Four Nations: Ghost Stories

March 12, 2007

One of the great storytellers and literary analysts of the dead talks about their narrative tradition.

Everyone must someday come to the Dark City. This means we cannot tell stories of the great heroes of the past, for they are here in person and might take offense. Eternal emnity is nothing to scoff at.

Indeed, we can only tell stories of those who are not here. Speculation about those currently living is common and there is also some fanciful speculation about future generations. However, that type of imagination is dangerous, as it reminds us all too dearly of life.

Instead we must speak of those among the dead who remain behind in the sunlands, those who have chosen not to journey to the Dark City. In our great epics, then, there are two main types of protagonists: ghosts and ghost hunters. The hunters often include members of the monastic order residing at Most Beautiful Cage, the sole outpost of the dead under the sun.

Of course, it is important to note that those seeking refuge at the Cage, while disciplined and highly regarded, are themselves ghosts. And that resonance with their prey, the close relationship between hunter and hunted, forms the basis of many of our stories.

There is also something transgressive about storytelling. The dreamers speak of nightmares. The pattern-walkers tell of those who sought to defy the pattern. The doorkeepers whisper of the places even they cannot reach. And so it is with the dead.

We speak of ghosts and those heroes among us responsible for tracking down them, seperating them from the echos of their past. As is often the case in heroic tales, it is always difficult — intentionally so, I suspect — to seperate heroes from villains, ghost from ghost hunter.

When the Grey Lady kisses her parents, children, and husband goodbye, swearing to join them in the Dark City once she has captured the ghost responsible for all their deaths… are we to compare her to the ghost she hunts?

As for our champions who issue forth from Most Beautiful Cage, are they not also tempted by the fruits of life? Do they not occasionally err in their pursuit of the errant? Is this not why we sympathize with them? Why we honor them? If even the most disciplined among us occasionally succumb to the taste of sweet cream or the ecstasy of sexual passion, that speaks to the nobility of our own frailties.

So the overarching theme of all our ghost stories, the question we constantly seek to explore is this: how are we to let go? How do we move on from life’s joys and sorrows to an eternity without them? What does that brief candleflicker of bright sensations mean in the face of the long dark?

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