The Canterville Ghost

The Canterville Ghost

by Oscar Wilde

originally published in 1887

64 pp. (1987, Oxford Univ. Press edition)

7 chapters

Age: 7 +

Interests: ghost stories, haunted houses, humour

A no-nonsense American family buys an old, haunted English manor house.  Mr. and Mrs. Otis, as well as their daughter and three sons, are entirely nonplussed at the appearance of the household ghost, who in turn becomes even more determined to scare the living daylights out of them. After undergoing numerous torments at the hands of the twins – pillow attacks, pea-shooters, and booby-traps – the ghost’s nerves become officially shattered. Only when the good hearted daughter Virginia agrees to help him can the Canterville Ghost finally rest in peace.

Surely the earliest of the haunted-house-occupants-outscare-ghost genre, more recently seen in movies like Beetlejuice. Also a satirical look at Old World vs. New World, as the Shakespearean-ruffed ghost is totally undone by ultra-practical, resolutely modern Americans armed with Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover (for blood stains) and Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator (for noisy chains). The ghost has been frightening English lords and ladies into delirium and madness for centuries, but is utterly baffled at the unflappability of these Americans. In the end he is the one left cowering in his room, shivering and shaking in fear.

For children who delight in Hallowe’eny fun and classic haunted house shenanigans. There are rather gruesome details along with the funny business: the ghost did originally murder his wife and her brothers starved him to death chained to the wall. Plus his strategies for scaring people include stabbing himself in the throat, etc. Probably 7-10 year olds will find these hilarious but younger children might not.

The humour is rather dry and sophisticated, the language is old-fashioned, and the style is somewhat wordy – I almost pegged it at the 6 year old level, but I’m not sure that young listeners will be able to follow it fully, so I’ve put it at 7 and up.

(There are several movie versions of this book, which I will review when I can. Most promising looks to be a 1944 one with Charles Laughton and Margaret O’Brien.)

(This title on amazon.)


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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