Deciphering the Message: A Look at P.G Wodehouse’s Something New

Book Reviews, Literature Studies


For purposes of this article, the page numbers referenced correspond with those of the ePub (without images) obtained from Project Gutenberg’s library.

Within many works of literature, social critique is prominently on display under the medium of storytelling. P.G Wodehouse’s Something New is one such work and the focus of this review. Through analysing the book, I take a look at how the critique is implemented into the narrative and delivered in a manner that did not detract from the story itself—lending an added emphasis to the events of the plot that occurred.

For the “message” of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.
~Marshall McLuhan “The Medium is the Message”, 1967

In the case of Something New, the medium is literature, as conveyed through comedy—in the form of satire. This medium focuses on the message of critique of the socio-economic status of the early 20th Century across two countries: the United States of America and the United Kingdom. It delivers the critique through perspectives of the upper, middle, and lower classes.

For this review, I focus on the views each class had in regard to the others. This focus also looks at their perspective toward the current state of socio-economic status, life, and the world. I consider this perspective and the critique Wodehouse delivered in the book by showing the views of each class toward the others as well as the views on women at that time (in the 1910s when the book was written).

Regard to Life

Throughout the book, the reader is exposed to various perspectives concerning the Other, and these views show a clear distinction of socio-economic classes—the distinction being prominent in the USA and UK during the 1910s and continuing through both World Wars as a strong remnant of the Industrial Revolution.

Upper Class–Earl of Emsworth

He was as completely happy as only a fluffy-minded old man with excellent health and a large income can be… He was possibly as nearly contented as a human being could be in this century of alarms and excursions. ~Page 26

Despite the average man he seems to see himself as—ignoring any privilege that afforded him this view—Lord Emsworth thinks himself as humbled by his content life. He struggles to fathom the need for the worry he acknowledges the rest of the world has. From his perspective, life is an unnecessarily worrying world and he considers himself spared from trivial matters and disappointment—spared from the rat race of the rest of the population.

It is possible that, lacking the initiative to make his way down the long aisle and find a table for himself, he [Lord Emsworth] might have stood there indefinitely, but for the restless activity of Adams, the head steward. It was Adams’ mission in life to flit to and fro, hauling would-be lunchers to their destinations. ~Page 21

Wodehouse spares no subtlety in critique on the upper class throughout Something New, showing their disregard for the life of the Other. The perspectives of the Honourable Freddie (Lord Emsworth’s younger son) and Mr. Peters (prospective father-in-law to the Earl’s younger son, Freddie) are of a similar nature.

Middle Class–Ashe Marson

The Wanted column of the morning paper is a sort of dredger, which churns up strange creatures from the mud of London’s underworld. Only in response to the dredger’s operations do they come to the surface in such numbers as to be noticeable, for as a rule they are of a solitary habit and shun company; but when they do come they bring with them something of the horror of the depths. ~Page 56

Ashe Marson views the lower class as creatures that reside in the shadows and metaphoric sewers of London. He sees himself as above them. Marson shows some form of sympathy toward the lower classes, but only to distinguish himself from them. Through his apparent sympathy he sees them not as people, but as entities unlike himself and those of his status.

In English trains the tipping classes travel first; valets, lady’s maids, footmen, nurses, and head stillroom maids, second; and housemaids, grooms, and minor and inferior stillroom maids, third. But for these social distinctions, the whole fabric of society would collapse and anarchy stalk naked through the land. ~Page 65

Later in the story, Ashe Marson ignores the existence of the lowest of the lower class and the plights of those in poverty. He also regards himself as among the members of the lower class, while maintaining a distinction between himself and those of lower socio-economic status. This distinction is a separation of the Self from the Other.

This disdained and disassociated view of the lower class is continued through the perspective of Joan Valentine, while also displaying her view of the upper class activities as trivial and materialistic.

Lower Class–Mr. Adams

Unlike the other characters mentioned, Mr. Adams only features in one scene in the book. This scene, while establishing Lord Emsworth’s character and setting up his present frame of mind, focuses on the character of Adams. His appearance in the story is restricted, not developing further like the other characters. Adams’s inclusion in the story is a means through which Wodehouse displays the order of society to further critique the classes and their perspectives.

