Roald Dahl’s Ghost Stories Book Review is my review of Roald Dahl’s choice of 14 favorite ghost stories. The book title is misleading in that one would easily deduce that with the title, “Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories” that it is a book of his own ghost stories; however, that is not the case. Oh well, I thought and read the book anyway. I have written reviews of the stories below. I have included whether or not I would teach stories to students, and the ones I would not. If at anytime you want to see my favorite ghost stories of all time, scroll down to the bottom.
Roald Dahl’s Ghost Stories Video Summary
Roald Dahl’s Ghost Stories Book Review: W.S.
W.S. by L.P. Hartley is about an author who spends most of his time rigorously writing. His life is rather plain until he begins receiving letters from a person who signs them as W.S. At first the letters seem like normal fan mail but then they continue to get more personal and more aggressive over time. The author at a point realizes a strange coincidence. That his own initials are W.S. His name is Walter Streeter and then he notices yet another coincidence. One of the characters he created who was all things malevolent also had the initials W.S. W.S. continues to write aggressive and antagonizing letters and tells Walter he will be seeing him soon. Walter decides to go to the police who take this threat seriously and tell him they will send a policeman to watch his home. The police officer seeking a moment of refuge on a snowy night is within Walter’s home when the climax of the book takes place. We learn through a phone call from the police station that the police forgot to send a police officer. Now Walter is stuck in the home with W.S. who turns out to be the character he created. The man W.S. is killed by his character and found strangled. There isn’t any sort of twist to the story as he lays out all the clues as to who W.S. could be as we read. I would teach this to students as a Halloween story. It is a bit dated so I would cut out some of the longer parts that have descriptions of objects that they wouldn’t understand.
Roald Dahl’s Ghost Stories Book Review: Harry
“Harry” by Rosemary Timperley is a short-fun-ghost story about a orphan girl who is adopted by a young man and woman couple. They love the little girl and mom stays home while dad goes to work each day. The mom starts to notice that when the little girl is outside she talks to herself. Soon after she is interacting with what looks like an imaginary friend. The imaginary friend’s name is Harry. The mom is really disturbed by this interaction and is striving to get the girl to stop this behavior. She takes the girl to the doctor and the doctor says to not deny Harry’s existence. On the first day of school, mom drops her daughter off and she heads to the orphanage where she adopted the little girl Christina. The woman at the orphanage proceeds to tell the mom she doesn’t normally give out information but that Christina had an older brother named Harry. She provides an address for where Christina used to live with her family. When the mom gets to the building she runs into a woman who lives there vagrantly. The woman says the father of the family decided to kill his entire family lighting the place on fire. Harry grabbed his little sister, jumped out the window and he died while she lived-having been held in his arms. She said it wasn’t as if he was trying to save her so much as he was trying to keep her with him. It is at this moment the woman hears the 3 o’clock bell and realizes she is late to pick up Christina. She runs back to the school and finds that Christina’s brother, Harry has taken her. She never sees her daughter again. This is a perfect story to teach students on Halloween. It is fun, and appropriate for their age. There is some predictability within the story but also many twists and surprises.
Roald Dahl’s Ghost Stories Book Review: The Corner Shop
“The Corner Shop” Cynthia Asquith is a short story about a man who is walking along one evening and comes across an antique shop on a corner street. He enters the shop to seek refuge from the snow and is greeted by two women who help him find a gift he has been intending to buy for newlyweds. He is walking by the shop the next evening and having had such a pleasant experience the night before decides to stop in the shop again. He is disappointed to find a closed sign on the door but when he tries the handle it opens. He is disappointed to find an elderly man in it rather than the two pleasant women. There is an unpleasant-strange-elderly man who roams around the shop and hands him a cheap frog. Because it was so inexpensive the man purchases the frog feeling sorry for the man. Later he cannot take his mind off the evening. The entire situation was very off-putting. Finishing dinner with a friend, his friend notices the frog, becomes very animated and tells the man that the frog is worth a fortune. The friend takes the frog and returns a huge check to the man who decides the right thing to do is return half the check to the store. He goes back to the store and the two women are there. He tells them what happened and they explain to him that this could not be the case because their father had died years before. He made his fortune taking advantage of others. The premise is that he was trying to make amends for his dishonest during life. I would suggest teaching this short story as a companion to a novel that deals with the theme of feeling guilty and trying to make amends, such as Portrait of the Young Artist, or something similar. It is engaging to hold students attention and there are different themes that can be discussed from the story.
