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Dark Souls, Paula Morris

January 23, 2015

Dark Souls Book blurb

Dark Souls“Welcome to York, England.

Mist lingers in the streets.

Narrow buildings cast long shadows.

This is the most haunted city in the world….

Miranda Tennant arrives in York with a terrible, tragic secret. She is eager to lose herself amid the quaint cobblestones, hoping she won’t run into the countless ghosts who supposedly roam the city….

Then she meets Nick, an intense, dark-eyed boy who knows all of York’s hidden places and histories. Miranda wonders if Nick is falling for her, but she is distracted by another boy – one even more handsome and mysterious than Nick. he lives in the house across from Miranda and seems desperate to send her some sort of message. Could this boy be one of York’s haunted souls?

Soon, Miranda realizes that something dangerous – and deadly – is being planned. And she may have to face the darkest part of herself in order to unravel the mystery – and find redemption.” ~ from the inner cover of the book

Dark Souls First paragraphs


At night, cornfields looked like the ocean. When clouds covered the moon, the vast darkness on either side of the road could be glassy bodies of water stretching into the distance. All they could see, driving home that night from the party in the farmhouse, was the road ahead, narrow and straight.
This was a game Miranda liked to play sometimes, even though she was sixteen and old enough to know better. She imagined that the country road was really following a rocky shoreline, that if they stopped the car and opened the windows, they’d hear nothing but lapping waves. They’d be in a different state – one that gazed out onto the pacific or the Atlantic – not stuck in the middle of the country, in the sticky center of a dead-hot summer.
Maybe Rob, her older brother, liked to play the game as well. Maybe that night he’d forgotten that the darkness surrounding them wasn’t the black water of a quiet bay. It was a forest of tall corn, brown and wilting during the day, rustling in a late-night hint of breeze. he couldn’t see through that dark thicket. He couldn’t see the other car speeding along another road. He couldn’t hear it, either: Miranda and Jenna had turned up the radio because they’d finally found a song they liked. Jenna was in the front seat. She always liked sitting next to Rob, though she was Miranda’s friend – the only real friend Miranda had made since their parents dragged them, a year earlier, to live in a small college town surrounded by cornfields
Jenna turned her head to say something to Miranda. She’d bent forward, reaching to turn down the radio. The song had ended. jenna was laughing.
There was a brightness, what seemed to be a spotlight piercing the passenger window. And then something slammed into them: The sound was like iron jaws crushing the car, crunching it. Everything was spinning, blurry. They were tumbling in the air – bumping, then tumbling again. Miranda remembered closing her eyes. She didn’t remember screaming. She didn’t remember the glass of her window cracking.” (p.1-2)

Ref: Paula Morris (2011) Dark Souls: A Novel. Point (Scholastic): New York

Themes in the novel


Possible directions for study/questions to apply to Dark Souls

As in Ruined, Dark Souls is a story of our relationship with ‘the past’ – our own and other people’s pasts. For example, the accident in which Jenna died is part of the reason the Tennants are on holiday (p.7). It is the reason Rob can’t go into small spaces and (it transpires, p.282) the reason Miranda can see ghosts. When Miranda tries to tell Rob about the ghosts, he tells her not to tell any of “this crazy stuff to Mom and Dad,” adding:
“”This family trip thing is a big deal for them. They’re trying to forget about… what happened. Just for a week, they’re trying to forget, okay? I’m trying to forget. You should, too.”
Miranda’s eyes prickled with tears.
“This isn’t about what happened,” she hissed. “Maybe I’ve been able to see ghosts for years but I never realized it.”
Everything is about what happened,” Rob said.” (p.88, italics in original)

This presence of the past just below the surface shapes the setting in a very real sense; Morris gives a sense of the spaces beneath – inaccessible, ancient, haunted… where the past lives on, as it were. Miranda visits some of these places with Nick and uses them to confront the ghost at the end as well… indeed, is she not confronting the past in more ways than one (physically, mentally, emotionally, both within and outside herself)? It is made clear in this book that the past had plenty of suffering (as Miranda observes of the staged photographs in a shop window: “They wanted to pretend to live in the good old days. Miranda thought. Not so good for some people.” (p.34))
NB also: discussing the Minster fire, Nick says: “People build temples, or churches, or forts, and other people come and sweep them away. The Vikings had a palace where King’s Square sits today – that’s why it’s called King’s Square. No trace of it now. One day there’ll be no trace of this place. It doesn’t mean anything anymore.” (p.140)

Consider the setting further. York: narrow old streets and confusing alleyways; the place makes so little sense that you need a translator to read place names (NB p.8; also 25-26); the city is so full of layers upon layers of different eras of different societies and inhabitants that it seems both immense and confining at the same time. A challenging place to know and understand? This is the setting. Rob’s claustrophobia fits his character’s back story with great clarity but it also helps maintain the reader’s awareness of how overwhelming some of these spaces are – small spaces yes, but full of the past, of stories, of lives gone and futures uncertain. It is important to note, too, that violent and broken relationships with places are the logic behind hauntings; when Miranda asks Nick why the ghost Mary keeps coming back to that particular street, he explains: “Why does she haunt it? The usual reasons.” Nick looked at her as though she were stupid. “Violent or unnatural death. Unfinished business, you know.” (p.49) Of course, the violence that makes the ghosts meaningful (and that makes the ghosts’ relationships with the places they haunt meaningful) is evident in the ghosts’ ‘bodies’ (blood stains and missing limbs and bruising, etc.). Even the kinds of places in which this story unfolds: ancient churches, alleyways, mental hospitals, ruins, pubs built over Roman roads, etc.

