Are ghost stories fantasy? Given that fantasy is about things that aren’t real, your answer to the question depends on whether you believe ghosts are real or not.
For me the Bible is the highest authority. And although there are plenty of evil spirits in the Bible, the one and only time it mentions anything that could be called a ghost is when the ghost or spirit of Samuel appeared to Saul. Otherwise, the Bible teaches that we die but once, and afterward the judgment (Hebrews 9:27)–we don’t stick around to haunt people.
I do not deny that there are, and always have been, experiences that people have that defy conventional explanation and display the earmarks of encounters with ghosts. But on the authority of the Bible, I don’t believe that these phenomena are the spirits of real people. It’s not for me to say what they are–evil spirits pretending to be ghosts, or some kind of weird electromagnetic disturbance tied to people, actions, or emotions that once were real.
So I must answer that to me, ghost stories are fantasy. I read them for enjoyment, and I enjoy them very much.
Which brings me to The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill. First published in 1983, the book was soon adapted into a successful stage play which ran for more than 20 years, and most recently made into a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe. We saw the movie first, which was good enough to get me interested in the book.
I finished reading the book the other day, and I am happy to recommend it. The movie, as usual, is more sensational. But the book gets at you with a with a mounting tone of creepiness that never lets up–very effective, a thoroughly satisfying ghost story. It’s Shirley Jackson rather than Steven “Go for the Gross-out” King.
Now, why would any Christian want to read a ghost story?
Well, for some of us, it’s fun! Certainly a lot more fun than waiting for Obamacare to drag us in front of the death panels. As opposed to real-life history, a ghost story has an end: at a certain point, it’s over, and you can let out that breath you’ve been holding. The horror doesn’t go on and on for four more years.
Like all fantasy, a ghost story provides escape. I need a break from watching my country get pushed headfirst into Hell. Ghost stories are cheaper than cable TV, and there are no commercials.
Incidentally, if you like ghost stories and you are lucky enough not yet to have read the stories by M.R. James, let me clue you in–his are, bar none, the best! Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad–if you haven’t read that, and you fancy a good scare, go out and get it today. I’m also fond (if that’s the word for it!) of Casting the Runes and The Ash Tree.
Meanwhile, The Woman in Black belongs in the top rank of ghost stories. I think you’ll enjoy it.