What Are the Ghosts in Hodgson’s The Ghost Pirates?

In Ninety Percent of Everything, Rose George talks briefly about the surprising status of sailors in history. And I mean a very basic status. Are they alive or dead?

The Scythian philosopher Anacharsis was once asked whether there were more people alive or dead. He couldn’t answer, said Anacharsis, because he didn’t know where to place seamen. ‘Seamen,’ concluded the seventeenth-century clergyman John Flavel, who quotes this remark, ‘are, as it were, a third sort of persons, to be numbered neither with the living nor the dead; their lives hanging continually in suspense before them.’

Did Hodgson come across this notion? Are his Ghost Pirates a metaphor for this status of a man at sea? They inhabit another dimension and seem to partake of some element of humanity. They move. They seem to think. They don’t seem to speak. Like the sailor at sea, they are cut off from humanity.

But they aren’t ghosts in the usual sense. They have a lethal physicality.

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