True to the Specters of the Dead: The Big Book of Ghost Stories, edited by Otto Penzler

True to the Specters of the Dead: The Big Book of Ghost Stories, edited by Otto Penzler

The Big Book of Ghost Stories-small The Big Book of Ghost Stories-back-small

Two weeks ago I wrote a quick piece on Otto Penzler’s latest anthology, The Big Book of Rogues and Villains. I dashed off a list of the previous Penzler books we’d covered over the years… and I realized to my dismay that we’d somehow overlooked one of my favorites, The Big Book of Ghost Stories, an 836-page treasure trove released in 2012. I figured the time was right to rectify that oversight.

Michael Dirda gives a great summary in his Washington Post review.

Otto Penzler’s The Big Book of Ghost Stories largely focuses on classic tales. No one should go through life (let alone death) without experiencing W.W. Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw,” Perceval Landon’s “Thurnley Abbey,” Ambrose Bierce’s “The Moonlit Road” and M.R. James’s “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad.” But Penzler also includes many stories that should be equally well known. This year, for instance, I read for the first time Ellen Glasgow’s “The Shadowy Third,” a wonderfully ambiguous tale of a nurse hired by a charismatic doctor to care for his apparently demented wife. Yet Mrs. Maradick is strangely afraid of her handsome husband, and there is something odd about her silent young daughter. Glasgow’s narrative is deeply haunting, in more ways than one.

Penzler stresses that he has “tried to remain true to the notion that ghosts are spirits or specters of the dead. Some stories that frequently have appeared in other ghost story anthologies have nothing at all to do with ghosts. They may be trolls, or evil plants, vile fungi, monsters, or other creatures of that ilk. Rightly or not, I have attempted to be a bit of a narrow-minded purist about it all.” This means that there is nothing here by Arthur Machen, who specialized in ancient and malignant races lurking in the Welsh hills, while Algernon Blackwood is represented by “The Woman’s Ghost Story” instead of his masterpiece, “The Willows.”

The book contains tales by HP Lovecraft, Conrad Aiken, Rudyard Kipling, Ramsey Campbell, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Donald E. Westlake, Fritz Leiber, Albert E. Cowdrey, Wilkie Collins, Manly Wade Wellman, Saki, Edith Wharton, and many others. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

Penzler breaks the 79 stories into 13 categories, including humor, classics, haunted houses, and more.

But I’m Not Dead Yet
“Mr. Arcularis,” Conrad Aiken
“August Heat,” William Fryer Harvey

I’ll Love You– Forever (or Maybe Not)
“The Shadowy Third,” Ellen Glasgow
“The Past,” Ellen Glasgow
“But at My Back I Always Hear,” David Morrell
“The Furnished Room,” O. Henry
“Death’s Warm Fireside,” Paul Ernst
“The Advent Reunion,” Andrew Klavan
“The Return,” R. Murray Gilchrist
“The Phantom Rickshaw,” Rudyard Kipling
“The Moonlit Road,” Ambrose Bierce
“The Story of Ming-Y,” Lafcadio Hearn
“Yuki-Onna,” Lafcadio Hearn

This Old House
“Brickett Bottom,” Amyas Northcote
“How Fear Departed From the Long Gallery,” E.F. Benson
“Thing of Darkness,” G.G. Pendarves
“The House of the Nightmare,” Edward Lucas White
“The House in Half Moon Street,” Hector Bolitho
“A Night of Horror,” Dick Donovan
“The Burned House,” Vincent O’Sullivan

Kids Will be Kids
“Harry,” Rosemary Timperley
“Make-believe,” Michael Reaves
“Playmate,” A.M. Burrage
“Just Behind You,” Ramsey Campbell
“Adam and Eve and Pinch me,” A.E. Coppard
“The Lost Boy of the Ozarks,” Steve Friedman

There’s Something Funny Around Here
“A Ghost’s Story,” Mark Twain
“In at the Death,” Donald E. Westlake
“The Ghost of Dr. Harris,” Nathaniel Hawthorne
“The Everlasting Club,” “Inculphus”
“Legal Rites,” Isaac Asimov and James MacCreigh
“Death Must Die,” Albert E. Cowdrey
“The Transferred Ghost,” Frank Stockton
“The Canterville Ghost,” Oscar Wilde

