Can ghost literature exist without a ghost appearing in the text?
I think many people will be split between no and maybe. I’m sure there are a few that will say yes, but I would say a majority would be as a I described above. The problem is the misconception of the horror genre. A great example, other than ghost literature, is zombie fiction. I bet it would be just as hard to find people to say that you can have a zombie story without a zombie in it. The thing is, if you really look at what zombie literature does, it’s not really unto itself, it is a section of plague literature, which has been with us since at least Boccaccio, the Black Death, and The Decameron. It is also the reason why the addition of monsters and psychos don’t make something a horror story. While these sub-genres are named after a character type, it is the inherit meaning of that type that define it.
So, with Ghost Story, how is Peter Straub creating a ghost tale sans ghost?
Most ghost literature–if not all–deals with the unresolved life. As we have seen in both The Haunting of Hill House and Hell House, the central character(s) all had to deal elements of their lives they were simply left in the past. Those past events were more character back ground with implications in the events of the story. Ghost Story builds it’s story around those events. As the Chowder Society faces off with Eva, Gregory, and Fenny, they are true characters.
An interesting aspect of the novel is the recurring theme of the Manitou. One the surface of the story, Straub gives his own twist on these Native American legends. But if you look into what the Manitou are, they are the spirits of everything. All things in the universe have a Manitou. It is very similar to Platonic ideals or Barfieldian theory of Participation. Many people would take the idea of “all things” to be more of the physical, everyday elements of the universe. But, if you take the Native Americans ideas literally, that would mean that there is a Manitou for regret. And just like the Platonic ideal of a tree, these Manitou possess only a semblance individuality. They would be metaphysical clay that each individual would sculpt to fit the regrets lurking inside them; they are homunculi that Don and the rest transfer their self-regrets and the creatures shift into forms for them to interact with those unresolved events. Like Narcissus–which Straub uses through out to introduce new sections of the story–it is only through the seeing the self does one understand the nature of the self.
That is how you have ghostless ghost literature.