It is a common fact that, in today’s society, the most popular genre of story or film are ones that involve ‘ghostly’ supernatural happenings. A natural value to humans is that being eminently frightened excites us. Supernatural and ghost stories carry many conventions, which go towards building up the whole sense of tension, drama, and even fright. Ghost stories have been told for centuries and are oral tradition in many cultures. There are very distinctive conventions that can be identified in most ghost-related books or films.
These centre on the plot events, the setting and the characters involved.
Older film conventions have become stereotypical due to the changes in films of today through special effects. Ghost stories usually carry a sense of chase or ‘death’ about them, which enhances dramatical effect. The most obvious convention of all is the ‘cat and mouse’ style chase, which occurs, in most supernatural films, this enhances the whole sense of fright within the viewer.
Another convention which occurs in slightly more ‘shocking’ films, is when the object of fright is not in direct sight, it may be lurking in the dark shadows, somewhere out of view.
All ghost related films have always had a sense of containment, where the main actor being chased, it sometimes seems certain that they will get killed, but yet always find a way out. The characters are the most important convention, for making the film more dramatic. In all ghost films, an extremely hysterical character is used, to make the film much more exciting, to shock the viewer into fright and overall, to keep interest.
Usually the main targeted character is female, as it is believed that they much more hysterically to supernatural occurrences.
The characters are usually put in place as a leader or hero, or to solve any problems and uncover the past behind the story. Many ghost stories are based on ‘unfinished business’, which the human characters are out to solve and uncover the truth and reconciliation behind the supernatural happenings. The setting of a ghost story is the most important convention, which goes towards the sense of ‘being there’ and the atmosphere to the reader or viewer observing.
The main constituent behind the setting of a ghost story is not the main constituent behind the setting of a ghost story is not location, but the obscurity. Ghost stories always seem to be set in a dark, obscure and isolated location. This adds more tension to the story, as it makes the viewer believe that there is ‘no way out. ‘ Along the line of the supernatural happenings, comes bad weather, usually thunder and lightening, or even rain. This is a very stereotypical convention, which relates back to the days of witches and black magic.
Until modern day films, ghost stories were always set in large, old houses. This relates to supernatural happenings, as old houses contain many ‘nooks and crannies’ within, allows a ‘jumpy’ atmosphere to be created. This also creates a sense of concealment, where the supernatural being is almost one step ahead at all times and comes out at very un-expecting times to be more jumpy and frightening. The setting of old houses dates back to the Victorian ages. Back in Victorian times, the genre if ghost stories came about from the interest in science and travel/exploration.
Victorian science was mostly based upon the exploration of supernatural happenings or the creation of un-natural life, like the novel ‘Frankenstein’. The Victorian ages were when ghost stories were first properly introduced, and they have been shared and passed down, until today’s modern film versions. It can be argued that ghost stories are emphasised better by a novel, the reader almost becomes involved in the story.
Two authors who express this extremely well are Susan Hill and H. G Wells. In this piece, I will be comparing the works of Susan Hill- ‘Farthing house’, and H. G Wells- ‘The red room’. H. G Wells was an English author and political philosopher, most famous for his science fiction romances that variously depict alien invasion, terrifying future societies, and transformed states of being. He was born on 21st September 1866, in Kent. He failed in three apprentships (Two drapers and one pharmacist), and later earned a scholarship to the normal school of science. Although he was a gifted student, he failed his exams, but did become a science tutor. He died in 1946 aged 80.
The author of ‘Farthing house’, Susan Hill, came from a completely different background to H. G Wells. The inspiration for her novels ideas behind the theme of Susan Hills’ novels come from the area she was brought up in. The tranquil and relaxed atmosphere in the Cotswolds inspired her that it led her to write such invigorating novels. The background to which she bases her novels on is the Cotswolds setting, she is also interested in childhood issues which showed that she may have had an pleasant childhood. In her early marriage, she had fertility problems, which led her to suffer a miscarriage.
You can see that this became a theme in her stories now, as this is portrayed in ‘Farthing house’. ‘Farthing house’ is based upon the past history behind the haunted old people’s home, which involved mothers and children. By the emotions in the story that are portrayed, you can tell that she has put her feelings into the novel, what she felt about her own experience. Both stories contain elements of plot structure that are typical of ghost stories. Together with the conventions of a ghost story, language devices and very detailed setting description, Susan Hill and H.
