A Ghost Post

When one thinks of the supernatural in literature, one immediately thinks of ghost stories. Yet some non-ghost tales and novels also have moments of a paranormal nature. This post will discuss both kinds of works.

Supernatural fiction is of course appealing for a variety of reasons. It offers vicarious thrills (we’re not experiencing the spookiness in real life), piques our curiosity about how characters will react to the scares, sparks our interest in how inventive authors will be in creating the eeriness, etc.

I got to thinking about all this not by seeing the current Ghostbusters movie but by reading The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. A really good collection, including “The Lady’s Maid’s Bell” tale that memorably chronicles a household with the specter of a dead servant still hanging around.

Then there’s The Turn of the Screw by Wharton’s friend Henry James, whose novel makes readers wonder about the age-old question posed by many ghost stories: Are the apparitions real or are they the products of anxious characters’ imaginations? Heck, the alarming eyes that appear in the dead of night in Wharton’s “The Eyes” are just the protagonist’s conscience, aren’t they? Aren’t they?

Sometimes, phantasms are partly played for laughs, as in Oscar Wilde’s hilarious yet poignant story “The Canterville Ghost” — whose title character can be rather bumbling when it comes to frightening people. Or with the funnier of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter ghosts — including Nearly Headless Nick (named Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington when alive) and poetry-spouting Peeves the Poltergeist (“oh Potter, you rotter…”).

In other recent fiction, Stephen King’s work has periodically been ghostly in addition to being in the genres of horror, etc. One example is his low-key, spine-tingling novel From a Buick 8, in which a supernatural car is a sort of portal to another world.

There are more haunted houses than haunted cars in literature, and one of them is the mansion in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Strange noises and presences seem to dwell in that dwelling — and one character might be getting “possessed” by the house — but the story is told with such skillful understatement that readers are not sure what to think.

Or how about Peter Straub’s aptly named Ghost Story, in which the past psychologically and literally haunts a group of old men who might be getting targeted for something they did wrong in their youth? The grapes of wraith and all that…

A mild-mannered but also-vengeful specter appears in Edith Wharton’s story “Afterward,” a cautionary tale about what happens when a businessman gets a little too greedy. Which reminds me of the spooky visits in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, though Marley’s ghost never sings the reggae tune “No, Scrooge Guy, No Cry.”

Then there are the understandably vengeful, long-dead dogs in Wharton’s chilling tale “Kerfol.” (Yes, animals can be ghosts, too.)

But, as noted before, the supernatural can be just a part of “general interest” works. For instance, think of the magic realism novels — such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits (yes…SPIRITS!) — that have humans occasionally fly and do other strange things.

Think also of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, which is realistic in its way yet has the famous, pivotal scene in which a despairing Edward Rochester calls Jane’s name and she hears him despite being too far away to hear him.

Even “lighter” novels can have seemingly supernatural moments. For instance, Fannie Flagg’s heartwarming A Redbird Christmas has a crucial scene in which a girl’s life is saved because it snows in just one small southern Alabama town as scores of redbirds descend. If that seems confusing, read the delightful novel — it will all make sense.

And I haven’t even discussed the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, H.P. Lovecraft, etc.!

What are your favorite ghost stories? What are your favorite non-ghost works with occasional supernatural moments?

I’ll be skipping a July 31 post (vacation!) but will return Aug. 7.

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

79 thoughts on “A Ghost Post

  1. Today the world is honoring the passing of Rabindranath Tagore, so I`ll post this

    “Strong Mercy:

    My desires are many and my cry is pitiful,
    but ever didst thou save me by hard refusals;
    and this strong mercy has been wrought into my life through and through.

    Day by day thou art making me worthy of the simple,
    great gifts that thou gavest to me unasked—this sky and the light, this body and the
    life and the mind—saving me from perils of overmuch desire.

    There are times when I languidly linger
    and times when I awaken and hurry in search of my goal;
    but cruelly thou hidest thyself from before me.

    Day by day thou art making me worthy of thy full acceptance by
    refusing me ever and anon, saving me from perils of weak, uncertain desire.”

