Hallowe'en Reading for Catholics: A Mirror of Shalott

I’ve been reading “A Mirror of Shalott”, by Father Robert Hugh Benson. Fr. Benson, who passed away in 1914, was a former Anglican priest (his father was the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury) who converted to Catholicism and received Holy Orders. He was a popular author in the early 20th century, both for his apologetics works, his novels of historical fiction (such as “By What Authority?”), and what would today be classed as science fiction and horror.

He is perhaps best known for his 1908 SF novel “Lord of the World,” which details the rise to power of an anti-Catholic U.S. president who promotes a secular one-world government and may actually be the antichrist, a novel which has attracted new interest from Catholics these days. His futuristic novel “The Dawn of All” depicted a utopian government run on Catholic principles, with interesting results.

“A Mirror of Shallot” (1907) is one of several works that dealt with horror and the supernatural (His “The Necromancers” was a novel that warned of the dangers of the occult and spiritualism, as well as a compelling study of grief). In “Shallot,” a group of priests who meet each evening for dinner during a conclave each share their experiences of brushes with the supernatural while sitting in front of a fireplace, including a sophisticated young priest’s terrifying witness of the rite of exorcism in the third world; a man who offered to assume his brother’s lack of faith to save his soul; the haunting of a Spanish church by a fallen pagan “god”; the exactingly (and subtly) described experience of an attack on the soul of a young priest by something demonic; and much more.

All of these stories are written from a deeply Catholic perspective and theology, which made this especially interesting. There is nothing bloody or ghoulish in them, but they can be quite frightening in the sense of something subtle and malevolent that exists just outside of your field of vision, like the best of M.R. James’ ghost stories.

Highly recommended. I got a copy for 99 cents on Kindle.

Thank you for posting this. I just went to amazon and got it for my kindle app. And they also have other books of Fr. Benson’s, at very good prices

Side note: for any Carmelites who wander into this thread, I highly recommend his poem, “The Teresian Contemplative.”

Hope you enjoy it. Please post on this thread when you’ve finished reading it to let us know what you thought of it.

I’ll add that while all the stories concern brushes with the supernatural, not all are about evil. Although some stories, like “Father Martin’s Tale,” which concerns a mysterious doorstep visitor during a winter storm, are genuinely creepy, some of the stories have some valuable lessons to teach us about faith - remember that Fr. Benson was also one of the finest Catholic apologists of his time (and was well regarded by both Hilaire Belloc and Ronald Knox.)

“Father Stein’s Story” tells of a dream of an acquaintance of the narrator who fell from the faith in adolescence due to a bad confession, which led to fear of accepting the Eucharist and ultimately a complete loss of belief. The imagery of the dream, which sets him back on the road to faith, is so beautiful it sent a chill down my spine - of the pleasant variety. A very subtle twist at the end of the story, if the reader catches it, only adds to the effect of the story.

There is also a description of a near-death experience by a man (“Mr. Bosanquet’s Tale”), described in the most exacting terms, that, although presented as a fictional account, so matches modern NDE descriptions (remember, this was written in 1907) that I suspect Fr. Benson based this on an actual event that was described to him. Even if not, the experience of physical death, and the glimpse of what lies beyond, is given in such dry, clinical detail that I suspect it is probably the best description we can receive of what dying will actually be like. Yet it is not at all frightening - because of one phrase in the story, concerning what the narrator finds in the depth of the existence of the Something on the other side, it is simply awe-inspiring.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.