You would never have thought it, to look at him when engaged in his professional duties, but Adams had built up a substantial reputation as a humorist in his circle by his imitations of certain members of the club… The Earl of Emsworth ambled benevolently to the door, leaving Adams with the feeling that his day had been well-spent. He gazed almost with reverence after the slow-moving figure.

“What a nut!” said Adams to his immortal soul. ~Pages 23-26

Mr. Adams takes to mockery of the members of the upper class—his position as steward at a club for the senior members of the class affording him the material with which to indulge in the mockery. His mockery is a means of entertaining himself and those around him. In regard to the upper class life, Adams displays contempt and disassociation from himself—and those who share his status—for the members of a higher status.

Adams refrained from expressing an opinion, but inwardly he was thrilling with artistic fervor. Mr. Simmonds eating, was one of his best imitations… To be privileged to witness Lord Emsworth watching and criticizing Mr. Simmonds was to collect material for a double-barreled character study that would assuredly make the hit of the evening. ~Page 23

All through Something New, this mockery of the upper and middle classes is presented through the perspectives of the characters situated in the lower class, particularly among the servants of the upper class.

Observations

Wodehouse alludes to several forms of critique of social issues, ranging from sensitive topics to the more commonplace daily life troubles. Through these comments, he shows the differences and similarities of views and habits across socio-economic status.

After looking at the critique of the classes, I explore two other observations in the book and consider the medium of this delivery and the effect the manner of the deliver has on the message of the book.

Sexism

Sexism and the oppression of women in the socio-economic classes remain a prominent issue, though less obvious with class distinction today than in the early 20th Century. Throughout Something New, Wodehouse presents the reader with blatant sexism through dialogue of his characters, representing views of people in that time to deliver his critique on oppression. This is especially noteworthy as the book was written in a time when women’s rights were being fought for on a large scale.

Without quoting a significant portion of the book, I narrow the argument to two quotes that best display the sexism Wodehouse perceived and criticised.

“You are much too real a person. What a wife you will make for a hard-working man… I shall be fagged, disheartened. And then you will come with your cool, white hands and, placing them gently on my forehead…” ~Page 37-38

This is a narrative by George Emerson, a middle class lawyer, to Aline Peters during his attempts to court her. The dialogue highlights the views of men concerning women and their idea of a woman’s role and purpose in life as that of servitude to the male portion of society. Wodehouse further remarks on this through Aline’s thoughts on George’s attitude and again on a general critique of the “superman” mentality of young men, which can be seen in the following quote.

… he tells me it is perfectly infernal the way these women carry on. He said sometimes it got to such a pitch, with them waving banners and presenting petitions, and throwing flour and things at a fellow… ~Page 151

The quote above is a recollection of a conversation from Lord Emsworth with another of the upper class about the movement toward establishing voting rights for women. The disdain of the thought that women would be able to vote was shared by Lord Emsworth. In using this narrative, Wodehouse comments on the inconsideration of the Other—in this case being women—through the lack of acknowledgement toward the struggles women endure within society.

The Medium

Something New, as the book is named in its first publishing, delivers critique through the text using the medium of humour to mask it. This medium allows the reader to absorb the critique—the message—without triggering a defence mechanism that may lay dormant and waiting to protect a person’s worldview. Wodehouse executes this mission with intentional precision in his writing.

Expanding on the critique through humour, Wodehouse’s title bears a greater impact within the body of the work. The plot in Something New circles along the trivial pursuits of the characters, which brings them together for the climax of the story. In the pursuit of wanting something new, something fresh, the characters engage in unspoken rivalries, social form, and competition to achieve their desires. When the story comes to a resolution, the characters settle into the stagnation and repetition of life, but with less contempt for the ordinary that seemed to plague them before.

This contradiction with the title is further emphasised through the recurrence of the title within the narrative, providing a subtle reminder to the reader of the goal of the characters and the pursuit of it as the plot progresses.

The title Something New appears on pages 10 and 11 with the discussion between Ashe Marson and Joan Valentine about the mundanes of life. The conversation is mentioned again on page 62 at the climax of the story when the former desire for something new has come to realisation. On page 42, where the title appears again, Lord Emsworth discovers in his pocket the object that is the main drive of the plot and the events within. This appearance serves further to highlight both the character’s present condition and the otherwise dull happenings of his daily life.

