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X-Files Book of the Unexplained
Volumes 1 and 2
Shadows is The X-Files take on the classic camp-fire ghost-story format: a chain of weird events, followed by the revelation of a restless soul with a motive, making everything slip tenebrously into place.
According to co-writer Glen Morgan, who has reservations about the episode, its birth was utilitarian. 'The Network was saying: we want Mulder and Scully to help people and we want a ghost story. We took it upon ourselves to do this topic to get them off our back, which is a bad way to go about it.'
Morgan does not believe in ghosts, but finds poltergeist phenomena intriguing. 'That there could somehow be energy in the body that could cause you to throw something across the room without even knowing it, and then it's interpreted as being a ghost. . .' But Morgan resisted the temptation to make the heroine of Shadows, Lauren Kyte, responsible for the spooky goings-on. 'Romantically, in my mind, it was her boss,' he confirms. And so Shadows got its tormented soul: murder victim Howard Graves.
Of course, a ghost story's primary purpose is to chill us, spook us, gross us out, and the horrible-untimely-death element serves that end deliciously.
But it is interesting to consider it as a crossover with another timeless literary theme: triumph over adversity. In ghost stories, the adversity is death, and the triumph is that the wronged person refuses to allow the small matter of being six feet under to get in the way of pursuing their goal—whether it be attaining justice or just hanging out scaringthe pants off people. Even when we throw in lines about being 'condemned to walk this earth for eternity . . .', you can bet that, if only subconsciously, we still figure it as an option that beats oblivion hands down.
So here in Shadows we have that element too. Howard Graves is essentially the little guy, the disadvantaged hero (and you can't get much more disadvantaged than being dead) fighting against the towering evil—in this case corporate treachery and violent political terrorism. He watches over his beloved surrogate daughter, taking her tormentors in hand and meting out justice fairly and squarely: the crotchety domineering co-worker gets hot coffee in her lap; the parade of morally bereft hit-men get their larynxes crushed. He makes it known that his suicide was murder, exposes his company's terrorist liaison, and makes damn sure his duplicitous colleague pays. His unfinished business settled, he is, it is hinted, rewarded with eternal peace.
Just as most ghost stories are essentially chronicles of somebody's life after death, most real-life 'ghost' encounters get pegged with the same interpretation.
But, before we can even begin to ask whether the existence of ghosts proves that death is a doorway rather than a brick wall, we have to ask whether ghosts exist.
Henry Habberley Price, a respected Oxford don and former president of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) described the question 'Do you believe in ghosts?' as 'one of the most ambiguous which can be asked'. He felt that one should ask instead, 'Do you believe that people sometimes experience apparitions?' To which his own answer was a resounding affirmative. He asserts: 'No one who examines the evidence can come to any other conclusion. Instead of disputing the facts, we must try to explain them.'
John Spencer, along with his wife Anne Spencer, is one of Britain's leading researchers in this field. Together they work with the SPR and the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP), investigating claims, logging data and hoping for the breakthrough that might begin to bring explanations to light.
Spencer feels that, like UFO sightings, a high percentage of 'ghost' phenomena have a logical explanation. 'I think we can be pretty sure that there are some genuine mysteries out there,' he asserts. 'But right now, we have no answers, only questions.'
One major problem is that the data itself suggests many, many different phenomena which may not even be related to one another, and provides little insight into understanding any of them, let alone into understanding the mystery of death itself.
Even if we choose to study only the manifestations which seem to suggest a clear connection to the dead which means leaving out other 'ghost' phenomena such as apparitions of the living, ambiguous 'presences' and poltergeists (unseen forces which appear to manipulate their environment)—we are still left with a truck-load of categories.
Scully's experience at the start of the episode Beyond the Sea—seeing an image of her father moments before receiving news of his death—is a classic representation of a crisis apparition. The surprise appearance of a loved one or friend which later turns out to have roughly coincided with the moment of their death may well be the most common kind of 'ghost' experience reported. Because these apparitions are usually seen by a single Witness, it is impossible to discount the possibility that they are merely subjective experiences, perhaps triggered by some obscure function of the human mind, as opposed to being physically present. However, because these apparitions are so time-specific, it is quite impossible to study them in any kind of scientific way.
A ghost which is repeatedly seen by multiple witnesses in a specific place, and sometimes on specific occasions, obviously provides much better scope for investigation. It is likely, then, that this phenomenon will be the first to be fully understood.
A typical 'recordings ghost appears to have no relationship with its surroundings (it passes through solid matter, sits where there is nothing to sit on etc.). Its behaviour is repetitive and limited, and it appears to have no interest in those who witness it. These forms are generally attached to specific locations, and most 'historical' ghosts fall into this category. For instance, an apparition of President Lincoln has been seen at The White House on numerous occasions, by the most level-headed of witnesses, including Winston Churchill and John Kennedy.X-Files Book of the Unexplained
Volumes 1 and 2. Copyright © by Jane Goldman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.