Thursday, 25 August 2011

Most Haunted

Just what is the difference between a ghost story and a horror story? This is a question that has vexed me, if no one else, for over twenty-five years. It was raised when, while an eager undergraduate reading English Literature,* I asked if I could do a dissertation on the ghost stories of M R James. Having established, with some difficulty, that I did not mean Henry James, doubts were raised over the academic value of studying horror stories to which I retorted that, no, these were ghost stories. And what, pray, was the difference? I was asked over a light sherry.** To this day I still cannot provide an answer to my, or anyone else’s satisfaction. The best I have ever been able to manage is that horror stories strive to gain their effect by describing something physically horrific while ghost stories strive to gain their effect by not doing so, I suppose, I don’t know. All I do know is that ghost stories do have to have a supernatural element. Lacking that means that they are stories only. Good ones, maybe, even touched by transcendent genius perhaps, but not ghost stories by definition. No, ghost stories need, not necessarily ghosts, but the supernatural. Beyond that, I am stymied.

*as we used to say on University Challenge when it was proper with Bamber Gascoigne not that Paxman fellow, now there’s a chap who looks like he had to buy his furniture

**well, it would have been a light sherry had I gone to Oxbridge rather than the concrete slab university which suffered my presence for three years, cheap instant coffee if memory serves

And if you haven’t read M R James, you really should, or listen to Michael Hordern reading them as he was born to do. You won’t regret it, though you may never sleep quite so well.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

An Obligatory Blog

In this time of fear and uncertainty it is beholden on the blogging community to make some judgmental and ill-informed contributions. Never let it be said that I shirk my duty.

No, I am not going to share my pet, and indeed pat, theories, save only to note that riots happen for a reason or reasons and to attempt to discover those reasons is not to condone the rioters’ behavior as some commentators would have it.

But thankfully we have incisive political leadership at this hour. David Cameron returned with the illuminating announcement that the rioters were criminals which was helpful as I was under the misapprehension that they were mormons. And as today’s Guardian reminds us, certain prominent tories know of where they speak when it comes to the wanton destruction of small businesses:

It is a sobering thought that if Angus Deayton had tied a knot in it, London wouldn’t have that clown as mayor.

At time of writing, the north east remains calm. I was in the city centre on Tuesday night and passed a group of about fifty young people, mainly in hoods on a warm sunny evening, and there was a mood of nervous anticipation but nothing seems to have come of it. There were not enough and the mood had not hit that twitchy tipping moment when a group become a mob. Why not? No idea. There were a couple of police officers but no more than that. The council was doing an open air showing of The King’s Speech just up the road and maybe Geordies don’t riot when superior and slightly smug British cinema is playing in the vicinity. Thank God it wasn’t Sex Lives of the Potato Men. The consequences could have been awful.