Essay: The Haunted South

As a child, I would sometimes sit in front of my mother’s bookcase and look at her collection of hardcover Anne Rice novels. I was too young to read them (or much of anything at all), but I loved how they looked. The cover art was rich and detailed, and covered with mysterious figures and enticing titles. They stoked a sense of mystery in me, even if I was only old enough to look.

If I wanted scary, I had plenty of other places to look. My elementary school library was filled with regionally-published anthologies of ghost stories. They were everywhere, and all with a similar aesthetic. These simple ghost stories were just a little bit more age appropriate. Less teeth, I suppose. But still spooky, and so very popular. Southerners love ghost stories, no matter the age.

There’s something about the south and it’s ghosts. I wish I could put my finger on something objective or tangible, but I really can’t. I suppose it’s a matter of my raising. Anyone can feel haunted by their childhood home. But when I visit Alabama and drive down the winding country roads I knew as a child, I hear all those ghosts calling out to me.

Let me make something clear real quick – I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t even believe in God. I’d like to lay eyes on either, and it’s not been a lack of trying.

Belief or none, something about Alabama still feels haunted. I can almost feel all those ghosts brushing against me everywhere I go. It’s a natural part of the landscape. Everything’s old, rotten, and miserable. The perfect place for a haunting.

It could be the south’s quiet nature combined with its unsavory past. Everywhere you go is thick with the stench of the Civil War, and those lonely rural stretches really start to get under your skin if you think about it too much while your drive through. It’s almost like the ghosts of the old south notice the emptiness, and so they do the polite southern thing and fill the silence with some friendly chatter.

 

Thanks for checking out this preview of The Haunted South! You can read the rest over here on my blog, 905. 

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Book Review: Spooky South

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.

9781493019175 

Southerners like horror stories. In the deep south, it often seems like a restless spirit is behind every tap on the window or sharp summer breeze. Maybe it’s because of our rough history or our love of tales, but either way, I grew up surrounded by a devoted, sometimes evangelical love of the supernatural.

 

I grew out of my belief in the supernatural, but I never stopped loving the stories. Even now, I’m quick to snap up any book about spooky southern folklore. A couple months ago, while visiting my family in Alabama, an opportunity presented itself to me. While visiting a local book chain, I came across Spooky South: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore, by S.E. Schlosser. The title, though genetic, was enough to grab my attention, and the surreal artwork was enough to sell it. I took it home with me right away.

 

This book contains retellings of 38 different folktales from around the southeast. It contains a map displaying the locations of each story (by number), and the numbered table of contents tells the reader exactly where each story took place. I really like this feature, and I think it adds a lot of flavor to the book, but it’s also a bit wasted on the actual executions of the retellings.

 

I was already familiar with a handful of these stories. Some, like the tale of the Bell Witch, are familiar to many fans of the supernatural. Others, like the Wampus Cat, are a bit more regional in their distribution. The references section in the back shows good research on the part of the author, and I don’t doubt that she put genuine work into compiling these stories, but the writing itself didn’t draw me in.

 

Each story is short, often only 2-3 pages, though a few are a little longer. They’re perfect for a little bit of reading before bed, and they each come with a gorgeous illustration by Paul G Hoffman. The stories are narrated in one of a couple ways (with some told in a distant third-person style like a campfire story, and certain ones having first person setups to frame them), and are pretty straight forward. They describe something scary happening to someone, the end.

 

That’s what holds me back from loving this collection. The stories are neat, and it’s awesome to see such a wide collection of southern folk tales, but I just wanted a little more.


That’s not to say that the book doesn’t work. I just find these retellings to be inconsistent and a little bit flat. While Thirteen Alabama Ghosts deals with similar campfire fare, it adds local history and strong, close narration to really make the story feel like it matters. The stories in Spooky South sound more like something you’d overhear in a crowded bar. And that’s okay, but for me, it wasn’t quite enough. I’d give the book a three, but the effort in research and stellar art lift it to a four. If you want to read something quick to read before bed, this could be the folktale collection for you, but don’t expect to be frightened.

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.