“We are born with the dead / See, they return and bring us with them.”
—T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
“The philosophical and ideological currents of a period necessarily affecting its imaginative literature,” wrote Russell Kirk in “A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale,”
the supernatural in fiction has seemed ridiculous to most, nearly all this century. Yet as the rising generation regains the awareness that “nature” is something more than mere fleshly sensation, and that something may lie above human nature, and something below it—why, the divine and the diabolical rise up again in serious literature. In this renewal of imagination, fiction of the preternatural and the occult may have a part.
In the renewal of that fiction, Dr. Kirk—better known as the author of The Conservative Mind and one of the founders of the modern American conservative movement—tried to play his part. The stories collected in Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales are only 19 of the dozens of fantastic tales that Kirk published in his lifetime and an even smaller portion of the scores of stories that he told to family, friends, and even the passing strangers to whom he so frequently extended his hospitality. While...