Whether you believe in ghosts or not (only 45% of Americans surveyed did in 2013...), some pretty heavy hitters have, and do, believe that the dead come back to visit the living.
Literary critic and political theorist Russell Kirk (1918-1994) spent years living in his family house in Michigan, which was haunted by several spirits that he (and unwitting guests) sometimes encountered. The house burned on Ash Wednesday, 1975. A new house built on the same site is not haunted. Columnist, talk show host, and movie critic Michael Medved once snuck onto the Gettysburg Battlefield to camp with a friend. They endured a night of terror, as the ghosts of dead soldiers kept appearing nearby. John and Charles Wesley, and Lord Castlereagh are just three trustworthy historical figures who reported seeing ghosts.
These types of encounters have generated some fascinating literature...
Locally-Sourced Scares and Spooks
Ashcroft, B.C. residents Barbara and Christopher Roden own a small publishing house, Ash-Tree Press, dedicated to publishing beautiful hardcover and softcover editions of classic supernatural fiction and ghost stories. Many of their print publications are now available as ebooks through amazon.com and other ebook distributors. This is an inexpensive way to try out some good ghostly fiction. Happy Hauntings!
Writers of ghostly fiction don't have to believe in ghosts...but it helps if they do.
Though he only wrote 22 fictional ghostly tales, American man of letters Russell Kirk's (1918-1994) stories continue to win high praise from critics. Seattle-born author, editor and publisher John Pelan writes, “I’d go so far as to suggest that to find the greatest American author of ghostly fiction, one need look no further than Russell Kirk,” and Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michael Dirda writes that "Kirk has a tremendous flair for narrative and a clear, plain style, while his principles imbue his tales with a sometimes Dostoevskyan power." Kirk's true ghostly encounters (which inspired some of his fiction) reached beyond his home in Mecosta, Michigan, to ancient Scottish castles and country homes where he lived during his years abroad. Kirk's most well-known tale, "There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding," won the World Fantasy Award for best short story in 1977.
- Kirk wrote two essays called "A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale." One is available here.
- Read my brief essay on Kirk's stories here.
Medievalist and provost of King's College, Cambridge, and Eton College, Montague Rhodes (M.R.) James (1862-1936) is without question the greatest English ghost story writer of any century. Winston Churchill's cousin, Shane Leslie, remembered a conversation with James: "Shortly before his death I asked him what he really thought on the subject, since he had written better ghost-stories than any man living. He answered: 'Depend upon it! Some of these things are so, but we do not know the rules!'" James's stories are dark, subtle, and written with grace and impish humour. Many of his tales have been turned into BBC TV presentations of varying quality that can be found on youtube.com. You can also find his complete story texts online, since James's tales have passed into the public domain.
- Ghosts & Scholars, an organization dedicated to James's fiction
- How M.R. James's ghost stories became a Christmas institution in the United Kingdom
Be warned. Neither of these men's tales should be read lightly, nor without the lights on...
Your Ghost Host
Your ghost editor for this EvCC Reads! 2014 Hallowe'en edition is Ghost Story Society member Jeffrey D. Pearce, who is Director of Logistics Operations, and a member of the history faculty, at the College. He also founded, and edits, Ghostly Kirk, a web page dedicated to the ghostly tales of Russell Kirk.