I once heard it said that there are only two kinds of Western: (1) We ride into a strange town, and (2) a stranger rides into town.

The dichotomy between vampires and zombies in the popular imagination can be seen as spanning a similar dialectic. In the modern vampire story, a strong part of us identifies with the monster, for s/he is beautiful, irresistible, all-powerful, the monster as poet, or even poetry itself. The vampire is, in essence, the all-devouring life force that we fear within us — Eros as destroyer.

Zombies are quite the opposite. We do not identify with the zombie, but rather with its victims. The zombie is, in essence, the all devouring death force that we fear awaits us — Thanatos as destroyer.

In a ghost story we are neither hunter nor prey. Rather, ghosts represent the third kind of fear. This is neither the fear of being a predator nor the fear of being prey. Rather, it is the fear of loss.

The ghost represents the mystery of lost connections, of words left unsaid to one who is now no longer there to hear us. The failed friendship, the lover become stranger, the secret about ourselves we have buried so deep that it appears to us only in flickering shadows.

The ghost story can be the most frightening of horror stories, for it evokes not the clean decisive kill, nothing so easy as the sudden flash of violence within us or against us, but rather the terrible mystery of loss itself.

4 thoughts on “Ghosts”

  1. When you opened this article with Western, I was very confused, since my school is also referred to as “Western”.

    On that note, I suppose High School stories are basically like Westerns, in premise – either the main character transfers to the school, or the main character is at the school where a new kid transfers to. Then there are the gangs, the love interests, the psychological warfare, and the long, drawn-out closeups on faces.

    All we need now is horses, sand and tumbleweeds, and we’re good to go!

  2. Good point!. And I don’t know, maybe the horror genre is also apt.

    I mean, ghost stories are scary, but high school is terrifying!


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