Ghostbusting

In all seriousness I once had what I’m definitely convinced was a paranormal experience.

I was on a ghost tour of an old building with some friends on Valentine’s Day last year (I can’t stress enough I went with other people! It wasn’t some completely tragic stag valentines evening), and this burst of light went past me. I didn’t tell anyone though just cause I’d been a massive smart ass up until that point (what you’d except you know, doing the creepy hand up people’s backs and the like).

This isn’t to say though that this one experience was enough to get me one hundred percent convinced in the existence of ghosts (and to be fair we had been drinking before this tour started), but it is quite poetic to believe that places remember their history and hold onto past energy. It’s like that classic Einstein quote which those terrible ghost hunting shows tend to reference, that ‘energy can neither be created nor destroyed it can only change forms’.

Anyway so let’s talk about ghosts in literature, and judge how they’re choosing to spend their afterlife. I haven’t read A Christmas Carol though, just cause I like to go into a book fresh and I think every person knows that plot before they’ve even knew it was Dickens – thanks a lot Muppets Christmas Carol!!!

The Canterville Ghost (Oscar Wilde, 1887)

This story is more adorable than it is scary. I think it must’ve been a children’s story.

So an American family moves into this long-abandoned mansion in the UK, Canterville Chase, and they’re warned by the seller, Lord Canterville, that no one wants to live there because it’s haunted by one of his dead relatives. But the Otis family are ballers, and they move in anyway cause the place was a bargain (which I respect).

Anyway so the Canterville ghost starts making its first appearances, but the family are treating the sight of the un-dead with impressive levels of nonchalance. Especially the two twin boys whose incessant pranks on the ghost actually start making the ghost so depressed that he starts keeping to himself in his room.

Its at this point that the youngest daughter, Virginia, starts to feel sorry for the Canterville ghost and she helps him on this little quest to get out of limbo and move into the afterlife. AWWWW!!!

The Turn of the Screw (Henry James, 1898)

Honestly it’s been roughly two years since I read Turn of the Screw, and personally I found it pretty underwhelming.

I had to quickly google what the plot was as I couldn’t for the life of me remember what happened beyond – it takes place in a mansion and the children act creepy for 80% of the story. So clearly I’ve blocked this reading experience from my memory.

Anyway so according to Sparknotes, what happens is a governess is taking care of two children, Flora and Miles, at this country home called Bly, and the kids progressively act more and more strange especially at night, as the governess frequently spots them roaming around outside.

Understandably the governess becomes more disturbed by these goings-on so she’s doing a bit of research, and it turns out the ghosts of Bly’s former governess and footman, Miss Jessel and Quint, are manipulating the children.

Truly, even rereading a plot summary I can’t remember this story at all. I do however remember thinking at the time, why would you want to spend your after-life hanging out in your old workplace with only some snooty manor house children for company?

The Brown Hand (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1899)

So because Arthur Conan Doyle is obviously most known for Sherlock Holmes, my very immature mind hoped that this story was a grim tale of Sherlock solving a fairly simple case of how a hand got brown (I’m disgusting and I need to grow up).

This one’s pretty good. It’s about a doctor who for twenty years has been visited every night by the ghost of a former patient. This patient was an Afghan hill-man who had his hand amputated by the doctor, and for religious reasons he needed to be buried with all parts of his body. The doctor had made a promise to the him that he would keep the hand preserved with his other specimens and he could have it back to be buried with, but due to a house fire the doctor was unable to keep his promise. So the deceased patient comes back every night, searches the remnants of the doctor’s collection and then looks angrily at the doctor because he can’t see his hand amongst the collection.

The Inexperienced Ghost (H.G Wells, 1902)

I do love how the majority of Victorian-era ghost stories all seem to start in the same way, where a group of men are in a cigar room or something and they all decide to exchange ghost-stories.

In this story, a man called Clayton is telling his golf buddies about how the previous night he met a sobbing ghost, and while he’s telling this story he dies of a heart-attack leaving his fellow golfers not sure whether his story was true or just an elaborate joke.

What is sadly relatable about this story is that the ghost is crying because he’s really terrible at doing hauntings and it’s gotten to him that even in death he’s managed to find something else he sucks at.

Also Wells gets some points for this stellar pun: ‘but being transparent of course he couldn’t avoid telling the truth’ – Wells you sly ol’ wordsmith you!!!

The Mound (H.P Lovecraft, 1929)

H.P Lovecraft is to science fiction what Poe is to Gothic literature, and I am surprised/deeply disappointed in myself that this is the first mention of him on this blog.

What’s great about Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories is that even though each are individual pieces that can be read individually and in no particular order, they interlace together through the fictional forbidden book of black magic, Necronomicon. 

In The Mound an ethnologist is visiting Binger, Oklahoma to study a mysterious Indian mound which the town is situated under. This mound is deeply feared by the locals due to the fates of the few people who have attempted to explore it. What’s more, it is said to be haunted by two ghosts, a man during the day and a headless woman at night.

