When Ethan and Cathy fall ill during a storm, their father must leave them to fetch the doctor. . .but they are not alone for long. A sailor comes begging for shelter. So, the children agree to let him sit out the throes of the storm as they listen to his grisly tales. But something about the man puts Ethan on edge, and he is anxious for the storm to blow over, their father to return and the long night to come to an end. Storms whistling through the sails, evil pirates pacing the floorboards, and of course, a haunted ship of ghostly beings… All this and more is waiting to give you goose bumps in an atmospheric and thrilling collection of spooky seafaring tales.
This is number two in a series of children’s horror books, combining the creepy side of the Goosebumps series with the weird, gothic chic of something Gaiman would drum up. My first encounter was the third in the series, Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth which I actually think was significantly better than this one. It follows the same format: stranger telling ghost stories to lonely children, but the set-up was somewhat lacking in strength.
The selection of short stories follow the same themes, and get better as the book continues, but they do take some tackling in the initial few. Again, I didn’t feel the tales were as chilling or even as ghastly as the successor in the series; the shortfall, I think, is that Priestley decided to set all the stories around maritime elements, and that does get stale. Whereas in Tunnel’s Mouth the shorter narratives had themes pertaining to the emotional state of the protagonist, and this made them much more varied and unsettling.
The twist isn’t difficult to see coming, but it is depressing all the same. I didn’t really get too much of an attachment to the protagonists, but I did feel for their scenario, and the mysterious stranger element does have an old school kick about it. This will be a great read for Halloween for kids, as I think is intended. It’s good scary fun, but it doesn’t push any boundaries or have any clear morals. I’d recommend Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth much more, but this still a fun little read from one of the forerunners of kid’s gothic reading.