In the course of the plot, and through the events that occur to the characters, something new is presented that changes their situation at that moment. And yet, what appears to be change isn’t anything new after all.

Conclusion

P.G Wodehouse utilises the medium of humour as a means to deliver the message to introduce awareness of issues within society. While the topics within Something New are still an issue today, the division between upper and lower classes was far more distinctive in the book, and the burden of both classes rested upon the middle class. By ignoring the upper class and placing more strain on the lower, the class gap is driven further apart.

As shown through Wodehouse’s delivery, social critique is best delivered subtly in the medium. The subtle delivery puts less focus on the message and, instead, uses the medium to carry the message through the work. This method allows the reader to think about the issues without forcing them to have an immediate opinion that would cause them to become defensive and potentially block out the message.


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South Africa: Science Fiction in Conquest

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As mentioned in Strange Horizons magazine: 100 African Writers of SFF: Part Six


This beautiful country of South Africa has seen much in the way of disaster1, 2 and atrocities3, 4. It is a nation of colour, vivid and diverse, but tainted with the blotches of our history5. Healing is a slow process, hindered by the fear of change and acceptance, and we as South Africans constantly seek mediums through which we can express our discontent in the crippling social matters of the past that yet bleeds through to our present after decades of democracy.

One medium speaks out, its voice growing louder the longer society stifles. Still, in its infancy, science fiction (and speculative fiction in general) struggles to make its voice heard. That is changing. We have seen the reemergence of the genre over the last decade and a burst of interest hitting the public in the recent five years. And why shouldn’t it be a major genre? Science fiction, the genre of inspiration and of warning, allows for the critique of social issues and current events within possibilities and solutions. Through it we can escape, not to a utopian fantasy realm, but to hope, understanding, and reason.

It starts, again, in 2009 with the release of District 9. Neill Blomkamp’s alien film hit the world with a fury which glimpses at the rage from South Africa’s Apartheid era. Packed with not only action but blunt, loud social critique on racism and discrimination, it was a pioneer in New South African science fiction. The success and sentiment are followed shortly by Lauren Beukes in 2011 when she won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke award for science fiction with her novel Zoo City. From then we started to see a rise of science fiction literature in South Africa.

Over the following five years, several sci-fi authors emerged from the dark, screaming their message through their works. From racism, sexism, and transgender rights, South African science fiction fights for equality and liberty. It pleads and threatens for a society free from persecution, injustice, and discrimination. A voice in the crowd deaf to any genre outside of the dictated . We cannot change the world with our words, but we can change their hearts.

The Authors of Our Future

We South Africans have so much to say, so much to warn about. We see the future of society. We remark on current events, directly and indirectly influencing social discourse. We look to the past and speculate on its future outlook. We are South Africans; rich in story, rich in wisdom, rich in change. At least that is what we wish to accomplish. Through literature, we step closer to reform.

AfroSF is a science fiction anthology of authors across the African continent, catering to speculative fiction as well. It was established in 2012 with the release of the first volume featuring Nnedi Okorafor, S.A. Partridge, Chinelo Onwualu, Nick Wood, Tade Thompson, Cristy Zinn, Ashley Jacobs, Sarah Lotz, and Tendai Huchu. Edited by Ivor W. Hartmann, AfroSF helped break in South African science fiction to the world, followed by the second volume, AfroSF v2 in 2015.

Another major player is the Science-Fiction and Fantasy South Africa club. Established in 1969, it has been a contribution of great influence and to sci-fi authors in SA. SFFSA holds an annual short story competition for SA writers, called the Nova Short Story Competition. Winners of which have their stories published in their long-standing magazine, Probe; a great source of SA sci-fi.

South African science fiction is not quite like any other, involving elements of African technology and medicine, fears and superstitions different from the more widely known Western elements. As such, science fiction in SA often veers into other genres of the speculative fiction range. Our plausible covers a wider spectrum.

South African science fiction veers into other speculative genres; our plausible covers a wider spectrum.

What is African Science Fiction?

