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October 30, 2007

Creepy Experiments in the Moral Imagination

Off_the_sand_road Anyone looking for ghostly reading for Halloween should try one of Russell Kirk's three collections of ghost stories. My favorite is volume one, Off the Sand Road; creepiest story: "The Princess of All Lands." I read this book on Halloween night a few years ago while staying alone at a hotel. After reading a few stories, I wished I had some company.

What did this Catholic thinker, the father of modern conservativism, intend to do with these tales of supernatural suspense? In an afterword to Off the Sand Road, Kirk writes:

Alarming though (I hope) readers may find these tales, I did not write them to impose meaningless terror upon the innocent...What I have attempted, rather, are experiments in the moral imagination...Gerald Heard seaid to me once that the good ghost story must have for its kernel some clear premise about the character of human existence--some theological premise, if you will...The better uncanny stories are underlain by a healthy concept of the character of evil. Defying nature, the necromancer conjures up what ought not to rise again this side of Judgment Day. But these dark powers do not rule the universe: by bell, book, and candle, symbolically at least, we can push them down under....

All important literature has some ethical end; and the tale of the preternatural--as written by George Macdonald, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and other masters--can be an instrument for the recovery of moral order.   

More on this theme on the BreakPoint site on All Hallows Eve.

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