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Tag Archives: Edgar Allen Poe

First of all, I am all over this documentary like white on rice.  Topical!

But on to today’s topic…ghosts.  Generally speaking, I don’t find ghosts very frightening or compelling.  Even in my youth, long before I had heard of Lovecraft’s cosmic monsters, my fear was relegated to the following:

  1. Vampires: I was alternately reassured by the fact that you had to invite them in and terrified by the fact that they seemed to KEEP FREAKING GETTING IN.  However, all of the illustrations I had seen showed beautiful women sprawled out on top of the bed, which led me to the (admittedly overly-hopeful) conclusion that vampires would be absolutely confounded by bedsheets.  To date, I can’t really sleep if there’s not a blanket or a comforter pulled up over my neck.
  2. Skeletons: Not zombies, not reanimated corpses.  Skeletons.  This confounded my highly logical scientist father, who patiently explained to me, over and over again, that skeletons lack muscles and tendons, and as such are inanimate by design.  I appreciated my dad’s attempts, but he just didn’t understand how these things worked.

I say this because despite all of these things, the third book that I would deem to be the most influential in my youth was a slim purple-covered paperback volume called (simply) Ghosts, in the Usborne World of the Unknown series.

I had this book for most of my childhood, but somewhere along the way it got lost or donated.  This has surely happened to countless books over the course of my life, but I could never quite reconcile myself to the loss.  Finally, this summer, I realized that I lived in the golden age of the internet search engine and had Amazon Prime, and, with a little elbow grease, there was nothing stopping me from reliving my childhood.

Of course, I hesitated a little even after realizing that–much like realizing that Hawaiian Punch isn’t actually that good and Hostess Cupcakes are bland and stale-tasting, I was deeply concerned that the book would not live up to my remembered hype.


I am very happy to say that I was wrong.  So wrong.  This book is absolutely excellent.  It’s short, but every page is crammed full of anecdotes, theories, folk-tales, and illustrations.  Bill Bryson described visiting the American History Museum in his youth, before it was slick and polished and well-organized; his delight came in part from the lack of organization, from wandering around and stumbling across random, delightful artifacts.  I felt similarly about this book.  There’s details on stagecraft (ever wonder how they showed ghosts on stage in the 19th century?), world legends (the Gibbering Ghosts of India!), and possessed animals (the possessed British mongoose named Geb?).

And now, for a brief bit of personal philosophy:

At the risk of sounding like I’m an aged, infirm individual (I am newly 28, and no, I do not think I am old), I’ve started to think more seriously about physical possessions, what I want to keep, what is worth acquiring, what is worth hanging onto.  Like most people, I tend to be a STUFF magnet, and I’m sorry to say that my horror collection is definitely part and parcel of this.  It’s so easy for me to justify new purchases–like, of course I need an illustrated copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories!  I mean, of course, I respect Poe, but I don’t particularly enjoy reading his stories that much…I mean, Fall of the House of Usher was great, sure, but he’s Poe!  I have to at least have one of his books, right?

This woman is helping me break that habit:


In case you haven’t heard of her, she is Marie Kondo, and she wrote a slim volume on organization.  Her philosophy boils down to: Keep only things that bring you joy.  I’ve been getting better about keeping that in mind, although I’m certain that my kitchen cupboards would make her puke and I still tend to compulsively buy books.

But anyway–this is a round-about way of saying that as soon as I ripped open the Amazon mailer and retrieved Ghosts, I knew that I had made absolutely the right decision.  I probably won’t hang on to that Poe volume (I know, I know, I know: Lovecraft immensely admired Poe, Borges thought Lovecraft was more or less a Poe slash-fiction writer, but goddamn it, I gotta be me, and I’m not a Poe person), but this time I won’t be letting Ghosts go.  No sir.

The Cultist