Ghostly Goals

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"Try to imagine a Hitler or a Vlad the Impaler or even the nasty old man at the dump who steals people's cats and buries them alive. Now imagine those guys but strip them of all their limitations. No bodies, so they never die or run down or get tired. Give them literally all the time in the world. Imagine that malice, that stupid hate just burning on and on and on like an oil well fire."
David Wong, John Dies at the End

Every ghost is different, and not just in the "every snowflake is unique" sense. Each spectre has their own reasons for staying on this earth, largely dependent on their life's Unfinished Business or circumstances of their death. When you get right down to it, though, all ghosts can pretty much be lumped into two groups: the "I've got Unfinished Business" type and the "Kill the living" sort.

Type A will never actually be proactive in getting things done to end their undeath; it's always about scaring the people inhabiting their house into exhuming their hidden-after-the-murder corpse, or investigating the strange disappearance of their family, or whatever it is their ectoplasmic tuchus is unable to do. Though it will likely be a weaker spirit and limited in its ability to influence the world, it's always vague, cryptic mumblings rather than "My name is Mary Jones and I was murdered; my body is buried under the garden shed. Please take my bones to the graveyard so that I can have a proper burial." Even if it has the ability to speak or use writing, it will rarely ever convey information directly or help out the investigations it started with more than a random clue.

Type B will be forces of pure, motiveless evil whose thirst for bloody death will be forestalled only by their sadistic desire to cause as much psychological anguish beforehand as possible. If there's anything resembling a human mind in them still, it will likely try to recreate scenes of debauchery they enjoyed in life, kill anyone nearby in anger at their death, possess the house residents to pretend to live, or otherwise make the people in the place turn on each other. Malicious and intelligent ghosts will likely let one or two residents get away or call for help to make the party bigger.

These ghosts tend to have one of two Power Levels: weak and overwhelming. The weak will use Fright Deathtraps to kill, and illusions and nightmares to cause mental anguish. They might have enough telekinesis to cause a Butterfly of Doom type roundabout death, but rarely are capable of directly harming victims. The overpoweringly powerful ghosts will graduate to Made of Evil entities that can control the environment, toss cars, induce heart attacks directly, avoid all harm and otherwise give even The Ghostbusters a run for their money.

And that is the extent of Hollywood's representation of the living and body impaired. Any other type of ghost will likely be of the "random" variety without the emotional anguish to cause a ruckus. In mythology, it's often accepted that you either go to a good afterlife or a bad afterlife unless you've got some sort of axe to grind, so a spirit that isn't needy wouldn't remain as a ghost.

Examples of Ghostly Goals include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • There are several ghosts with goals in the Ranma ½ manga and anime. For example: a ghostly headmistress of an abandoned girls' school who wanted someone to steal her underwear; the anime only ghost Kogane, who is cryptic about what she needed Ranma and Akane to find because she didn't remember what it was herself; Bakeneko, usually translated as the "Ghost Cat", who wanted a bride; and others.
  • Often used in Hell Teacher Nube, where the lead is an exorcist and schoolteacher who frequently finds himself aiding the ghosts he's supposed to exorcise so they can go to Heaven.
  • Also comes up in Haunted Junction, specially in the episode involving Hanako-chan and her wish to spend a whole night with her rock star boyfriend hearing him sing the song he wrote for her
  • Sai's goal in Hikaru no Go is to keep playing Go, and more precisely to reach the Hand of God.
  • Shikabane Hime does have actual ghosts bound to the world by regrets, but the important thing are the shikabane themselves. Ghosts are tied by weak attachments and couldn't resurrect their corpses, shikabane could. Upon raising themselves, they seem to have something of a period before turning into horrible monsters that will do anything to fulfill their attachments to the world (ie:disembowel someone who gets in the way of their dream to keep singing) during which females can apparently become contracted and stay mostly human. The big bads are different but who cares about them anyway?
  • A few of the pre-Genre Shift, manga-only arcs of Yu Yu Hakusho involve this sort of thing—one involves a student who committed suicide after the pressure of his entrance exams got to be too much. To atone, he's trying to help two friends who are being forced to compete for a scholarship. One gets a little jealous and accidentally invokes some kind of occult spell, and her friend comes pretty close to getting killed. Interestingly, there is a part where the one girl is trying to find the other, and the ghost does tell her exactly where to go, but since he's a ghost, she only hears him subconsciously, and thinks "Maybe I should go this way..."
  • Examples of each type are encountered and dealt with in Ghost Hunt.
  • School Zone has almost entirely Type 2 ghosts. With the twist that they're only Type 2 because the school's rumors paint them as such -- because everyone else has forgotten who they really were and what they really wanted, so have they. They can move on if someone remembers them, although this only happens to one of the ghosts before the manga's end.
  • The plot of the manga Hanada Shonen Shi - after being hit in the back of his head, the titular character gains the ability to see ghosts, all of whom want him to fulfill their unfinished business.

