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Classic tale of the paranormal raises host of questions
It is only fitting that with the resurgence of parapsychology and television’s highly acclaimed, Paranormal State, A Haunting and Ghost Hunters International, that I revisit The Strangers, the all-time poltergeist classic, written some four decades ago by renowned British healer Matthew Manning. Manning was a mere teenager when the uncanny phenomenon besieged his home and gripped Britain’s imagination, forever changing the discourse on dying and the afterlife. Manning, through his gift of automatic writing, recaptures, in real time the life of Robert Webbe, an 18th century merchant in Linton, and owner of the house where the Manning family now resides. (Automatic writing, also called psychography, is writing produced from a spiritual source without the writer having conscious awareness of its content. In this case the source is the Robert Webbe.)
The strange occurrences begin with rappings (noises), and escalates into bewildering, incredulous activities that include the fetor of cigar, disappearances of household items, apports (objects that suddenly appear), including pages (later assembled into a book), apparitions of Webbe hobbling on sticks, sensations of a human presence, footprints, and the scribbled names of Webbe, his family, and hundreds more—villagers of 18th century Linton on the walls and ceilings in one of the bedrooms. Of this cryptic occurrence, Manning writes: “The names continued to appear in the dozens, as if there was some spirit convention …Many of the names were being written in places where it was quite impossible for any human hand to have written them. Some were compressed so far into corners that people later inspecting the wall have been unable to get their hands in, let alone write a signature.” Interestingly, many of these names were verified at the Cambridgeshire County Records Office.
Amid all, the Manning family does not balk, remaining in the house, even leaving a gift for Webbe one Christmas. The gift later vanished, no doubt accepted by the gracious ghost. Through the years, Manning remains diligent, piecing together the life of Webbe, a confused, if not troubled soul, vainglorious of the house he believes he still owns, and obsessively petrified of his bodily pain and impending death. Webbe seems trapped in time with glimpses of the present. When Manning enquires of his present activities, he (Webbe) writes automatically, and in old and broken English: “Indeed this verey nite am I to have supper with myne goode man Rob: Moore and his goodley wife. She does tickle myne fancy if I may say so.” And when asked the day and year, he answers: “Today is May 29th of ye year of Our Lorde 1728. A pretty fine day I see…” As Webbe grows in assertiveness, assuming the position of “Master” of the house he once enjoyed centuries ago, he writes: “This is myne house. Myne house and myne all.” Manning and his family are fast becoming “strangers.”
For a moment, a relative of Webbe who had also died there, makes her identity known. Far less complex and overpowering, she too is “tortured,” guilt ridden of having birthed an illegitimate child who she kills. “My chylde. Pray to God. I am lost. Look at the chylde. I must hurry to kill it. Forgive me my sins. I cannot forever suffer.” But her presence is ephemeral. Webbe demands attention above all else, and gets it. Manning reasons that Webbe “strongly believed that he was now living in 1727.” He later offers: “I can only conclude that he must be trapped in some kind of postmortal nightmare, unable to leave the house on which he spent so much of his money, and of which he was so proud. Sometimes he remembered that he was no longer physically alive and at other times he was still trapped in the time at which he died.” The ghostly pranks and interactions with Webbe eventually subside. While Manning offers his own interesting theory, there remain so many unanswered questions. On the mundane level, the reader is moved to ask why wasn’t a cleric called to conduct what is now called a “spirit rescue.” And although Manning confessed that family members were startled and afraid (at times), there was little effort on their part to leave the dwelling or rid Webbe from their midst.
Philosophically, this provocative tale poses unique challenges. Do possessive, material driven people transfer their self-centred thoughts to the next realm? Do extraordinary earthly affections produce hauntings? Do self-centred people, upon death, become entangled in a damning mental vortex—a self-induced punishment where one’s book of life is replayed (experienced) repeatedly? If so, what can be done for these troubled souls? Further, should we suspend our understanding of “time” when dealing with the “paranormal?” In other words, can the past, present, and even the future be experienced simultaneously, as Manning’s work intimates? In the end, The Strangers leaves the reader with far more questions than answers.
The Strangers by Matthew Manning
1995 Colin Smythe Limited, Buckinghamshire SL9 8XA
Available at Amazon.com
Ratings: *** Recommended
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