Don’t knock the classic Phantom Encounters for its pedestrian take on ghosts

In an era where the only exciting hauntings are demon infestations concocted by shows permanently done in night vision, Time-Life Books’ Mysteries of the Unknown: Phantom Encounters grounds the study of the ghostly phenomenon.

Mysteries of the Unknown: Phantom
Encounters by Time-Life Books
New York, 1988

Released in 1988, the compilation covers the themes of doppelgangers, spirits of those going through traumatic events as well as harbingers foretelling familial woes.

Glossing over modern reviews of the book on Goodreads, people have their hackles up over the anecdotal tales of shades and revenants in the British countryside or in the United States.

But the narrative is deeply rooted in the traditional Victorian tales of Dickensian influence — a person will witness the shade of a loved one only to learn they have passed on that night.  

Throughout the magazine-style book, there are smaller stories, talking about the burial practices in other cultures, Japanese vengeful spirits and the work done by organizations like the Society for Psychical Research, before the stigma of modern-day parapsychology.

And for those looking for a story of the aforementioned demons or some sort of satanic panic, Phantom Encounters will not excite you. It’s bare bone — pun intended — and looks into ghostly phenomenon from the perspective that ghosts are the souls of those departed from this plane of existence.

It’s further grounded in the fact that it explores the work of John Henry Pepper, the British inventor who presented engineer Henry Dirck’s glass and lighting technique at the Royal Polytechnic Institution in 1862.

That little bit of technology, originally called Dircksian Phantasmagoria, is still being used, having the 2012 Coachella festival as its most famous use when Tupac Shakur took the stage.

Written in a blend of academic anecdotes and magazine feature format, and accented by metallic silver drop caps and ghostly silhouettes, the format is digestible, albeit a slow tedious climb.

There’s no distinct thesis, only narratives and stories that are often broken up by unnecessary sidebars.

A collection of all the ghosts from the Tower of London is dropped right in the middle of anecdotes from the American Psychical Society. So, when it comes to reading, it doesn’t flow naturally.

Other than the content being a throwback to Victorian and Spiritualistic views, Phantom Encounters is a strong launchpad into the paranormal. It’s a little older in its audience than Usborne’s The World of the Unknown: Ghosts but still rich in information.

Leave the EMF detectors, spirit boxes and Kinect at home for this one.

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