that made the book special to us as children. It wasn’t just a collection of ghost stories. They were (supposedly) true, and they happened in our own backyard. We could get out a map of the state and point to the spot where the hauntings supposedly happened.
What’s the value to us now? Upon reading it again, I find entirely new merit to the book: it’s attention to detail and historical accuracy. I’m not going to claim that the stories are all true or that the historical accounts are flawless, because this is folklore. These are tales told by grandmothers to grandchildren, or gossiped about at the corner store. But Windham put great attention into preserving them, and she accompanies each location with a rich description of the location itself, as well as its place in time. She even includes photographs of the historical buildings where many of the stories take place.
The stories are bold, too. They don’t read like a dynamic, crafted narrative. They read like campfire stories. Therefore, many of them are on the predictable side. There aren’t many frightening twists, but that’s now what it’s about. They’re bold because they don’t shy away from the true history of the south.
Most of the stories reach back to the Civil War and the days of slavery, and the book doesn’t hide that. It’s something that little southern children needed to read – an honest piece of southern history. Something that doesn’t lie, but still speaks with conversational affection. This book isn’t here to confront the south’s dark history, but it acknowledges and embraces it.
If you want a book filled with chilling, shocking, elegantly written horror tales, this isn’t the book for you. But if you love campfire stories and want to delve into some regional history and well-crafted folklore, I highly recommend Thirteen Alabama Ghosts. It probably won’t scare you, but it’s got a dark charm that you don’t have to be from Alabama to enjoy.
You can enjoy another book review by H.L. Rudd on the second Wednesday of the month. Read an expanded version of this book review, at her blog, 905.