|ONCE UPON A FRIGHTENING TIME: GHOST STORIES’ EVERLASTING APPEAL|
“The ghost story is a universal genre,” notes The Woman in Black’s author Susan Hill of this classic genre that dates back to ancient times. “It exists in every culture and every country.”
Throughout the years, ghost stories have been depicted through various artistic mediums and have permeated folklore and oral storytelling. Though widely known as a fictional genre, many believe ghost stories are rooted in actual supernatural experiences and sightings. As such, many ghost stories surround famous historical figures and places.
To what do theorists attribute audiences’ ongoing fascination with ghost stories? One interesting explanation is illustrated by The Woman in Black director James Watkins in a summarization of a Stanley Kubrick quote- “In an interview he gave on The Shining, Kubrick explained that on one level ghost stories are scary, but on another level they are inherently consoling because they imply an afterlife, they imply that something is still there after death.” This comforting quality could in part account for their long-lasting popularity but, as Watkins simply states, it could also be that “people just love a good scare.”
Though ghost stories have taken various shapes over the years in literature, the genre has been widely associated with the short story form by contemporary readers. It was just this fact that prompted Hill to write The Woman in Black.
“I took a break from writing to have my children and, during that time, I read a lot of ghost stories which I’ve always enjoyed,” recalls Hill. “But most ghost stories, apart from one or two very famous ones like The Turn of the Screw, are short stories. So I decided to try and revive the ghost story and make it full-length again. I set myself up with a bit of a challenge really. I wondered, ‘Can you write a full-length ghost story which will keep the atmosphere and the suspense going?’ I sat down and made a list of ingredients rather like baking a cake – a list of what you absolutely need in a ghost story and then I worked from there. And so The Woman in Black came to be.”