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Posts Tagged ‘ghosts’

Ghosts on the Nog

December 19, 2014 | by

The great English tradition of Christmas ghost stories.

One of John Leech’s illustrations for A Christmas Carol, 1842.

I’ve long thought of Christmastime as a season of mostly pleasant intrusions: thirty or so days of remembering to tend, checklist style, to the latest pressing bit of Yuletide business that comes racing back to you. The well wishes. The trip to the Home Depot. The seasonal ales.

This is the Fezziwig side of Christmas, that portion that makes you look up the word wassail when you encounter it and think, Ah, that would be fun. But what of the darker elements of Christmas—and what of Christmas for those people who enjoy making merry most years but may have hit upon a bit of a tricky patch? What succor of the season might they find at the proverbial inn?

Having experienced both sides of Christmas, there is but one constant I am aware of that serves you well both in the merriest of times and in the darkest: the classic English Christmas ghost story. You’d think Halloween would be the holiday that elicits the best macabre stories, but you’re going to want to check that opinion and get more on the Snow Miser side of the equation. Time was the English loved to scare you out of your mind come December, but in a fun way that resulted in stories well afield of your typical ghost story outing. Read More »

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Marvels and Mysteries

December 3, 2014 | by

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A caricature of Conrad by David Low, 1928.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define fantastic, then?

BORGES

I wonder if you can define it. I think it’s rather an intention in a writer. I remember a very deep remark of Joseph Conrad—he is one of my favorite authors—I think it is in the foreword to something like The Dark Line, but it’s not that …

INTERVIEWER

The Shadow Line?

BORGES

The Shadow Line. In that foreword he said that some people have thought that the story was a fantastic story because of the captain’s ghost stopping the ship. He wrote—and that struck me because I write fantastic stories myself—that to deliberately write a fantastic story was not to feel that the whole universe is fantastic and mysterious; nor that it meant a lack of sensibility for a person to sit down and write something deliberately fantastic. Conrad thought that when one wrote, even in a realistic way, about the world, one was writing a fantastic story because the world itself is fantastic and unfathomable and mysterious.

INTERVIEWER

You share this belief?

BORGES

Yes. I found that he was right. I talked to Bioy Casares, who also writes fantastic stories—very, very fine stories—and he said, “I think Conrad is right. Really, nobody knows whether the world is realistic or fantastic, that is to say, whether the world is a natural process or whether it is a kind of dream, a dream that we may or may not share with others.”

—Jorge Luis Borges, The Art of Fiction No. 39, 1967

Since it’s Joseph Conrad’s birthday, I went in search of his foreword to The Shadow Line—it was an author’s note, actually, appended to the novel’s second edition in 1920. And Borges’s memories of it are largely accurate: Conrad uses it to mount a defense of “the world of the living,” which “contains enough marvels and mysteries as it is … I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvellous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural.”

The Shadow Line, which is now in the public domain, was first published in 1916, when it appeared over the course of two months in Metropolitan Magazine. It tells the story of a young man who assumes the captaincy of a ship in “the Orient.” The ghost of the ship’s previous captain, Mr. Burns, lurks: “His face in the full light of day appeared very pale, meagre, even haggard. Somehow I had a delicacy as to looking too often at him; his eyes, on the contrary, remained fairly glued on my face. They were greenish and had an expectant expression.”

Here’s the author’s note Borges mentions: Read More »

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The New Frontier for Art and Commerce, and Other News

October 31, 2014 | by

Container_Ship

Live and create here! Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim

  • If you’re like me, your otherwise successful ghost-hunting expeditions are often thwarted by matters of taxonomy: Was that a wraith you just saw or simply a type-two apparition? Wonder no more. (N. B., the type-two apparition “leaves behind appalling ectoplasm stains on wallpaper and soft furnishings.”)
  • Today in zingers and put-downs, we bring you Edmund Wilson on H. P. Lovecraft, 1945: “The only real horror in most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art.”
  • Whither the artist residency? Say you’re a serious, industrious, diligent artist whose working life requires “solitude, beauty, the natural sublime, and global travel … extended stretches of time, free of any interruption, in order to create new work. All of this can be found on a container ship.” A new residency called Container gives artists the chance to work on just such a ship. (“Artists won’t have to live in a container,” the program hastens to add.)
  • And while we’re hithering and thithering: Whither Ethan Hawke, who seems finally to have escaped the long shadow of the nineties? “Ethan Hawke was once the mascot we did not ask for. He has become the one we deserve.”
  • To raise money for Freedom from Torture, seventeen authors—including Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Ken Follett, Hanif Kureishi, Will Self, Alan Hollinghurst, and Zadie Smith—are offering the rights to name characters in their new novels. (They call this an “Immortality Auction,” which implies that all the authors involved expect to have healthy readerships in the coming eons.)

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The Not-So-Ghastly Ghosts of Arthur B. Frost

October 30, 2014 | by

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These are a few of Arthur B. Frost’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s “Phantasmagoria,” as collected in Rhyme? And Reason? in 1884. Frost was part of the Golden Age of American Illustration; he illustrated more than ninety books, including a few by Carroll. Read More »

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The Haunting; Or, the Ghost of Ty Cobb

October 31, 2012 | by

In July, a bat of Ty Cobb’s sold at auction for $250,000. The buyer, a Denver collector named Tyler Tysdal, said the bat was a present for his two-year-old son, John Tyler. This seemed to me very risky: as a small child, I was terrified of the ghost of Ty Cobb.

I can only imagine this had its genesis with my own dad. When I was small, he wrote a novel that dealt with the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, and baseball players of the era were a frequent topic of dinner-table conversation. In any event, I was somehow aware of the outfielder’s penchant for virulent racism, spiking opposing players, and general nastiness.

The real fear, however, did not set in until the day in 1985 when Pete Rose broke Cobb’s all-time hit record. Read More »

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Boo! And Other Ways to Scare Kids

October 31, 2012 | by

  • The top ten books for creeping out kids: a guide for parents.
  • “Give your ghost a life story, and other rules for writing a ghost story.”
  • What scares Neil Gaiman?
  • Scariest of all: “I wouldn’t have known about my Russian pirate translator had I not set a Google Alert for the title of my debut novel when it was published, in April 2011.” Peter Mountford chronicles an unlikely alliance.
  • “It was, perhaps, inevitable that Homo floresiensis, the three-foot-tall species of primitive human discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores, would come to be widely known as ‘hobbits.’ After all, like J. R. R. Tolkien’s creation, ‘they were a little people, about half our height.’ But a New Zealand scientist planning an event about the species has been banned from describing the ancient people as ‘hobbits’ by representatives of the Tolkien estate.”

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