Ghost Stories


One of my tasks for the New Year is to lead two sets of reluctant teenagers through an example of pre-1914 prose. I hit upon the ghost stories of M.R.James to give them. Happily they are going down a treat. It's intriguing the way they conjure ghost stories out of the kids too ... so sceptical about many things, suddenly their confidence is awake and they are telling their own believed but seldom expressed stories of things half seen, of objects shifting around their houses, of long-dead figures tied to the scenes of their too brief lives.

Ghost stories are an English phenomenon on the whole (though I do recommend Deborah Bora Boehm's retellings of tales from Japan) - 90% of all ghost stories are written in English, and 70% of all such stories are by English writers. Maybe it's something about the weather here, a dullness in the sky which turns many things into grey ghosts of themselves, and maybe it's also to do with inherent repression. It's fun to find the anomaly though, of ghost stories springing my young readers to life more vividly than I ever expected.

Of course the project is conjuring strange but true stories in class from me as well - it's fun to have kids so open to tales that surely expand what they expect from life.

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