BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Here's number two ...

I really do try to get these reviews written as soon as possible after reading a book, so most of the details (and brilliant observations I've made) are fresh in my mind. Unfortunately, I finished up this one on the morning of the day we lost power here, and we didn't get it back for 8 days, so this is a little "staler" than I'd prefer. Oh, well.

Speaking of "stale" (oh, that's a cheap shot), Harry Price's The Most Haunted House in England: Ten Years' Investigation of Borley Rectory originally came out in 1940, with most of the material in the book amassed over the decade of the 1930's. Needless to say, it's almost as interesting as a "peek into the past" as it is for the ghost hunting! The edition in hand, of course, is from the 1989 "Collector's Library of the Unknown" series that Time/Life Books put out (with silver edges and purple bookmark ribbons). I subscribed to that series for a bit, figured that they were charging way too much, and canceled after 3 titles ... however, for purposes of "library continuity", I decided to read them all at a go, so they'd stay together on the shelf, with this being the second volume.

It helps to appreciate the milieu in which Harry Price operated if one has read a lot of Theosophical stuff. In pre-WW2 Europe there were many threads of "genteel mysticism" with Societies set up to study various phenomenon. The "ghost hunting" in this book is much more in this vein than the current "let's use infrared cameras and freak out at the slightest thing" TV genre. Price and his various collaborators took detailed notes, dutifully chalk-circling items on shelves, putting threads across doorways, and noting the appearances of even the tiniest markings on walls. It was all very scientific, of course.

The book focuses on the Borley Rectory, a rather large, rambling house supposedly built on the ruins of an old monastery. It seems to have been haunted by at least one ghost, purported to be the spirit of a nun, and possibly by some additional spirits of later owners of the house. Despite all the "research", the best information that Price & co. got seems to have been from a series of seances in which they communicate with these spirits (although the "most dramatic" material is the scrawled messages on the walls, and the many "poltergeist" phenomenon reported). Now, these days "seance" materials would be likely rejected out of hand as "evidence", but the approach was much in vogue at the time.

What I found quite frustrating in Price's accounts was that they never took action to even attempt to meet the spirits' requests. Again, the "Nun" was the longest-reported haunting, and their research indicated that she'd been killed and buried in a shallow grave in a particular place outside the house. Both the wall scrawlings and the seance materials ("knock once for yes, twice for no" sorts of things plus a tiresome run-through-the-alphabet thing to have stuff spelled out) indicated that this spirit was simply looking for a proper Catholic burial service, but it didn't seem to occur to anybody to go about arranging for this to be attempted! At the end of his 10-year investigation, Price seemed to pretty much wash his hands of the project, only returning after a fire gutted the house some years later (and even then there was no attempt to put at least that one spirit to rest).

Oddly enough, it seems that most of the poltergeist phenomenon were due to the ghost of one of the house's previous owners, who had himself dedicated quite a lot of time to researching the ghosts! While I'm no expert in this particular genre, it would seem to me that the later ghost was trying very hard to draw attention to the plight of the earlier spirit, and BOTH of them could move on if they'd just rung up the local Cardinal's office and requested their best "minister to the disincarnate" to come out and have a go with some Latin, incense, and holy water!

Anyway ... I guess this is a "classic" of the ghost-hunting genre, and if it's your thing, you'd probably like it quite a lot ... if it's not your thing, your mileage may vary ... I found it interesting enough as a "time capsule" from a more genteel era that it seemed worth the reading. The Most Haunted House in England is, not surprisingly, out of print, but copies of this edition are available via Amazon's new/used vendors for as little as $2.99 ... which is about 1/10th of what I paid for it (if I'm recalling correctly) new ... and "new" copies are out there for not much more, if you want it in tidy shape.

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Tags: book review
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