In spite of the demise of spiritualism, followed by a gradual increase in society’s atheism, interest and studies in the paranormal in the modern age are as brisk and as fresh as ever. With every passing year a new television show or radio program will spring into the mix with new perspectives on what may or may not wait for us on the other side. What it does for the validity of the subject, it seems, is largely irrelevant. The cry of the masses declares, “We love our world of the paranormal!”
As far as the fact pertains to literature, even “great” literature, it’s tempting to suggest that the consensus is a mixed bag. For example, it’s written that the great Shakespeare critic Harold Bloom once labeled Stephen King as nothing more than a “writer of penny dreadfuls.” In a seeming elaboration of Bloom’s opinion, David Stuart Davies tells us, “In general, the literati tend to look down their noses at the ghost story, regarding it as a lower form of Literature and those writers who contribute to the genre as wordsmiths of the second rank. As this Wordsworth series of Mystery & Supernatural fiction has demonstrated time and time again, this is a grave misconception.”
The series he refers to is none other than The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton, and he is on the mark.
Edith Wharton’s stories are like gold kept in a box, whereupon opening the view grows filled with all manner of delight. Dripping with atmosphere that comes through in a mastery of the English language, her stories do more than make us wonder about what may be waiting for us just around the corner, they engender us with a sense of satisfaction. Realism abounds so that we are allowed to think vastly about our own beliefs, because we are immersed in worlds that appear non-fictional.
And this may be the element that keeps me coming back to the ghost story, as a reader and a writer. Of course, I enjoy the wonderment and the chills, the process of enlisting the imagination, and the interest involved with learning why certain people become ghosts. But I also like the idea that as the pages of a supernatural work unfolds, I feel a connection to a universe that is so much immensely larger than I; and in this, I tend to search my feelings as they pertain to the power in my life that is greater than myself.
We can’t get around the well-known issue that has haunted paranormal literature throughout the ages, from tawdry plots bound by shoddy writing, to unnecessary descriptions of gore and the like. Yet I strive to believe that it’s Pulitzer Prize winners like Edith Wharton who redeem the genre. In this fashion, we can love our Shakespearean critics like Mr. Bloom for edifying our understanding of great literary works, all the while keeping genre writers on their toes, but it doesn’t mean we have to agree with him.