Monday, November 28, 2011

A Christmas Carol: Nature of the Ghost

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is an enduring classic, of course, and the definition or nature of the ghost I think appeals to most people’s definition of one.  Jacob Marley’s ghost describes what it means to be a spirit on page twenty: “’It is required of every man…that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.  It is doomed to wander through the world – oh, woe is me! – and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!’”  I think this fits the typical definition of a ghost, because it’s the idea that spirits that have some kind of unfinished business must remain on Earth.  According to Marley, a spirit’s job is to travel the Earth and share its happiness with others, but if it doesn’t, then it must tour the Earth forever in death, watching it all, forced to miss out on the happiness it could’ve had.  The only part that seems different to me than the common definition of a ghost is the fact that the spirit must tour the Earth.  In some of the ghost stories we’ve read, like The Amityville Horror, The Shining, etc., spirits have been confined to the house or building they haunt, and I think that tends to be the case for the typical ghost.
            I really like the idea that ghosts are forced to wander the world, but I feel like it wouldn’t necessarily apply to all ghosts.  It does to Marley, and would to Scrooge, based on their lives, though, of course.  The reader learns Marley’s life was a lot like Scrooge’s on page twenty-one: “…My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house – mark me! – in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!’”  Because Marley was so confined in his life – so obsessed with money – it makes sense why he would have to wander the Earth – to see what other parts of life he missed out on.  But I feel like there would be other types of people in which that punishment wouldn’t make sense.  My initial reaction as I read this part was, What about the people who are too worldly?  Surely they exist.  I’m thinking about the people who get too swept up by everything – they travel the world and get caught up in every little thing it offers to the point where they miss out on important interpersonal relationships, or intimacy with family or even spouses.  These people shouldn’t be doomed to wander the Earth forever, as that’s basically how they spent their life and it didn’t help them with their particular plight.  Instead, they should have a more “confined” afterlife.  Perhaps be destined to follow their spouse or family members around, or be stuck in a regular family household or something.  Something that enriches their depths with people rather than a broad awareness of Earth.  Just something I thought of as I read.
            Another idea in A Christmas Carol that ties into the nature of the ghost is on page twenty-five.  After Marley’s Ghost leaves, Scrooge witnesses phantoms drifting outside his window, all moaning and full of misery.  I found it interesting how Scrooge realizes why they’re so full of misery on page twenty-five.  “The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power forever.”  In ways this also sounds like a typical definition of a ghost.  The idea that ghosts try to contact humans, but always have difficulty doing it, or can’t at all.  What I find interesting about this definition, though, is that the ghost tries to do it for good, to benefit people.  In most of the stories we’ve read for this class, the spirits tried to antagonize or hurt the living, although there were a couple exceptions, like in Grave’s End (well, we don’t know for sure if the spirits were benevolent or not, but they appeared to be) and The Lovely Bones (Susie, as a spirit, wants to contact people to comfort them).
And, there you have it, a common take on the ghost with a couple tweaks that makes it different.  Probably a good idea for writers of the ghost story – take an old or “regular” definition and add your own twist.
Dickens, Charles.  A Christmas Carol.  New York: Penguin Group, 2008.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Paranormal Activity: The Camera Technique

