I’m not the sort of person who believes too much in the supernatural. I try to keep an open mind – after all, what writer worth their stripes doesn’t. But I also try to be a bit sceptical about the things I see and hear. I don’t just take things on face value – after all, no writer should do that either.
When I think about the question of whether ghosts exist or not, the main thing that comes up for me is the idea of memory. If a ghost is anything, then they must be a memory – a recollection of someone from the past that refuses to go away. Whether that memory can actually exist as some kind of sentient being is something I have no position on.
If there is anything that to me most closely resembles the concept of a ghost in real life, that thing must be a story. After all, what is a story but a kind of memory, translated into words and then transcribed onto a page. Once we have read a story, it becomes part of our memories – in some ways part of us. A story might be a true account of something that once happened. If so, it’s a way to keep that memory alive. Or a story may be completely fanciful, completely made up. In that case, it becomes its own sort of memory. The incidents being described might not have occurred in actuality, but once they are written down they acquire a kind of being. Often these are the sorts of stories that provoke the strongest memories. In effect, they become ghosts of great power.
But I reckon this is not the only ghostly aspect of stories. After all, what is usually the most significant aspect of any great story? It’s the characters. Each of the characters has their own associated memories. Maybe they’re real memories, if the character is a person who actually existed. Or maybe they’re completely constructed memories for a character who has sprung out of an author’s imagination. Either way, the memories that they can trigger are powerful. Just think of a character in a book that you really love and then see how their memories swirl around inside your head.
So there you have it. I might not totally be a believer in ghosts and the supernatural. But I definitely believe in the power of stories, and the characters they contain, to trigger the most powerful memories. And to my mind, that makes them the closest thing to actual ghosts that I can imagine.
Posted by Jonathan Gould and tagged as