Feature: What Haunts Us This Halloween?

Halloween is a time for spooks and scares, and often the scariest things come from inexplicable sources. Spectres of the supernatural have haunted the human mind for generations; but in an era of technology and scientific rationality, can something as simple as a spirit from beyond the grave still give us the shivers?

Recently, The Guardian published this piece on the re-emergence of tales of ghostly hauntings, stating “the good old-fashioned ghost story is back with a bang”. The article speculates that a key reasons the ghost story has grown in popularity is because the reading public have become more receptive to genre fiction. Is genre snobbery finally at an end? (Well, not quite, but we’re getting there).

Ghoulish figures never left our literature or media – the vampire obviously garnered a lot of attention post-Twilight, though the new sexy model lacked the creepy leer of Dracula. Zombies, too, enjoyed a spell in the spotlight – they were embraced in various media forms, in films like 28 Days Later, in graphic novel and tv series The Walking Dead and even ushered in (yet another) take on Pride and Prejudice. The intent of these ghouls isn’t always to frighten the reader or viewer, but our culture’s fascination with such creatures is clearly still strong. These fiends aren’t always there to scare!

However, the supernatural continues to unnerve. Despite the fact that we know more about the workings of the world, the universe and outer space than ever before, we can still be spooked by stories about ghosts. In fact, the more we discover about the universe, the more we realise how little we actually know. In this grey space is where the philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft reigns – we, as humans, are limited in what we can understand about the cosmos, and what is most scary is that we are aware of our limitations.

Everything from cosmic horror to the ghost story is frightening because at the heart of those stories is the unexplained. Worse still, something as seemingly simple as a ghostly spectre is not only inexplicable, but has the potential to be utterly incomprehensible. But let’s not get too upset by the fundamental shortcomings of the human mind – it’s Halloween, let’s just have some fun and scare ourselves silly!

So, our advice is curl up with a classic ghost story from M.R. James or get a thrill from David Mitchell’s new novel Slade House; generally just have a good time! And rest assured, we’ll still be grappling with all those unfathomable forces after Halloween’s over – there is still much to be uncovered in the dark and bewildering universe (or, is that multiverse?).

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