G Wells have produced two very different stories, which use the same conventions, and share the same theme. ‘The red room’ by H. G. Wells, is a story set as a very stereotypical convention, a large, gloomy and old mansion house filled with elderly servants and occupied by a very old man. A young man visits the house with a very assured attitude, very optimistic of his own thoughts. He is warned by an occupant of the house about visiting ‘the red room’ at this time by ignores the advice to follow his own beliefs about supernatural happenings which may be laying ahead.
The story follows his journey to the red room shares the supernatural experience he encounters in the red room. From his optimistic view before the encounter in the red room, his attitude completely changes, he had now become a believer in ghosts and haunting. ‘Farthing house’ by Susan Hill is set in a very similar setting and follows the same theme, but yet the plot events are very different. The story is set in an ex- home for single mothers and children which dates back to the Victorian ages, but in the story is a home for elderly people.
A young lady is going to visit her Aunt Addy in ht old people’s home, ‘Farthing house’. The story begins with a letter from a mother to her daughter explaining about the visit that she is making to see her Aunt Addy. The story centers on the visit which the lady make to Farthing house and what she experiences in the home. During one night of her stay, she wakes to the rather startling view of a figure, a young woman, holding a child to whom she contemplates, is a ghost. This gets to the lady, which is why she makes it her duty to find out who the lady is or was.
The lady is sure this is the woman she saw in the corridor, which is when she also finds out what the home used to be. On main convention in these two stories which builds up drama and tension, is the use of climaxes and anti- climaxes. Both stories do not use many of these but as they are the main conspiracy of the story, they play the biggest part in creating the whole supernatural theme. In ‘The red room’, the climax in the story happens right in the middle when the young man reaches the red room. The climax is built up by the description of the man’s actions as he enters the red room.
H. G Wells describes the man’s actions as very hasty as he opened the door. This suggests that the man new that something was going to happen. The young man then recalls his thoughts about the history behind the room where a man had died. The story now comes to an anti- climax as he just analyses the room and its surroundings. The story then begins to build up a climax once more, as the man becomes unsure of his thoughts. The climax becomes at its highest as the speaks aloud ‘By Jove’. This is when the supernatural experience begins.
The climaxes and anti- climaxes in Farthing house are a bit more discreet as the story is at an overall lower tone than the red room. You can tell that the climax of the story is beginning by what the lady says as she gets into her bed. ‘I was, as you might say, almost expecting to have bad dreams or to see a ghost’. This signals that the atmosphere is quite ‘eerie’, she is expecting something to happen. The next step up in tension is displayed when she says, ‘it was a baby crying’. This short, emphatic statement shows that the lady is becoming nervous.
When the reader begins to think that a supernatural occurrence is going to happen, but it is a ‘false alarm’ she can no longer hear the sound of the baby. The next night, is when she sees the young woman. The story reaches the full climax when the lady says, ‘the previous nigh, I had the sensation of someone having just been in my room. Now I saw her’. This shows that the lady is shocked by the occurrence rather than scared. The convention of flashbacks and timeshifts helps to tell the background of the story and uncover the past.
In the red room there is actually only one flashback. It occurs during the build up of climax as the young man enters the red room. As the young man closes the door to the red room behind him, he recalls a past story of what happened in the red room. He says, ‘The great red room of Lorraine castle, in which the young duke had died’. This statement adds to the build up of tension as a convention of the past coming back to haunt. So many flashbacks occur in Farthing house, that they become the element, which actually tells most of the story as well as the past.
The first flashback occurs just after the letter from the mother to the daughter. It is a timeshift to a few weeks back when she quotes ‘the edges of my consciousness blurred and insubstantial came into focus and in a rush I remembered… ‘ to which she begins another flashback of her trip to Farthing house, which is where the story begins. The lady, the writer of the letter, predominantly tells the main body of ‘Farthing house’ in a flashback to her daughter. The way in which the writers create setting establishes a sense of place.
