A Sheaf of Yule Log Stories
In North America, we are accustomed to think about ghostly and creepy tales during autumn, most especially at the end of October. However, in Merrie o’ England, the tradition for telling such stories occurs in winter, and somewhat counterintuitively, during Christmastime. The low winter sun and long cold evenings were quite conducive to the sharing of chillers and spine-tinglers with the most famous and obvious example of this long-standing tradition being typified in A Christmas Carol by Dickens. Another fine historical instance was the yearly reading of a new ghost story by M. R. James. In grand fashion, the master held a select audience spellbound every Christmas Eve with many of the recited tales finding publication after their yuletide debut. This phenomenon was finely defended by the words of our guide for this Christmas season: “These particular stories lie on the border land between the seen and unseen; they may be very incredible; but they will serve to pass away the happy time around the Yule Log, when mythic stories are most acceptable.”
The Reverend Augustine David Crake (1836-1890) belongs to a long list of English priests who contributed to ghost story literature, including Sabine Baring-Gould, whom he name-drops, and E. G. Swain. Mostly, Crake wrote historical religious fiction and devotional books, but we will be exploring his singular contribution to the fantastic, A Sheaf of Yule Log Stories (1888). The book is a collection of stories Crake heard around the fireplace as a child in the 1840s and is divided into the seven nights of Christmas week. Below is the first story.
Crake’s Introduction to the volume is not to be passed over. It is a delightful recounting of Crake’s childhood holidays full of snow-laden hills, iceskating atop deep lakes and the nightly sharing of cheer and spine-tingling thrills. Seemingly, it is a time and experience now vanished. In an era of drone-delivered consumer products, major holiday discounts and a multiplicity of screens, we don’t seem to talk to each other; we don’t share stories any longer. Say what you will about “progress,” but I feel a loss.