We walk in darkness with phantoms and spectres we know not of, and our little world plunges blindly through abysses toward a goal of which we have no conception. That thought itself is a blow at our beliefs and comprehension. We used to content ourselves by thinking we knew all about our world, at least; but now it is different, and we wonder if we really know anything, or if there can be safety and peace anywhere in the wide universe.

Donald Wandrei
Strange Harvest

Vital to the modern moment…are the novels of Alan Garner and Susan Cooper; especially Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) and The Owl Service (1967), and Cooper’s dazzling The Dark Is Rising sequence, published between 1965 and 1977. Once read, these novels are hard to forget. They lodge and loom in the memory. Garner turned eighty last autumn, and a volume of essays exploring his legacy, called First Light, is being compiled at present, with contributions from Philip Pullman, Ali Smith and Neil Gaiman among others. I regard the second book of Cooper’s sequence as among the eeriest texts I know; Helen Macdonald is another for whom Cooper’s novels have been imaginatively vital.

It would be easy to dismiss all this as an excess of hokey woo-woo; a surge of something-in-the-woodshed rustic gothic. But engaging with the eerie emphatically doesn’t mean believing in ghosts. Few of the practitioners named here would endorse earth mysteries or ectoplasm. What is under way, across a broad spectrum of culture, is an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters: our noun monster, indeed, shares an etymology with our verb to demonstrate, meaning to show or reveal (with a largely lost sense of omen or portent).

Robert Macfarlane
The eeriness of the English countryside

They lurk

October 1, 2019

You never see them coming. They lurk in the overlooked and undusted places. They grow to huge proportions, and all along you don’t even dream about them, not in their true form. And then one day a chance meeting happens, a glimpse of that you didn’t know you wanted, and a latch is raised.

David Mitchell
Ghostwritten

Ghosts around us

April 14, 2017

Some people think that our brash modern world with its mechanism, its cynicism and its materialism has ousted the ghosts which used to dwell among us. On the contrary, they mingle with us more than ever before.

Gone are the days when they could wander in peace in some ancient castle or stately home. Now they are driven out of these places by coachloads of gawping tourists who stare at them without seeing them, and make mock of them with imitation shivers when the touring guide describes a haunting.

So now, virtually evicted and with an almost insoluble housing problem, the ghost have moved in among us.

They mooch about in hospital outpatients’ departments: they meander up and down the gaudy gangways of the supermarket; they sit on couches in the airport departure lounge; they join the crowd coming out of the factory gates; they tack themselves on to bus queues; they travel on commuters’ trains; they haunt Underground platforms and passages, bringing with them strange gusts of strange-smelling air.

And in all these activities they do us a great service. For even if visibility suddenly comes upon them (an accident which may happen to any ghost at any time) they may be seen, even heard – but they take up no material space. They are part of the crowd, yet do not make it thicker.

So how can you tell which member of a crowd is a ghost which has come-over-visible? You can’t, unless you bump into him and feel absolutely nothing. Then you know. And you are afraid, because it’s a weird feeling. But that is not the poor ghost’s fault. He can’t help being unsolid any more than you can help being solid.

Rosemary Timperley
Introduction to the Sixth Ghost Book (book one)

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