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Adolescent Hauntings: dabbling in something nobody understands

April 21, 2013

Just thinking some more about the possibility of looking at Ruined alongside  The Time of the Ghost (1981), by Diana Wynne Jones and/or Charlotte Sometimes (1967), by Penelope Farmer…

I mentioned Anna Jackson’s essay yesterday; in it (among other things!), Jackson points to the problem of ‘dabbling in something nobody understands’ (which again puts me in mind of the World Risk Society thing I mentioned above)…

Jackson writes: “[In The Time of the Ghost, it] is rather the ghost who truly experiences the uncanny, even though she tries to reassure herself at one point that ‘Ghosts aren’t scared of ghosts!‘…. But it is the ghost, too, for whom these conventional trappings of the Gothic novel, the seance, the invocations, the exorcism, are felt as truly uncanny, while the ghost’s own actions work to dispel the uncanny. It is the actions of the other characters which are unsettling – literally unsettling to the ghost, with the exorcism spinning her into the kind of disembodied panic her own ghostliness drove her into at the start of the novel. / A large part of the uncanniness of these rituals comes from the participants’ own lack of belief in what they are doing. Imogen is the only sister who is really concerned about their dabbling in ‘something nobody understands’ (66) and even she continues to participate. The others are all quite reckless in their readiness to act. In this, they are more like Tabitha, in The Haunting, than Barney, perhaps because they do not really experience the uncanny. In The Haunting, though, any action is seen as a positive counter to the uncanny, even if it isn’t always very effective. In The Time of the Ghost, almost every action the sisters take provokes dread on the part of the ghost and also the reader. As Imogen recognises, their lack of knowledge about what they are doing is dangerous, a lack of knowledge the reader is acutely aware of, following everything from the perspective of a ghost the other characters can’t even perceive.” (p.167)

Charlotte Sometimes,” Jackson writes, “is unlike the other two novels in having the middle section, the section in which a family’s pattern of repression most clearly haunts the main character, quite separate structurally and in terms of cause and effect from the primary plot and its concern with the definition of identity. There does still seem to be some need for a subplot to do with repression, and its displaced effects, even when the connection between this issue and the theme of identity definition doesn’t seem at all clear. In The Haunting, Barney’s crisis is caused by his haunting by the family member Cole, and the revelation of family secrets solves Troy’s own difficulties in establishing her adolescent identity. In The Time of the Ghost, Sally’s own unfamiliarity with her past and her presence in the past as a ghost is what produces the uncanny for her sisters, as well as being uncanny for herself. And just as the displaced effects of repression cause the crisis in each of these novels, a canny sense of self-possession is necessary to solve the crisis, solving a crisis in identity in a way which also involves the revelation of secrets.” (p.174)

The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones ends, as The Haunting does, with the uncanny situation it sets up resolved, and the heroine of the novel possess of a new canniness, a new sense of self which enables her to take effective action.” (p.164) [Does this happen in Ruined?]

“With the uncanny located in the heroine’s own lack of a locatable self [i.e., she is a bodily ghost], issues of identity and self-possession are very clearly fore-grounded right from the start of The Time of the Ghost.” (p.165) [Does Ruined deal with ‘issues of identity and self-possession’?]

This may not all make enough sense on its own (so I simply recommend this essay), but I am left wondering:

  • How do Ruined and The Time of the Ghost compare in terms of perspective (The Time of the Ghost is written from the perspective of the ghost; Ruined is written from the perspective of its teenage protagonist – the one being haunted, as it turns out)?
  • What effect do these different perspectives have on the adolescent development of identity in each story?
  • What has been repressed in Ruined (if anything)?
  • What is the cause and purpose of the haunting?
  • What knowledge is lacked by the protagonist (and/or her family)?
  • What effect does lack of knowledge have on the story?
  • Are there any examples of ‘dabbling in something nobody understands’ and what importance might such action have to the story?
  • Is the uncanny situation resolved at the end of the novel? (And is the protagonist accordingly possessed of a new canniness enabling her to take effective action?) How does ‘the uncanny’ in this novel contrast with ‘the familiar’?
  • In what ways does the protagonist ‘grow’ in this novel? How is this growth connected to the haunting?

Ref: Anna Jackson ‘Uncanny Hauntings, Canny Children’ pp.157-176 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York

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