Sunday, November 28, 2010

Book Review: Appalachian Winter Hauntings

Weird Holiday Tales from the Mountains

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen Book Critic

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens can be credited with furthering the art of the ghostly or horrific and scary Christmas story, but the tradition goes back well before the great English writer published his novella in December 1843.

As Michael Knost points out in his introduction to "Appalachian Winter Hauntings: Weird Holiday Tales from the Mountains" (Woodland Press, 134 pages, $14.95), edited by Knost and Mark Justice, the reason Santa Claus left a lump of coal for naughty children was to burn them! The eleven stories in the book delve into ancient legends from various countries that reinforce the scary side of Christmas. Santa's merry elves were originally demons who were said to eat unworthy children.

Dickens -- and American writer Washington Irving with his 1822 novel "Bracebridge Hall" -- helped sanitize the holiday to create an idealized version of Christmas in a society torn asunder by the rapid industrialization of England and the United States -- a common theme in writing by Dickens who experienced it himself.

Of course, perhaps the best attempt to create a jolly Santa was "A Visit from St. Nicholas" published anonymously in 1823 and generally attributed to Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863). It inspired the classic Coca-Cola ads and created the images we think of today with Santa and his reindeer -- and jolly, not bloodthirsty elves.

Appalachian Winter Hauntings features eleven bone-chilling stories -- by many of the preeminent storytellers in the business --that are appropriate to the Appalachian region and relative to the heart of the holiday season.

Contributors include: Ronald Kelly, Brian J. Hatcher, Patricia Hughes, Steve Vernon, S. Clayton Rhodes, Steve Rasnic Tem, Sara J. Larson, Scott Nicholson, J.G. Faherty. EmmaLee Pallai, and Elizabeth Massie. The texture is gritty and the stories are moving.

The collection features cover art by Kerem Beyit ( and begins with a suitably scary story by Ronald Kelly, "The Peddler's Journey," which turns on the element of a tiny carved horse that comes to life. There's a nice O'Henry surprise ending.

"Yule Cat" by J.G. Faherty takes place during the "longest night of the year....the night when ghosts ride the winds and the Yule Cat roams in search of lazy humans to eat." It's told by a grandfather to his grand kids, who pooh pooh the story as an old grandpa's tale -- until they face the Yule Cat.

"A Soul's Wage" by Brian J. Hatcher brings together two friends from Kentucky and West Virginia in a Baltimore bar. Preston, from Kentucky, buys highly collectible coal mine scrip from his West Virginia pal Derek. Both men came to the big city to seek their fortunes and have succeeded -- they think. The scrip is the McGuffin in this story -- which turns on the uncertain job security of our present time.

Old School Christmas demons figure in "The Christmas Bane" by S. Clayton Rhodes. Myron "Lefty" Bohach has been apprehended by Carbon Hill's police chief, Dalton Strecker, and is languishing in a jail cell at Christmas time. Strecker apparently wants to redeem career criminal Lefty as he tells him how to avoid the clutches of a character called Krampus, the dark side of St. Nicholas.

The stories are well written and should make people who think they are fortunate this holliday season feel better about their lives -- or maybe not! Readers have come to expect good regional writing from Chapmanville, WV based Woodland Press LLC, and this latest collection won't disappoint.

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1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! Perhaps this explains why, according to old newspaper articles, young men and ladies in Texas celebrated Christmas by going around shooting up the town. Guns in the air, of course, most of the time.