May 31, 2020

Memory is simply another name for ghosts.

There are an infinite number of universes existing side by side and through which our consciousnesses constantly pass. In these universes, all possibilities exist. You are alive in some, long dead in others, and never existed in still others. Many of our “ghosts” could indeed be visions of people going about their business in a parallel universe or another time – or both.

Faces at the Window

Before his untimely death in 2015 Joel Lane was probably best known as a writer of what he liked to call simply “weird fiction” (he won a World Fantasy award in 2013), but he also wrote poetry, winning an Eric Gregory Award in 1993 for Where the Gods Are Rotting, and he was an exceptionally astute and sympathetic critic of supernatural horror. For Lane, the genre, far from being the “ghetto of sadism and neurotic denial” that it is sometimes written off as, was a rich and complex landscape of “terror, beauty, bleakness, poignancy, future shock and nostalgia”.

Steeped in writers such as H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Aickman and Robert Bloch, Lane had long been incubating a book-length study of twentieth-century horror fiction: his essay “This Spectacular Darkness” (2002), reprinted in this book of the same title, was intended to serve as something of a manifesto or thesis for a larger work. It takes its title from a line in Edwin Morgan’s poem “Grendel” – “It is being nearly human / gives me this spectacular darkness. / The light does not know what to do with me” – using it to stand for the “specifically human resonances” to be found in a seemingly other world of ghosts, vampires and mutants.

Lane’s thesis makes a central distinction between what he calls “existential” and “ontological” horror (exemplified by Ray Bradbury and Lovecraft respectively) with the one exploring a world of morality and psychology and the other running a whole further gamut of disorientation, from talking dogs to cosmic indifference. It is akin to the distinction between humanism and post-humanism, nicely exemplified by Lane in terms of a night’s drinking: on the one hand there are the familiar existential experiences, “going down memory lane”, feeling “at one with the night”, “baring your soul to your friends” and similar romantic clichés. But it can also be seen “less comfortingly, as an ontological change: a foreign substance with its own agenda, flooding your system with chaos and delusion. You and the drink are locked in a terrible 69, consuming each other”.

Phil Baker
Ghosts, vampires and mutants
TLS 16th February 2018

we won’t let go

April 19, 2020

Ghosts don’t haunt us. That’s not how it works. They’re present among us because we won’t let go of them.

Sue Grafton
A is for ALibi

too old and dead

April 4, 2020

In Scotland last year while walking through an ancient forest with my husband, we took a shortcut through the wild glen and intended to walk down the bank of the Fillen to Crianlarich. We came to an open space, flat and treeless and full of sun-haze.

As we entered, my husband remarked: ‘I don’t like this place, it’s too old and dead.’ I was about to reply that I felt it only peaceful, but I suddenly had the sensation of depression almost amounting to hopelessness.

What I ‘saw’ was more a feeling as if all about me was snow, under a leaden sky, and behind me there were people and their eyes were without hope.

My husband saw that I was oddly frightened and so we left for Crianlarich. We told them at the hotel that we’d felt spooky at one place in the forest. The late Mr Alistair Stewart said: ‘Oh yes, that would be where a whole village was lost in the snow and they all starved to death.’

We are both Celtic, but neither of us is in the least psychic. One thing I do know is that even if I were chased by Hitler and his grizzly gang, I would not enter that forest again.

O. A. T. S., Surrey
Country Life, letters page 27th February 1942

We don’t really exist

January 30, 2020

What if we are all characters in some stranger’s strange dream? We don’t really exist except as phantoms in his or her sleeping head. And if he or she should wake…? What then? Oblivion? Until they fall asleep and dream us again.


October 27, 2019

You know how sometimes as you fall asleep your body will abruptly jerk you awake? Well, that’s because a ghost has just finished having sex with you.

Those future ruins of your city now shall have vanished under a blank expanse of trees and grass stones hills rivers lakes oceans swamps sun and weather, and shall have been blanked out of the ghostly minds or our silent solitary successors.  Once and always alone they are going on,  they will go on and you will drive them on, and they will betray you to what isn’t human, I was part of them once and I betrayed and betrayed, I betrayed you all and I could never betray you enough.

Michael Cisco
The Traitor


May 28, 2019

This beautifully titled novel is, I suppose, a fairy tale, since there are fairies in it, or, anyhow, beings called fairies. They aren’t visible to everyone, yet can affect the lives of people who don’t see, or don’t believe in them. In that, they play in modern industrial England something like their role in the folklore of the past. They don’t, however, fit conventional notions of what a fairy looks like: they aren’t the tall, fair ones who carry you off under the hill, nor yet the tiny Peaseblossoms and sprites the Victorians loved, and they are most definitely not Tinker Bell. Walton’s descriptions suggest that the great illustrator Arthur Rackham was one of the people who could see them: “In the same way that oak trees have acorns and hand-shaped leaves, and hazels have hazelnuts and little curved leaves, most fairies are gnarly and grey or green or brown, and there’s generally something hairy about them somewhere. This one was grey, very gnarly indeed, and well over towards the hideous part of the spectrum.”

Mori, the protagonist and narrator of the novel, has always seen and known the fairies. Though she’d like them to be Tolkien’s Elves,  they aren’t gracious and powerful,  but frustrated, marginal, somehow diminished. Some of them are probably ghosts. They are untamed, uncivilised, and unpredictable. They speak Welsh, mostly. They don’t answer to any name, but if asked properly they can grant wishes. They are like fragments of the wild, surviving only where a trace of woodland survives, haunting whatever remains of the unhuman: old parks, pre-industrial, untilled places, forgotten roads out past the edges of towns and farms.

Ursula K Le Guin
Review of Jo Walton’s Among Others
The Guardian 30th March 2013

spirits of the dead

May 12, 2019

I don’t believe that ghosts are “spirits of the dead” because I don’t believe in death. In the multiverse, once you’re possible, you exist. And once you exist, you exist forever one way or another. Besides, death is the absence of life, and the ghosts I’ve met are very much alive. What we call ghosts are lifeforms just as you and I are.

Paul F. Eno
Footsteps in the Attic