Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth

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Chris Priestly (text), David Roberts (illus.),  Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth,  Bloomsbury/Allen & Unwin,  Dec 2016,  288pp.,  $14.99 (pbk),  ISBN: 9781408871102

When I was a child I loved ghost stories and read them avidly. I would have adored this book. With excellent storytelling, nasty characters who meet nasty ends and some unexpected twists, Tales of Terror ticks all the boxes. The overarching story has a Scheherezade structure. Young Robert is travelling on a train on his own for the first time when he encounters a woman clad all in white who proceeds to tell him a series of stories, each vividly terrifying and some quite gory. The tales are filled with murderous plants, ancient beasts, terrifying imaginary friends, a deadly swarm of fairies, an ancient threat on a Scottish island, a haunting puppet show, a teacher’s worst nightmare and more. Robert finds the stories, or perhaps the storytelling, having a strange effect on him as he becomes progressively sleepier, but he fights the spell of the Woman in White for as long as he can…

These atmospheric, dark Tales of the macabre are reminiscent of classic Victorian ghost and horror stories in the writing style and sensibility, but well-paced for modern readers. For those who love this genre it is a feast of references, from Wilkie Collin’s classic murder mystery The Woman in White to Conan Doyle’s treatise on fairies, the works of Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare and the Pre-Raphaelite painters, whilst it will serve as an introduction to these for younger readers. The language and cultural references are Victorian English, with words like ‘mollycoddled’ and the presence of governesses, transporting the reader to a time when children were expected to behave as miniature adults. In these stories they respond to that with a rebelliousness of thought and deed towards the adults around them that young readers will enjoy.  Unfortunately this means there are a few antiquated references to girls as ‘boring’ and ‘bad company’, but there is a reasonable mix of male and female protagonists across the different stories, most of whom meet an equally nasty fate.

There are thirteen stories in all, each with its own chapter and almost all the chapters feature a full page black and white illustration in the style of a block print as well as an illustration over the chapter heading. These eerie images capture the darkest moments of the tales beautifully. Tales of Terror harks back to another age with truly terrifying stories imbued with a gothic sensibility. A darkly enchanting read.

Reviewed by Rachel Le Rossignol

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