What of experiencing the world differently from others? This always seems to be the story of people with ‘extra-sensory’ perception – and also a feature of adolescence?

I was interested in how bodies (or lack of corporeality for ghosts) and the different senses and our experience of space are all tied together (and how such a theme might best be brought out by a ghost story)… The senses and one’s corporeality are made much of in this novel.
– Consider: “Nick could see ghosts, just like Miranda could; he seemed to know how to navigate that world. She wanted to hear what he had to say, to see what he had to show her.” (pp.78-79) Miranda needs Nick to teach her how to “navigate the world of ghosts” (by using her senses) because, like York, that world is not self-explanatory or easy to make sense of.
– Ghosts are experienced through the whole body in this novel. “The guy in the window smiled at her – just the glimmer of a smile – and raised his right hand to the window, resting his palm on the pane in an exact mirror image of her gesture. A chill rippled through Miranda’s hand. The glass was cold, of course; it was snowing outside. but this was a sudden, intense cold, turning her fingertips numb and shooting some kind of electric currents down her arm. Miranda knew this cold. She knew exactly what it meant.” (p.76)
“When she’d tried to brush the [ghost] girl off, she’d felt nothing. Nothing but cold. Nothing but that intense, piercing cold.” (p.45)
Also consider this passage: “They looked like creatures of ash and smoke, not real people. Their hands stretched toward her, shooting cold beams into her body. All the faces looked stricken, as though they were the ones looking at a ghost. Maybe she was the ghost…” (p.59, italics in original). It is as if, when we expand our experience of the past out to include all the senses of the body, the meaning that past had disintegrates; as if the world ceases to make sense when you experience it more fully through your body.
Similarly, Nick tells Miranda to take her gloves off so she can feel the ghosts of the Romans passing by underneath (p.102-)
– Also, ghosts aren’t just witnessed; ghosts want something from the living who can see them. They may have little physical power, but they interact with and influence those who can see them all the same (NB.1: “The ghosts in England could see her, just like the ghosts in Iowa. But what did they want?” (p.32); NB.2: “”World’s full of unhappy souls,” Nick observed. “People wanting to be seen, or heard, or helped.”” (p.51); NB.3: “”So you’re saying… I can’t see all ghosts,” Miranda said, struggling to understand. “Just the ones who want me to see them.”” (p.50, italics in original))
– The traumatic and brutal experiences of bodies in the past is a constant theme (medieval punishments – peine forte et dure (pp.28-29);
– Similarly, “It was a gaze that pinned her down, in a way that Miranda would think about over and over the next day and still not be able to explain.” (p.24)
– Some ghosts can talk, some can’t; “Some you see only once in your life, and others’ll be hanging around every day.” (p.49) …so different ghosts interact differently with your senses: nothing is certain in terms of the sensory experience of a haunting.
– even just the tension around who sees who first between Nick and Miranda reminds us that our sensory experience of a place and the people in it is important…
– all of this sensorial awareness raises the question: how do we ‘feel’ happiness or sadness or any other emotion that colours our experience(through which senses etc). Consider the explanation offered for ghost sensing:
Miranda asks Lord Poole when he stopped seeing ghosts: “”Just before I married Mabel,” said Lord Poole. “I can tell you the precise year – 1960. I was so happy that I think I couldn’t see unhappiness anymore.” “You think you have to be sad to see ghosts?” “Perhaps there has to be some great sadness in your life to make you open to the unhappy currents of the spirit world.” (p.282, italics in original)
“Miranda smiled down at the ghost, not confused or afraid this time. She could see Margaret Clitherow today, but if she ever returned to York – when she returned to York – it might not be possible. Like Lord Poole, she might lose the power to connect with the dark currents of the spirit world. One day, maybe very soon, she would only see happiness.” (p.289, italics in original)
– consider also the kiss… “Although Miranda meant to kiss his cheek, Nick twisted his head – in a way that must have hurt – so his lips touched hers, tender and cool. Walking back to her ward, walking out to the taxi with Rob and her parents, Miranda could still feel the kiss. She would always remember it, she thought. Long when she’d forgotten what it was like to be skewered by the freezing grip of a ghost, she’d remember that sad, soft kiss good-bye.” (pp.285-286). The feeling of the kiss will remain with her longer than the feeling of the ghost and the two seem naturally to be comparable here.
– NB When Miranda tells Rob about seeing ghosts, he tells her it’s just her overactive imagination and her reaction to loosing her friend in the accident (p.87). And Peggy has a “really bad feeling” about the performance (p.207), which she proves correct to have, but which she dismisses as “silly” (p.208). So which of our senses are we allowed to experience the world through? which provide ‘legitimate’ knowledge of the world around us? which are dismissed or denigrated? which are most accepted by established institutions of knowledge? what role do the senses have in ghost stories?

