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.