I have a lot of books that played a role in my literacy voyage, from Roald Dahl’s Young Adult/Adult novels to R.L. Stine’s Goosebump series, but there are a few that really got me rolling on loving horror and the occult. One of which was Strange Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Alex Hamer.
This was a book that I read many, many times and can remember exact moments of laying around my parents’ house with the book cracked open and my face firmly planted in it while I let the world go on around me. In fact, one of my middle school teachers (Mrs. Markey) let me read a few chapters from this book to the class one afternoon to kill some time.
We are going to talk about this book today because it is an excellent collection of folklore and mythology that spans the gamut of gruesome to horrific. So, hopefully this inspires you to pick up a copy wherever you can find one…because without it you are missing out on a classic collection during the perfect time of the year for a scary read.
Strange Tales is a clever book, which comes from the author’s ability to play with myth and folklore and the truly horrific tales that come from the annals of world history. It is clever in construction, as each chapter begins with a short history lesson or synopsis that pulls the reader into the story, and it’s clever in scope, spanning the world through stories most of us have heard and new ones that we won’t soon forget.
To get a good example of how this book operates, we need to look no further than the first chapter, which is titled “The Bleeding House Mystery.”
“The strange disappearance of Buford and Ellen Penrose was a haunting, unsolved mystery for eight years…until the awful night when blood began dripping from the ceiling of their home, sending the gathering of fashionable dinner guests fleeing in horror.”
(Strange Tales | Alex Hamer)
Now, if that doesn’t intrigue you in the least then I am not sure how else to pique your interest (in fact, maybe you aught to look at what you have been reading lately and see if it has dulled your sensibilities).
The stories in Strange Tales of Mystery and Imagination continue in grisly entertainment in the proceeding chapters. “Ghostly Escorts” tales the tale of lost ships at sea; ships that are filled to the brim with specters. Meanwhile, “The Pleading Ghost” presents perhaps the scariest way to expire—premature burial—and it spares nothing in its revelation of a poor young woman suffering her last moments on Earth confined in a coffin six-feet under.
“The hair that remained on the skull was disheveled and the knees were bent as if in an effort to force open the coffin lid. Worse, much worse, there were bloody, parallel scratches on the wood of the inside coffin lid, and a single fingernail was still imbedded in the soft pine.”
(Strange Tales |Alex Hamer)
Additionally, there are stories of the occult in Egypt, psychics predicting their own deaths, and the bloodthirsty Sawney Beane family—who terrorized and cannibalized the Irish hills of Galloway for years before being destroyed by King James’ army.
I love hearing stories about ghosts and monsters because there is a rawness and realness to what humans believe they have experienced (and to oral storytelling itself). That realness extends itself to Strange Tales of Mystery and Imagination, because there is something conversational that likens each story to homespun horror, as if the author is in the same room next to a roaring fire regaling an audience with the macabre.
While it may sound dark, it’s actually a really fun book that filled many of my days with delightful fright…oh, and it’s also really dark. Regardless, if you can imagine a young, portly Michigan boy setting down a copy of this very book and resting his head on his hands while he thought about these stories, then you might understand why this book is and was so important to me. Even now, I can’t stop picking it up every time I come across it on the book shelf.