    ― Rabindranath Tagore

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hello Dave, no, I’m not a ghost, although I have been looking ghostly of late – I have been a victim of my own success :-), apparently some satisfied clients have referred my name to others and the workload increased dramatically, so for a few months I slept three hours a night until I had to cry “Uncle!” (does anyone actually ever say that??). I missed reading your blog and the erudite posts of your readers!!
    My thanks to bobess48 for reminding me of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”- I remembered the movie but could not recall the title of it. I loved it also. On the same vein, another movie that I really liked (and yes, I cried buckets when I saw it for the first time!) is “Somewhere in Time” – a similar story of lovers separated by death and time, with the addition of time travel as an element of science fiction – she died in another century, he manages to go back in time, then is forced back to the present, a present in which she is an old woman and eventually dies, then they finally get together when he also dies and joins her a few years later- so perhaps technically it’s not a ghost story since she is alive in her own time… the story was made more poignant by the haunting musical score by John Barry – I think he won an Oscar for it – including a rhapsody on a theme by Paganini, I never tire of listening to the CD. Perhaps the emotional impact of the movie is due largely to the score!
    I have read many ghost stories over the years, but I cannot recall any book titles except for my beloved “The Martian Chronicles” and the chilling “The Turn of the Screw”, and of course Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.
    I will be optimistic about my chances to get to read a book, and look for Annie Flagg’s and Elizabeth Gaskell’s books, thanks to your well-read commenters! Gosh, I missed all of you!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great to hear from you, Clairdelune — and a great/clever start to your comment! 🙂

      Congratulations AND condolences for all the work you’re getting. A mixed thing indeed. Very flattering and income-producing but totally exhausting. 😦

      Fictional romances (such as the one in “Somewhere in Time”) can be especially intense when there are divisions of time and/or mortality. Another riveting example of that is in Jack Finney’s “Time and Again.” You described “Somewhere in Time” wonderfully!

      Thanks for your kind words about the terrific posters here. We all missed your excellent comments, too!

      Hope you have time to read fiction at some point in the fairly near future…

      Like

  3. I have been reminded, by the author, that Amanda Moores’ “Grail Nights” contains a ghost story– in the chapter titled ‘The Last Dumb Supper’. A quicker mind might have recalled this fact on its own, and sooner, but it is what is.

    In the interest of setting the record straight, and in order to save a little face here at home, I submit this example for inclusion under A Ghost Post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, jhNY! Those things happen. I’ve written many a column where a very obvious example of a theme occurs to me (soon or not so soon) after I hit “post.” (I realize the spousal connection makes something like that more awkward.)

      Like

      • BTW, jhNY, I finished “Cranford” yesterday. Quite funny and fascinating in its way, a time capsule of small-town 19th-century English life, and the timid/sweet Matty character is memorable. As you know, more a collection of vignettes than a novel; from what I understand, Elizabeth Gaskell wrote various stories for a magazine edited by Charles Dickens and then turned them into the loosely connected “Cranford.”

        Thanks for recommending the book!

        Like

        • You’re most welcome!

          I found the small town life as described to be a charming relief from the present, though I did note a sub-theme: the incursions of modernity on the town and its people– foreigners in the form of magicians appearing in their midst, the death of an old soldier on a railroad track as he saves a child (he must have been far older than the tracks themselves), the tea shop, itself a kind of outpost of colonial industry, and finally the return of the prodigal brother, comfortably well-off thanks to his doings overseas.

          I think there is a novel in Cranford, or very nearly. Had Gaskell married her narrator to Peter, and made a chapter or so out of their life in Cranford as husband and wife, she would have written one. Haven’t read, in wikipedia or elsewhere on the nets, why it is she never made a much of a finish of it.

          Like Jane Eyre, it opens very well, and drew me in immediately.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, a little modernity and exoticism nibbling at the quaint, traditional Cranford. And, yes again, not a rousing finish to the book, but Peter’s return near the end was somewhat of a plot development. Elizabeth Gaskell definitely has a “light” touch in the novel, even when things are not so “light.”

            Like

            • And to go full-circle on you, the only E. Gaskell fiction I had read prior to Cranford was The Old Nurse’s Story, which is the very first in a collection titled Victorian Ghost Stories (An Oxford Anthology), published in 1991.

              It may be the first of many to feature a ghost wailing away on a pipe organ! (A motif exploited for chills and laffs by Ghostbreakers!, a Bob Hope cinematic vehicle from the Forties….)

              Liked by 1 person

              • Definitely full circle! I didn’t realize Elizabeth Gaskell wrote ghost stories, too.

                “Don’t be spooked by me, I’m only the piano player?” 🙂 Oops, it’s pipe organ…

                Like

  4. In the last decade-plus, I have spent as much reading time on Gothic tales as I have on detective fiction– and among these, ghosts walk often and with ease.

    Last ghost story read (last month!) would be in Isak Denisen’s The Supper at Elsinore in her first published work, Seven Gothic Tales. It’s a story of filial love gone askew, and piracy, with a heaping helping of spectral visitation.

