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 (> 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.