Hey there, Insiders.
Today I want to talk about a book that doesn’t take place in the Uncanny Kingdom. A book from my distant youth…
Usborne’s World of the Unknown: Ghosts was originally printed in 1977 (a year after I arrived on the planet – you may remember the global cries of “Hallelujah, the Great One has arrived!”).
Despite my utter fascination with this book, for reasons lost to the mists of time, I never actually owned a copy. Instead, I was forced to borrow it from the local library, taking it out it time and time again. This went on for years. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the most renewed title in my library’s collection, in fact – that’s how much I loved this book.
So why the obsession?
World of the Unknown: Ghosts was a collection of stories and illustrations of the spooky sort—haunting spirits, screaming skulls, gallows ghosts—all that good stuff. But what really drew me in was the way it was presented…
See, despite the far-fetched nature of the material it contained, the book treated its contents not as campfire stories, but as reportage.
Whether you chose to believe the chronicles of demon dogs and phantom ships was up to you, the reader. Had the historical witnesses who claimed to have been visited by apparitions of dead relatives really such seen such things, or were they made-up stories that had passed into urban legend? Or, to put the question the way my juvenile brain received it: do you want to believe in ghosts or not? Do you want to believe in the world you see—the one where you go to school and eat crappy dinners and learn the times table—or do you want to believe in a world of magic?
Can you guess which way the guy who writes the Spectral Detective series landed?
I read that book compulsively, front to back, over and over again, until finally, it went back to the library for the last time. Years later, as a teenager, I went looking for a copy of my own, only to find it had gone out of print.
It stayed that way for many years, and yet, even though the book was long gone, it was not forgotten. Because it turns out I wasn’t the only one harbouring an obsession with Usborne’s retired book. World of the Unknown: Ghosts lived on in the memories of a generation of Gen Xers, and when we grew up, we demanded it back. And so, appropriately, the book has been raised from the dead.
I just got my 2019 copy and found it every bit as fascinating as I did in the ’70s. If you don’t believe me, check out how blurry my quivering excitement rendered the above photo.
So here’s my recommendation…
Do you have a child in your life, or maybe just one who lives on in your brain? If so, I urge you to get them a copy of this book. It really is an excellent Halloween present! Just don’t blame me if your child (or even your inner child) grows up wanting to be a writer.