Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"The Ghost-Extinguisher"

"The Ghost-Extinguisher", by Gellet Burgess
(in Humorous Ghost Stories, compiled by Dorothy Scarborough)

Though not laugh-out-loud funny (in my humble opinion), this short story is still amusing.  It is certainly an interesting concept-- sort of like an early 20th-century prototype for the Ghostbusters franchise.  (If you're a serious Ghostbusters fan, you really ought to read this.  It-- like the other stories in this compilation-- is free online, in multiple places.  I got my copy from Amazon in ebook form, but there's even a free audio version on Librivox.)

The humor comes from the completely straight-faced narration of an entrepreneurially minded young (?) man (?) who strives to build a business around the removal of pesky phantoms.  As anyone who's started or observed the workings of a new small business knows, there are inevitably hiccups-- not to mention the never-ending need to adapt oneself to the marketplace.  Don't kid yourself; the ghost-extinguishing business is no different.  ;o)

The juxtaposition of the eerie and ghostly with cold, hard "science", practical business matters* , and realistic frustrations* held my interest nicely.  Personally, I found some of the pseudo-scientific jibber-jabber a little boring, but it didn't go on long enough to put me to sleep, and someone out there probably thinks it's the best part of the story.  

Some may be offended when they come across the term "Jap" (though apparently it wasn't considered derogatory before WWII) or the stereotypical "Oriental" dialect (r's replaced with l's, etc.).  However, both occur fairly early in the story and are soon finished.  Furthermore, such persons probably need to try not to be so sensitive when reading old works of fiction.  (There are so many bigger problems in the world to spend that energy on.)

Altogether an interesting short story-- better than I expected from the title.* 

*Here are some spoilers:

I love the bit where he tries to increase his profit by "recycling" the captured ghosts (putting them in "heavily embossed tins with attractive labels in colors" for future use)-- and then has to deal with the man who originally paid him to remove said ghosts and who feels that he ought to receive a rebate "equal to the value of the modified ghosts".  Ha!  You just know that's how it would work out in real life, don't you?  Gotta love that entrepreneurial spirit (and the haggling over price well after the contract's been written up an the job done)!

I do wonder what starts the fire that destroys his laboratory, though, and I would prefer it if the poor guy could come to a happier ending-- but I guess that's what you get when you meddle with the spirit world.  ;o)