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Ghost Writers

Books, novels and music said to be written by spirits

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WHEN YOU HEAR of someone said to be possessed by a spirit, the first thing you probably think of is a writhing creature spitting obscenities, making a bed thump up and down, and perhaps with a spinning head. Obviously, that's the undesirable kind of possession.

There are cases, however, of people who claim that more docile spirits possess them or work through them in astonishing ways. They don't speak in some long lost Druidic tongue or make chests of drawers levitate, but have more creative, artistic things in mind, such as books and pieces of classical music.

PEARL CURRAN AND PATIENCE WORTH

One of the most famous cases is that of Pearl Curran, a woman in St. Louis of little education who, beginning in 1913, produced a series of novels that she claimed was dictated to her by a spirit going by the name of Patience Worth. Although Curran had no interest in spiritualism, she was persuaded to take part in a séance. Using a Ouija board, Curran spelled out the name of Patience Worth who later revealed that she was a native of Dorset, England in the 17th century who emigrated to America and was killed by an Indians. From that time, Curran and Worth became perhaps the most unusual literary collaborators of all time. Curran would enter a trance and receive dictation from Worth, the result of which were several novels that were widely praised by critics of the time.

Was Curran simply a naturally gifted writer who used the figure of Worth as a device for her own self-expression, perhaps not even consciously? The odd thing about the novels, which include The Sorry Tale, Hope Trueblood, and The Athenaeum, is that they are detailed historical novels written in a variety of literary styles. Those who knew Curran felt that she alone lacked the education, the historical knowledge and the literary skills to create such well-written stories. More unusual still, Curran would sometimes work on two of Worth's books at once, alternating between titles and literary styles, without detriment to the theme of either. Their most highly praised work was the novel Telka, a story taking place in medieval England and told in the old English dialect of that period - although it is said that Curran had absolutely no knowledge of it.

ROSEMARY BROWN AND FRANZ LISZT (ET AL.)

Rosemary Brown surpassed even Curran with her artistic accomplishments, composing music, she claimed, through as many as 20 dead composers, many of them very well known. Born to a mother who was said to have psychic gifts, Rosemary claims that at age seven a white-haired spirit appeared to her and told her that she would become a famous musician. It wasn't until 10 years later that, seeing his picture in a book, she realized the spirit was that of Franz Liszt. Despite the prophecy, Rosemary never became proficient in music, only taking a few piano lessons. In 1964, Rosemary, then a middle-aged British widow with two children, was again contacted by the spirit of Liszt. And he apparently brought some friends along. Rosemary began composing music through the guidance of such legendary composers as Bach, Chopin, Stravinsky, Schubert, Grieg, Debussy, Rachmoninoff, Liszt - even finishing Beethoven's Tenth and Eleventh Symphonies.

The critical assessment of Rosemary Brown's work is mixed. While all critics agreed that the compositions were definitely in the style of the composers to which they were attributed, some were very impressed with the works, finding several compositions to be subtle and complex. Other critics, however, argued that they were just reworkings of the composers' known works, although they admitted that it would take a person of substantial musical knowledge and training even to pull off this feat - which Rosemary did not have. In fact, she had difficulty even playing many of the compositions she wrote down.

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