Thursday, 4 October 2012

All About Ghosts (everything you ever wanted to know about them but were too terrified to ask)

Ah, the Children's Britannica. Published just for schools in 1977, and designed to intrigue and terrify in equal measure. There's a lot of strange things out there in the world, and this series of books was there to tell you how to make sense of it all. In keeping with "the season", here's their guide to ghosts.

The book itself is possessed, just so you know. No matter what I did, the pages just wouldn't scan straight. Spoooooky!

That phantom carriage there? It's the exception to the rule that all phantom carriage drivers and horses are always headless. Non-conformist ghosts, eh?

A lot of highly skilled illustrators worked on this book - there's all their names there.

There we go - now we know what a ghost is, what different kinds of ghosts there are, and what a ghost's daily duties include.

Seems the ghosts of ancient Greece were VASTLY superior to the "sheet-y" (pun) ones we have today. Big giant foul-smelling smoke monsters! Now that's how you haunt someone! There's a panel in the bottom-right corner there which will help you to tell if someone's a ghost, always useful.

Fascinating stuff here, showing some of the ways people try to prevent ghosts from bothering them. Nailing blood to the floor is one method, whipping them is another.

That "graveyard guardian" there scared me shitless as a nipper. It's fine walking past a graveyard at night and imagining a high-spirited ghoulish jamboree going on - but walking past one and seeing a lone hooded figure, just standing there... Nah, I'm not into that at all!

Here we have my first encounter with the story of Gef, the talking mongoose. One of my all-time favourite "strange tales", you can read more about it over at the Fortean Times.

Love this page - a numbered guide to all the odd things you can expect to find in and around a haunted house. From screeching bats to sinister pianos to screaming skulls, who wouldn't want to live in a house like this?

What if you were a teacher in a school in Pluckley? What if this book was standard issue to said school? This page would have your school trip schedule sorted for the whole year! They'd be some lucky kids, certainly.

Lots of interesting-sounding ghosts here - particularly the Eating Ghosts and the Bauta. That's one ghost that lives in a rock and will eat your soul if your shadow goes near his house, and another that looks like a bearded midget, and who walks around at night beating people up.

There you go, you too can be a Ghostbuster! You just need some stationery, a camera, some cotton, a thermometer, some flour, a barometer, an infra-red lamp, a junction box, a tape recorder, a cat, a dog, a rat and a rattlesnake. What are you waiting for?

This is the page that reassures the wimpy kids, and ruins the fun for the imaginative kids.

Some interesting stuff here, particularly the photograph in the top-right corner of the fourth page, which TO THIS DAY remains one of the most unsettling pictures I've ever seen. Just what the blue blazers IS that thing? Over three metres tall, dressed like a monk with a face like a melting skull. What if you woke up one night, turned the bedside lamp on, and saw THAT thing standing over you? I wish I was typing this in the daytime instead of the night-time - probably not going to sleep now (whoops).

There we go, a glossary that skims over a load of stuff that isn't mentioned in the main body of the book - things like doppelgangers, exorcisms, the soul, ghouls, hallucinations, ESP, the afterlife, and so on and so forth.

The fun continues on the index page! Besides the unsettling picture of a cowled ghost (of which this book's illustrators seem to have a disposition toward), there's an interesting-sounding map-making project. That would've been too much fun in ANY school - I'd make the kids do that if I was a teacher, even if it was July or March. Or December.

Anyway, that's how the youth of 1977 were fed their education - their SPOOOOOKY education!


  1. Ah, good old Usborne..Used to love reading all their books in the school library. Probably influenced my interests in both the paranormal and videogames!

    I love the bat-winged,Indian-headed creature thing on the first page! :D

  2. If not this book, in which book can be found the dreaded Bonnet?

  3. This takes me right back to my childhood! Willing to sell it to me, maybe?

    1. No chance, sorry :)
      Had this for as long as I can remember! There's usually the odd copy knocking about on Amazon...

  4. Gosh I loved this book as a kid! It's drawing and stories fed our imagination and our make belief games for years. I blogged about it myself. Still want to write horror stories based on the images. Especially the guardian of the graveyard.

    1. That graveyard guardian... I remember reading this book at night sometimes and I wouldn't even be able to LOOK at the page he was on. There's potential for plenty of stories in there, certainly, I'm just heading over to your blog now to have a peek at what you had to say about it :)

    2. Just re-saw your blog. This is the post where I mentioned the Guardian of the Graveyard:

  5. Thank you!!! I've literally been thinking of this book, and many of the images in particular, for like 30 years. I didn't even really know what to search for, but luckily found your page. Very much appreciated! The "lady" in the car still gets me... just out of curiosity, is there anything on the back cover?

    1. You're welcome! A lot of people had the same reaction, happy days...

      The back cover's just a list of all the other titles in the series, if there was anything worth sharing there it'd be here ;)

  6. I've got the "compilation" edition - comprised of the monsters book, the ghost book and the UFO book in one volume. On the content's page of the ghost part was a little "game" - an extra picture of a skull with a cross in the nose and the instructions say to stare at the cross for 1 min 30 secs, and then look at a blank wall and you see a skull "ghost". The UFO content's page "game" had two flying saucers that "disappeared and re-appeared" if you held the book at arms length and moved it in and out towards your nose.... without fishing out the book, as i recall the monster part didn't have a little "game" :)

    1. Sounds good! I've got the Ghost and Monster books but not the UFO one...

      Love those old mind-trick games, they're still doing the rounds on Facebook as we speak (!).

  7. There were translated versions of these books, too. My nine-year-old self had the Norwegian version in 1980, as well as the two other books (about Monsters and UFOs) in the same "paranormal" series.

    The same illustrators also produced a "World of the Future" series, describing the wonders of the 21st century from a late-1970s perspective (occasionally genuinely prescient, though we apparently won't have Moon Olympics in 2020 after all).

    I remember all of these books very fondly.

  8. Thanks for scanning this. I remember this book well from my youth. For some reason the scariest illustration to me wasn't any of the ghosts -- it was Gef's claws coming out of the crack in the ceiling!