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Ghost story nonfiction book

Monday 3/4/24

Over the weekend, I began planning a nonfiction book I'll write about the appeal and variety of ghost stories. It will be a learned book, but one that is conversational and all-accessible--let us say, 200 pages long--and a work for the most ardent devotee of ghost stories, and someone who has never read one.

I'm going to use ten examples, each example being a chapter, and in that chapter I'll talk about what makes the story work, what surprises it holds for us in terms of our expectations with the form, what it's doing, why it was written, and everything pertaining to it that's relevant to the purposes of this study. That can be the author's own life, various adaptations, other works by the author, the world at the time, the world now, human nature, human psychology, and so on. There will be loads of fascinating tidbits, but that's just part of the bigger picture.

Some of the stories will be "famous" stories, and others will be works that hardly anyone has heard of. In the case of the former, everything will be new. For instance, one chapter will be on M.R. James's "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad," a story rich in humor--something that even James people don't talk about--and it has acute relevance beyond its genre. Which is a great thing.

Four of the ten stories are by American authors (one of whom was in England, looking back on America), six by English. At least two of them arguably feature no ghosts at all, and yet, they are among the most potent of ghost stories.

Every last bit of information and parcel of insight will be fresh. I don't do old, I don't rehash. You won't get anything from me that you've gotten anywhere else. The time period is roughly one hundred years. Each story offers something very different from all of the others, and in aggregate they add up for a powerful amount of understanding of a kind of story that has existed since people have been dying. Which is to say, since there's been people.

Here's the list:

Washington Irving: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820)

Nathaniel Hawthorne: "Young Goodman Brown" (1835)

Charles Dickens: "The Signal-Man" (1866)

Ambrose Bierce: "The Boarded Window" (1891)

M.R. James: "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" (1904)

W.F. Harvey: "August Heat" (1910)

Richard Middleton: "The Ghost Ship" (1911)

Oliver Onions: "The Beckoning Fair One" (1911)

E.F. Benson: "How Fear Departed the Long Gallery" (1920)

A.M. Burrage: "Smee" (1931)


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