And (*spoilers) while the two ‘ghosts’ haunting the mound turn out not to be ghosts but rather guards of a gateway into the underground realm of K’n-yan, I figured this story still belongs on the list because initially you do assume that the two recurring figures are ghosts. (If you’re going to start reading Lovecraft though, The Mound isn’t the best one, try The Thing on the Doorstep or The Shadow Over Innsmouth first).

Eileen (Ottessa Moshfegh, 2015)

Not strictly a ghost story either, but it uses ghosts as a metaphor often enough that I think I can bring it up here. Also it’s just impressive that for once I’ve branched out and actually read something written in this century for a change.

Recanted by the main character in her old age, Eileen takes place the week leading up to Christmas, 1962 – what would ultimately be the then 24 year old Eileen’s last week in her hometown of X-ville before she started a new life away from her abusive drunken father. It’s a clever hook because you do end up reading it pretty fast in a desperate need to know what’s gonna finally push Eileen to stand up for herself.

Specifically ghosts are regularly mentioned in relation to the dilapidated house she shares with her father, which has been left to fall apart since her mother’s death two years ago, but also more literally, her father is convinced that thuggish ‘hoodlum ghosts’ are living in their walls – which is a story-line I wish they further elaborated on.

Islands in the Stream

Have you ever had to do one of those god awful team building exercises where hypothetically, you’re stranded on a desert island with twelve objects and you need to rank them in order of usefulness?

At the risk of not sounding like a team player – if a boat I was on actually went down, there’s no way known I’d have my head together enough to think to save something useful like rope or army rations. I’d probably end up panicking, and choose to save a bunch of shot-glasses from the cruise gift shop.

Anyway, within classic and contemporary literature there are numerous depictions of island living, and what comes with being detached too long from the outside world.

And yes I know seemingly it all sounds brilliant – being on a lovely beach with your cornrows and some flirty lady-manatees, but it can actually get grim after a while. Just ask, Alexander Selkirk (the person who Robinson Crusoe was based) who spent four years stranded on an uninhibited island because he got into an argument with the ships captain. Yeah there’s a lesson for us all there – only call the captain a dickhead after you’re safely at your destination.

Here are some fictional islands I know about. Also I’m very sorry I haven’t read Gulliver’s Travels so sadly I’m unable to confirm whether Gulliver’s tinder profile name was ‘biggest on the island (;’

The Beach (Alex Garland, 1996)

1996 doesn’t sound like it was that long ago until the main female character has a dolphin tattoo.

The island in this book is a protected national marine park in Thailand, west of Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan, which tourists are forbidden to visit. Specifically, its about a secret beach on this island that backpacker, Richard, and French tourists, Etienne and Francoise, go out searching for after being told about it by a man they knew only as ‘Daffy Duck’.

Spoilers – when they find the beach there’s a small group who live amongst nature and it all gets a little whingey and bitchy.

And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie, 1939)

This is a short read so its worth reading (…or just watching a BBC adaption). What happens is ten strangers with seemingly nothing in common are all invited to a small island off the coast of Devon and one by one they are systematically murdered as a type of justice for crimes they were never punished for.

One crucial flaw I noticed in the murderers otherwise perfect crime is that he killed the butler first. YOU FOOL! Who’s going to cook now you maniac? Save him til last!

Island (Aldous Huxley, 1962)

Journalist, Will Farnaby, wakes up on the mysterious island of Pala after a yacht accident. Pala is a utopia where individual enlightenment is the principle concern of society, and where they feel sorry for the mess of the outside world.

The Palanese people are free from materialism, and appreciating each moment is such a root part of their society that the birds have all been trained to repeatedly say ‘Attention’ and ‘Here and Now’ as a reminder to be present.

The Island of Doctor Moreau (H.G Wells, 1896)

Following a ship-wreck, Edward Prendick becomes stranded on the island of disgraced former surgeon Doctor Moreau.

Doctor Moreau has populated the island with humanized animals he has created through vivisection, and needless to say it wouldn’t be great for your confidence if you weren’t the most the attractive person on this island.

The Most Notorious Nudist

[say what you will, he could do a strip-tease like a diamond]

I was a bit underwhelmed by The Invisible Man. In fairness though it was written in 1897, it was bound to age. Plus I don’t know why I was expecting big things from it, if I became invisible all I’d do different is make things move around, freak people out a bit for a laugh, and do a bit of eavesdropping.

But above all, for the most part of the book I was far too distracted to concentrate on the plot by the thought that it’s winter and the invisible man has to get naked every time he wants to be unseen. For some reason I initially assumed that he must be wearing an invisible pair of pants, but no he has to strut around nude in the dead of winter.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the invisible man is a scientist called Griffin, who can’t turn himself visible again so plans world domination and is a bit evil. This bad-boy street image is emphasised in the 1933 film adaption when he steals a bicycle and an old man’s hat, and everyone loses their shit, the utter maniac!

The character is unlikable but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him because he must be chilly. My heart also bled for Dr Kemp when the invisible man is in his house (each of his invisible ass cheeks are touching his lovely couch), and I shed a tear for the villagers who got more than they bargained for when he dies, becomes visible again and revealed the whole butcher shop to them.