Firstly, have you heard of the Maricopa Hall haunting, and if so what have you heard?
Oh yes, sure I have. I actually first heard about the haunting of the Modern Language Building, because that’s where the English Department is. Then when I was prepping for my Monsters class this semester, I googled haunted U of A buildings and found some websites on things like Maricopa Hall haunting.
The websites didn’t strike me as the most reliable things in the world, but there’s various stories for Maricopa Hall.
- (a wealthy young female U of A student who committed suicide when she found out her future husband was cheating on her.
- some conflicting reports that Maricopa Hall was originally intended to be the President’s private mansion back in the early 1910s.
- a myth about a duel between two women in the desert, long before the U of A was even founded.
I think it’s best if you treat each one unique. There may be a dozen different versions of Cinderella in films and literature – what does this one try to accomplish? And that’s just formal reworkings. For people who do folklore, they know that there’s hundreds, maybe even thousands, of versions of Cinderella out there. That’s because in oral storytelling no one story is ever told exactly the same way twice.Where do urban legends and ghost stories fall within the realm of literature?
Actually, this idea of treating each new retelling as unique goes for just about anything. How many movies are there about the original stories for Batman and Spiderman, for example? Good stories will try to do something new and unique for the tradition. Bad stories will just bore you tears.
Urban legends are kinda tricky, cuz usually they’re entirely oral narratives. They’re not written down, normally, and they don’t have authors, so I might categorize them as folklore rather than literature.
But that doesn’t mean that they’re not interesting, or that you can’t analyze them. Take any urban legend you want -- in my monsters class this semester, I used the old urban legend about a man who wakes up in a tub of ice only to find that his kidney has been removed.
It’s not literature in the sense that we analyze it for characterization or symbolism; it’s not Shakespeare. But it still tells you stuff about the culture that produces that particular story.
Ghost stories are a somewhat different kettle of fish. They are written down, and they do often have authors.
Ghost stories are actually a pretty robust subgenre of literature, especially in the last 150 years or so—people still tell them all the time. And they have a pretty respectable past, too. For example, I’m sure you know Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which is celebrating it’s 200th anniversary. Well, that was partly inspired because Mary and her friends were reading German ghost stories, and they got inspired.How do you see female ghosts represented in literature and storytelling?
Well, that’s a pretty loaded question! Partly, there is this long tradition of associating women with the supernatural—just think about European fears over witchcraft over the centuries, and women were almost always female. Really, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was one of the first books that made witches good, and he was actually a major feminist for his time.Do you see a significant connection between violence and ghosts in storytelling?
But the reason women have always been associated with the supernatural, I think, comes from this old sexist tradition that women were more emotional and less rational than men. So female ghosts have somehow always been seen as somehow spookier or more monstrous.
As in anything, ghost story writers really love to play around with those kinds of old tropes. I just saw this really fantastic British film, The Little Stranger, for example. Came about two months ago. Without giving anything anyway, it really throws a wrench into all those old gender stereotypes about female ghosts, and it’s really cool.
Definitely. M. R. James, who was this Victorian scholar famous for his ghost stories, thought that the ghosts should always be “odious” and frightful. Violence or the threat of violence is usually a part of that. It’s not enough that a character meets something supernatural—if a story’s going to be scary, that supernatural entity has to be dangerous in some way.Why do you think people tell ghost stories?
Of course, not all ghost stories are violent. The most famous ghost story of time, Charles Dickens’s The Christmas Carol, isn’t violent at all.
But violence ends up being a great plot device for injecting that element of fear and terror into a story, and that’s the angle a lot of ghost stories take.
Cuz they’re fun. Most horror stories—and ghost stories are usually a subset of horror—work on the basis of a boundary. Here’s some line in the sand that shouldn’t get crossed . .. well, that line’s been crossed, so here are the terrible consequences. The thing is, crossing boundaries like that can be terrible—but they can also be enjoyable.
Just think of people who do modern day ghost hunting. A lot of them, I don’t think, actually believe in ghosts, though they might pretend do. But ghost-hunting means they get to cross forbidden boundaries—they go into that cemetery at night, they explore that abandoned building, etc. They might visit that old mental asylum. Reading ghost stories is just another kind of low-key risk-taking, and that’s fun.