Science fiction as a genre is commonly defined as:

  • “…fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component.”6
  • “…an imagined future, especially about space travel or other planets.”7
  • “…a form of fiction that deals principally with the impact of actual or imagined science upon society or individuals.”8

While most of the aspects are relevant to and feature in African science fiction, the standards are lacking and exclusive of the various cultures in Africa and how they influence African technology and society. In sum, science fiction is plausibility within a speculative format.

African sci-fi, however, has a broader sense of what is plausible, often blurring the line between science fiction and fantasy. One could argue that the plausible rests within reality (I.e chemistry, physics, astronomy, etc) but reality comprises psychology, sociology, politics, and philosophy as well, all of which are equally fundamental elements in sci-fi. For many South Africans, the tokoloshe is as much a part of reality as gravity is. Whether or not the creature exists according to physical science is up for debate, but within the social sciences, its existence can be seen much in the same way as we observe dark matter: through its interaction with the observable.

For the instances as above, African science fiction has been broadly classified as speculative fiction; the encompassing genre that includes sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc. The world is yet to recognize African sci-fi within its ranks of hard or soft (social) science fiction, without the inclusion of sub-genres such as cyberpunk or biopunk as quasi-scientific explanations of the elements considered as fantasy within African fiction.

Because sci-fi, in general, is already difficult to define, African sci-fi struggles to have its voice heard or regarded as “real” science fiction. Among other countries throughout the continent, South African science fiction helps to illuminate the importance of African sci-fi as an aspect of the genre, through fiction markets both local and abroad.

Publications

There is more, another side of the literary tale: the worlds of literary magazines, journals, and anthologies. AfroSF and Probe were mentioned as contributors to SA sci-fi but they are not the only gateways for local emerging and established authors.

AfroSF is an anthology by StoryTime: African Publisher, formed in 2007 to combat the lack of African literary magazines. Another anthology they produced was African Roar, from 2010 to 2014. StoryTime continued in a weekly fiction magazine of the same name.

Probe, the magazine by the Science Fiction and Fantasy South Africa club, being the more established and prolific, has been able to adapt the change of times and technology, releasing their magazine in digital format since 2006.

Something Wicked Magazine, established in 2006 (ending in 2012), curated pieces of science fiction and horror short stories from authors across the globe. It was one of the markets for South African speculative fiction and the entry gate for several local authors.

FIYAH Literary Magazine is a new initiative aimed at promoting African speculative fiction, giving a voice to people of colour in and from Africa. Founded in 2016 and based on FIRE!! Magazine, FIYAH has released a few issues and are working on many more.

Omenana, launched in 2014 with their first issue, is a thriving literary magazine for African authors of speculative fiction in a paying market. With nine issues already published, Omenana opens doors for more sci-fi from South Africa and the entire continent.

Chimurenga is a Pan-African journal of the creative arts platform, promoting the arts in various themed issues since the journal’s first publication in 2002. From comics to non-fiction, to literary and genre fiction pieces and poetry, the magazine has published several South Africans and their science fiction along with many large African authors.

JungleJim Fiction was a colourful literary magazine for African speculative fiction. From the release of their first issue in 2013, they have published another twenty-five by 2016, opening the door to local sci-fi authors.

Short Story Day Africa features an anthology of short stories from across the continent, allowing the voices of Africa to tell their tales and opening the door for science fiction and other speculative genres. The non-profit organisation launched its first prize competition in 2013. They have released several anthologies since, featuring South African sci-fi.

PEN South Africa, the local branch of Pen International, while not dedicated to speculative fiction, has published South African science fiction pieces in anthologies comprised from submitted pieces to their literary prizes. The organisation also encourages local talent and authors.

And The Authors?

For a (near) complete list of published South African authors with literature in science fiction, see here. By near, I mean that I may have missed someone. A list of local authors of short and stories published in literary magazines, journals, and anthologies across the world from the last decade with the reemergence of sci-fi in South Africa, can also be found in the above link.


With much appreciation and thanks to the African Speculative Fiction Society for their list of African authors.


