17. High Spirits

High Spirits: A Collection of Ghost Stories by Robertson Davies

Pages: 198
Finished: Jan. 27, 2008
Reason for Reading: weekly reading of short stories for short story Monday. Canadian challgenge.
First Published: 1982
Genre: short story collection
Rating: 3/5

Comments: A collection of stories Davies wrote each year as Master of Massey College. These stories are funny, witty and satirical. Some stand out much more than others. These are best read slowly, one here, one there as they do have a sameness to them that tires. Recommended for fans of Davies.

Follows is a brief synapses (without spoilers) and my opinion on each story.

How The High Spirits Came About - In the introduction, Davies explains how every Christmas for the 18 years he was the Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto he would tell a ghost story. This is a collection of these 18 tales. The stories are parodies of the classic ghost story.

#1) Revelation From a Smoky Fire - in this story the current and first Master of Massey College finds in his rooms a man who professes to be the ninth Master of Massey College one hundred years hence, and we soon find our narrator is not who he seems to be.

#2) The Ghost Who Vanished By Degrees - this was a fun story of a ghost, who killed himself because he failed his PhD thesis, who takes our narrator hostage one night and makes him listen to the many thesis he has prepared since his death as he shall never be at peace until he has it.

#3) The Great Queen is Amused - This was a really fun story! A woman doing research in the university library (which is known for its Canadian Lit. collection) comes across an occult book which tells how to call a spirit. Thinking she'd like to ask Sara Jeanette Duncan a few questions she follows the instructions but ends up with a room full of the spirit of every Canadian author whose book is in the library. Very funny!

#4) The Night of the Three Kings - Our narrator investigates noises and winds up in a filing room where he finds the spirit of King George V searching for a rare stamp he accidentally once put on an envelope. The story ends with a definite Canadian twist.

#5) The Charlottetown Banquet - The narrator spends the night having a Victorian dinner with Sir John A. MacDonald.

#6) When Satan Goes Home For Christmas - This time our narrator meets Satan who is upset because he is never invited home for Christmas.

#7 Refuge of Insulted Saints - Hearing a knock at the door one evening our narrator opens the door to find Babs (otherwise known as Saint Barbara, Patron Saint of Artillery) standing at his door with a cannon pointing at him. She and many other saints who have just been deposed to legend status by Pope Paul VI (1969)are seeking asylum at the college. This was a lot of fun and very witty!

#8 Dickens Digested - A young man working on his thesis about Charles Dickens becomes more and more like Dickens himself. Lots of fun Dickensian-speak but not as good as other stories here.

#9 The Kiss of Khrushchev - A Russian exchange student, a member of the choir, disappeared some years ago but now our narrator has found a singing frog in the basement. This story was just plain weird.

#10 - The Cat That Went to Trinity - There are two new students in class this year. One named Elizabeth Lavenza the other named Enstein, given name Victor Frank. This gives our narrator cause for concern especially since he is teaching the Gothic novel this year. This was a really fun story, melodramatic and witty.

#11 - The Ugly Spectre of Sexism - I didn't really get this one very much. Written in 1972 it pokes fun at both feminism and chauvinism.

#12 - The Pit Whence Ye Are Digged - Another one that went over my head. This one dealt with poetry and time travel.

#13 - The Perils of the Double Sign - The narrator has a conversation with a small devil who has been trapped by a student whose hobby is astrology.

#14 - Conversations with the Little Table - Our narrator brings home an antique table which commences to tap around as if dancing. He and his wife sit down and find that the table once belonged to William Lyon Mackenzie King and he has a conversation with them. Another fun one.

#15 - The King Enjoys His Own Again - The spirits of King George IV and Bishop John Strachan debate with each other. I don't know anything about these people so I didn't enjoy this one much.

#16 - The Xerox in the Lost Room - Another fun one this time. The spirit of a poor relation immigrates to Canada when his manor is brought here and re-assembled. The manor is then opened up to the public and the ghost has had enough so he goes to the college and asks our narrator for asylum.

#17 - Einstein and the Little Lord - This was hilarious! As Einstein is visiting with our narrator, Little Lord Fauntleroy appears begging for Einstein's help in Paradise.

#18 - Offer of Immortality - A strange little man who is very cold and drinks a lot of vinegar, claims he is over 450 years old and offers Davies the opportunity to live forever.


  1. Excellent- though I don't know whether to read this at Halloween or Christmas. Probably the inbetween period would be perfect.

  2. I think I shall definitely be adding this to my reading list - perhaps it will make a good book for the R.I.P. challenge this fall. :)


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