Ex Tenebris

When Ancestral Shadows, the latest edition of Russell Kirk’s ghostly tales, came out in 2004, I was heartened to see in print once again some of the very finest American speculative short stories. In my assessment, Russell ranks with M.R.James and his Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. Russell knew the genre, had studied it carefully, read frequently the works of other writers of tales of dis-ease. In particular, he found the works of James, Sarah Orne Jewett, Daphne Du Maurier, Robertson Davies, and J. M. Barrie splendid examples. He also maintained a connection to H.F. Heard, that fantastist. Russell talked of stopping in a Los Angeles theater when he was traveling to hear Heard lecture. Heard would go on for hours without notes, moving from one topic of evolved consciousness to another. Heard’s stories are much like that speaking, drawing in the reader as he did the listener, quietly and insistently.

Russell supported the idea of the ghostly tale with his labors and encouragement. Russell provided a beautifully written introduction for another wonderful short novel,The Scallion Stone, by Canon Basil A. Smith. Shivery stuff. And it was this shivery stuff that led me to study with Russell for my doctorate. Yes, I have a Ph.D. in creative writing and literary criticism and I’m probably the only guy you know who has his doctorate is speculative fiction.

I was working and studying with Russell when he gave up short stories, claiming that the gift had left him. I doubt that it had, but he had such pressing business before him that there was little leisure time to devote to the writing of ghostly tales. Certainly he went on telling them at Piety Hill gatherings. But the last of his written stories is “An Encounter by Mortstone Pond.” The setting for the fictional Mortstone Pond is the very real Morley Pond (Morley, MI), a backwater of the Little Muskegon River, one of Russell’s very favorites to canoe. This terminal story, filled with hope and promise serves as the capstone of this wonderful book.

So, when Ancestral Shadows came out it started me thinking…wouldn’t it be lovely to make some of these stories available in an audio format? My friend Stuart Poltrock at Sound Post in Grand Rapids jumped in and we cut this story and at least one other for possible….? We just didn’t know. Would people pay for this? Would it matter? Both Annette and publisher Bill Eerdmans gave us permission to do the read, so I sat down under Stuart’s guidance and away we went.

If you like it, perhaps you’ll consider a donation to the Russell Kirk for Cultural Renewal and let Anette know that this matters.

Oh, and you can still get Ancestral Shadows here.

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