    There are a good many good authors within the genre, some of which have been mentioned in Dave’s blog essay. My favorites, unmentioned, would be Algernon Blackwood (The Other Wing), M.R. James, (Canon Aberic’s Scrap Book) Lafcadio Hearn (Hoichi the Earless) and E.T.A. Hoffmann (The Entail), each of whom are dependable producers of quality ghost fiction, as well as, in the case of Hoffmann and Hearn, other fantastic and/or strange tales. I have provided, in parentheses, a representative story for each author named.

    Ghost stories came to their peak of popularity in the 19th Century, and were read aloud by the fire especially during the Christmas season in Great Britain, so many authors made sure to produce a fresh supply for the holiday— Dickens’ A Christmas Carol being the most read and beloved today.

    My all-time rave-up fave of the faves ghost story is also a vampire tale, and so far as I know, has been translated and published in English only once, as part of a truly fabulous collection of fantastic French literature: Smarra, or The Demons of the Night, written in 1821 by Charles Nodier. The collection is edited by Joan C. Kessler and is titled Demons of the Night (published by the U of Chicago Press, 1995). Nodier’s tale moves effortlessly between dreams and waking, historical periods overlapping and commingling, characters echoing others out of a past unknown to themselves– horrible and literally surreal.

    For those who like an occasional chill up the spine, this collection is well worth seeking out, for reasons and items beyond Nodier’s masterpiece. And in a heat wave like many of us are sweltering under just now, a chill from any quarter ought to be most welcome!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, jhNY, for your VERY wide-ranging comment — and for the humor at the end. 🙂 As always, I’m impressed with your mentions of authors who are widely known, somewhat known, and barely known.

      I’m glad you introduced me to E. T. A. Hoffmann. The one story of his I’ve read so far — “The Sandman” — was more about a robot than a ghost, but it is an extremely spooky tale.

      Reading ghost stories in front of the fireplace in the 19th century: not an uninteresting pastime…

      As for vampire tales, they are indeed ghost stories in a way!

      Like

  5. Hi Dave,

    For what it’s worth, I like the simplicity of your blog. I’ve clicked on a few links from here to other WordPress sites, but there are too many pictures, and videos, and distractions. Your words speak for themselves, and it’s all any of us need 🙂

    It’s been a while since I was a big fan of Anne Rice, but when I did gobble her books up, I always loved how realistic her characters were. Especially the dead ones. You’d know from reading “The Witching Hour” how much fun she has with ghosts and other supernatural beings. I dimly recall reading the standalone novel “Violin” and loving the spiritual, ghosty character who sweeps the main character off her feet. It really has been many, many years but I remember kind of being swept away myself. Anne Rice’s language is so sensual and evocative, that it’s hard not to feel everything that she writes. Plus there was the line “He was so very dead, so much deader than yesterday” that has stayed with me through all these years…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan, for the kind words about this blog’s content and look! You’re right — there’s something to be said for simplicity. A number of other WordPress blogs do have so many visual elements that it can be distracting and hard to find things (such as previous posts).

      Thanks, also, for mentioning Anne Rice’s work. Terrific paragraph about it by you. I can’t believe I forgot to include her in the column! “The Witching Hour” certainly has tons of supernatural elements, including all the “Mayfair Witch” characters and that ghostly guy Lasher. And, as you say, Rice is an excellent writer. Heck, “The Witching Hour” is never boring despite being more than 900 pages.

      Like

        • I particularly remember liking Julian from “TWH”. If I recall correctly, he was a great great uncle, or grandfather, or both?
          I’ll be very interested to hear what you think of it. I personally thought that the beginning was incredibly strong, but it kind of fell away to nothing. I hope your experience is different 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • I forget what relation Julian was to Rowan Mayfair, the neurosurgeon/witch. 🙂

            Overall, I enjoyed Anne Rice’s novel a lot. I agree that the first part of “The Witching Hour,” set in the book’s present day, was more compelling than the long stretch chronicling the Mayfair witches of the past. But that history still held my interest.

            Like

            • OMG Dave, I just re-read my comment, and it made NO sense. When I said I was looking forward to hearing your thoughts, I was talking about “Grand Days” (strong finish, not so much with the ending). You must have thought I was a nutter asking you about “TWH” which you’ve already commented on.

