Choosing the Correct Victorian Psychic Detective

A good psychic detective can often be the best defense against paranormal intrusion and a lifetime of gibbering madness. Of such talented detectives, two stand out above the rest: John Silence and Carnacki the Ghost Finder.

John Silence was the creation of Algernon Blackwood, and he’d probably call himself more of a psychic investigator than a detective. His stories feature mysticism, reincarnation, and psychoanalysis. They are brooding and a bit like Sherlock Holmes as if penned by Edith Wharton.

In the story “The Camp of the Dog,” Silence helps a pair of young lovers, a lycanthrope divinity student and a somnambulistic preacher’s daughter, get together under the noses of their good Christian guardians. The story makes use of unconscious psychic manifestations and past life regressions. Blackwood could also pull out the stops when he wanted to. “Nemesis of Fire” gives us a tub of pig’s blood, along with mummies, séances, and a stone circle in a forest, while in “Secret Worship” there’s the requisite horrifying yet unknowable face of some blasphemous entity.

Throughout it all, John Silence remains nonjudgmental. He never censures the victims, even if they have often brought their fates upon themselves. They transgress, suffer, and are punished—but if they survive the ordeal, they are often healthier individuals afterwards.

On the other end of the spectrum sits Carnacki the Ghost Finder. He is basically Dr. Strange with gizmos.

The creation of William Hope Hodgson, Carnacki resides squarely in the realm of the “ripping” good yarn. He makes use of an array of strange implements and rituals: the Electric Pentacle, the Broom of Hyssop, the Saaamaaa Ritual (I have no idea how to pronounce that), and the Sigsand Manuscript. Not all of his stories have supernatural culprits. Along with the ghosts and the general breakdown of reality, there’s also madness, fraud, and ingenious criminals. Carnacki can punch his way out of a hold-up, just as easily as he can banish an Outer Monstrosity. As we read each story, the joy comes from being unsure whom or what will be responsible.

Much of Hodgson’s work presages that of Lovecraft. What’s the Necronomicon but the lovechild of the Sigsand Manuscript and Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow? And certainly the Old Ones resemble more than a little bit Hodgson’s Outer Monstrosities. Overall Carnacki the Ghost Finder is familiar territory. Only each story ends with a hearty goodnight, instead of a gibbering descent into madness. Not to mention Hodgson actually has a sense of humor and can write a story like “The Find,” entirely about a rare book of acrostics.

So ask yourself. Does your paranormal dilemma require the two-fisted approach and possibly a sharp spike in your electricity bill, or would a more holistic solution bring about the proper alignment of your psyche with the forces of the supernatural?

The choice is yours.

The Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost Finder

Three John Silence stories: “A Psychical Invasion,” “Ancient Sorceries,” and “Nemesis of Fire”

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