A Negative Train of Thought
“Pacific 421,” August Derleth
“The Midnight EL,” Robert Weinberg

Stop — You’re Scaring Me
“Punch and Judy,” Frederick Cowles
“The Fireplace,” Henry S. Whitehead
“The Night Wire,” H.F. Arnold
“Smoke Ghost,” Fritz Leiber
“Song of the Dead,” Wyatt Blassingame

I Must Be Dreaming
“The Dream Woman,” Wilkie Collins
“The Adventure of the German Student,” Washington Irving

A Séance, You Say?
“They Found my Grave,” Joseph Shearing
“Mrs. Morrel’s Last Séance,” Edgar Jepson
“Night-side,” Joyce Carol Oates

“Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad”,” M.R. James
“The Monkey’s Paw,” W.W. Jacobs
“The Toll-House,” W.W. Jacobs
“Afterward,” Edith Wharton
“Consequences,” Willa Cather
“The Follower,” Cynthia Asquith
“The Corner Shop,” Cynthia Asquith
“The Terrible Old Man,” H.P. Lovecraft
“The Murderer’s Violin,” Erckmann-Chatrian
“The Open Window,” Saki
“Laura,” Saki
“What Was It?,” Fitz-James O’Brien
“Full Fathom Five,” Alexander Woollcott
“He Cometh and he Passeth by,” H.R. Wakefield
“Thurnley Abbey,” Perceval Landon

The Female of the Species
“The Woman’s Ghost Story,” Algernon Blackwood
“The Angel of the Marne,” Victor Rousseau
“The Shell of Sense,” Olivia Howard Dunbar
“The Avenging of Ann Leete,” Marjorie Bowen

Beaten to a Pulp
“The Dead-wagon,” Greye LaSpina
“A Soul with Two Bodies,” Urann Thayer
“The Ghosts of Steamboat Coulee,” Arthur J. Burks
“The Considerate Hosts,” Thorp McClusky
“The Fifth Candle,” Cyril Mand
“The Return of Andrew Bentley,” August Derleth and Mark Schorer
“The Floor Above,” M.L. Humphreys
“School for the Unspeakable,” Manly Wade Wellman
“Mordecai’s Pipe,” A.V. Milyer
“He Walked by Day,” Julius Long
“Behind the Screen,” Dale Clark

Modern Masters
“Journey Into the Kingdom,” M. Rickert
“Mr. Saul,” H.R.F. Keating
“Coventry Carol,” Chet Williamson

The book also includes a nice selection of vintage illustrations, by Virgil Finlay and others, chiefly drawn from pulp sources. The art is well reproduced and shows up surprisingly well in my paperback copy.

The Big Book of Ghost Stories is a veritable feast for anyone who loves a good spooky tale. It gets my highest recommendation.

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries-smallOtto Penzler has assembled a rich assortment of oversized anthologies, all focusing on genre fiction. He’s produced roughly one per year since 2007. They include:

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps — 2007
The Vampire Archives — 2009
Agents of Treachery — 2010
The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories — 2010
Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! — 2011
The Big Book of Adventure Stories — 2011
The Big Book of Ghost Stories — 2012
The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries — 2013
The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries — 2014
The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories — 2015
The Big Book of Jack the Ripper — 2016
The Big Book of Rogues and Villains –- 2017

The Big Book of Ghost Stories was published by Vintage/Black Lizard on September 18, 2012. It is 836 pages, priced at $25 in trade paperback and $15.99 for the digital edition. The cover was designed by Gregg Kulick.

See all of our most recent book coverage here.

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Thomas Parker

It’s a terrific anthology, as all these Big Ottos are. I just pulled it off my shelf a few days ago – it’s almost time to pick the 2017 Christmas ghost story!


“Isaac Asimov and James MacCreigh” are of course Asimov and Frederik Pohl.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x