The idea that the dead leave echoes behind is almost irresistible.
Most of us, even the most rational skeptics, have a secret desire to stay connected with someone we’ve lost. I know that my grandmother isn’t really lurking around the edges of my life, but… There are times when I wish it dearly. I have to be satisfied with memories and with the realization that much of my life now would mystify her.
Ghosts are great fiction fodder. Their perspective — as the ultimate outsider — enables them to be the conscience, messenger or trickster in a story. Banquo’s ghost haunts Macbeth. Of all Macbeth’s heinous crimes, Banquo’s murder is the one that manifests as an apparition. It’s a great moment in theater.
Ghosts as tricksters — moving furniture, knocking books off desks, hiding keys and making noises — are often depicted as wanting to chase the living out of a house, by asserting prior rights to the dwelling. It’s basically, “This was my house first, get out!”
Personally, I prefer ghosts with more original messages.
In “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” (the 1947 movie, not the TV show from the late 60s) a young widow is “haunted” by the sea captain who lived in her seaside cottage first. Eventually they become literary “partners.” He dictates an adventure story to her — not something the gentile lady would read, let alone write— and when it’s published, it becomes a great success, supporting her and her children. I haven’t seen the movie since I was a kid. It was on TV a lot and I loved it. Rex Harrison was the ghost and Gene Tierney was the widow.
The Captain is a great ghost. He interferes, but ultimately helps the living people sharing his home. I’ve played with a few ghosts in short stories, with varying degrees of success. Still looking for my perfect ghost — the outsider inside the house!
Look for the first of my Summer Blog Guests next week! NYC apartments make it tough to invite friends to visit (sofa surfing aside), but my blog has plenty of room for writer guests. First up, A.C. Flory.