Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghost Stories

With Hallowe’en coming I like to read at least one novel with a supernatural bent. I know some of the readers will say “why doesn’t she just say Horror”? Well I have discovered that not all ghost stories are horror novels and visa versa. Some ghost stories can be very gentle and aren’t that scary. After all, we all remember Casper the Friendly Ghost don’t we?

Hamlet by William Shakespeare is not a traditional ghost story but you can’t deny that the ghost of Hamlet’s father plays a huge part in the plot. Not everyone in the world is familiar with this play so here is a summary. Prince Hamlet is driven mad when his uncle Claudius kills Hamlet’s father, the king. If that wasn’t bad enough Claudius then marries Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, and becomes king. A tale of grief, rage, revenge, incest, moral corruption ...and a ghost. What more could you want!

Another non-traditional ghost story is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. First published in 1843 it is the story of one man, Ebenezer Scrooge, and his redemption into humanity. The name Scrooge has even become a common word meaning “ a miserly person” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate dictionary). Scrooge is visited in one night by four different ghosts; Jacob Marley, his former business partner, the Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of What is Yet to Come. The multiple ghosts in this tale each represent a different value or morality tale. The ghosts are a mixture of friendly and horrifying; something for everyone!

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian, a new family moves into an old creepy house located in a small town surrounded by mysterious people. The classic recipe for a Gothic story. Chip Linton is a pilot involved with an airplane crash. He’s haunted by this disaster and this forces him to move his family. He finds a locked room in the basement that has 39 bolts on it; the exact number of dead passengers from his flight. The local witches have an unnatural interest in his twin girls. As Library Journal states “A genre defying novel, both a compelling story of a family in trauma and psychological thriller that is truly frightening...”

I fell in love with Audrey Niffenegger’s writing with The Time Traveler's Wife and the love affair continued with her next title Her Fearful Symmetry. Once again twins make an appearance in a spooky novel as well in the next novel I will review. There must be something extra in the sharing of one body to become two separate entities. In this novel there are multiple sets of twins. Julia and Valentia are 20 year old twin sisters who come to London after their aunt Elspeth wills them a house, with the condition they live in it for a year. The house they move into is bordered by Highgate Cemetery. Among the various people they encounter they meet their dead aunt who doesn’t realize her power as a ghost at first. I know it sounds a bit confusing but the novel really isn’t. I recently wrote in a blog that writers write what they know. This author is a guide at the Highgate Cemetery where this novel takes place. How much experience she has with ghosts I don’t know but she does spin a lovely tale.

As I mentioned earlier The Shining by Stephen King also has twins involved but they are just one of the many things that haunt this novel. Jack Torrance is an alcoholic who takes his family to the isolated Overlook Hotel to become its winter caretaker. He believes that the solitude will help him with his family and his failed writing career. His wife, Wendy is a meek woman who allows herself and their son Danny to be bullied into this move. Danny is a clairvoyant who is in tune with the Hotel which has a personality of its own. As time goes by Jack becomes more and more insane as the motel takes over his personality. Danny with his special “shining” is very aware of the evil in the building and how it is taking over their lives. How they escape is a masterpiece in modern horror fiction.

Shirley Jackson is a master in modern horror. She was probably what King would have read when he was a teenager. The Haunting of Hill House was written in 1959 and was a finalist for the National Book Award. It is thought to be one of the best literary ghost stories published in the 20th century. The story focuses more on terror than horror to get an emotional response form its audience. The Hill House is an 80 year old mansion built by Hugh Crain. It attracts the notice of Dr. John Montague, a supernatural investigator. Dr. Montague rents the house for a summer and invites several people to stay there with him while he conducts scientific experiments to prove the existence of the supernatural. All of his guests have experienced the supernatural at one point in their lives and all four experience the bump and groans of this house. One person in particular is really affected. Is it possessing her or is she going insane? It is left up to the reader to decide.

And it is up to you my dear Readers to decide which ghost story you want to read.
Happy hauntings!

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