Review: Haunted Legends

By Lyndsey Holder

Datlow, Ellen and Mamatas, Nick, eds. Haunted Legends. New York: Tor, 2010. Hardcover $27.99/Paperback $15.99/Kindle $9.99 USD. ISBN: 978-0765323019.

I’ve loved urban legends and ghost stories since I was young. Someone gave me a copy of John Bellairs’ The Curse of the Blue Figurine when I was in grade four and it infected me, changing my life forever. I wanted to become the female Johnny Dixon. Even before reading, I’d encountered ghosts and shadow people (my bedroom was haunted by an entity that would snore loudly some nights), but I wanted more. I craved the meatier stuff that Johnny encountered within the pages of every book he starred in: brushes with death, ancient curses and vengeful spirits. I haunted my local library, eagerly devouring any book that had to do with urban legends or ghost stories, especially ones that came from nearby areas, hoping that maybe I could go to one of those places and have an experience Johnny himself would be envious of. Twenty-two years later, I haven’t changed at all. When I saw that Haunted Legends, an anthology of local legends and ghost stories from around the world, was available for review, I could barely contain my glee.

I wasn’t disappointed, either. Twenty stories are packed into this volume; twenty modern twists on urban folklore. A small paragraph by the author follows each, explaining the origin of the tale and why they chose to write about that particular legend, a small detail which I really loved.

Not all of the stories were ones I liked. I am very picky about my legends and I felt that some of the tales didn’t live up to their source material. One thing that I will say, though, is that even the ones that I didn’t like were not bad. There is love in each of these stories: love of the unknown, of being scared, of legends that are handed down again and again, mutating slightly with each telling. This love redeems the clumsier tales and makes the brilliant ones shine even more brightly.

“That Girl” by Kaaron Warren is a fantastically creepy tale based on an urban legend from Suva City. Beautifully written, complex in its simplicity, it is an amazing piece.

From there, we are whisked off to Russia to learn of the ghosts that haunt the former home of Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria. Appointed head of the NKVD by Stalin in 1938, Beria was responsible for numerous atrocities, for which he was later executed. The story itself is not so much about Beria but the legacy that he left: the scars that remain hidden just beneath the surface, not only on the people who lived through the dark times he created, but also on the buildings and grounds where he carried out his vile acts.

My very favourite story was the last in the book. Joe R. Landsdale’s “The Folding Man” was a genuinely creepy reimagining of an American urban legend. It’s told with such honesty that I found myself reading it as though it were a true story rather than a work of fiction based in myth.

All in all, this book was excellent. I love that the tales are from all around the world, rather than just from one area, although each one makes me wish I could read more from that particular part of the globe. I hope that perhaps this will be the first of similar anthologies. How wonderful would it be to have a book thick with stories based on urban mythology for every country? You could plan your next vacation or see what really goes on in that seemingly sleepy city you visited last summer.

You can purchase the paperback version of Haunted Legends on Amazon.com. Hardcover and Kindle editions also available.