Ghosts – or the (Nearly) Invisible. Spectral Phenomena in Literature and the Media. Ed. Maria Fleischhack and Elmar Schenkel (ALPH: Arbeiten zur Literarischen Phantastik / ALPH Approaches to Literary Phantasy, 9).
This is a wide-ranging and eclectic compilation, most welcome for its willingness to dig in corners that, if not unfamiliar, have not always received their scholarly due. It is good, for example, to see the Byland tales receive the attention they deserve. Maik Hildebrandt considers these fascinating ghost stories, jotted down on the blank pages of an existing manuscript in Byland Abbey round about 1400. He recognises their contradictory nature, part popular narrative in a line of descent from the Norse accounts of violent, corporeal ghosts, part Christian appropriation of such fireside chillers. But he backs away a little from that recognition when he corrals the Byland stories under an overview of official purgatorial lore, subjecting his own insights to secondary sources. Cultural historians have been too ready to assume that what the Church taught must have been synonymous with the notions people exchanged in the dark winter nights. Since our access to this oral tradition relies on rare glimpses afforded when it makes its way into the written (ecclesiastical) record, it seems a pity to waste the unorthodox aspects of the Byland tales as yet more evidence of conformity. Cultural history is rarely as consistent as established systematisers want it to be.