An Introduction to Volume 1

I am currently close to finishing proofreading the manuscript for my next book:

“Sunken Castles, Evil Poodles Vol. 1 – Lurkers at the Threshold”

Once I have done so, I will send it out to Scholar-level subscribers of my Patreon campaign, and ask for alpha readers among them. In book publishing, “alpha readers” are people who read the first, rough draft of a new book and provide feedback on its flow, structure, and major inconsistencies.

Gathering and incorporating their feedback will likely take at least another month. After that, I will search for beta readers who will provide feedback on the more polished version of the manuscript. Subscribers of this Newsletter will also be able to apply at that point, although I am aiming for no more than 10 beta readers. Both alpha and beta readers will receive a signed copy of the paperback version of the book as a reward for their assistance.

As you can see, while the manuscript for this book is already quite advanced, it will still take some time until it is ready for publication. In the meantime, enjoy the current version of the Introduction to the book as a sneak peek:


Consider the spinning chamber.

The nights of the German winters are long and dark — indeed, close to the winter solstice, there might be as few as eight hours of daylight. Yet in the rural villages of old, the work was not done at nightfall — in particular, the women had to spin the flax that had been harvested in the fall into twine. As heating and artificial lighting was expensive, they gathered at the hearth fire in the main chamber of a farm for these labors. Frequently, several households took turns with hosting such events.

And, in order to pass the time, they told stories to each other.

Nor were the spinning women alone in these chambers — the men[1] gathered there too, as did the children before they went to sleep. And, as there was little other entertainment to be had in those days before the advent of modern mass media, everyone participated in these storytelling evenings either as an eager audience or by sharing some of their own tales.

The tales themselves had no single, clearly defined “genre”. Some were moral tales emphasizing the importance of virtue, and the wages of sin.[2] Others were pure, slapstick comedy. And others still — presumably told later in the evening, once the little ones had nodded off — were pure horror. In these, the protagonists encountered supernatural forces beyond their ability to control (and, frequently, beyond their understanding as well), and could sometimes consider themselves lucky if they escaped with their lives and sanity intact.

Based on the sheer number of tales featuring them, ghosts were among the most popular topics for such tales of horror. And, as usual with such fireside horror tales, they were most effective if they haunted some nearby place. Terrifying specters might be found in swampy meadows by the river, the castle ruins up on the hill, even the house next door — lurking just beyond the threshold. The storytellers thus took tales they heard elsewhere, and made them their own — putting them into a local setting and adding some regional elements.

Thus, when I set out to transform Sunken Castles, Evil Poodles from a single, self-contained volume into an entire book series, ghost stories made a logical starting point. I didn’t have to carefully search dozens of 19th century folklore collections to find examples — I could just open any of these tomes[3] at random and be certain that it would contain plenty of useful source material for me to translate. As a result, when deciding on the stories for this volume, it became just as important to consider what I should leave out as to which tales I should include.

The first topic I excluded were hauntings of supernatural animals that were not explicitly described as ghosts. While many of these hauntings probably were considered “ghosts” by the storytellers, there is still enough ambivalence that I decided to leave them for a future volume on animal tales. Nevertheless, a small sampling of animal-shaped ghosts can be found in Chapter 3.

A far more difficult decision choice I made was leaving out tales of “ghostly processions”, such as the “Nachtvolk” (“Night People”) of the Vorarlberg region in Austria, or the “Gratzüge” (“Ridge Trains”) of the Valais in Switzerland. While the concept of entire processions of ghosts racing along lonely roads in the countryside makes for great yarns, further research[4] led me to the conclusion that these are best understood as a precursor of the “Wild Hunt” phenomenon, which is a topic deserving its own book as well.

Still, while the remaining 100 tales I’ve settled on for this volume draw from 43 different sources, they should in no way be considered a representative sample. They couldn’t be — there were several hundreds of German folklore collections published in the 19th century alone, and my own exploration of these works is just beginning. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy these tales — just like audiences of those fireside evenings enjoyed them in previous centuries!

[1] While the women had to spin the flax, it appears that the traditional task of the men present was to watch the women do the work. Indeed, some of the tales take note that the work of the younger and more attractive women present was watched with particular interest.

[2] Which did not necessarily map to modern-day understanding of what constitutes “virtue” and what constitutes “sin”.

[3] Well, digital scans of these tomes – thanks to the massive digital scanning efforts of the last two decades, most of these public domain texts are widely available once more.

[4] In particular, “Ghosts in the Middle Ages: The Living and the Dead in Medieval Society” by Jean-Claude Schmitt.