Film[edit | hide]

  • All Mitsuko from Dark Water wants is for her Mommy to stay with her. Forever and ever.
  • The ghost in The Devils Backbone wants his murder uncovered. He ends up avenging it himself.
  • Just about every ghost the Ghostbusters ran into was the second type, out to cause destruction or random mischief. The animated series (both of them) had some of the first type, who just wanted to rest in peace, but often couldn't due to other ghosts or even human interference.
    • However, in the movies, the "marathon athlete ghost" seemed only focused on his training. Maybe he thought he had to prepare for some race.
      • Same for the first ghost portrayed, i.e. the ghost of the librarian, who scares the protagonist only when they try to capture her.
    • The first movie subverts this trope more than anything. The Big Bad is an ancient God and Zeddemore muses that the ghosts are actually souls who return from beyond the grave sensing the incoming Armageddon.
  • In Gothika, the ghost wants revenge... and justice for her rape and murder. So she killed the doctor, using his wife's body, then led the wife to find out about the husband's atrocities, saving another girl, and revealing her circumstances to her family. Then she killed the doctor's accomplice. Not bad for a ghost, don't you think?
  • The Japanese horror film Ju-On and its English remake The Grudge have the ghosts act as an instrument of a curse. The rage and horror of the events surrounding the house have coalesced into a supernatural maelstrom that has its previous victims materialize to murder anyone who moves into the premises. So while Kayako is technically of the second type, it's not quite of her own free will.
  • In the movie Film/House (no connection the TV show with Hugh Laurie), the ghost of Richard Moll is trying to get revenge on his old war buddy William Katt for not killing him, and accidentally leaving him to be captured and tortured by the Viet Cong.
  • The ghosts in The Orphanage are mostly interested in helping the Haunted Heroine find her missing son, as she was their childhood friend. She does uncover their murders, but they don't really care about that bit. They're really nice ghosts, for all that they will haunt your nightmares forever.
  • An odd blend of these two is Samara from The Ring. She creates a tape that kills viewers in seven days unless it's shown to others not to get justice, but just because she wants to be heard. And kill people.
    • And in the novels she wants to: use the tape to impregnate ovulating women to create a clone army of herself that eventually takes over the world. From then on, she's able to use her hermaphroditism to reproduce asexually and make the entire human race into duplicates of her.
    • Additionally: while the Japanese sequel (and prequel) imply that Sadako is in it entirely for revenge, the American sequel The Ring 2 suggests that, since Rachel is the only one who sought her out and listened to her (and, briefly, sympathized with her,) Samara sees her as her new Mommy, and goes as far as possessing Rachel's son Aiden (himself a very, very Creepy Child) to fulfill her needs. It's implied that letting Samara stay with Rachel could have stopped the Curse, if not for Samara's deadly opposition to being taken away from her.
  • In the Thai horror film Shutter, Natre is a blend of both types. She is seeking revenge for her rape at the hands of her lover's friends, and betrayal by said lover when he chose to protect her rapists instead of her, and then dumped her after she became suicidal. Throughout the film, she seeks only to menace her former lover, Tun and make his life a living hell, but leaves clues for his girlfriend Jane.
  • The ghost in What Lies Beneath is a combination of the two. She's hostile to her murderer Norman but keeps dropping clues and hints to Claire.
  • Subverted and played straight by The Sixth Sense. The first ghost to whom young Haley Joel speaks specifically tells him what she wants him to do, but most others don't even know they're dead and so have no effing clue what they're doing or want other than a vague jealousy of the living that manifests as hurting Haley. And rummaging through kitchen pantries, apparently.
  • The ghosts in The Skeleton Key died a long time ago (obviously), but continue to survive by bodysnatching various folks.
    • Technically not ghosts, as they never died: they're voodoo practitioners who achieve immortality by transferring their souls into new bodies when the old ones wear out.
  • The ghosts in 13 Ghosts and the remake, 13 Ghosts, exist in the house because they were specifically trapped by the professor. They largely act as the second type of ghost, although this may be because the majority of them were the victims or perpetrators of violence and their unfinished business is to continue that violence.
    • The fact that the house they're trapped in is only making them more angry and aggressive certainly doesn't help things.
      • In the original, though, they ultimately turn out to be more harmless eccentrics who like scaring people than real murderous spectres. In the end, they actually save the day by killing the Amoral Attorney who is planning to kill for the inheritance.
  • The first option is the entire premise behind Ghost.
  • Most of the ghosts in Ghost Ship are a mix of Type 1 and Type 2 (leaning heavily towards Type 2), but luckily for the protagonists, the lone girl ghost that is more strongly Type 1 is on their side.
    • It's explained that "souls without sin can't be marked", and being marked by the evil ghost collector antagonist is what makes the ghosts try to kill the living. The young girl being without sin makes sense, but the adult captain being helpful seems a bit more of a stretch.
  • Nicely inverted in Ghost Town. Ghosts think they're still hanging around because they have unfinished business...except the Greg Kinnear character has no idea what's keeping him tied down. Turns out it's not the ghosts who have trouble letting go, it's the people they left behind. Which, if you think about it, rings very true.
  • Casper featured a self-proclaimed "ghost psychologist" who operated under the assumption that ghosts were people with unfinished business, basically making all of them type one. Despite (apparently) never having met a real ghost before entering the title character's house, he seems to have been right. That said, ghosts can still be huge dicks who get off on scaring folks, as Stinky, Stretch, and Fatso can attest.
  • Freddy Krueger was originally a mix of both types, but after killing the children of everyone involved in his death, became strictly Type 2.
  • The ghost in Korean film Dead Friend (a.k.a The Ghost) is a mix of both types. It had unfinished business to attend to...but not before killing off most of the film's cast.
  • The Big Bad of The Frighteners is a powerful Type B. The Plucky Comic Relief ghosts aiding the protagonist are hinted to be aversions, actually being stuck on earth for no clear reason until being forced into the afterlife by the aforementioned baddie (serving the role of a Grim Reaper).
  • The 2012 version of The Woman in Black is a Type B, especially once you discover why she was killing the village children. And killing Arthur and Joseph after the return of her son was just the icing on the evil cake.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Gordon Way is killed while leaving a message on an answering machine; his spirit lingers until he is able to finish the message, hampered by only barely being able to manipulate the physical world.
    • In the radio version of the book (but not the book itself) the ghost of Michael Wenton-Weakes' mother must tell someone that she was murdered by her son before she can move on. It doesn't take long.
  • In the Betsy the Vampire Queen series by Mary-Janice Davidson, the title character can see ghosts, who have a rather wide variety of goals. The first one she met, a little girl, wanted to be with her mommy (a vampire, who willingly killed herself on finding her daughter's ghost). Others are rather more comedic - one just wanted her son not to name his unborn daughter after her.