              Liked by 1 person

  6. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are your favorite ghost stories? —

    Across the dimensions of time, space and media, they include Alejandro Amenabar’s film “The Others,” Chris Carter’s “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” episode of the television series “The X-Files,” Norman Z. McLeod’s movie “Topper,” Ray Bradbury’s episodic novel “The Martian Chronicles,” Tom Waits’ version of Tommy Faile’s song “Big Joe and Phantom 309” and Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

    But, of course, the scariest were the ones I heard while roasting marshmallows around campfires when I was a kid.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Loved your comment, J.J. — including its multimedia nature. Terrific examples of spooky stories, episodes, etc.!

      Coincidentally, we’ll be driving past Washington Irving’s hometown of Tarrytown, NY, this Friday, and roasting marshmallows this Saturday. Coincidence? Cue “The X-Files” music…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Dave, I think the last one I’ve read is “The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story,” by Susan Hill. I’d been following her mystery books, which were I think very well written, but with a screenplay based on her supernatural/horror novel being made into a movie, it received a reprinting of her novella. Having done a bit of research, it appears that the original was published in 1983; a TV adaptation was done in Britain in 1989; a play based on her book was staged, and is (or was) the second longest running play in the West End after “The Mousetrap;” and the movie was released here in 2012, starring none other than Daniel Radcliffe. The plot has to do with a recently widowed attorney (Radcliffe) being sent to a small English town to straighten out the legal affairs of a deceased client, and he becomes aware of the ghost of a woman who lost her son in this village and is seeking revenge by threatening the lives of the other villagers’ children..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Kat Lib! Wow — “The Woman in Black” has had many lives in many mediums. And I like the way its title perhaps plays off the title of Wilkie Collins’ excellent novel “The Woman in White,” which is not a ghost story per se but at times has that feel to it.

      Daniel Radcliffe has played an impressive variety of roles (in movies and on the stage) since the “Harry Potter” films ended.

      Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      • The film version of this James masterpiece is titled The Innocents, and was derived from a stage play made from it. The screenplay was written, or at least co-authored by, one Truman Capote (!). Deborah Kerr stars. My mother, who should have known better, took me to see it when I was around nine, I’m guessing. Scared me through and through!

        Though some of the precious ambiguity of James’ story is removed, the movie is still very much worth seeing, though I confess, my viewing of it in adulthood did not quite return me to my nine year old state of terrified wonder…

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, jhNY! I’ve never seen that movie (there are a LOT of movies I haven’t seen 🙂 ), but it sounds pretty darn good. Henry James’ work is not the easiest to film — given how subtle, psychological, and dense much of it can be.

          Seeing “The Innocents” at 9? I can understand how that could be traumatic!

          Like

  8. I’m flattered for the mention, Dave! I have 2 signed copies of “I Still Dream About You” which is a novel set in Birmingham, AL, Fannie Flagg’s hometown that features some of her “real life” friends. I need to mail you a copy so that you can add that to your reading list 🙂

    I’m so glad you mentioned that wonderful moment from “Jane Eyre”. I was going to if you hadn’t.

    And you also mentioned Shirley Jackson’s riveting “The Haunting of Hill House”. It’s a pity that you can’t re-read a book like that and have it have the same impact as it did the first time. I guess it goes to show that you can’t have two first times for anything 😦

    Another book that has haunting elements is Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”. Kathy certainly did haunt Heathcliff after her untimely demise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re very welcome for the mention, lulabelle! Fannie Flagg’s work has never disappointed me. But I would hate for you to temporarily give up a signed copy of one of her books. My local library might have it; it has a good selection of her work!

      That IS an amazing moment in “Jane Eyre.”

      And “spooky” that you and bobess48 were on the same “Wuthering Heights” wavelength. 🙂

      Last but not least, an excellent observation about rereading ghost stories and novels! It’s one of those genres where one can lose a great deal of the impact when rereading.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. There’s a ghostly visit in ‘Wuthering Heights’ even before we get to the back story of Cathy and Heathcliff. We can assume that because Lockwood (the first narrator) is a surrogate for US, the reasoning, sane, objective audience, that it is no figment of a fevered imagination but a real, honest to God apparition. The ghost of Cathy, presumably. Also presumably, Heathcliff is tormented/seduced/persuaded to his ultimate fate by that same ghost. Never mind the fact that the ghost that visits Lockwood is Cathy as a little girl, one whose wrist he repeatedly slashes with a knife to get it to let go of him–a very tangible ghost that can bleed. We never see or hear exactly what Heathcliff experiences, but we do see his ghastly (now ghostly?) face at peace at last.