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The Undead: History, Legend, and Evolution

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The undead have captured the hearts (or brains) and imaginations of the world for centuries; creating cultures and challenging what we know about life, death, and anything in between. The fascination with the unknown and supernatural is a psycho-social phenomenon occurring throughout history, crossing the cultural, religious, traditional, and geographic boundaries that separate people.

Pop culture of the 21st Century has integrated the undead into various genres from the classical horror setting, through fantasy and science fiction, and into romance and drama. Perhaps the undead have created a bridge between sub-cultures, unifying genres and peoples of various preferences as they have the bridge between life and death.

What Are The Undead?

An undead creature is a previously-deceased being who functions as the living and imitate life. They are animated by:

  • possession: demons, spirits, interdimensional beings, or aliens,
  • viral infection: such as the t-Virus in Resident Evil,
  • parasite/s: like those in the series The Strain,
  • magic: such as necromancy,
  • bioengineering: like with Frankenstein’s monster,
  • chemistry: where chemicals are fed to the deceased body and re-animation occurs, or,
  • mechanical control: such as with the Servitors in Warhammer 40 000.

Re-animation can include a combination of animation types in some scenarios.

In folklore, what makes the undead “undead” is often philosophical through social hypotheses. One could argue that when a person dies but the body remains alive, the subject is undead. Such an example is found in rural Haiti where persons with mental illness, disabilities, or brain damage were adopted into grieving families as a “returned” lost loved-one, and those with the above conditions who are found wandering are thought of as zombies1.

Social anthropology has explored the link between schizophrenia and the cultural view of the psychological aspects of zombification2. The search for a cure for the undead, cited throughout literature and media, suggests the definition of being undead lays in psychology, where the personality is what qualifies someone as being alive. Cures, like those explored in I Am Legend and Resident Evil, aim to revive the victim to their original, living self.

Does this make the undead merely a functional and socially acceptable undead being, or does it resurrect the person as well as the body?

Types Of Undead

An undead being can take both physical and immaterial forms; incorporeal and corporeal. Incorporeal undead are beings without a physical body. This type of undead include but aren’t limited to ghosts, wraiths, ghouls (although these could be considered corporeal as well), the Grim Reaper, banshee, the Boogeyman, bogies, poltergeist, revenants, and spectres.

Corporeal undead are beings with a physical body. They include creatures such as vampires, zombies, skeletons, liches, mummies, nightmares, golems, homunculi, and wights.

Origin And Evolution

The term “undead” is largely attributed to Bram Stoker and his use of the term “un-dead” in his novel Dracula (1897) to describe vampires. The novel also cites “nosferatu” as an “Eastern European” term for “undead”. The broader meaning of “undead” later expanded to include other forms of life-imitating and previously deceased beings. “Undead” was used in English before Dracula but was in context to the literal “alive” or “not dead” as opposed to “living dead” as we assign the term to today.

The undead are found throughout mythologies and folklore, dating into antiquity. The most commonly known undead in folklore are vampires, ghosts, wraiths, the Grim Reaper, and golems. Modern undead appear in literature as early as 1818 (Frankenstein, Mary Shelly) and further through Ambrose Bierce and Edgar Allen Poe, who influenced the stories of H.P Lovecraft and paved the foundation for undead cult and culture. More recent appeals to the undead surfaced through romanticism into young adult fiction, targeting and opening a new market for the culture, for instance in the Harry Potter series with the character Lord Voldemort.

The undead of folklore in antiquity stemmed from the lack of knowledge on diseases, both physical and mental. Stories were created to explain phenomena people once could not understand; gods to explain weather occurrences and supernatural entities to explain medical conditions. Ghosts, zombies, and vampires were the first undead to arise and consistently remain the popular types. Superstitions fueled the concept of the living dead; sinking graves from the settling of the soil or disruption by animals was believed to indicate that the deceased would return to life or already have. People afflicted with disorders such as porphyria and diseases such as rabies were thought to be vampires, while people suffering from mental disorders were thought to be zombies or wights.

