Although Pliny the Younger is regarded as the first author of a ghost story, I think these stories underwent a 360-degree turn during 19th century when Charles Dickens or Oscar Wilde started writing humorous ghost stories. Charles Dickens’ many stories are quite humorous (it may or may not involve the ghost doing funny things exclusively) and Wilde’s "The Canterville Ghost" involves a very weak kind of ghost.

I want to know how and when ghost stories started to become humorous rather than scary? Can it be answered the way Pliny the Younger is credited with ghost stories or Edgar Allan Poe is regarded to have started the detective stories?

2 Answers 2


Lewis Carroll’s Phantasmagoria, of 1869, should probably be included here. This is quite a long and funny ghost story in poetic form.

To give some idea of the humour involved, the poem begins like this:

One winter night, at half-past nine,
Cold, tired, and cross, and muddy,
I had come home, too late to dine,
And supper, with cigars and wine,
Was waiting in the study.

There was a strangeness in the room,
And Something white and wavy.
Was standing near me in the gloom—.
I took it for the carpet-broom.
Left by that careless slavey.

But presently the Thing began.
To shiver and to sneeze:
On which I said “Come, come, my man!
That’s a most inconsiderate plan.
Less noise there, if you please!”


An earlier example of a humorous ghost story is "The Rival Ghosts" by Brander Matthews, published in Harper's Magazine volume 68 (pages 905–913), in 1884, i.e. just three years before "The Canterville Ghost". It is a frame story in which a certain Uncle Larry tells a story about a certain Eliphalet Duncan who inherits a house that is haunted by two rival ghosts. Here is a taste from the story:

You see, while in a way he was fond of ghosts, yet he liked them best one at a time. Two ghosts were one too many. He wasn't bent on making a collection of spooks. He and one ghost were company, but he and two gosts were a crowd.

Eliphalet Duncan eventually gets rid of the ghosts, or at least their apparitions, by convincing them to marry each other in spite of an age disparity of almost 250 years.

Depending on how one defines "humorous", there is a much older example in the works of the satirist Lucian of Samosata (second century AD), namely the story of the haunted sandal in the story known as The Liar (originally written in ancient Greek).

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