‘Poltergeists: Then and Now’. by Wayne Ridsdel – book review

Poltergeists: Then and Now

From Plato, who believed that the dead walked around a cemetery, Pliny the younger who told of his friend’s in Greece encountering a ghost of an old man in a chain, and Arthur Conan Doyle, who himself manifested as a revenant looking for his lost diary in his former early abode, there is no distinction between the learned and the general in acknowledging the existence of spirits. There are more things on earth than are explained in theories. Poltergeist: Then and Now by Wayne Ridsdell revisits the places where the noisy spirits were/are reputedly manifesting themselves and lets the reader judge the veracity of the existence of the century-old poltergeist on his own.

The book reads like an anthology for the history of poltergeist 101. The author has gleaned several famous poltergeist cases from the Cock Lane Poltergeist to Borley Rectory Haunting, The Enfield Poltergeist, and the Rosenheim Poltergeist. They are all too familiar to stimulate the reader searching for a new case of the subject, even if it may not be as sensational as the aforesaid famous cases. But in all fairness, the instances’ enumeration latently serves as suggestive DYI touchstones for discriminating the genuinely supernatural from the others, including mental illness, fraud, or overt imagination. Take, for example, the Cock Lane Poltergeist and the Mayfair Ghost, aka Berkeley Square ghost. Despite the shocking incidents recorded in the annals, the circumstantial evidence surrounding the cases arises from a jilted lover’s malice, the rage of failed expectation, and rambunctiousness of avarice, manifested in one big hoax of an invented poltergeist. Although the authors do not directly debate the cases’ truthfulness, the detailed accounts of the stories behind the issues bespeak the possibilities of stratagem.

What lacks in the originality of strange poltergeist incidents makes up in the unveiling intelligence about historical and literary relations to the ghostly phenomena. For example, the haunted 50 Berkeley Square in London inspired Rudyard Kipling’s “Tomlinson,” a poetic version of the Book of Dead retold in his poetic vision is a gem to discover. From London, the reader travels to the ghastly Glamis Castle and finds himself in the secret chamber where the sinister force originates from, which no one but the first-born son at his twenty-one birthday can access to. The secret remains intact to this date in the Bowes-Lyons Family, the castle owner, who included Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and the unfortunate Nerissa and Katherine, who were locked up in an asylum for their prenatal imbecility till their death, eschewed by their loyal cousins. The reader’s thirst for the supernatural piquancy in the context of historical evidence is adequately quenched in such information.

The reader keen on supernatural (not paranormal, psychic, or psychological) stories based on real events might find this book mediocre in contents that are a well-organized summation of case studies. Still, the book is a good primer for the world of poltergeist and its historical record that links the past to the present, which the noisy spirit knows no boundary of time and space. What happened before happens now and will happen tomorrow. I think this is what the author wants to ascertain in this book.

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The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling


It was my first moment of spiritual Eureka mixed with awesomeness and bewilderment in terra incognita when I first read The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. It was a wonderful pictorial book painted with the scenes from the Disney’s classic animated film version. To the child’s eye, it was like a fiesta of vivid colors and vivacious characters set in motion in the heart of jungle I had never seen. What’s more, the animals were so humanlike and likable into the bargain that while reading the book, I almost forgot that they were beasts speaking their own language, which I was able to understand through the presence of Mowgli, who looked a lot like Tarzan in diminutive stature and size wearing only a loincloth and long dark hair. Mowgli’s knack of communicating with his beastly friends who were always there for him even compelled me to try talking to my domestic puppy Nena at that time by using a quaint conflation of the human alphabets and the doggie phonetics to a moderate success.

Now I am pitchforked forward in 2018, but the childlike sensation of reading The Jungle Book still resonates strongly with me in defiance against the existential horrors of life that I deal with everyday. Amid the the detritus of daily chores and duties, I turned to Disney’s remake of The Jungle Book (2016), which I chose to watch on my Kindle Fire a few nights ago. At first blush, I had a certain indisposition to watch the highly-acclaimed film: although I am not altogether unreconstructed in terms of watching a film version of classic literature, I tend to shun adopted film versions of classic literature because of the gratuitous rendering of post modernist revisionist interpretations of the books they put on screen. But such misgiving was proved to be an unnecessary mental albatross.

