The Green Flash

July 11, 2010 at 5:10 pm (Children's lit, Fantasy, Horror, Juvanalia, Short stories, Suspense) (, )

The Green Flash by Joan Aiken

The Green Flash, and Other Tales of Horror, Suspense, and Fantasy by Joan Aiken
Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1971
163 pages
Genre: Suspense, horror, fantasy, children’s lit, short stories

Jacket copy: A small self-contained child who dreams reality; the ghost of a love-struck bicycle-riding night watchman; a canary who bears an acute resemblance to the younger sister of Charles II; an old lady, hard of hearing, almost blind, but with a murderous sense of smell–these are just a few of the characters you’ll encounter in this spine-tingling, mind-boggling collection by Joan Aiken.
The impact of the tales is varied and ranges all the way from grisly horror through old-fashioned mystery to comic fantasy. It’s a book to curl up with and enjoy on a dark, rainy night, a book which continues to astound from the first page to the very last.

Book report: So, though it’s been a couple of years since I found out that Joan Aiken had written a whole mess of books in concordance with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (the Wolves Chronicles, they’re sometimes known as)–a shocking discovery for someone who’d read and re-read TWoWC like it was her job–I hadn’t read anything else by her til last winter’s Shivers for Christmas, which included a really excellent little story, “The Ferry.” I not sure why, but I don’t read short stories all that often, though I like them a great deal (especially TALES OF TERROR), but the title of  The Green Flash was well-nigh irresistible. I mean, how evocative is that?

It is such an odd little collection of stories, ranging from the, well, grisly to the subtly disquieting, and from pathos to humor. And for the most part, they’re very, very good. I don’t think I disliked any of the stories, but I couldn’t say that I liked them all. Not because they were bad or uninteresting, but because of that lingering sense of disquiet (“Summer by the Sea” has taken me three readings to come to terms with, and it still makes me uncomfortable) they invoke. But that’s a good thing; I’d much rather puzzle over a story and how it made me feel than simply forget it.

Particular favorites were “Follow My Fancy” and “Searching for Summer.” “Smell” was gruesomely funny, and rather like something in one of those old Hitchcock anthologies I sometimes find. Two other favorites were “Mrs Considine” and “Sonata for Harp and Bicycle,” stories rather like I’d expect to read in a Gaiman collection (I wondered all through the collection how much of an influence Miss Aiken might have been on Mr Gaiman).

It’s a pity it’s out of print, and that it’s only reached a limited audience. I think I might have to grub around for a copy for my very own. Good terror for the under-ten set is hard to find, and these are also suitable for adults. I’d recommend it for RIP V this fall.

Read also: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, Tales for the Midnight Hour by JB Stamper, Eyes in the Fishbowl by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Smoke & Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Cover: This cover is so tight. I want it on my wall as a print. Eye-catchingly bright, but also ominous. I love those late Sixties/early Seventies designs.

Lily wore yellow on her wedding day. In the ‘eighties people put a lot of faith in omens, and believed that if a bride’s dress was yellow her married life would be blessed with a bit of sunshine.
It was years since the bombs had been banned but still the cloud never lifted. Whitish gray, day after day, sometimes darkening to a weeping slate-color, or, at the end of an evening, turning to smoky copper, the sky endlessly, secretively brooded.
Old people began their stories with the classic, fairy-tale opening: “Long, long ago, when I was a liddle un, in the days when the sky was blue … ” and children, listening, chuckled among themselves at the absurd thought, because
blue, imagine it! How could the sky ever have been blue? You might as well say, “In the days when the grass was pink.”




  1. Jenny said,

    I think I may have missed the boat on a lot of Joan Aiken – I didn’t discover that she’d written other books than The Wolves of Willoughby Chase until I was in high school, and I didn’t care for the other books by her that I read. But it’s good to know these stories can work for adults – maybe I will give them a try!

    • Lizza Aiken said,

      Hi, good to find fans of theses stories, definitely some of her best work. Have a look at – the site I’ve made for her lists all the story collections, though sadly many are out of print now. But Small Beer Press are big Aiken Fans and recently published The Serial Garden – a wonderful collection of fantsy stories about the Armitage family, and they have another collection coming out next year – look out for “The Monkey’s Wedding”

      • schatzi said,

        I’ll have to check those collections out–thanks!

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