Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Signal-Man by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens wrote a number of ghost stories, often as part of the English tradition of ghost stories for Christmas. The best known is A Christmas Carol, one of his more sentimental stories, but others were more in the vein of scary stories. The Signal-Man was written in 1966, and was inspired in part by a train crash Dickens was involved in and partly by other train crashes he had read about.

This is another example of the ghost that leaves a warning. The story involves a signalman who repeatedly hears his bell ring when it does not actually ring, then sees and hears a ghost, each time as a premonition of a train accident.

You can read the story here. It's only about five thousand words.

This is a very traditional sort of ghost story, with the narrator happening upon the signalman while out for a stroll, and the signalman telling the narrator his story. I am fond of stories within which people tell stories.

Because I'm wayyyyy too visually-oriented, here's a link to the well-done BBC adaptation from their old annual series A Ghost Story for Christmas, starring the late great Denholm Elliott in the title role.

This version was released on dvd by the BFI a few years back, but like a lot of BFI discs (e.g. Ghostwatch) it's now frustratingly out of print and sells for exorbitant prices online. Aro Street Video has a copy if you live in Wellington; it also contains a good reading of the original story.

a nicely cheesy poster from a stage adaptation

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