Through the Middle Ages, these folklore creatures were used as a means to instill fear in the populations and were presented as examples of an evil present in the world. Hysteria led to witch hunts and Inquisitions in attempts to purge the evils. With the rise of the scientific method and psychology, the diseases and superstitions that once breathed life into the myth were shown to be natural occurrences and not of a supernatural origin. Tales of the undead slowly disappeared into children’s stories, fables, and published as fiction. Science, in turn, introduced new ways to possibly explain the undead and science-fiction moved from the stars back down to Earth. More and more authors and artists began exploring the scientific means of the undead’s existence, whether they could exist, and how.

Science has directly influenced the evolution of the undead in modern fiction. Examples include:

  • vampires that were originally cursed beings of evil, but are now victims of viral and parasitic infection or genetic mutation;
  • ghosts, the once-supernatural apparitions, have become electromagnetic and atomic phenomena;
  • zombies evolved from the damned and unsettled people who returned, into victims of biological and mechanical engineering or viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection.

As science progresses and accessibility to media through the internet becomes more prominent, the undead continues to haunt and captivate our minds as the possibility of their existence becomes all the more plausible. Were the myths of old warning our future selves of the horrors that lurk between life and death? Will our future selves make those very myths become reality as we continue to explore the limits of life and death?

We will just have to wait, read, and find out the fun… Err, hard way.


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Ghosts: The Horror Of Light

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For centuries the incorporeal undead were classified as the collective “ghosts”, with variations and synonyms depending on the culture. It was with the rise of fiction in literature and film that a distinction of the incorporeal undead was made. A common attribute of the collective ghost is in its materialisation as a misty air-form likened to that of its previous living body.

  • Wraith: a Scottish term for “ghost” or “spirit”;
  • Revenant: Latin for “returning”;
  • Spirit: Latin for “breath”;
  • Spectre: French for “image” or “ghost”, derived from the Latin “spectrum”;
  • Banshee: a Gaelic word meaning “woman of the fairy mound”.

What separates wraiths, revenants, spirits, spectres, and banshee from ghosts? Are they different at all? To determine this, we need to go back to folklore and factor in various forms of ghosts throughout cultures and fiction:

Some pre-literate folklores believed that the soul/spirit of the deceased could not leave the Earth until there was no one left alive who could remember them. Apparitions of the deceased would naturally manifest as they wandered the Earth. These were mostly benevolent ghosts, and rituals and rites were performed at death to prevent malevolence in the deceased’s soul, which would otherwise create revenants who envied the living. This belief was generally held in cultures of animal or ancestor worship, as those ancient China, Japan, Egypt, Rome, and Africa.


Egyptian Book of the Dead:

Originally called the Book of Going Forth By Day, it is a compilation of texts written regarding death, the soul, and the afterlife. The Ba are the free-range spirit aspect of the deceased, portrayed as a bird with a human head that could roam outside the tomb during the day. Likewise, the Shut being the shadow aspect of the deceased.


Classical antiquity remade the collective ghost into conscious entities who could speak to the living and, in some cultures, foretell the future. The majority of ghosts were benevolent and hardly ever encountered without a summoning. Classical Greek ghosts became haunting entities, though some benevolent ghosts remained, who were believed to linger close to their corpses. The Classical Roman belief held that people could use ghosts to exact revenge onto the living by a ritual of scratching on lead or pottery and placing it into a grave.


Homer’s Odyssey:

Composed in the 8th Century BC, The Odyssey is a poem about a Greek hero named Odysseus and his adventures and tribulations. During his quest to return home to Ithaca, Odysseus reaches a harbour in the western edge of the world (his journey into Hades) where he sacrificed to the dead and encountered the spirits of a crew member, prophet, his mother, and famous men and women including that of Agamemnon and Achilles. Odysseus’ encounters with spirits were through the practice of summoning (necromancy). The spirits told Odysseus about the affairs in the present and the future in vague dialogue. The spirits in the poem were benevolent, although some were at unease, and could only visually manifest and communicate with the living.


The fall of Rome and birth of the Middle Ages saw ghosts again in a new light. Ghosts were believed to be souls in Purgatory who would occasionally manifest on Earth to ask the living to pray for them to end their suffering, or demons who existed solely to torment the living. The ghosts of Medieval times took on a new attribute: the material world could physically interact with the incorporeal undead. The living could restrain ghosts and some reported to have wrestled with them. Ghost knights challenged living knights to combat in England. The ghosts of the Middle Ages were pale versions of their living selves, always dressed in tattered rags. Some cultures were the exception in their pre-Christian beliefs. Norse folklore, for example, made distinctions between the ghosts that wander and wraiths who were cursed to cause dread and misery.


