Saturday, 4 August 2012

Sporty Spooks?

The fact that M.R. James 175th anniversary coincides with the London Olympics led me to ponder whether supernatural fiction and sport go together. James wrote 'After Dark in the Playing Fields', of course, but the crucial point is that no sports are being played (well, not by people, anyway). There are of course horror movies that feature sport heavily - if Attack of the Zombie Cheerleaders hasn't been made yet, it's only a matter of time*. But can the ghost story 'work' in the context of sport, which is generally a public event in daylight?

Well, there's golf. Many consider H.R. Wakefield's 'The Seventeenth Hole at Duncaster' to be the best golfing ghost story (though strictly speaking the menace is more of a demon). I think Margery Lawrence at least equals Wakefield with 'The Fifteenth Green'. But, excellent though they are, I think golf is a bit marginal as sports go. In my humble opinion, golf is pointless unless you have to tackle a windmill at some point.

There's motor racing. L.T.C. Rolt offers a very good (and historically fascinating) story base on the early days of this petrolhead sport in 'New Corner'. It's an object lesson in how to update the Jamesian ghost story, but of course it's pre-war origin now gives it a period feel. I'm not sure if motor racing, as such, features in any other notable ghost stories, though of course haunted cars of various types are ten a penny.

Discerning readers will note that neither golf nor motor racing are Olympic sports (as yet). There are, I think, a few cricketing ghost stories, because one has appeared in ST. But overall sport might be the most 'spook hostile' environment in which a work of fiction might be set. I can imagine a ghost in a submarine, up a mountain, in the cellar, or in the back seat of a car. But on an athletics track in front of tens of thousands of spectators? Probably not.

* I was more prescient than I suspected.

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