The ghost story, a type which is never quite in or out of fashion, is the frame for Cornelia Funke’s latest novel, Ghost Knight.
Jon resents being sent to boarding school in Salisbury. Believing the move to be powered by his mother’s new boyfriend, the Beard, he is slightly bewildered and frightened by the move. On his first night, he sees the four ghosts who chase him as a Hartsgill, his mother’s maiden name. His room mates, Stu and Alistair, cannot see them. Only the slightly odd Ella, a day pupil, believes him and introduces him to her grandmother, Zelda, who runs ghost tours.
In the mad cap adventures which follow, Jon becomes a squire and begins a slight roman a clef, learning his place in the world and accepting it. In the beginning he sees himself as Harry againse the Dursley’s, projecting himself as the picked on child. When Zelda’s son comes to visit, whom Jon recognises as the Beard, he overhears that he is spoiled. Rather than feeling out of place with his new school, Jon grows up and accepts that the family has changed slightly.
The apprenticeship with Sir William forces him to grow up and to accept responsibility for his own life and to make his own decisions. Seeing the Beard help him in his quest makes his accept him. His friendship with Ella and perhaps odd relationship with his dormitory mates means that he sees the world in less black and white.
Funke uses the first person narrative to create an unbalanced narration and builds the fear up. In a very subtle way, she uses the horror to discuss Jon’s internal world, making his own fear very real. Knights and the apprenticeship becomes a conceit to think about how to deal with suddenly being sent away to boarding school and the first time of being away from one’s family. Using Salisbury cathedral, she echoes the MR James’s way of unsettling the reader but, unlike adult horror, never goes for the full effect.
The horrific is cast with the overtones of Heaven and Hell. Using the ghosts, she discusses the horrors of war as well as showing that actions have consequences. Instead of being about the world and its darkness being put on to the individual, young adult horror is more about the internal world of the protagonist and being able to see that the monsters in the world can be defeated. Rather than echoing John Clute’s seasonal theory of horror, intimately linked to a Story of the world, it is tied to an individual’s story.
Funke’s novel is perhaps a more subtle book than I had initially thought. Although not absolutely comfortable with the English ghost story, Ghost Knight is a good supernatural novel that explores and reveals the inner world.