“Will Storr vs. the Supernatural” (2006)

WillStor1Two in two days! This is some kind of record. In lieu of a medal, I will accept cash or pastries. QUICKLY, THERE IS LITTLE TIME.

I really enjoyed Will Stor vs. the Supernatural. A colleague at school recommended it to me, and I was not disappointed. It’s half ethnography, half memoir, and it’s pretty funny–a potent combination, says I.

Storr is a British journalist whose forays into the supernatural realm began when he was on a magazine assignment in the US. The piece focused on a “demonologist” named Lou Gentile, who took Storr along on a case that convinced the journalist that there’s more to life than his tendency toward atheism generally allowed. Following the weird happenings on that first case, Storr seeks out a bevy of supernatural aficionados and experts, most of them in the UK, whose knowledge, he hopes, will help him come to some conclusions regarding the reality of the soul and the existence of an afterlife. He has some funny, and mildly frightening, experiences on the way, and it’s all very entertaining (though I’m sure he felt differently at the time).

Despite the heavy metaphysical agenda, Storr is a lighthearted paranormal investigator, and his characteristically British wit makes what might have been a frustrating read, due to its contentious content, fairly hilarious. He consults with everyone from ghost hunters to priests to university professors. At one stage, he writes, “I decided to call the Royal Institute of Philosophy and tell them about the odd business that’s been taking place in my head. By the time I’d finished, they’d agreed to despatch an Emergency Philosopher right away” (76).

One way his work differs from conventional ethnography is that Storr doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to the quirks of his informants. From their physical appearances to their idiosyncratic behaviors, Storr puts it all out on the table in a way that ethnographers have tried to avoid. It’s refreshing, because the people Storr works with are anything but average, and he portrays them in a way that feels honest. I do wonder about what his informants thought after reading his text, though.

Most of the debate Storr wages with himself is familiar: science versus the supernatural, and the “science” of the supernatural (i.e., parapsychology). I’m steadily losing interest in that arena, personally, but Storr’s wrestling with it all is fascinating and funny. And the strange experiences Storr has in the course of his investigations do leave their mark on him. I won’t tell you how, exactly, but it’s worth reading to find out.

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15 thoughts on ““Will Storr vs. the Supernatural” (2006)

  1. That sounds totally fabulous and I need the number to call for an emergency philosopher – right now!! (failing that I will just fall back on retail therapy and order the book on Amazon LOL)

    • You and me both! But I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the book.

      He mentions a number of particularly haunted places in the UK that I really want to visit now, like Clapham Woods and Mitchelham Priory. There’s also a great bit where Storr gets involved with the “Most Haunted” crew when they’re doing one of their investigations. That’s pretty hilarious.

  2. I will have to ask ‘Miss Jessel’ about Clapham woods, that sounds nearer her neck of the woods than mine!

    Most Haunted, now there’s a classic – its sooo bad I love it! I went on a ghost hunt last year in a local castle,(it was great), but nobody got quite as hysterical as Yvette does – you would think she would be used to dark by now, having made so many programmes!

    • I’ve only seen clips, but it seems pretty hilarious.

      On a related note, have you ever seen the film “Ghostwatch”? I really enjoyed it–they set the stage for a lot of found-footage/mockumentary films to come. And it was just extremely well constructed. And it had Lister from “Red Dwarf.”

  3. Just finished this book – great recommendation! Very funny book and plenty of food for thought! Love the stuff about the Most Haunted crew – I believe there was some scandal associated with Derek A at one point in relation to the show!

    • That’s right–I think I remember reading about that in a book by a folklorist named Mikel Koven. The book is “Film, Folklore, and Urban Legend” and there’s a chapter all about Most Haunted–pretty interesting.

    • Haha, sorry. Actually, I’ve got my copy right here, and Koven apparently teaches at the University of Worcester.

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