Roald Dahl’s Ghost Stories Book Review: In the Tube
“In the Tube” by E.F. Benson is a short story about a man who believes that time is an arbitrary infinite thing that cannot really be measured. He is riding on the subway and he sees a man throw himself onto the rails committing suicide. He then meets the man at a dinner party and believes that he has seen the future and that the man will someday commit suicide. He tells this story to a friend who tells him he must warn the man, but he refuses because he believes it could then be himself who gives the man the idea of suicide in the first place. The man reads about the man who does commit suicide on the rails the evening before. He learns that the man commits suicide because he has decided to leave his wife having fallen in love with another woman. His wife refuses to give him a divorce so he tries, unsuccessfully, to strangle his wife who now blackmails him for trying to kill her. He sees no alternative other than to kill himself. It is an entertaining story that I recommend an adult read; however, I would not suggest reading this one with students because of all the mature topics you would need to get into in order to get through the story, ie; adultry and suicide.
Roald Dahl’s Ghost Stories Book Review: Christmas Meeting
“Christmas Meeting” by Rosemary Timperley is a fun, short, spooky ghost story about a man who finds himself alone and lonely on Christmas in a hotel room. For this reason he feels relief when the door opens and a man walks into the room by accident. The intruder man quickly apologizes and states that he thought it was his room. The intruder states that it is weird being alone on Christmas and asks if he can stay and talk. He continues to talk about why he is staying in a hotel on Christmas-because he is an author and does not believe in interrupting the writing process. It is mentioned that he is a writer who writes poetry and diary combined. In desperation the author asks the other occupant to read his work, pushing and practically begging. The original occupant of the room, states that he needs a break on Christmas and gets up to get his guest a cup of tea. When the occupant turns around with the cup of tea, the man has completely vanished. Later, on the bookshelf in the room, he finds a diary of the man dated 1851 where the author describes in detail, specifically about his encounter with the man in that very room. In other words it was his ghost. This would be a fun story to teach during the holiday time. There isn’t many things to teach during the holidays for the secondary level, so I would recommend this particular fun-ghost-story.
Roald Dahl’s Ghost Stories Book Review: Playmates by A.M. Burrage
“Playmates” by A.M. Burrage is an interesting story. There are some disturbing undertones in it that I found confusing and felt they were overlooked by many other critics. It’s a story about a girl who becomes an orphan by the loss of her only parent-her father. She is then adopted with no obstacles, as if a man was claiming a piece of luggage. The man who is considered cold and the “last person to ever want a child”. Upon adoption they move into this cold, large, rather empty castle-like home. Once they move in the girl becomes different, she smiles, and giggles and becomes child-like-characteristics she completely lacked before. Eventually she tells her adopted father that she has ghost friends. Seven girls who died in this home that used to be a school. At the time, the girl is being homeschooled because her adopted father doesn’t want her around other girls (strange). Once he hears about these seven girls, he decides to send his daughter to school. The end is him walking into the room where the ghosts reside, whispering that they do not need to be afraid of him, and him feeling the caresses of their little hands. I would not teach this story to students. There are too many things that I find “off’ and weird-to say the least. You can draw your own conclusions. I was surprised when I read other people’s reviews of the story that they missed some of these perverse happenings.
Ringing in the Changes by Robert Aickman
“Ringing the Changes” by Robert Aickman is a fun story about a newly married couple on their honeymoon. When they arrive in a quaint town there are church bells ringing and the bells will not stop. They settle in, and the groom-twenty years older than his bride is cranky about the bells while the wife seems delighted by them. They head for a walk and notice that the tide is too far out to walk. They next run into a man who tells them they never should have come on this night. That this night is the night that the town raises the dead, which is the purpose of the ringing bells. He tells them to get out of the town as quickly as possible. When they try to order a car, no car will enter the town. They can only make it on foot. Instead they lock themselves in the bedroom and hope if they lay very still they can get through the night unscathed. The ghosts come into the room, take the wife, and the old man is searching for her for the remainder of the evening. He eventually finds her with the man who had heeded the warning. This man says that the ghosts had her but he saved her and she should be ok. At the end of the story she is humming the same song that the ghosts hummed when they took her. I would not have my students read this story because there are several sexual insinuations. For example when the man who rescued her said he found her, he claimed they were dancing-one from behind and one from the front and each one had her hand. The woman also tries to seduce her husband while the ghosts are entering the room insinuating that a younger woman has no self-control when it comes to sex. There are too many sexist remarks and at one point they talk about women being “evil” from the beginning of time-Adam and Eve. It’s unfortunate that these sentiments were added because otherwise it would be a fun, creative story to teach.
