THE WORLD OF THE UNKNOWN: GHOSTS / AUTHOR: CHRISTOPHER MAYNARD / PUBLISHER: USBORNE PUBLISHING / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 3RD
In 1977, Usborne, a new and independent children’s publisher, unleashed The World of the Unknown: Ghosts, which both terrified and enthralled a generation of young readers. Its author Christopher Maynard didn’t speak down to his audience, rather he treated them as intelligent and imaginative individuals with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of the supernatural. Artist David Jefferies, along with his team of illustrators, created the unsettling eerie images, of ghostly mariners, skeletal spectres, and haunted mansions. Images that would be forever imprinted in the impressionable young minds of those that gazed in terrified awe upon them.
This was the book that was constantly borrowed from libraries, but if you were lucky enough to have a copy you didn’t dare keep it in your room when darkness fell just in case the book’s inhabitants were able to escape its pages. The effect of The World of the Unknown: Ghosts was so profound that it influenced and shaped the careers of director Ashley Thorpe (Borley Rectory, The Horror of H.P. Lovecraft), Laurence Rickard (Ghosts, Horrible Histories), who borrowed the book so many times from his local library that they gave it to him, and Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen).
Now, after being out of print for more than twenty years, and due to a successful online campaign by the book’s original fans, Usborne has resurrected The World of the Unknown: Ghosts. The book is exactly the same as it was when it was first published, the only addition being a foreword by Shearsmith. So the question is does it stand the test of time, or does it fall foul to the tricks of nostalgia-tinged memories? The answer is, without doubt, the former. This book’s power to enthral and capture the imagination has not diminished one iota since this reviewer first laid eyes upon it four decades ago.
It’s divided into sections, with bite-sized chunks of information, including how ghosts are perceived and what they represent in different cultures, what ancient civilisations believed ghosts to be, animal spirits, the most haunted village in England, fraudulent activity, and photographs in which a ghostly presence can’t be explained. There’s even a section for would-be ghost hunters. There are historical anecdotes of eyewitnesses having seen ghostly horse drawn carriages on dark lonely roads, and animals refusing to go into rooms. The text may be sparse but it manages to pack a punch that will have you looking over your shoulder at every unexplained creak. The illustrations are a devilishly visual feast filling every page.
Hopefully, Usborne will resurrect their other World of the Unknown titles, and particularly the horrifyingly excellent Supernatural Guides pocketbooks.
£7.99 may seem a hefty price to pay for a book that is only thirty-two pages, particularly if you are unfamiliar with its legacy. However, if you were one of the thousands who, in those heady days of snug-fit flares and inconceivably large side-burns, relished devouring every page time and again, then it is worth every single penny.