    I have not read the novel upon which the film ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’ was based (published 1945 and written by Josephine Leslie under the pseudonym of R. A. Dick.) but it is one of my favorite films. The novel may or may not be as powerful as the film although I know that it lacks not only the beautiful black and white cinematography and the sublime music score from Bernard Herrmann that push this film to greatness. Forget about the silly, trivial TV series that only used the basic idea from the film. It’s one of the great love stories, made even more poignant by the fact that the two lovers exist on opposite sides of the fence, the fence being the barrier between this world and the ‘after death’ realm. When Lucy (or Lucia, as the Captain preferred to call her), finally passes, Captain Gregg softy beckons her to his side. They are no longer separated by that temporal divide and walk out the door of Gull Cottage, which they both inhabited for many decades, into ‘eternity’. A much more ‘soft and fuzzy’ conclusion than the final union of Heathcliff and Cathy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great comment, bobess48, with a great finish!

      Definitely some supernatural aspects to the riveting “Wuthering Heights.” That slashing scene IS chilling.

      I’m sorry to say that my only experience with “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” is the TV series. I just put the novel on my list — and the movie sounds terrific.

      Like

      • You must seek out the film, Dave. As I said, as great as the novel might or might not be, it lacks that music score and that cinematography. Best to see it on DVD late at night with all the lights off. At first, I looked on Amazon and only saw a hardcover at $99. Then I saw that there’s a much more reasonably priced edition for about $10, with used copies going as low as about half that price. I will probably try to get it through Interlibrary Loan myself sometime in the near future.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. THE scariest book I’ve ever read is Pat Montandon’s “The Intruders.” Nonfiction – she was the wife of flamboyant attorney Melvin Belli and lived in a truly haunted house in San Francisco. Wish i could find a bunch like that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Cathy! A nonfiction haunted-house story — hard to imagine a ghostly book more frightening than that!

      Sounds like San Francisco is scary not just because of its high housing costs. 🙂 (Actually, I love visiting that city, though I haven’t done so since 2003.)

      Like

    • I like your variation on ghosts, bebe! 🙂 Most ghostwriters know a lot about who they’re ghosting for, so I trust what Donald Trump’s former ghostwriter is saying.

      Never saw “The Ghost Writer” movie, but it does sound interesting!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am a picky movie watcher Dave. But this movie was really good and now Trumps ghost writer is all over the net talking about it. I hope he remains safe. Politics is so convoluted no one would ever know what happens behind the closed doors.

        Liked by 1 person

          • Ooh, a surprise ending from Maureen Dowd! Nicely done. 🙂

            Thanks for posting the link, bebe! Just got back from vacation after a most-of-the-day drive, so I hadn’t read much today before seeing your comment!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Dowd’s coumna are these days so stale and mean spirited , after I finished reading I read it again like a thiriiler ending. Where did you go Dave I missed reading here ?

              Liked by 1 person

              • I agree, bebe — Maureen Dowd does get too mean-spirited at times. But, again, a pretty darn good ending for this particular column. It surprised me — I thought she really was having Trump be the new President.

                My family and I were on Cape Cod for a week in a (fairly affordable) cabin on a lake. A very relaxing seven days. 🙂 And I managed to finish one novel (Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Cranford”), read two other novels (Fannie Flagg’s “I Still Dream About You” and “Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven”), and start a fourth (Frank Moorhouse’s “Grand Days”). So nice to have lots of time to read!

                Liked by 1 person

                • Sounds great Dave…actually heavenly best time for you to take off away from news etc.

                  As I was sitting then the political incident became overwhelming. HA I also thought the same of Down she still might vote for DT she simply loath theClinton.
                  Btw..if you get a moment do take a look at my post in Jacks it is better if I don`t repeat in here. thx

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Yes, late July/early August is a nice time to get away, bebe. 🙂 And while I did keep up with the news a little, it was a relief having only small doses of Trump’s latest outrages.

                    As you know, I was a Sanders supporter who has very mixed feelings about Hillary (her Iraq War vote, her giving lucrative speeches to Wall Street people, etc.). But, when in competition with a mean, ultra-egocentric nut like Trump, the choice is clear — I’ll vote for her.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Yes so is my friend Billy from FB he continues posting there so is Jack . Some are going to hold their nose and vote and some will not let`s see what happens Dave.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Hi Dave…I wanted you to look at the first page of Jack`s new…on what I saw today at the Kroger parking lot. A new shiny van with Donald Trump 2016 on the back windshield..Huge and painted. plus other things 😯

                      Liked by 1 person

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