Morris opens her novel with a quote from Milton (which not only gives the novel its title, but also shapes the story told). Consider its meaning and relevance to the text. What themes does it introduce or reinforce? How might ‘himself is his own dungeon’ be read in terms of ghosts, hauntings, etc.?:

He that has light within his own clear breast
May sit i’th’ center, and enjoy bright day,
But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts
Benighted walks under the midday sun:
Himself is his own dungeon.
~ John Milton, Comus

 Along the same lines as quoting Milton, Stories and storytelling and lies and truth are a theme throughout. Consider:
The role played by Tales of Old York, the book that Lord Poole gives Miranda.
Consider the way the ghost tours are described in the book (e.g., p.48)
Actually reading in general for Miranda (she determines to make an effort to join her family in their holiday outings “Even if she’d much rather be snuggled up in bed with her book, lost in another place and time – somewhere far away from a city of tourist sites, and tea shops, and ghosts.” (p.38)
Rob wants to keep his claustrophobia a secret from Sally and her family but it utterly shapes his relationship with them. Similarly, Nick doesn’t want Miranda to tell Lord Poole about him. Miranda doesn’t want her parents to know about Nick….
Nick: “Nothing is true. Everything’s just lies and stories and broken promises. Isn’t it?” (p.135)
Nick: “this isn’t stuff you learn at school… I read books – I always did. You can’t trust the stories people tell, especially around here, where there’s profit in it.” (p.103)
The place itself is full of secrets and mystery (“the most haunted place on earth” (p.15)); Lord Poole: “Miranda will have plenty of time to read up on all the local history and mystery. Lots of strange, dark secrets here.” (pp.14-15)
Places themselves can be secrets – as if the city is full of places whose reality exists only beneath the ordinary gaze of tourists (the “secret chapel” of Margaret Clitherow (p.27) or some of the places Nick takes Miranda too).

A couple of other questions that may be useful include:

  • What if the story were begun or ended in a different way – in a different place in the narrative? ie if events were told in a different order?
  • How does its being a ghost story shape our relationship with protagonist and setting? (and vice versa)?
  • How does the structure of this novel ‘fit’ in terms of it being a ‘ghost story’? (I’m thinking of reader expectations and how these are used)
  • How might this story be rewritten in a different city (your own)?
  • How do ideas around mind/body/spirit enable such a story to make sense? (e.g., describing Jenna’s ghost: “Her body was still there in the car… but her spirit had other ideas.” p.99) (and how do our ideas about the separation of mind/body/spirit shape the spaces around us? For example: the reason Nick’s brother couldn’t be buried in the Minster is because he committed suicide and the Church denied him a funeral there (p.98). It seems there’s something in that relationship (between the separation of mind and body and our separation of holy space from unholy) that relates to ghost stories… but I haven’t thought it through
  • read the scene in which Nick shows Miranda the Minster and they watch her Mother’s rehearsal (especially pp.140-141). Consider the themes mentioned above… this is a significant scene.
  • (In this scene…) what of death or fate? They are underlying themes. The performance Nick and Miranda watch is one she considers to be very sad because “Dido’s asking everyone to remember her, but to forget her fate.” (p.141) Nick asks her what that means and Miranda replies: “I guess it means to remember her as she was when she was alive… and not the way she died.” (p.141) Nick comments that “That’s not possible, though, is it? Forgetting the way people died.” (p.141)… so is it possible to forget how someone dies? How do deaths influence us?

Texts that invite comparison

Perhaps the other ‘haunted city’ novels that Morris herself has written – Ruined and Unbroken? It might be interesting, for example, to compare the protagonists of Ruined/Unbroken and Dark Souls (i.e., Rebecca and Miranda) in terms of what they bring to the novel as a ghost story. It might also be interesting to compare the families of those protagonists and how they shape the story (again, not just as a story, but as a ghost story).

Also the books “readers also enjoyed” on sites like Goodreads ( Thematically and in terms of genre, these books usually offer comparative potential.

Part of me wants to say Margaret Mahy’s more ghostly romances… less with the romance; more with the adolescent relationships in haunted spaces.

As with my reading of Ruined, I think Anna Jackson’s essay, ‘Uncanny Hauntings, Canny Children’, might offer material for critical thinking; she argues that “One of the reasons for thinking that these hauntings in adolescent fiction are more about intellectual uncertainty and the establishment of an identity than about repression and the return of the repressed is [-p.168] the way the main characters seem to be affected more by what other characters have repressed than by what they have repressed themselves.” (pp.167-168)… 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

Again, perhaps Gothic fiction (and all the supporting literature that goes with that!)?

Morris’s Dark Souls: a History

Publishing History:

Classed as ‘Young Adult Fiction’ and published by Point (Scholastic).

Publishing details: Paula Morris (2011) Dark Souls: A Novel. Point (Scholastic): New York

Bibliography of secondary literature:

Author information:

Refer earlier blog: “Introducing Paula Morris” Paula Morris /

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