A modern encyclopedia of popular ghostlore (Book Review)

Ghosts in Popular Culture and Legend
June Michele Pulliam and Anthony J. Fonseca, Editors
Greenwood/ABC-CLIO, LLC 2016 403pp, Index.

This is an encyclopedia with alphabetical entries that explore mostly “tales and motifs” in popular culture from early writings to modern media. The entries are well researched and cross-referenced so the reader is able to see themes emerge throughout. I read it cover to cover as well as using it as a references for a paper reviewing paranormal trends over the past decade. While quite long, I read a few entries per day. – it’s a great bedside table book (if you don’t mind the red ghostly eye staring at you). The book intends to show the breadth and depth of ghostlore and its influences from society and other cultural influences.

For example, the Victorian era was when the depiction of ghosts changed. They had different purposes and looked different than in earlier accounts. Though this book includes entries on famous ancient ghosts such as the Witch of Endor, The Arabian Nights tales and ancient Greco-Roman ghost stories and plays, it goes all the way up to 2015 including entries on The Conjuring and American Horror Story.

Many entries reflect the modern views of ghosts and ghost hunting such as in 21st century paranormal television, bestselling novels, and popular movies. There are cross threads that help a non-horror film person like me understand the Asian influence that brought us the girl ghost in white with long black hair featured in Ringu/The Ring and Ju-on: The Grudge.

While most ghost stories have a purposeful entity who shares hidden information, enacts revenge or serves a distinct role, there are ghosts you can’t appease and those who destroy just for the sake of destruction. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book/short story, the synopsis and major points are provided. Themes are related to other similar media products.

An important theme of this book is to showcase the role of women in relation to ghosts – as ghosts, as writers of ghost stories, and as mediums (in the heyday of Spiritualism and on television). This obvious contrast is rarely noted in mainstream discussions of the paranormal but has become important in gender and media studies.

Covering oral tales, literature, film, and television, Ghosts in Popular Culture and Legend also examines ghosts in video games and popular music. It also includes famous ghost-related people and organizations.

While very pricey due to it being ABC-CLIO library press and hardbound, this is an excellent volume that succeeds in its mission to show the massive scope and influence of ghostlore in society.

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