Both of the stories contain a very conventional setting and they are both very similar. ‘The red room’ is wholly set in a large old house, which you are later told that it is called Lorraine castle. You can tell that the occupant of the house is very interested in keeping the house in its original state, the young man’ s description helps you to understand that the theme of the house is very much that of a castle. He says that mounted upon the walls is ‘sconces’, which are wall- mounted candlesticks, just like back in the days when electricity was not invented.
You can also see that the owner of the house is interested in travel. The young man says that there is a ‘porcelain Chinaman on a buhl table’, which is the sort of object that you would pick up as a souvenir on your world-wide travels. The setting in ‘Farthing house’ follows a similar theme but yet the house served a very different purpose. The home was set in a very quiet location as you can tell from the lady’s description of her journey there. As the lady came to the house she noted that the entrance was by a ‘lych gate’, this is the kind out gate, which usually is found at a churchyard.
When she came to the doorway of the house, she said that the porch was a marble floor, just like the floor of a hospital or nursing home. As the lady went in to the house, she was overpowered by the strong smell of anaesthetic, you can tell that this place used to be some sort of medical care home. Again this house was very old, in the hallway were many extremely old antiques. The contribution of drama from the setting of ‘farthing house’ is mostly made by the very descriptive journey to the home by the lady. The convention of isolated and obscure location is highlighted in the lady’s description.
She said about how no cars passed from the little cathedral town during her journey to Farthing house. When the lady gets to the home, her description sounds very ‘church-like’, which brings in the convention of the dark atmosphere. The past behind what Farthing house used to be gives the theme for where the ghosts will come from, the young women and children. As for ‘The red room’, the ‘castle-like’ theme relates back to witches and black magic. Castles are a good setting for a ghost story as they have a hidden past of death about them.
The other element, which makes castles good for ghost stories, is the very ‘cold’ atmosphere. The stone walls, large spiral staircases and no insulation creates a chilling feeling which adds to the drama of the story. The characters have a huge impact on the way that the audience perceives the plot. Characters enable the audience to relate to the plot on a personal level, infusing feelings and emotions. In ‘The red room’, the elderly servants contribute to some very important functions. The servant main purpose is to work in contrast with the young man.
They are the ones who tell the man of the danger that may lie ahead if he visits the red room on that night. They also help to set the scene. With their very ghost-like descriptions, they become superficial, almost creatures. Their sole purpose in the house is to make the story more interesting and to perpetuate superstitions around the house. The story begins and ends with the servants, they are siclicle characters. In ‘Farthing house’, the character Aunt Addy is set in place for the only purpose, so that there is a reason for the lady who wrote the letter, to visit farthing house.
The story is almost all told in a ‘flashback’ so there is not going to be many other main characters. One of the roles of the lady in Farthing house is to inform her daughter about the journey she encountered to Farthing house. The letter at the beginning of the story, tells you the format of the story, it helps you to understand how the story is told. She is a very weary person, who adds to the tension build up because she can almost sense when the atmosphere is odd. Her other main role is to uncover the truth behind the lady she saw in the night.
She makes it her inquiry to find out who the lady really is or was. In ‘The red room’, the young man is the main character and the narrator of the story. The young man’s main role in the story is to portray the age of the elderly servants. The author of the story has depicted the young man as a ‘new age’ scientific sort of person, he does not believe in ghosts or supernatural happenings. This adds to the drama and tension as his attitude changes after the supernatural encounter.
From his very optimistic view before the encounter his attitude changes greatly after the supernatural experience. In the two stories, as they are both ghost stories, the main part of the story is centred on the supernatural encounter. They both involve a ghostly presence, although what form the presence is in is very different. In the red room, going by ghostly conventions, you could almost say that it is a slightly more chilling experience as there is not actual sight of a ghost. The ghost makes his presence known to the young man by a cold breeze on the back of his neck.
The climax of the encounter is when the young man says, ‘it was as if the wicks had been nipped between a finger and thumb’, which shows that the ghostly figure relates to a human. The young man is extremely scared by this, as he speaks with a very sloppy dialogue. When all the candles in the room had gone out, he began to panic and said, ‘my hands trembled so much that twice I missed the rough paper of the matchbox’. This is the time when he began to believe that what was happening was true. In ‘Farthing house’, the ghostly presence is a lot more apparent.