I love this movie.  Probably one of my all-time favorites.  Loved it the first time I saw it, and even though I knew what happened the second time, I still enjoyed it.
I think I like this movie so much because it feels real, like it could actually happen.  This mirrors what Scott said about what makes people enjoy a horror story: the realness of it, as if it could happen to them or somebody they know.  It’s that realness that freaks them out and makes them want to read or watch more.   I definitely got that feeling with Paranormal Activity, and I think a big part of that is because of the camera technique – the idea that it’s being filmed by somebody who’s part of the story.  I think this technique works so well for horror, because it makes the action feel real, like it was really caught on tape by somebody.  And this movie puts that to great use.
Of course, it also can be a bit of a detriment at times.  There were moments (I’ll point one out in a moment) when it seemed odd to me that they’d be filming, but I think it definitely works overall, since the character Micah films because he wants to capture the paranormal activity that has been plaguing him and his girlfriend, Katie, so to speak.  Therefore, when Katie screams off-screen at one point, it didn’t bother me that he picked up the camera and ran to try to film any kind of ghostly action that may be occurring.  Of course, it turned out to be a spider at that moment, but the scene was a nice reminder that they’re filming for a very good reason.
This movie also tackles the “Why don’t they leave?” question at least somewhat well, which is one I’ve been having problems with lately with a lot of the books we’ve been reading in our horror class.  It’s still not without holes, but I think the concept overall is pretty effective: they can’t leave (or at least there wouldn’t be any point in leaving) because the ghost isn’t in the house; it follows Katie wherever she goes.  I can buy this for awhile, but like I said, eventually it still became a bit of a problem for me.  I know Micah’s in love with Katie, but at some point I think they’d try the desperate measure of leaving – even if just for the blind hope that it really is something tied to the house.  You might as well give it a shot, right?  Things got so spooky, I figure they’d be running to friends’ for family, and surrounding themselves with other people, if not merely to feel more comfortable and supported.  But, of course, more people would make the story feel less creepy even if the strange activity continued.
By this time in the movie (towards the end), it also felt odd to me that Micah would still be filming.  I mean, they’ve caught so much activity by this time, what would be the point of any more, especially now that they’re lives seem seriously in jeopardy?  In particular, I’m thinking of the scene when Micah’s talking to Katie on the bed, and she’s speaking in an almost dreamlike state (overall, a very awesome, spooky scene).  By that point it’s obvious that she’s possessed, or at the very least something is horribly wrong with her.  Not only would I not have the camera running, but I’d be fleeing from the place like there was no tomorrow – or at least trying to get this woman to a hospital or something to be checked on (whether or I not even believed she could be helped by doctors).  No matter what, the last thing I’d be doing is filming her and then agreeing not to go anywhere, but to go to sleep, which would totally not be possible at that height of the freakiness.  Then again, that’s my opinion.  But the spook factor of the movie was so high in general that these scenes didn’t bother me that much.  I anticipate other people having differing opinions on that point, though.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Grave's End: Why Don't They Leave?

It was interesting and fun reading this book after The Amityville Horror, and although it’s of course perhaps impossible to know if it’s truly real, it certainly felt a lot more believable to me than The Amityville Horror.  I think it’s because it’s quieter: the things that happen in the house are stretched over a much longer period of time, and the events don’t really escalate in craziness like they did in The Amityville Horror.  They went more in cycles: a few creepy things, then nothing, then a few more creepy things, etc.  Also, even though lots of different things happened in the house (floating objects, “suffocating dreams,” balls of light, images of people, “the Mist,” etc.), for some reason it didn’t feel like it was too much.  Again, I think the reason is because everything was stretched out over time and the “hauntings” were a lot tamer compared to the ridiculous things that happen in The Amityville Horror (green slime, red-eyed pig, etc.).  Then again, the Lutzes thought a demon lived in their house, whereas Elaine and her family always thought they were just regular ghosts or spirits, not necessarily malevolent.  So that can supply a reason for the difference in the hauntings’ nature.  Still, like I said, I found Grave’s End more believable.
Again, something I found hard to believe – like in The Amityville Horror – was the family not leaving the house.  Sure, there were financial reasons and the hauntings weren’t as intense as in The Amityville Horror – at least for the most part – but in my opinion the events were still more than creepy enough that you’d think the family would run away as fast they could.  At least, that’s definitely what I would’ve done.  Like I said, even though Elaine had financial issues, there were still places she and her family could’ve gone and stayed.  So what if they’d be cramped?  A cramped living space is still head-over-heels better than experiencing those freaky things on a somewhat regular basis.  Seriously, how did they ever sleep in that house?  After experiencing only a couple of those things I don’t think I’d ever be able to sleep there again.  Even if I were in the same room with the other family members, like the family did sometimes.  Just doesn’t make sense to me. 
Plus, Elaine is, well, sort of a wimp (not that I wouldn’t be in her position).  At one point she explains how she feels bad about always having to run to a man when things get tough, she apologizes to her daughters for being too clingy and overprotective, she gets courage to ask for a divorce after twenty-two years, etc.  She also says how she was always more freaked out about the place than her daughters.  This is what made me think she’d leave in a heartbeat, so it was another reason I didn’t buy her and her family staying there that whole time.
However, I have to admit that Elaine does give at least one good reason for why they never left, in my opinion.  Her reason is that her daughters grew up in that place, so they became used to it and didn’t want to leave, whereas the hauntings always freaked Elaine out, because she had lived most of her life in regular, “non-haunted” houses.  This works well to convince me later in the novel, but there’s still the fact that these hauntings existed when they first moved in.  And, obviously, they didn’t run from the place even after the original hauntings.  It also negates the reason they give later for not leaving because they have so many friends.  They wouldn’t have had friends when they first moved in, either.  Like I’ve been saying, I just don’t buy that they wouldn’t run the hell away from the place after experiencing just a couple of those creepy hauntings.  And lots of them happened overall!