The Jungle Book is a cinematic eye candy to children and adults with its stunning visual impacts and a spectacular scale of the story set in the background of a deep jungle somewhere in India populated with a cast of magnificent characters representing human characteristics in different forms. To classify this film as an anthropomorphic children’s film is to miss the essence of Kipling’s allegorical allusion of our human nature to multifarious animal forms: Sloth, Integrity, Conscience, Humor, Greed, and Vengeance, all of which is manifested in contact with the nature itself whose essence is of neutrality. It is in this background of nature, which is neither paradise nor hell where our human nature becomes conspicuous in its very essence, a primeval form. The manifestation of such human traits is a fortiori overcome by the figure of Mowgli, a feral child brought by a benevolent wolf family. Mowgli is an emblematic of resilience, independence, and courage against the gravitas of trepidation, death, and despondency.

9780385389839Given the authenticity of the storytelling aligned with the original context by Kipling and the performance of the characters studded with breathtaking scenes of nature so characteristic of Disney’s creative imaginativeness, it is a film worth of the spending your time on screen. It is a kind of film that stimulates your mind by inviting you to think about a meaning of our human life and existence and of our purpose of life. It will also thrill your heart with the adventures of Mowgli in the heart of the jungle and the stereoscopic views of the nature on screen created by a wonderful collaboration of our timeless human imaginations and 21st century feats of technological bona fides.

Cry Wolf for Huck, Mariner, and Mowgli

Fake news is not an unique thing of our social media era. As there is nothing new under the sun, ludicrously fake news dealing with fatalities, especially of the famous, irked the nerves of the victims of such falsity. Subsequently, the selling of the newspaper like hot cakes was all over but the shouting. The logic of the fake news is a priori simple:  sensationalism has always been a tacitly cardinal principle of journalism to bring the grist to the mill for instantly skyrocketing readership with consummate profits in no time. It’s all linked to mob psychology, often without moral and ethical culpability when the media rashly trumpets a premature death of a living person.

mark-twain-350Let’s go back to the time when the great American humorist and writer Mark Twain (1835-1910) regularly featured in the nationwide newspapers with his trademark scintillating remarks on just about any subject that piqued him; but none other than reading articles about his own deaths twice in the New York Times would have perturbed his otherwise usual sanguine nature. After the first ignominy, the writer told the Times that it was an exaggeration. But after the second occasion, when the Times suggested that he had been the victim of a yachting accident, he thought he had it enough for such media farce and remonstrated to the Times with a public complaint that he would make a thorough investigation of the fallacious report. To think that a respectful newspaper such as The New York Times published such fake news of the famous writer of the time twice is something of a bitter pill to swallow, but it also shows that reputation isn’t necessarily likened to integrity or even probity.


It’s also interesting to see how a falsely presumably dead person reacted to the news of his own demise in the newspaper. Now I am going to pitchfork my reader to the early Victorian period to introduce you Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), a great English poet and literary critic who wrote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” In 1846, a man’s body was found hanging from a tree in London’s Hyde Park and was identified as the poet himself by the very name stitched into the jacket, which had been stolen from the alive-and-kicking poet. Upon our asking him about the fallaciousness of his printed death, Coleridge stoically, wittingly, and leniently piped up: “It is a most extraordinary thing that he should have hanged himself, be the subject of an inquest, and yet that he should at this moment be speaking to you.”


Would all those famous people cope with their prematurely published obituaries as the aforesaid with magnanimity? Surely, Humanly No. Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), who wrote the timelessly fascinating Jungle Book, was anything but human after the ignominy of reading his own obituary in the newspaper. Naturally, he resisted biting the dust and wrote the letter to the newspaper as thus: “I’ve just read that I am dead. Don’t forget to delete me from your list of subscribers.” How brilliantly he wielded his pen to vindicate such false killing of his life with intelligence and witticism! I wonder if any of our contemporaries responds or will ever respond to any fake news to this effect. Does this also mean that our reading brain that helps us to develop our cognitive abilities has been adversely affected by mindless decoding of the digital letters on the Internet as presented by Dr. Maryanne Wolf whose book Proust and the Squid I am reading at the moment?

As the sudden surge of accusations of insensitivity to cultural, social, and personal traits is presently all the rage, it is helpful to retrospect to the precedents that might provide us with universal truths about life and how to respond to existential dealings in life that are not too much anachronistically different from ours in contemporary time. It is hardly likely that the social media will rein in their impulsive dissemination of sensational news on their platforms because it is a fortiori their modus operandi of generating profits as far as I know. And yet, we can learn from the way Twain, Coleridge, and Kipling reacted to their ludicrous false demises with intelligence, poise, and wit, let alone something about the sensational nature of journalism that is aimed at producing ever provocative – however false it is – news to the public.