The lady in her bed is woken up by the distinct wail of a baby. Naturally, the lady goes to investigate, but she sees nothing. The next night is when the encounter occurs. She wakes to the view of a young lady walking across her bedroom. She is not at all scared of the presence but more like intrigued. The lady makes it her duty to find out who the young lady was and when she finds out about the past identity of Farthing house, she is able to come to the conclusion that the mother is just looking for her baby. Now that she knows the truth about the ghost she is not frightened at all.
To show her emotions she says, ‘I was no afraid any more, not now that I knew who she was and why she had been there, getting out her bed in Cedar room, to go in search of her baby. Both authors have used the conventions of a ghost story to create two exceptionally well-composed stories. The conventions are easy to recognise in both stories, but yet they blend in to the story line so that they are riveting reads. As far as the plot events go, ‘The red room’ does not contain any chases or death, but does contain a very frightening scene, where the supernatural creature is not in direct sight.
It is believed that these types of story are slightly more chilling than one where the ghost is easily seen. ‘Farthing house’ is very different. The lady actually sees a ghost but again, there is no sense of chase or death involved within the plot. One plot related convention which ‘Farthing house’ does contain is the long journey by the lady to get there, which often appears in ghost stories. Because of the obscurity in the ghostly presence of ‘The red room’ I think that it works excellently as a plot related convention and it that it works better than the plot conventions in ‘Farthing house’.
The setting of ‘Farthing house’ completely follows the setting convention of a ghost story. A very isolated and obscure location provides the perfect setting for a ghost story. The theme of the home previously being a single mothers and children institute, is a very similar setting to a quite ‘shocking’ modern film called ‘The house on the haunted hill’, which also contained a very old and isolated house, and previously was an institute for mentally handicapped people. The setting of ‘The red room’ follows a very stereotypical setting convention.
The setting for the red room is a large old house, which previously was a castle. This provides a better setting for a ghost story than Farthing house because the very old atmosphere helps you to relate to a supernatural occurrence. On the other hand, the setting in ‘Farthing house’ and its previous purpose has a sense of death, almost like the setting of a hospital. In ”Farthing house’, the use of very little characters helps to make the atmosphere a lot more ‘eerie’ and desolate. There is one convention that neither of the stories share, they contain no ‘hysterical’ characters.
The drama and tension is created by other conventions by plot structure and setting. The one character related convention in ‘Farthing house’, is that the narrator is female, and although she does not react emotionally frightened, but concerned and intrigued. In ‘The red room’, the elderly servants used help to create a really ghostly atmosphere. They really support the ghostly presence well and also work along side the narrator. The young man in the story adds to the creation of drama and tension by the way that he becomes extremely frightened by the ghostly encounter.
I think that the young man does make good use of the conventions, but in contrast with the characters in ‘Farthing house’, Susan Hill makes better use of the character related convention, by not using many characters. Overall by the evidence I have provided above, I think that it is quite hard to decide which story makes use of ghost story conventions best. Both stories have made excellent use of the conventions to create two stories of the same theme, but yet are both very different. By a very slight margin, I think that ‘The red room by H. G Wells uses the conventions better than ‘Farthing house’.
I think this because, firstly the plot structure of ‘The red room’ creates a much more frightening story, in that the ghost is not actually seen. This makes the reader wonder more about what or whom the supernatural being is, thus creating a more exciting read. I also think that the setting of ‘The red room’ is better than the one in ‘Farthing house’. I think this because, in my view, an older setting (like the one in ‘The red room’) creates a much better atmosphere for a traditional ghost story. On the other hand, the very descriptive journey to Farthing house helps to create a very good picture of how isolated the setting of it really is.
As far as the character related convention goes, I think that Susan Hill’s use of very little characters creates an excellent atmosphere that is very chilling and quiet, the perfect environment for a traditional ghost story. Although I do think that the elderly servants that H. G Wells uses in ‘The red room’ are brilliant for working in contrast with the very ghostly atmosphere. So overall, I think that ‘The red room’ by H. G Wells makes use of the conventions of a ghost story best. Wells has kept within his science- fiction theme to create an excellent and very traditional ghost story.