Betsy: Why not?
Ghost: My name is Theodocia.
Betsy: Oh, God. I'll let him know.

  • Both varieties averted in 10 A BOOT STOMPING 20 A HUMAN FACE 30 GOTO 10. The ghosts of ordinary people are able to behave intelligently and carry out reasonably rational tasks and conversations, and the celebrity spirits have ascended to almost godlike powers.
  • The various ghosts in Wyrd Sisters are unable to move on until their unfinished business has been resolved. In the case of Verence, this means getting revenge on Felmet and seeing his son on the throne. It's implied that most of the others have been haunting the castle for so long they've forgotten what their unfinished business is. And it's probably mostly getting revenge on a murderer who's actually one of the other ghosts, so it's all a bit pointless.
  • In E.W. Hildick's Ghost Squad series of juvenile mysteries, most ghosts are Type A, although the goals in question aren't necessarily specific ones; the ghost may just be too concerned about a person, place, or thing to leave it behind. Type B ghosts are called "Malevs", and several of them are antagonists in various books.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Being Human (UK): Annie's main goal in the aftermath of her death is to drive away anyone who tries to move into her house. But then George and Mitchell move in and, being more than human themselves, can see her and treat her as a third flatmate. She spends the rest of the season trying to find out why she's still in the world. And making cups of tea.
  • Ghost Whisperer - Mostly the first group; the latter only appear in arcs.
  • Supernatural - A mix of both.
  • Dead Last has the main characters cursed with the ability to see ghosts, and thus responsible for helping them figure out how to pass on.
  • Smallville - The ghost of a girl buried in the walls was unable to pass on until she killed her murderer.
  • The pilot episode of a short lived series, so short lived that this troper cannot remember its name, concerned a dorm room haunted by the frightening spectre of a previous inhabitant who had drowned in her bath. Campus rumor says she was murdered by her boyfriend and is looking for revenge. In fact she is desperate to communicate to said boyfriend, who has become a creepy recluse out of grief and guilt, that her death was just a stupid accident: she took a strong sedative then fell asleep in the tub, it had nothing to do with the fight they had on their last date.
    • This troper thinks this tv show was called The Others.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Dungeons & Dragons (3.5) held a campaign module called Ghost Walk which allowed players to return as ghosts in the City of Manifest that, depending on the way they died, gain different powers and abilities.
    • D&D being what it is, all editions have a pretty large selection of different more-or-less ghostly undead, which aren't necessarily easy to tell apart at a casual glance. Most of them, naturally, are of the "kill the living" type.
      • And then there is Ravenloft. All ghosts in Ravenloft should be constructed as unique individuals who cannot be put to rest until their goals or reasons for remaining have been taken care of. Several NPCs in the settings are ghosts, many with quite intelligible motivations. Of course, the setting is Gothic Horror; the ghosts are nearly invariably evil Type B's, and many of those with "kill the living" as their motivation actually have a plan much more effective than "sit in a creepy tomb and wait for adventurers to wander by." There are a few exceptions, such as the Laughing Man, a harmless ghost who joins fishermen, tells bad jokes, and scares away the fish.
  • Ghosts in Unknown Armies (cosmic-level spoilers) come in two basic varieties: "revenants", whose method of haunting is determined by what they held important in their life (e.g. Ghouls are ghosts of people obsessed with death, and appear near those who are about to die) and "demons", who seek to possess people in order to experience life again and/or take care of unfinished business.