Eyrbyggja Saga:

Written sometime in the 13th century, the saga tells of the transition of religion in Iceland over two decades. The saga’s main character is a chieftain named Snorri Goði, who ruled over an area called Snæfellsnes. Most ghost stories within the saga consist of animals rising up through floors and of revenants with animated corpses warming themselves by the fireplace in people’s houses. One story tells of a shepherd who died and haunted a house at Frodis-water. Thorir Wooden-leg encountered the ghost, became ill, and died. Together, the ghosts of Thorir and the shepherd haunted the area and four more people got sick and died one after the other. A seal’s ghost started coming out of the floorboards in a house while the town’s inhabitants gathered. Many guests tried to hit the ghost back down but with every strike, the ghost rose higher up from the floor until a young man named Kiartin hit the ghost back down into the ground using a sledgehammer. Thorir and his ghastly followers began throwing mud at the living during dinner by shaking out their clothes in the house, killing servants along the way. Snorri eventually banished the ghosts from Snæfellsnes with rituals.


Culture and the arts boomed at the turn of the Renaissance, and the undead with it. Ghosts were once again re-envisioned into romantic concepts; the souls of the dead yearning for release or atonement from living loved ones. In the romantic era, ghosts could take on the complete appearance of a living man and interact with the living without suspicion. Ghosts became both corporeal and incorporeal as they willed and, strangely, they remained mostly benevolent with this ability.


Fair Brow, by Thomas Frederick Crane:

Fair Brow is a short fairy tale published in 1885, about a merchant’s son who helped settle the debts of a dead man with his father’s money, intended for merchandise. The merchant’s son, Fair Brow, then purchased a slave woman and married her. She turned out to be the Sultan of Turkey’s kidnapped daughter. Fair Brow and his wife were chased from his father’s home, and his wife was captured by Turks. Fair Brow later encountered a fisherman and helped sell the man’s fish. A storm carried them to Turkey where they were enslaved. After reuniting with his wife, Fair Brow escaped with her and her maidens but returned to rescue the fisherman before leaving again. The fisherman claimed half of all the wealth they now possessed, including Brow’s wife. Brow relinquished some of his wealth to the man if he could keep his wife to himself. The man then revealed himself as the ghost of the dead man whose debts Brow had paid off in order for his body to be buried, then he disappeared.


The Modern Age branched out in specialisation, separating the types of incorporeal undead through works of fiction: ghosts, spirits, revenants, spectres, banshee, wraiths, etc. The distinctions being as small as the manner in which the person died. Ghosts are shown as the incorporeal likeness of the deceased who died unexpectedly. Spirits generally refer to the souls of the deceased who have attained ascension of some form such as being pure, good, or Holy. Revenants, much like ghosts, died unexpectedly but in a more troublesome manner which leaves the soul of the deceased at unease. Women who have been dealt an injustice or died pure and denied the indulgences of life often rise again as banshee; scornful and angered at the living. Spectres and Wraiths occur when the soul of the deceased is risen through necromancy and commanded to perform hauntings and terror against the living; wraiths being able to manifest and interact with the physical world, where spectres use magic or energies to perform their master’s will.


The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R Tolkien:

First appearing in 1954, in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Nazgul made a terrifying and dark entrance into fantasy literature. These nine creatures, also called Ringwraiths, were once the leaders of men before their downfall that led to the disintegration of their physical bodies and eternal servitude to Sauron. Tolkien portrays them as ghost-like creatures who stand as men, shrouded in black robes that gave them physical form. The Nazgul are otherwise invisible to the mortal eye. They mainly use physical weapons (some with curses), though they also have an aura of death called Black Breath which can cause unconsciousness, nightmares, and eventual death in beings who remain in close proximity or get too close to them.


Is there a difference between the variations of ghosts? Yes, and no. While the variations are distinguished from each other, they are in essence still ghosts: the incorporeal undead who haunt and help us, the physical beings.

 

 


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