The Telephone by Mary Treadgold
“The Telephone’ by Mary Treadgold is a short story about a man who is having an affair with a woman. He is so happy with this mistress that he decides to leave his wife. His wife lives in London and his mistress in Scotland. The husband tells his wife on his next trip to London. His wife acts “dignified” and heads off to live with her sister. The man is back in Scotland with his mistress when he receives a phone call that his wife has committed suicide. He is distressed and decides to return to London to take care of business. That evening he receives a phone call from London and someone is just sitting on the other end of the line. Eventually both the man and his mistress deduce that it is his wife’s ghost who continues to call him. This was during a time when old fashion telephones existed-not cell phones. The husband leaves the next day and takes care of the funeral arrangements etc. While he is in London he continues to receive phone calls. A man shows up at the door to disconnect the line because it hasn’t been paid for and the man allows him to do it. The mistress is thrilled because it means he is permanently cutting off contact with his dead wife. I would not teach this one to students because there are too many adult topics and dysfunctional feelings that are presented in this story. For example, the mistress being excited about the man permanently cutting off communication with his dead wife whom she stole him from. This is a dated story when this kind of behavior was considered “normal”.
The Ghost of a Hand by J. Sheridan
“The Ghost of a Hand” by J. Sheridan Le Fanu is an interesting story about a hand that continues to haunt this family who live in a modest home. The hand is seen on the window sill, palm on the window, and it raps constantly on the front door. The hand is so completely obnoxious at one point that the man of the house goes to the door with a stick in his hand, and opens the door to yell. There is a breeze that passes through him and now the hand or ghost, is inside the home. Now the hand continues to knock on doors inside the home. So if the couple is in their bedroom it will knock on the door of the couple’s bedroom. One night the man enters his bedroom finding his wife unconscious with the hand laying nearby her face on the pillow. He chases the hand around the room, and into the closet where it disappears. The couple had a baby and the final scene is the hand in the nursery inside the baby’s bed. Eventually they find out the name of the ghost the hand belongs to, but they do not move out, nor is there any kind of solution to the ghost hand. I would teach this story to students in light of it being rather comical and maybe have students come up with solutions as to what they would do if given the situation. Perhaps they could even write a different ending to the story like Roald Dahl’s “The Elevator”.
Afterward by Edith Wharton
“Afterward” by Edith Wharton is a short story that begins in an old town. A visitor wants to know about this famous ghost that lives within the town. The protagonist states that there is a ghost but no one knows about it until “afterword”, the implication that when you see it you meet your death. The ghost has entered the home of the protagonist and has haunted her husband with some kind of information. The ghost turns out to be a young boy. After a long interrogation of her husband we eventually find out that he was the one who murdered the boy. I would not use this one for my students. There is a lot of vocabulary from the U.K. in fact I would venture to say that 50% of the story is UK descriptive words of the setting, feelings characters, and objects. It would be difficult to engage students with this story.
On The Brighton Road by Richard Middleton
“On the Brighton Road” by Richard Middleton is the perfect length to do a one-day ghost story lesson for students. Perfect length for Halloween. It begins with a description of Brighton Road and a man who is walking a great distance, in the snow on it. He is unsure as to how he has even lived through this journey. He meets a boy who is 18 on the road (a bit strange). The man says to the boy that he doesn’t know how he lived through the night with the snow and the boy says, “how do you know you did?”. We find that the man and the boy are both dead. I would teach this short-ghost story to students. It is short, fun, and engaging. You can also look at themes like belonging as they both are running away from home.
The short stories that were not reviewed are: “Elias and Draug” by Jonas Lie, “The Sweeper” by A.M. Burrage, and “The Upper Berth” by Mario Crawford. I did not review these because I had trouble staying engaged myself, and of course if I cannot stay connected, the stories would not hold the students attention.
Overall, I was disappointed that these weren’t Roald Dahl’s Ghost Stories. I also wasn’t entirely impressed that out of all stories these were the 14 that he chose. My favorites worth mentioning are: “Harry”, “Christmas Meeting”, “Ringing in the Changes”, and “On the Brighton Road”. Those I would use in the classroom are: “Harry”, “Christmas Meeting”, and “On the Brighton Road”. I hope you have found this helpful and if you are to use these in your classroom, hopefully I have saved you time.
I would love to hear about your favorite ghost stories. Please leave in the comments below.
My favorite short stories and products from Teachers Pay Teachers below:
The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe
The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe
The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe
The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe
The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe
The Landlady by Roald Dahl
The Elevator by Roald Dahl
Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl
The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
Three Skeleton Key by George. G. Toudouze
The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street by Rod Serling
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins-Gilman
The Hitchiker by lucille Fletcher
For my favorite Halloween Stories Blog Post, Click Here