  • Wraith: The Oblivion and Orpheus from the Old World of Darkness use both types of ghosts. Type A tends be ghosts with low or no willpower who are doomed only to repeat their death until they are destroyed, forged, or manage to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. Type B are encompassed in Spectres, ghosts who have completely give themselves over to Oblivion.
    • In the New World of Darkness, ghosts are the echoes left by the departed, and their goals vary widely. Some will leave when their foremost desire is fulfilled, while others will require the destruction of their anchors before they move on. The book Ghost Stories has several examples: the ghosts in The House of Count Magnus are vicious murderers who can only be escaped, while Isaiah in Holy Ghost will leave if his murderer begs forgiveness from his father, or if his former parish makes an honest effort to improve. It also justifies the "only cryptic clues" problem - communicating with humans is nearly impossible for the dead, and the two powers that allow it don't give them many words to do it with.
  • In Little Fears Nightmare Edition, all monsters have goals like these, not just ghosts. Most of them actually have Type A goals, and if the children help the monster resolve them, they'll be "purified" in some way — turning back to normal, ascending to the afterlife, or just leaving their would-be victim(s) alone and going away. Others have goals that squarely fall into Type B, and accomplishing them will only turn them into something worse.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The more zealous Forsaken in World of Warcraft are usually like this, much to the dismay of their still-living allies.
  • The ghosts in Luigis Mansion are usually type 1 'unfinished goals'-like, since many of the portrait ghosts are doing what they did in life. The bosses such as Bogmire, Boolossus and King Boo, as well as every other ghost in the Mario series are simply 'kill the living' type.
  • Played with in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, where Rapp Scallion, who owned a hot dog stand in life, asks you to...go check to see if he left the gas on in his Hot Dog Stand before he died.
  • The ghosts in Guild Wars are mostly Type 2 (sometimes with some aspects of Type 1s).
  • The ghosts in Jade Empire are usually Type 2s, whether they wanted to be or not (since their souls can't pass on for story-related reasons, they eventually go mad and start attacking people). Several Type 1s are involved in quests, though. This is not dissimilar to actual Chinese and Japanese ghost stories.
  • The ghosts in Calling are one or the other... or both. Some ghosts, like Kyoko and Chiyo's husband, are genuinely nice and want to help. They can't communicate but they get their message across (though confusingly). Other ghosts, like the three school girls, are just trying to kill you but they are also scared which explains that their attacks are simply out of fear instead. Then there are the ghosts that seem nice but turn out to have their own agenda. And then there's Reiko who's been trying to kill everybody out of revenge.
  • The ghosts in Are You Afraid of the Dark?: The Tale of Orpheo's Curse are Type 1s who avert non-proactive bits for the most part. Most of the time, they tell the main characters everything they know about the curse, in plain language; unfortunately, they're still studying the curse and only have limited information. They do tend to be cryptic about immediate puzzles, though.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • The ghosts in A Girl and Her Fed share a common goal of protecting America. They don't necessarily agree on how to best do so...
  • In Concession, Miranda's sole goal seems to be to use her twin brother to take revenge on their older brother for killing her.
  • In a one-shot Nodwick strip, one ghost refused to rest until what was taken from him was returned. The item that was taken from him was a rake that he loaned to his neighbor.
  • In a tragic turn, one poor ghost in Sheldon's universe seems destined to hang around until it can see the second season of Firefly: http://www.sheldoncomics.com/archive/120419.html


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In the profile of Ghost from Monster Girl Encyclopedia, it's said that ghosts can go to heaven should their goals are done. However, in this world, all ghosts share the same goal: keep having sex with the guys they like.