Peter Bayliss, Myth & Mystery: A Collection of Ghost Stories
and Folklore from the U.K.
(Phoenix Rising Unlimited, 2001)

This collection of tales consists of two distinct sections: "Haunting Tales" and "Folklore." The authorís introduction states that "the ghost stories were written over a period of many years for Round the Revel," a magazine for the churches and villages around Newbold Revel near Rugby, Warwickshire England, while the folktales originally appeared in Tradition magazine.

Given the parish magazine origins of the ghost stories, it comes as no surprise to find that theyíre all somewhat genteel in nature. Consequently, fans of the ghostly genre who demand that apparitions be preceded by a grisly murder or two will find themselves disappointed! The ghosts are generally benign, so their visitations tend to result in the living reflecting about how much jollier Christmas was in Victorian times, or what sturdy, dependable types their ancestors were, rather than ending up face-down in the snow, paralysed by fear and cardiac arrest.

Bayliss succeeds in capturing what for many represents the ideal picture of English village life. Children enthusiastically participate in snowman competitions, adults buy antique rocking horses at auctions, and everyone drinks tea out of the best china and looks forward to the carol singers coming 'round. If youíve got children who enjoy a bit of spookiness and need a bit of motivation to read (rather than just watching Scooby Doo cartoons), this book could be just the thing. These stories are all short, easy to read, and throw up enough surprises to keep younger readers entertained, while also lending themselves very well to being read aloud. Adults without children may like to amuse themselves by reading them to each other, voicing the characters -- hey, it beats talking about the weather!

Here are a couple of lines from one of the "Haunting Tales." Have a go at filling in the missing text yourself, then read the book to see if you got it right:

"This is indeed a find," announced the vicar, coughing in the musty air. "A crypt that we didnít know existed...."

The next morning both Cuthbertson and the churchwarden were astonished to find that the mysterious door in the north transept had completely disappeared.

The "Folklore" section sees the application of Baylissí style to the retelling of ten place-specific legends of Britain, including "The Faerie Lady of Llyny Fan Fach," "The Giantís Grave" and "Long Meg and Her Daughters." Their inclusion helps to accentuate the differences and similarities between purely imaginative "fantasy fiction" (the ghost stories) and mythology (the folk tales). Again, the stories are ideally suited to children, and Iím struck by the thought that this book would be an excellent companion for anyone planning a family holiday camping or caravanning in the UK. You could visit some of these sites, get the kids to read the appropriate folk tales as you travel around, then have a ghost story before bedtime!

The reviewer placed the book on the kitchen table and looked up at his old friend. "This Bayliss chap has produced a book, which though perhaps somewhat dated, is actually a whimsical and rather charming slice of rural Anglicana," he said.

"I thought that youíd like it," chuckled the vicar, "thatís why I brought it 'round for you. Is there any more tea?" The reviewer went over to the stove and refilled the teapot from the big, cast iron kettle. When he turned back to the table, the vicar had disappeared....

[Stephen Hunt]

You can read some of these stories here.