Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Séance

A method of contacting the spirit world through a human medium, who draws power from a group of individuals who link hands to maintain the chain. Mediums, previously called scryers (see Scrying), came into prominence with the rise of interest in Spiritualism during the second half of the 19th century. Spiritual manifestation may arise through ectoplasm. The séance itself is a potent image for spiritual contact and is sometimes the starting point in Ghost Stories for contacting the dead, or unleashing a Spirit, which may result in Possession – in fact during the séance the medium is possessed, though inactive, serving as a channel. In the most effective stories the séance unleashes a dangerous and powerful force, as in "Playing With Fire" (1900 Strand) by Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Demon Spell" (1894) by Hume Nisbet, "The Last Séance" (1926) by Agatha Christie (1890-1976), "The Gatecrasher" (1971) by R Chetwynd-Hayes, and at the outset of The List of 7 (1993) by Mark Frost. Mediums are often accused of charlatanism, and even before the end of the Victorian era the séance had become a cliché, subject to ridicule. But even this approach can be handled effectively by good authors as in "Mr Tilly's Séance" (1923 Hutchinson's) by E F Benson and especially Blithe Spirit (1941) by Noel Coward (1899-1973). Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1961; vt Séance 1962 US) by Mark McShane (1930-    ), filmed as Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), is an effective Psychological Thriller of the mental disintegration of a fraudulent medium who becomes convinced she has contacted her dead son. [MA]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.