It’s Tuesday again! Time for your weekly dose of the Spooky, culled from around the web, the world, and life. Every week I’ll have something new to send a shiver down your spine.
This week’s theme is spookypasta. What is spookypasta, you ask? As you might gather from the name, spookypasta is closely related to creepypasta, but spookypasta is slightly more literary. Did I make that up? Yes I did.
Spookypasta is a term I am reserving for literature (IE, content; texts of all sorts) that is itself haunted or creepy by virtue of the circumstances surrounding its creation or purported creation. For instance, Ted the Caver, The Dionaea House, Candle Cove, and The Noise Coming from Inside Children are all excellent examples. In each case, you not only have a text that is terribly spooky in and of itself, but the fictional tale of each text’s authorship is spooky as well:
Ted the Caver is written by a hobbyist spelunker who has had “bizarre experiences” in a nearby cave and decided to blog about them. His blog was the original that popularized a new online art form. In a spooky twist, the final entry ends in a “404 Not Found” error, implying that despite Ted’s promise that he would give us an update after he went back to the cave, he never returned.
The Dionaea House is written…well, it’s written by lots of people, which is what made it revolutionary–it spanned multiple websites and blogs, even going so far as to involve comment feeds, and the situation and circumstances surrounding each author were decidedly unsettling: the email correspondence of a missing man, posted on a blog by his wife, a teenage babysitter’s LiveJournal, a LiveJournal belonging to a homeless woman who shares her story in bits and pieces as she can manage while avoiding the man in the sweatsuit, and even AIM chatlogs from people who have since died.
Candle Cove is the ultimate throwback to our collectively shared culture: it starts out as a forum post asking if anyone remembers a children’s show entitled Candle Cove, and proceeds to give a (terrifying) description of both when and where the show would have aired as well as its contents. Lots of other users chime in saying they remember, and many of them discuss a character called The Skin-Taker (right?!). The catch? The OP eventually comes back to tell everyone that he asked his mother about the show, hoping she’d remember it–she told him that he used to sit and stare at static for hours and that there never was any show.
The Noise Coming from Inside Children is the latest spookypasta I’ve seen. In this case, “The Noise Coming from Inside Children” is said to be authored by one Ed Kann. The story is told in a blog entitled “Who is Ed Kann?” in which the owner of the blog attempts to find out more information about Ed Kann and the disturbing story he wrote. The mystery in this case stems from the fact that the blog author is having trouble locating references to the author of the fictional work, and the blog is the story of his or her search for any information at all that would verify the existence of Ed Kann and his spooky book.
All of these internet phenomena are spooky in and of themselves, yes. But so are most good creepypastas. What makes these so special is that the “fictional text”–the artifact that an in-universe author is authoring, not the text that the end-user interacts with, which is also a “text that is fictional”–is but one layer in a far more nuanced whole. Depending on the complexity of the fictional text (Ted the Caver is the simplest while Dionaea House is by far the most complex), there may be only one layer–the in-universe author is simply made up by a real-world author–or there may be multiple layers in which there are multiple in-universe authors, each of which are difficult by their nature (or their design) to be determined whether they are in-universe constructs–that is, they are fictional authors of the fictional text–or whether they are real people. That instability, the inability to easily differentiate the in-universe content from its real-world expression, combined with spooky circumstances surrounding the in-universe authorship, equals spookypasta.
The second aspect that many (though not all) instances of spookypasta share is that they are Ergotic Literature. Essentially, that means that it requires a nontrivial effort to traverse the content, owing to its non-serial structure: it often consists of multiple branching texts that weave in and out of each other, sometimes in a chronologically serial way and other times not. The Dionaea House represents the best example of this (a very well known literary example of this concept is House of Leaves).
In many cases, the original mythos of the in–or out–of-universe author is expanded by fans, which can quickly turn a serially structured creepypasta into an ergotic spookypasta. This happened to Candle Cove, to the extent that the original author, Kris Straub, ended up taking legal action when a foreign film company attempted to create a commercial production (Slenderman has charted a similar, though far more publicized course).
The added complexity of a story delivered in this form destabilizes the ultimate meaning, both because the entirety of the text feels “larger” in the mind of the reader who tries to conceptualize it as a whole (it’s easier to conceptualize Shakespeare’s plays in categories than it is to conceptualize all of his work as a whole at the same time, for example), and also because it is difficult to traverse the same path through the whole on subsequent readings–from the perspective of the reader, the text literally changes every time it is read.
Go enjoy your Tuesday. I’ll see you again next week.
See Lucia Peters’ excellent analysis of The Sound from Inside Children:
Peters, Lucia. “Scar Yourself Silly: ‘The Noise Coming from Inside Children’ and the Lost Works of Ed Kann.” theToast. theToast, 9 Apr 2015. Web. 21 Jul. 2015. <http://the-toast.net/2015/04/09/scare-yourself-silly-the-lost-works-of-ed-kann/>
See Byron Alexander’s book about the new media that is possible with the coming of the internet and a discussion of the concept of ergotic literature:
Alexander, Byron. The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media. Praeger, 7 Apr. 2011. Print. Amazon Link: <http://www.amazon.com/dp/0313387494/>
Update: I have elaborated on the subject of spookypasta and what distinguishes it from ordinary creepypasta.
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