Joan Aiken

Joan Delano Aiken was the daughter of Conrad Aiken, whose story Mr Arcularis we read out on The Classic Ghost Stories Podcast. Her elder sister Jane was a writer and her brother John was a chemist. Her father, being a poet presumably appreciated the para-rhyming of their names.

Joan was born while her father was domiciled in England,  on Mermaid Street in Rye in East Sussex in 1924. She died in Petworth West Sussex in 2004.

She went to a private school in Oxford but did not go to University. Instead she wrote stories. Her first story appeared on the BBC Children’s Hour in 1941 when she was seventeen.

After the death of her first husband she went to work as an editor on magazines.

She is most famous for her children’s fiction, notably The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Black Hearts in Battersea. Her stories have almost a magical realism feel (a term which of course really belongs to South American literature) in that she uses what appear to be genuine historical settings subtly twisted to become fantasy.

Many of her novels have supernatural themes, such as the Shadow Guests and the Haunting of Lamb House.

She won many awards for her fiction during her lifetime.

The Lodgers is in her collection of short supernatural stories A Touch of Chill.

Not knowing what to make of it, I went on Good Reads and found it got an average of three stars out of five with most reviewers not being clear about what the story is about.

The best I can do is to suggest that this is a mid-20th Century story where small town life is subverted into the weird as people like Robert Aickman were doing. I wonder whether the deliberate cultivation of the irrational is taking place here where the weird is not meant to be understood rationally, but there to create atmosphere.

The weird slovenly, drunken Colegates come from the Middle East. They have odd paraphernalia such as the ‘collecting jar’ which seems to be vaguely occult. The reference to the Egyptians and the black and white pillars put me in mid of the ritual magic of the Order of the Golden Dawn. It seems that the Colegates collect the souls of children. In the end, I think young Bob’s soul flies out of the window and Desmond Colegate pursues it like a butterfly hunter into the graveyard where the exertion gives him a stroke of a heart attack. But I may be wrong.  The boy, and the vet’s boy who the Colegate also taught games of cards to (the cards seem important — Tarot???) both die of natural causes. Are the Colegates then a drunken version of the Grim Reaper? They don’t cause the death, they are just around to harvest the souls?

If you know, tell me!

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