East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Night Visitors

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397bf385fd3ef7e7dc9307272a808a85Do we need ghost stories?
It turns out the house in which I’m living is supposedly haunted – this explains why some of the locals look strangely at me and my brother. Or maybe they are just weird country bumpkins, who knows.
Fact is, by the weekend I’ll have to deliver a learned article – in Italian – about ghostly literature. It’s the spirit (aha!) of the season, I guess.
I’ve been translating two ghost stories for a new publication – a story by Edith Nesbit and one by the wildly eccentric Robert Stephen Hawker, and I’ve been reading on the subject.

NightVisitorsI still remember fondly Night Visitors, by the late Julia Briggs. I got the Italian edition of this wonderful essay on English ghost stories, back when I was in university. I read it on the bus, coming and going from my lessons, and it was one of the (many) books that caused the perplexity of my fellows students: you are studying rocks, why read about ghosts?
Because it’s fun, you fool, is what I should have shouted in their faces.
And also, because I did not care about being seen by our teachers with the “right” books, in order to score bonus points.
But now here I am, going bag to Briggs and her work.
I wonder what’s been of my more serious and rock-oriented fellows.

And I like the way in which Briggs bent the rules in her survey of the genre

‘It may be apparent that the term ‘ghost story’ is being employed with something of the latitude that characterises the general usage, since it can denote not only stories about ghosts, but about possession and demonic bargains, spirits other than those of the dead, including ghouls, vampires, werewolves, the ‘swarths’ of living men and the ‘ghost-soul’ or Doppelgänger.’

Ghost narratives are common to most cultures around our world, and if my translations will be two Victorian ghost stories, on the other hand my article will cover Roman ghosts and Elizabethan ghosts, and ghosts from China and Japan, and on to the smoke ghosts and paramentals of Fritz Leiber. Possibly adopting some of Briggs’ expanded classification, leaving room for the odd will’o’the’wisp and a quick peek at the science-fictional ghosts of things like The Stone Tapes.
The article is going to be, after all, a primer for ghost story hunters, for people interested in reading more, and finding variety. What I’d like to focus on, or if you prefer squeeze out is the common denominator, the mechanisms at the heart of the ghostly narrative, that make it work.

I also like the idea of exploring how ghosts, by their nature, shift shape and traits depending on our culture, our social structures, our science.
Which is what professor Ruth Robbins explains so nicely about Victorian hauntings…

So, it’s going to be a ghostly weekend for me – I wonder if some of the things that haunt my house will pay me a visit.
But all things considered, maybe it’s better if they won’t.

And then I’ll see – I might try and translate my piece, and find it a house (obviously haunted) somewhere in the English-speaking world.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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