Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fox Fairies and Ghosts

Although I enjoy just about any type of story, my favorite genre is the Ghost story. Unlike most forms of horror fiction, the prevalent mood isn't terror or revulsion, but a deep sorrow. Yeah, there is often some menace involved and certainly the presence of the "Weird" but it is that lingering sense of loss that makes the ghost so haunting.

My favorite stories generally come from the "Golden Age of Ghosts" in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, but I'm also very fond of the classic Chinese Ghost Story. This definitive work of this genre is the compilation by Pu Songling (who was born on this date in 1640), Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio.

This collection has had a strong influence upon the development of Chinese folklore into canonical stories, similar to the effect that the Brothers Grimm had upon European fairy tales. Fox fairies, demonic spirits, and ghostly lovers receive their lasting imprint from Pu Songling and persist in such a form into narratives of the contemporary era.

Let's get to some specific examples.

The tale "Nie Xiaoqian" was the inspiration for the classic 1987 movie, A Chinese Ghost Story. Here is a brief scene where the bumbling scholar first meets the beautiful ghost:

Another thing that makes the Ghost story so appealing to me is that it addresses essential human concerns, but using elements of the supernatural as symbols. In Pu Songling's collection, social commentary constantly underlies the fantastic. Here's a vid of composer Yu-Hui Chang discussing this element:

Anyways, if you're at all interested in either ghost stories or Chinese folklore, I highly recommend checking out Pu Songling's work.

Here is a link to the Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio Wikipedia page.

And here's a link to Yu-Hui Chang's website.


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