March 3, 2012

Before Electric Lights Pushed Back the Night

Like a good ghost story? Me, too, though I never really thought to ask myself why.

The first thing that comes to mind is that people simply like a good scare. But you can get sweaty palms and chills from a story about monsters or serial killers. For some, its the mystery aspect of a ghostly tale, but there again you can get that elsewhere—in anything by Agatha Christie, for example. Some like the atmosphere created in the classic tales. Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.

Darkness, gloom, deserted buildings, the haunted house, the creepy diner, shadows that move when they shouldn’t, the flicker of uncertain candlelight—these are among the elements a ghost story can’t live without. No matter how contemporary or seemingly benign the opening setting of a story, eventually the reader will be drawn into an uncertain reality where the atmosphere is thick with the unseen. Author E. F. Benson was a master here.

Thinking along these lines, it occurred to me that many of the classic, most fondly-remembered stories were written before electric lights pushed back the shadows and lit the dark. Gas lamps and candle light seem to have been more conducive to creepy imaginings. There are plenty of good writers today producing spine-tingling tales, but would they be doing so without the inspiration of those earlier authors who were inspired by the dark and more in touch with its mysteries?

Again, these are just my musings; not a treatise on the subject. Feel free to argue with me!

Happy Hauntings,

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