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Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales Hardcover – April 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

American historian and advocate of political-cultural conservatism Kirk (1918-94) also wrote fantasy fiction, including the 19 ghost stories that this volume collocates for the first time. Although they have the old-fashioned psychological and descriptive texture of great turn-of-the-twentieth-century ghost stories, they are uniquely theological. A Catholic, Kirk was an orthodox believer in good and evil, sin, repentance, salvation, and, especially, judgment. Most ghosts in his stories are characteristically and actively agents of God's judgment. They literally quash the evil and save the good. Occasionally, in the case of some spirits in "The Invasion of the Church of the Holy Ghost," ghosts are agents of Satan, but such aren't as powerful as God's ghosts, for evil can't be as powerful as goodness. Some of Kirk's confections display their theological programming too obviously, but when powered also by a great character, such as Manfred Arcane, minister without portfolio of the Commonwealth Hamnegri and hero of two stories (and two of Kirk's three novels), they are rich and exceptional masterpieces. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

About the Author

Russell Kirk (1918–1994) was an eminent literary and social critic who rose to national prominence in 1953 with the publication of his book The Conservative Mind. The founding editor of Modern Age and The University Bookman, he wrote more than thirty books, including his memoirs, The Sword of Imagination (Eerdmans).


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 410 pages
  • Publisher: ISI Distributed Titles; 1st edition (April 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080283938X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802839381
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #726,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Maxwell Goss on November 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Russell Kirk was not only an exceptional historian, moralist, cultural critic, and man of letters. He was also a superb prose stylist, as anyone who has read The Conservative Mind or The Sword of the Imagination knows. In Ancestral Shadows, a collection of ghostly tales written over a period of roughly twenty-five years, Dr. Kirk displays his mastery of the English language as he weaves startling and often stirring "tales of the preternatural." Eerdmans Publishing has done the reading public a real service in bringing out this handsome volume.

As Vigen Guroian notes in his helpful introduction, Dr. Kirk is widely regarded as having developed the gothic genre by imbuing it with a distinctive moral and metaphysical character. In "A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale," included in this volume, Dr. Kirk himself writes: "Alarming though (I hope) readers may find these tales, I do not write them to impose meaningless terror upon the innocent...What I have attempted, rather, are experiments in the moral imagination." In this he succeeds admirably. The reader of his ghost stories is treated not only to terror and suspense, but to an occasional, delicious glimpse of the eternal order underlying our own.

The heart of the book is found in "A Long, Long Trail A-Winding" and "Watchers at the Straight Gate," a pair of tales about Frank Sarsfield, whose character is modeled after that of Dr. Kirk's hobo friend Clinton Wallace. These stories are eery and beautiful; I confess I never expected to feel uplifted by a ghost story. Other favorites of mine include the early "Ex Tenebris," which conveys, delightfully and gruesomely, Dr. Kirk's contempt for the modern bureaucrat, and "An Encounter by Mortstone Pond," a poignant reflection on the mystery of human existence.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A. C. Walter on October 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The publication of "Ancestral Shadows" is a major event for fans of the ghost story genre and Russell Kirk but also for the reputation of the literary supernatural tale. Russell Kirk (along with the recently deceased Jack Cady) ranks as one of the few top-notch, modern American ghost story writers, and for far too long Kirk's stories have been out of print. This book collects all but a very few of Kirk's lesser tales (which are available for die-hards and completists in the pricey but gorgeous recent Kirk collection produced by Ash-Tree Press in two volumes).
The stories in this collection include many of the best ghostly tales ever written, including "Lex Talionis," "Fate's Purse," "Watchers at the Straight Gate," & "The Invasion of the Church of the Holy Ghost." Not to mention Kirk's masterpiece, "There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding"--if you can read this one alone in your home after dark and, once you finish it, not be driven to turn on every light in the house (and maybe your stereo as well), then you're a braver soul than I. Kirk indulges several of the genre's conventions and breathes new life into them while giving us a whole host of wonderful characters as unforgettable as the denizens of a Dickens novel. The collection does include two or three stories that drop below the high standard of Kirk's usual tales, but this in no way diminishes the his accomplishments as a virtuoso writer crafting prose that is as cultivated and engaging in its own way as that of Flannery O'Connor or F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The dust jacket blurbs--of the rare, substantive variety--lend much legitimacy to Kirk's status as a significant literary figure, culled as these blurbs are from such diverse sources as Ray Bradbury, Madeline L'Engle, T. S. Eliot, Thomas Howard, and Robert Aickman.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John Baranyai on November 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent compilation from the very talented but now sadly deceased Russell Kirk. Dr. Kirk writes about ghosts but there is Hope and Joy to be found in his stories. The story which stands out most in my mind is "There's A Long, Long Trail A'Winding " which is about a drifter's search for some meaning and sense in his life. If you have ever spent a long, lonely night in a big deserted mansion then you wil realize that things are not always what they appear to be.There is true Joy and Redemption to be found in this tale which is a rarity in your everyday ghost story. RIP Dr. Kirk.The Literary world lost a great talent with your passing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Burton on August 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This collection put me very in much in mind of Flannery O'Conner, another Catholic short story writer (and a better one, for the record). The subject matter, gothic tone, and regional setting are very similar (just substitute Michigan for Georgia). But while the supernatural is always just off stage in O'Conner, in Kirk it breaks out in florid theatrics. Thought provoking theological speculation compel me to give praise this, but uneven quality knocks off a star.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Badman on December 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
If you are a fan of the "classic" ghost story (James, Le Fanu, etc), then you need to read Russell Kirk's "Ancestral Shadows", a collection of the best of Kirk's writing. Kirk was very much in the classic, gothic vein and these 19 stories showcase his religious and intellectual background (lots of churches, priests and Latin in his stories). The "scares" are of the benign kind, not the blood and guts kind, although several tales do pack a punch (especially when Kirk talks about the depth human depravity can sink).

Although many of the tales go on too long and some drag, the best stories here are some of the best ghost tales written in the 20th century. "Lex Talionis", "The Princess of All Lands", "There's a Long, Long Trail Awinding" and "Watchers at the Strait Gate" are by far the best (Long, Long Trail won a World Fantasy Award in 1977), but there are several lesser stories that also admirably cause shivers and a glance over the shoulder if read alone at night.

Kirk's tales are short on action and long on moral conundrums, ethical musings, and themes of religion in modern society (several tales feature characters who scoff at religion and ghostly apparitions equally) as well as things that go bump in the night. If you are a fan of the traditional supernatural tale I think you will enjoy these as much as the classic tales of Le Fanu and James.

One last note, this very affordable volume contains the complete tales of both "Watchers at the Strait Gate" and "Princess of All Lands", two harder to find and more expensive Arkham House collections.
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