Today I am honored to have J.L. Bryan, the author of one of my favorite books of 2010, Jenny Pox, and of the just released The Haunted E-book (linked to my reviews), as a guest blogger! As part of the book tour, I am lucky to be able to host a giveaway for two of his books, details below my guest’s posts.
The Ghost of Ghosts Past
The oldest known story in the world is part ghost story.
The Epic of Gilgamesh was written on clay tablets about 6,000 years ago. It includes stories about a flood that destroys the world, except for one man, who was notified in advance by the gods and built a boat to prepare (sound familiar?). The story also has forbidden fruit. The hero, Gilgamesh, seeks in vain after a certain blossom that will grant eternal life.
Like Adam and Eve in a later story, Gilgamesh is unable to eat the fruit that will make him live forever. Resigned to his own death, Gilgamesh instead summons the ghost of his friend Enkidu to find out what’s in store for him. It’s not an easy process, and Gilgamesh must appeal to several gods before he is able to make contact.
Enkidu—once a beastly, violent wild man whom Gilgamesh tamed by setting him up with some prostitutes, in a very early precursor to Beauty and the Beast—tells Gilgamesh what to expect after death. It’s not pretty. The dead generally wander hopeless and hungry through eternity, feeding on trash in the streets.
This story is often compared to that of another famous ancient hero, Odysseus. For guidance and previews about his journey home, Odysseus visits the underworld to consult with the ghost of Teiresius, once a famous prophet. Again, it’s not easy to speak with the dead. Odysseus fills a trench with wine, milk and the blood of freshly sacrificed sheep. All the ghosts come out for a drink, but he holds them off until he speaks with the dead prophet.
Teiresius tells him there’s trouble ahead. Poseidon is still furious about the whole Odysseus blinding the cyclops thing, the cyclops being a son of Poseidon. The prophet tells Odysseus he will see the cattle of Apollo, but must leave them alone or be cursed by the gods (Odysseus’ men later ignore this, eat the cattle and suffer punishment—spoiler alert, Odysseus arrives home alone.) Teiresius foretells most of the remaining plot points to come for the rest of The Odyssey. In a very sad scene, Odysseus then encounters the ghost of his dead mother and tries in vain to embrace her, but as a ghost she longer has a huggable substance.
Another famous ancient ghost is that of the prophet Samuel. Saul, the king, has driven out the sorcerers and witches from his kingdom, as a religious act. Now, with his grip in power slipping and a huge battle ahead, he visits the Witch of Endor and begs her to summon up the prophet’s ghost to help him. The witch summons Samuel, who takes this opportunity to rebuke Saul for consorting with witches and spirits. Samuel has no helpful advice, but instead says that, because Saul has done this, he will be defeated in battle and die. The prophet’s prediction comes true. It’s an early version of the Heisenberg effect—Saul changed the future by trying to get information about it.
We can see certain patterns in these earliest ghost stories. First, it’s not easy to get in touch with dead—there may be strange, elaborate, morally questionable rituals involved. Second, people generally contact the dead in order to gain information. However, the information may be useless or disappointing. Finally, we can see that ancient people didn’t hold much hope for a great afterlife. They expected to wander in pain and discomfort for eternity, or else slowly fade into the dim shades of Tartarus, lost in the mists of the underworld with little to do but reflect on the time when they were alive.
We can see how little myths about ghosts have changed in thousands of years. People still try to contact the dead for information, either about events in life or afterlife conditions. It’s still not easy—one must find a medium who claims to have the special gift of talking with the dead, and if Crossing Over with John Edward was any indication, the dead are still stingy when it comes to news you can use. Finally, our conception of the afterlife has changed. Modern religions promise paradise, while modern atheists expect their consciousness to be completely extinguished. When dealing with ghosts, though, it’s common to think of them as wandering lost or trapped between worlds.
Ghosts of today aren’t that far from ghosts of the ancient world, after all.
J.L. Bryan studied English literature at the University of Georgia and at Oxford, with a focus on the English Renaissance and the Romantic period. He also studied screenwriting at UCLA. He is the author of five novels and one short-story collection. His new novel is The Haunted E-book. The sequel to his novel Jenny Pox will be available by summer 2011.
Note: For more of J.L Bryan,…
The Haunted E-book Giveaway
One commenter will win digital copies of two of J.L. Bryan’s books, The Haunted E-bookand Dark Tomorrows. All commenters will be entered for a chance to win the grand prize of The Haunted Library, the Kindle WiFi and possibly a Kindle DX! To see what is included, visit the author’s website here!
The rules: Leave a comment in the in this post within the next seven days! Commenting will close at midnight EST on Saturday night, February 5th. Good luck and don’t forget to run, don’t walk, to your favorite bookstore and get a copy of The Haunted E-book! I absolutely LOVED it!
NOTE: Be sure to leave your email so I can contact the winner. The winner will be contacted via email and will have 48 hours to reply. If I don’t hear from you by then, I will choose another.