Tuesday 22 December 2009

Ghosts and Monsters

A spooky story at Yule is as traditional as mince pies and mulled wine by a roaring fire, and I always love surprise presents, so I was delighted to get an unexpected parcel in the post containing two books from Oxford University Press about ghosts and monsters.

One of them - On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears by Stephen T Asma - doesn't come out until January, so I was particularly happy to see an early copy.

The press release that came with it says:
"Monsters. Real or imagined, literal or metaphorical, they have exerted a dread fascination on the human mind for many centuries. They attract and repel us, intrigue and terrify us, and in the process reveal something deeply important about the darker recesses of our collective psyche...

"Stephen Asma's On Monsters is a wide-ranging cultural and conceptual history of monsters - how they have evolved over time, what functions they have served for us, and what shapes they are likely to take in the future. Monsters embody our deepest anxieties and vulnerabilities, Asma argues, but they also symbolize the mysterious and incoherent territory just beyond the safe enclosures of rational thought."
The second book, Magic, Witchcraft and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds by Daniel Ogden came out earlier this year. It is aimed at undergratuates studying the classics, but also looks as though it has plenty to interest amateurs like me who dabble in modern-day magic. The press release says:

"In a culture where the supernatural possessed an immediacy now strange to us, magic was of great importance both in the literary and mythic tradition and in ritual practice. Recently, ancient magic has hit a high in popularity, both as an area of scholarly inquiry and as one of general, popular interest.
"In Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds Daniel Ogden presents three hundred texts in new translations, along with brief but explicit commentaries. This is the first book in the field to unite extensive selections from both literary and documentary sources. Alongside descriptions of sorcerers, witches, and ghosts in the works of ancient writers, it reproduces curse tablets, spells from ancient magical recipe books, and inscriptions from magical amulets."
With these two books, I guess I've got my Yule holiday reading sorted - my only quandary is which one to start first. Then maybe I'll get that roaring fire going, heat up the mulled wine and mince pie and settle down in my comfy armchair with a good, scary book.

On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears
Magic, Witchcraft and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds

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