Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: THE GHOST HUNTERS by Deborah Blum

Today's forgotten book is Ghost Hunters: William James And The Search For Scientific Proof Of Life After Death by Deborah Blum, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.  The James family is central to the evolution of the modern ghost story, and this is an eye-opening account of that history which unfolds like a detective novel.

"I ain't afraid of no ghost."

The source of that quotation, repeated in the theme song from the movie Ghostbusters and its sequels, was the cartoon character, Goofy, and it originated in the Walt Disney movie that I discussed earlier this month, Lonesome Ghosts.  Other borrowings from that cartoon are also apparent.

But the movie, Ghostbusters, has its source in a book by the grandfather of one of its stars, Dan Aykroyd, who wrote the foreword for the 2002 hardcover edition of A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Seances, Mediums, Ghosts, and Ghostbusters by Peter H. Aykroyd with Angela Narth.  And that book had its source in the experiences of the family during the mass hysteria of spiritualism that swept much of western society during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The spiritualism movement is mainly a crime story, based mostly upon swindle and con artistry and showmanship, frauds preying upon the gullible and those in need of spiritual assurance of an afterlife.  It gained in popularity after some leading Darwinists began denouncing religion.

The movement has faded away and spiritualism is now taken as a form of entertainment on a level with professional wrestling.  There are still books published promoting spiritualism, but the books debunking them are never far behind, greater in force and respectability--Joe Nickell's The Real Life X-Files, for instance, which I read long before I picked up a copy of Deborah Blum's magnificent work.

After reading Blum's book, I realized how nearly every other book on the subject was too biased one way or the other.  That the truth was somewhere in-between.

It is much like the more recent flurry of books on religion.  On the one side, you had the fundamentalists, on the other side came such books as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.  Fortunately, the severity of bias in these books inspired a responding flurry of middle ground books decrying their excesses and putting the arguments for spirituality in an intelligent perspective--books such as David Berlinki's The Devils Delusion and Chris Hedges' I Don't Believe In Atheists.

Deborah Blum's work is non-fiction, but there is narrative tension aplenty.  There certainly was for this reader who knew little of the history featured here.

Not only is Deborah Blum's work my choice for Forgotten Book of the Week, it is the only ghost book with a permanent spot on my most-beloved shelves.  A keeper.

I can think of no better Halloween read.

1 comment:

  1. The debunking of spiritualists was for a long time a great interest to me. I've read a lot of Houdini's writing on the topic. This eventually led to discovering works of fiction by authors who were also enraged by this immense con game perpetuated on distraught and grieving individuals. One of the best novels to expose the spirit racket is THE GHOST GIRL by Henry Kitchell Webster whose feelings about those fakes and frauds were as strong as Houdini's. Thanks for talking about this intriguing topic. I'll be looking for the books you discussed in this post. I am one of those people who is still open to the existence of paranormal phenomena related to death (especialy the death of loved ones) having had a few eerie experiences myself that still remain unexplained.