Sunday, April 8, 2012

I Don't Believe in Fictional Ghosts

True story: The tiny house I grew up in, built in 1765, was haunted. Weird noises, strange occurrences, definitely a sense that someone or something had never moved out. I walked in the front door one day and heard my brother Dan playing the piano. Only when I poked my head in the living room, he wasn't there at the piano, or in the room, or even in the house. No other exits, no windows he could have crawled out of.

My sister had the best story. Believing we had a poltergeist, she stayed up late one night to play with the Ouija board. Everyone knows that it doesn't work with only one person...either because it doesn't work, period, but at least with a second person you can *think* it's working, or because it just can't work with one person.

But Ann explained that she hadn't been pushing the heart-shaped thingie across the board. Instead, it moved on its own. She asked the board, "Am I alone?" and the device flew off the corner with NO. She put it back on the board, resting her fingertips on its rim and asked, "Is there a spirit here?" and it flew off the corner marked YES. Then she asked for proof, and a file cabinet fell over in the room above her head.

That was bizarre because the upstairs room was the bedroom she and I shared, it didn't have any large metal objects in it, and when she went up to check, I was fast asleep.

I believed my ears when it was Dan playing the piano, and I believe my sister's account of her night with the house's spirit.

I still don't believe in ghosts the way fiction would have us believe.


This became relevant while I was reading Sarah Addison Allen's The Peach Keeper. I enjoyed the book a lot...except for the woowoo elements. (I won't spoil the book for anyone, but stuff happens that seems farfetched in mundane terms, although perhaps not magical enough for magical realism.) I kept wondering what Allen's own explanation would be for the things that happen.

See, I have no trouble believing that the barrier between life on earth and whatever happens to us after death is thin enough under some circumstances for mediums to get "messages" from the dear departed. (I overheard a conversation at my MFA's January residency. Two women chatting, one explaining to the other that she's a bit of a medium. "It's weird because I can't choose who contacts me. There's a woman here and I wanted to tell her that her husband is pleased she's getting her MFA. But she doesn't know me from Adam..." Yeah, that seems a lot more realistic than The Sixth Sense or The Ghost Whisperer.)

So I kind of believe in ghosts, I just think it's a pretty inconsequential element of our daily life. I don't believe ghosts can move physical objects or alter events in the corporeal plane. In a lot of ways, I bet it's like waiting at a window in the fog, hoping someone walks by close enough to hear you when you tap...and even then most people would have no clue why you're tapping. In a word: boring. No wonder so few ghosts stick around. I'd have better things to do as well.

All this helps me understand why I'm not the best reader of paranormal romances. I keep trying to figure out what the author's world view has to be. Yes, I get it: it's fiction. Made up. Not real. Not meant to be real.

But surely there has to be some idea of how your made-up, not really real world works. Right? I like books by authors who appear to have the entire alternate universe spinning in their heads. J.K. Rowling, for example, or Thea Harrison. I can believe wyr-creatures (humanoids that can assume an animal form) better in Thea Harrison's Elder Races books simply because so many things are different that it's not anything like our world anymore.

I have a much harder time reading stories that are set in our world with only one or two differences...you see that wolf over there? Yeah, he's actually a man too. I dunno, maybe I took too many animal physiology courses in college, but I'm quite comfortable with the belief that our bones, tissues, organs, etc. simply can't do that.

In the end, I liked Allen's The Peach Keeper for its purely mundane story of generations of women dealing with the challenges of being women and finally getting it right. Surely that requires enough magic all on its own.

1 comment:

  1. My uncle became a ghost, but moved on pretty quickly. I imagine it is pretty boring being a ghost! Freaking people out is only so entertaining for so long.

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