Popular Science

A Ghost Lover’s Reading List


Many cultures leave behind some kind of hair-raising yarn, whether it’s a screamer intended to scare children or a complex metaphor about life. In addition to explaining things that go bump in the night, these standout sagas often help all of us cope with our fear of impending death and impart morals to future generation­s.

A Ghost Story: Perhaps the earliest known spooky tale is an Egyptian parable found on tablets dating as far back as 1500 BCE. The narrative concerns a high priest who converses with a spirit called Nebusemekh. The wraith turns out to be a former tax collector who can’t find his grave.

Mostellari­a: This 200 BCE play by Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus contains one of the first documented haunted houses. The drama follows a slave who hosts a party while the master is away. When the latter unexpected­ly returns, the slave distracts him by insisting spirits are afoot.

Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio: These vignettes enjoyed by 18th-century China’s upper class show that paranormal stories can entail more than monsters under the bed. Pu Songling’s satirical creatures torment stuck-up bureaucrat­s, often sending scorpions to sting their nethers.

The Turn of the Screw: Henry James’ 1898 novella moved away from the castles-and-vampires era of Gothic horror and introduced a new genre of psychologi­cal spookiness. A nanny of two kids on a country estate loses her mind after she experience­s repeated visits from a spectral couple.

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts: In this 1954 epic by the Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola, a boy finds himself in a vast plain with malevolent forces from West African Yoruba folklore. The child wanders among the phantoms for so long he marries twice. The yarn introduced Yoruba tales to Western audiences.

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