We’re back and we’re getting the willies. Has anyone ever used that phrase and not received a derisive response? But, as we’ve discussed before, laughter is often a way of protecting ourselves against fear. And what is scarier than a good ghost story?
Main Topic: Ghosts in Call of Cthulhu part 1
This is the first of two episodes looking at ghosts and how they tie into Call of Cthulhu. Our original plan was to do it all in a single episode, but we talked too much.
As a result, this first part is largely us exploring what we think ghosts might be, as well as discussing what we do and don’t like in a ghost story. If you think the answer is “ghosts”, you might be surprised.
Next episode, we shall dig more into how we’d use ghosts in our games, and whether ghosts even belong in Call of Cthulhu.
Things we mention in this episode include:
- Ghosts as souls in purgatory
- Posthumous miracles of the saints
- Christmas ghost stories
- BBC adaptations of MR James
- A Christmas Carol
- It’s a Wonderful Life
- Subsonic vibrations and ghost sightings
- The brown note
- The Bristol Hum
- Stone Tape Theory
- The Stone Tape
- The Shining
- The Changeling
- Hell House by Richard Matheson
- A Manhattan Ghost Story by T M Wright
- The Sixth Sense
- The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde
- Casper the Friendly Ghost
- Haunted by James Herbert
- Haunted (film)
- “A Warning to the Curious” by M R James
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
- The Haunting of Hill House (TV programme)
- The Fontana Books of Ghost Stories
- “The Inner Room” by Robert Aickman
- “The Way Station” by Nathan Ballingrud
- Little Lord Georgie in Thetford
- The ghost of Betty Radcliffe
- The Archers
- “The Room in the Tower” by E F Benson
- “Lost Hearts” by M R James
- “The Monkey’s Paw” by W W Jacobs
Concrete Cow 20
Concrete Cow 20 will take place on Saturday the 14th of March. This is Milton Keynes’ own one-day RPG convention, held in the Old Bath House in Wolverton. Tickets are £5 on the door. All three of us will be there and we would love to see you!
Deadlight and Other Dark Turns
The print edition of Dead Light and Other Dark Turns is due out shortly. This classic-era Call of Cthulhu anthology features Alan Bligh’s much-loved “Dead Light”, along with a new scenario, “Saturnine Chalice”, by our very own Matt Sanderson.
Cthulhu Idol Charity Auction
Good friend of the Good Friends, David Kirkby, is auctioning another blasphemous sculpture to raise money for charity. After the success of his earlier Pad’thulhu auction, he’s now selling a unique, hand-painted idol of Cthulhu. The money raised will be split between Cancer Research UK and the firefighting efforts in Australia.
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What a fantastic episode! Ghost stories (whether actual ghost stories or Aickman weirdness) are always welcome. There are a few references that I hope you discuss in the next episode:
1) Ghostbusters. Particularly from a Lovecraftian perspective, Ghostbusters is wonderful. Some of the ghosts in there clearly are the spirits of dead humans (e.g., the librarian), but some seem to be something much more alien. And, of course, the ending is pure Lovecraft.
2) A Ghost Story. This is a 2017 film by A24, in which the protagonist is a classic ghost in a white sheet with eyeholes. It’s elegiac rather than scary, and is an interesting meditation on time, loss, and purpose. We see how the ghost perceives reality, and it’s…odd.
3) D&D. Ghosts in D&D, particularly in 5th edition, tie RIGHT into the discussion about ghosts being horrible to witness. After all, look at a ghost and fail your saving throw, and you age a bunch of years all at once. They’re actually worse in D&D than they are in CoC.
We only mentioned Ghostbusters in passing and didn’t touch on the other two, sadly.
I’ve had A Ghost Story in my Netflix queue for a while now and still haven’t got to it. Thank you for reminding me! I may see if I can catch up with it later this week.
Really enjoyed this one, slowly catching up on the last few episodes.
The child ghost with a bouncing ball — almost always a girl — is a motif that may have started with Mario Bava’s “Kill, Baby, Kill”, and has been used for good and ill in a number of horror movies. It’s such a well-used swipe it might be older than the Bava film, but I’m too lazy to look it up. I just saw a Spanish/US movie the other night that ran the bit into the ground called Witch Story from 1989. It’s just a creepy piece of business that always seems to work for enough people that it gets copied over and over, like the haunted music box, or the doll’s head that moves in the nursery.
I think what a good ghost story basically does, for me, is to unnerve, either through horror or implication. The idea of trapped or cursed spirits in kid’s stories never filled me with hope, it seemed terrible to be stuck in a house with nothing to do for a century or two until some bored kids discovered your skeleton in a locked trunk after you threw some plates around.the kitchen. There’s a wrongness to ghost stories that you can almost grasp, unlike a Mythos or cosmic horror which is usually completely alien and sanity-blasting.The ghost implies so many bad and fearful and lonely things, so many intangibles, and so many perceived actual possibilities for many people, that it gets inside you in a way that cosmic horror doesn’t. Cosmic horror doesn’t seem super-possible to most folks. It’s an intellectual fear, we’re not brought up by our parents or churches to fear Gugs (yet), but many people are brought up to believe in ghosts and religious miracles and demons. And possession and past lives and resurrection and things that all point to the very real fear of death.
One of the things I really enjoy about ghost/supernatural stories is the process of discovery and how a team or individual reacts to the situation once the discovery is made. I also like when there’s a mix of rational/science with the spiritual/supernatural world — which is very Lovecraftian in approach — The Stone Tapes, The Ring (especially the book series, with Loop and Spiral), The Legend of Hell House, Prince of Darkness, Poltergeist, Ghostbusters, etc. There’s just something about paranormal investigation stories that attracts me as a sub-genre, people who come together to solve the dead or understand/push back against it (like in Casting The Runes), or sometimes not solve it (like in Fitz James-OBrien’s “What Was It?”), or sometimes just get their asses handed to them because they should have stayed the fuck home. I still don’t like most found footage paranormal security cam movies, though, because they’re usually all about jump scares and jargon and I like the latter but get turned off by the former.
Iirc M.R. James also insisted in his essay on ghost stories that the ghost or entity be malevolent. Which is a limiting approach, but I know I prefer vengeful spirits that shove rocks and dirt into the mouths of the curious over The Funky Phantom.
Anyway, babbling because I’m tired and haven’t checked in for some time. Hope all three of you are well, please tell Matt I’m enjoying his turns as GM with the “Into The Darkness” group of players on Youtube.