In Honor of Halloween: International Ghost Stories

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In this field, we often have to address dark topics, from  the indigenous experience of colonialism in the Americas, to the threat of emerging infectious diseases. But in my class and in my writing I always try also to touch on art, culture, music and literature. After some of my more recent posts (such as the recent ones on highly pathogenic avian influenza and the Mexican drug war) I wanted to touch on something less serious. So, in honor of Halloween’s approach, I’ll discuss international ghost stories.

My favorite short story writer is M.R. James. Although not prolific, he wrote a rich collection of late Victorian and Edwardian English ghost stories. As a successful academic, who wrote extensively on medieval and biblical history, his stories have an antiquarian touch. They are often set in libraries, or deal with archaeology, so that the past defines the story in a deep way. For any Anglophiles out there, they capture the social reality of Britain before World War Two, and an academic culture now long gone. I thought of him while at Oxford a few weeks ago (although he taught at Cambridge), and thought that physically there are still many places that don’t look very different from the England he knew. A gay man in an oppressive culture, he was Victorian in his character, but there are hints of his struggles in his stories. Perhaps his most famous story is “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” but my favorite is “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook.” …