In my new novel The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, my ghosts have magical powers, based on their personality and heritage. These powers can be anything from shape-shifting and hypnotism to clothing manipulation, so some are more useful than others. Harriet finds out exactly which powers are best when she struggles to defeat the other ghosts.
I love ghosts as a trope because they’re so unpredictable – there are no rules in how to write them, and every story does something different. There are thousands of cultural myths about ghosts from all around the world, so writers can draw on many sources of inspiration in creating unique ghosts. The hardest part for me was picking which ideas I couldn’t use.
I wanted to share some of my favourite ghosts in fiction, and rank them to see who would win if they had to face off against my villainous Harriet in a battle for power.
I must have watched this film over a hundred times when I was little. Casper is a bit of wuss in this film, more interested in romance than battling other ghosts. He has some pretty decent powers – he can touch objects, shape-shift and fly – but he mainly uses those powers to flirt and tie shoelaces together. Harriet would probably beat him (sorry, Casper!).
Likelihood Harriet could beat him in a fight: 8/10
Annie from Being Human (2008)
This TV series featured a vampire, werewolf and ghost living as housemates. It was a huge inspiration for my novel, which started out being called Ghost House, because it’s about ghost housemates. In the series, Annie is a young, insecure murder victim who is very protective of her living friends.
Annie can teleport (!), touch objects and read minds, but only in heightened states of emotion. In the show, she has defeated other ghosts and closed the door to death – she isn’t to be messed with.
Likelihood Harriet could beat her in a fight: 2/10
Noah from The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
This contemporary YA series features a group of friends searching for the burial site of a Welsh King – while also driving around in cool cars and flirting a lot. One of the Raven gang is Noah, the ghost of their dead classmate. He is very mild and shy, with a ‘smudgy’ appearance. He tends to disappear if people aren’t paying attention to him – though, disconcertingly, he does re-enact his own death occasionally.
I love Noah immensely – he’s a very endearing character – but Harriet would absolutely destroy him. Sorry, pal.
Likelihood Harriet could beat him in a fight: 9/10
Betelgeuse in Beetlejuice (1988)
In this classic cult film, a pair of newlywed ghosts hire a freelance ‘bio-exorcist’ ghost to chase the living people who have moved into their house, so they can have some peace and quiet.
Chaotic and crude, Betelgeuse has a whole host of powers, which he mainly uses to harass the living. He can fly and shapeshift, teleport and summon objects, possess people and influence their minds. He can also be summoned (or removed) by saying his name three times, which seems as if it could be strategically useful in a battle scenario. He’s also just really mean – I don’t think Harriet stands a chance; he’d probably make her cry within seconds.
Likelihood Harriet could beat him in a fight: 0/10
Makepeace in A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge
In this historical YA novel, Makepeace is a living teenage girl who has a group of ghosts living in her head – one of whom is a bear. Angry and vicious, she has to control her own emotions as well as the animalistic desires of the ghosts possessing her. I think Harriet would have a hard time defeating her, as the ghosts in Makepeace’s head have amassed centuries-worth of wisdom. But Makepeace is still human, which makes her vulnerable.
Likelihood Harriet could beat her in a fight: 5/10
The Skull in a Jar in Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud
The skull in this paranormal action YA series is possessed by a ‘type 3’ ghost, who is witty, murderous and – occasionally – helpful to a group of teenage ghosthunters. While stuck inside the jar, it can’t do much except be rude, but when unleashed it can create spirit-wind stronger than an explosion.
Likelihood Harriet could beat it in a fight: 4/10
The gang in BBC Ghosts
This silly comedy series about a group of ghosts from different eras living in an old dilapidated mansion is so much fun – especially because all the ghosts are utterly inept and foolish. They’re more interested in bickering than fighting, and Harriet would probably be too disdainful to even engage them in battle.
Likelihood Harriet could beat them in a fight: 8.5/10
The Nadja doll in What We Do in the Shadows
In this mockumentary, the group of ancient vampire housemates get to meet their own ghosts, since they technically ‘died’ the moment they were turned into vamps. The 700-year-old badass Nadja keeps her ghost around for company, possessing a doll. These ghosts can release projectile (?) ectoplasm (?) vomit (?) which is kind of icky, but not definitively dangerous. I’m also not clear on the strength of their ghost-on-ghost powers. Harriet probably stands a good chance here, I’d say.
Likelihood Harriet could beat her in a fight: 6/10