Ghost stories have evolved

Castell Coch near Caerphilly, from a watercolour by George Dolman. There is a legend of a ghost in this castle.

A good setting for ghost stories, Castell Coch near Caerphilly, where there is a legend of a ghost. (from a watercolour by George Dolman.)

Ghost stories have been around for a long time. Perhaps our ancestors told each other such things long before anyone wrote them down. They are usually set in castles or other old buildings, but other venues may be used. Perhaps our ancestors set them in caves or among standing stones?

A link with the past

A writer can use a ghost as a link between the present and the past, which allows two stories to overlap, creating a double mystery. This can be achieved in other ways, such as the discovery of old documents or archaeological finds, but the supernatural is one option.

What are ghosts like?

In the Middle Ages, most people believed in ghosts and assumed they were malevolent and that they could do physical harm. In more modern literature they can usually influence the real world only through the living. That is by scaring them or by giving them information – which may be true or false. Sometimes they are benevolent or neutral in their attitude to people.

Ghost stories are at the edge of credibility

Even in our scientific, materialistic world, many people believe in ghosts, or at least are unsure. Very few, however, would be as openminded about fairies, goblins, dragons or monsters. Therefore, stories about mythical creatures or spiritual forces are likely to be less popular with modern readers (apart from Harry Potter fans). Even Christians and followers of other religions are often ambivalent in their attitude to ghosts.

Ghost stories keep you guessing

It is the uncertainty that appeals to many readers, as you can read a story and wonder whether or not the writer will provide a natural, scientific explanation for the apparently supernatural phenomena in the book. Do ghost stories appeal to the same readers as murder mysteries, as both genres challenge you to guess?.