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Brown, Alan. The Haunted South The History Press, 2014.
Oh, Book, I wanted to love you, but you were so, so boring. Took me forever to get through this one. Ugh.
Popular ghost story collections tend to go to one of two extremes. On one end, the author may vaguebook like crazy all details about some legend, going off into entirely invented reveries of Victorian-style purple prose. On the other end, you get people who just list facts and figures in the dullest and most uninteresting way. Usually, these facts and figures involve the history of the haunted place or haunter (if it’s a person), with much attention paid to crumbling old Antebellum Greek Revival piles erected by rich old white dudes, maintained into the 20th century by their spinster daughters and grand-nieces, then sold off to childless Yuppie couples to turn into a B&B.
Unfortunately, The Haunted South not only goes the latter route, but does so with such a vengeance that half the time, you barely get any ghost stories at all. The author is so focused on giving you the Ye Olde Haunted House tour that he frequently skimps on the “haunted” part. In addition, despite endless architectural detail (which bored even this historic preservation-minded gal), his documentation for the folklore is almost nonexistent in some parts. This tosses him right back to the other extreme. How an author can occupy both ends of the spectrum, I don’t know, but you should ask Mr. Brown, because he pulled it off.
There is another major problem with The Haunted South and it’s geographical. I’ve been reading books about the region as well as just the state. Obviously, the legends of North Carolina are not limited all that much by borders. The state has both its imports and exports, and examples of regional, or even worldwide, trends (like the Phantom Hitchhiker of Lydia’s Bridge). But when reading about folklore in the South for the purposes of doing work on North Carolina, I obviously would expect some coverage of the Old North State.
Alas, the regional coverage here is lumpy, to put it kindly. The author neglects certain states to the point where some barely get five pages. Savannah in Georgia is criminally neglected, while there’s not even a mention of Texas and no explanation why. The Texas omission is especially puzzling, since the author has done an entire book of Texas ghost tales, but doesn’t even mention that in this book.
North Carolina is one of those neglected states. It gets a few brief pages about what are basically tourist trap spots (like Fort Fisher) and that’s it. I think I added maybe one new legend to my collection from reading this. That’s pretty poor for a book that’s over two hundred pages long.
Nor does extra length automatically equal better coverage, even of the states with more pages. The author spends a good third of the book in Louisiana (specifically, New Orleans), yet makes downright rotten gumbo out of NO’s seriously colorful history. The incoherent and scanty approach to how Hurricane Katrina affected the local folklore is particularly disappointing, considering this book came out in 2014. Maybe I should count my blessings that he didn’t do the same thing to North Carolina, even if his selections for NC were less-than-inspired.
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