Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Terrifying Tuesdays: Agatha Christie's Supernatural Fiction
Agatha Christie is best known for her many works in the mystery genre, but she did publish a few short stories that qualify as supernatural fiction. Although skeptical, Dame Agatha had an interest in the occult, which was rather popular in her day, especially in the form of séances. A few of her novels actually feature séances and even witchcraft, but these scenes all turn out to be deceptions rather than the real deal. One collection of short stories, entitled The Hound of Death and Other Stories, does qualify as true supernatural fiction. Stories in this collection include "The Hound of Death", "The Red Signal", "The Fourth Man", "The Gipsy", "The Lamp", "Wireless", "The Mystery of the Blue Jar", "The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Carmichael", "The Call of Wings", "The Last Séance", "S.O.S.", and "The Witness for the Prosecution". All but the last story contain supernatural elements. For some reason this book has never been published in the United States, although all of the tales have appeared there in other collections of Christie's works.
Two more paranormal stories appear in another book of collected works. "The Dressmakers Doll" and "In a Glass Darkly" were included in Miss Marple's Final Cases even though neither one features Miss Marple. "The House of Dreams", another short story with a supernatural theme, appears in The Harlequin Tea Set and Other Stories. The titular tale of this collection even has an apparent ghost.
One other short story collection with a supernatural undertone is The Mysterious Mr. Quin. These stories all feature Mr. Satterthwaite, a rather conventional confirmed bachelor, and Mr. Harley Quin, an enigmatic figure who occasionally encounters Mr. Satterthwaite under certain special conditions. Each time the two meet, Mr. Satterthwaite becomes instrumental in solving a problem involving either love or death, and sometimes both, which he attributes to the uncanny influence of Mr. Quin. "The Harlequin Tea Set" mentioned above is another Mr. Quin story, as is "The Love Detectives" found in Problem at Pollensa Bay and Other Stories.
Most of these stories are only mildly scary, although the ending of "The Last Séance" is rather disturbing. Like all of Agatha Christie's writings, these supernatural tales are well written and a pleasure to read. Some may be a bit difficult to find in the United States, since many of the Christie short stories were published in collections different from those in the United Kingdom, but they are easily tracked down and would be well worth the effort.