The world of fiction takes us beyond horizons to the places of our wildest dreams. Reading or watching these works we can escape our lives and go on spectacular adventures within the pages of our favorite books or the images of our favorite movies or TV shows, the only limit being our own imagination. But what if it is not just us journeying into these pieces of fiction and their myriad wondrous worlds? What if the denizens of those fictional worlds sometimes take journeys to ours? There have been a surprising number of reports that suggest just that, and point to the bizarre possibility that these constructs do not end at the page or on the screen, but that there is some deep strangeness at work. Here is the very weird world of people encountering literal fictional characters in real life.
Some of the strange encounters with fictional characters in real life involve comic book characters that don’t seem to want to stay on the page. A very notable and widely discussed instance of this was allegedly experienced by the legendary comic writer Alan Moore, creator of the Hellblazer series and its supernaturally powered main character, John Constantine. The character is very popular among Moore fans, but according to him he had a very bizarre encounter with Constantine in the flesh, of which he once said in an interview:
One interesting anecdote that I should point out is that one day, I was in Westminster in London -- this was after we had introduced the character -- and I was sitting in a sandwich bar. All of a sudden, up the stairs came John Constantine. He was wearing the trenchcoat, a short cut -- he looked -- no, he didn't even look exactly like Sting. He looked exactly like John Constantine. He looked at me, stared me straight in the eyes, smiled, nodded almost conspiratorially, and then just walked off around the corner to the other part of the snack bar. I sat there and thought, should I go around that corner and see if he is really there, or should I just eat my sandwich and leave? I opted for the latter; I thought it was the safest. I'm not making any claims to anything. I'm just saying that it happened. Strange little story.
Yes, Mr. Moore, very strange. It is unclear just how serious Moore was being or if he was just musing and being eccentric, but it is certainly not the only comic character who has apparently walked right through the frames and into real life, often to torment their own creators. In the 1970s, comic writer Doug Moench was hard at work on a Planet of the Apes comic book, and this particular story revolved a villainous ape named Brutus, who wears a sinister black hood. One evening he was just finishing a scene in which Brutus grabs the wife of one of the other characters and holds a gun to her head, when his concentration was shattered by a muffled scream coming from his own wife across the house in the living room. The concerned Moench then reportedly rapidly made his way to the living room to find a black hooded figure with his wife in a chokehold and a gun to her head. He would say of the surreal experience:
It was exactly what I had written…it was so, so immediate in relation to the writing and such an exact duplicate of what I had written, that it became an instant altered state. The air in the room congealed, became almost like fog, and yet, paradoxically, I could see with greater clarity. I could see the individual threads of his black hood. It really does make you wonder. Are you seeing the future? Are you creating a reality? Should you give up writing forever after something like that happens? I don’t know.
The experience was so traumatic and bizarre for him that Moench suffered extreme writer’s block for many years, and was constantly plagued by the idea that what he wrote might actually come true for reasons he could not fathom, that he was somehow cursed with this. There is also the odd tale of comic artist Dave McKean, who also worked Alan Moore’s Hellblazer series and also on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series of comics as well. McKean once related an experience that he had while on his way to the Comic Con in San Diego, when an girl that looked just like the Sandman character “Death” walked off a plane and went past him after someone had apparently died on the plane as they were waiting for take-off. She apparently looked exactly like in the comics and vanished into thin air.
Besides comic book characters, other literary characters have purportedly sprung into physical reality as well. One interesting case occurred in the 1960s, when a well-known paranormal researcher at the time by the name of Hanz Holzer was looking into a series of hauntings in and around the building at 12 Gay Street, in New York City, which involved an apparition most commonly described as a tall gentleman dressed in black formal clothing and with a top hat, black cape, and cane, and which he called “The Gay Street Ghost.” This phantom was said to walk about the darkened premises and surrounding area at night startling people only to disappear, Holzer would go on to publish the case in his 1966 paranormal book Yankee Ghosts, and this is where things get rather bizarre indeed.
According to a prolific author named Walter B. Gibson, he had lived in that very same building not long before Holzer began his investigation. Gibson claimed that he had been living there along with writer Ed Burkholder in order to do research for an installment for his popular series of novels starring a Batman-like crime fighter called The Shadow, whose alias is a character named Lamont Cranston. So absorbed was he in his writing and in envisioning The Shadow roaming about the streets and the premises that he would often even hallucinate his character, who just happened to wield a cane and wear formal evening clothes, a cape, and a top hat. The author likely would have attributed this to pure tiredness and sheer obsession with his character if he had not happened to read Holzer’s book. He was immediately taken aback by the similarities between the ghost and his character, as well as the fact that the sightings were taking place in the exact same place he had lived while writing his novel at around the same time, and he became convinced that what had been seen was an actual projection of his character from his mind that had somehow been transferred into reality. He would say of this:
I remember talking with Ed Burkholder. He and I had an apartment together, down in the Village for a couple of years. That's the apartment that's supposed to be haunted now, 12 Gay St. Hans Holzer said it's haunted. People see a man in evening clothes moving in and out. But that was where I wrote the last Shadow. And what they're seeing is Lamont Cranston. They're seeing what we call an after-image psychic projection, not a ghost.
Is that what this was? Some projection from the author’s mind somehow imprinting itself upon reality? We’ll get back to this, but for now let’s look at a perhaps even more bizarre and rather surreal appearance of a fictional character, in the form of a beloved figure of the children’s TV program Sesame Street. Yes, you read that right. The rather outlandish account was reported on Phantoms and Monsters, this time by a witness who had just about the strangest thing you could imagine come out of his closet when he was a boy, in around the year 1980. The witness, who claims he is now a paranormal researcher, says that when he was very young he had been trying to get to sleep in the room he shared with his brother, and again this was a room with a big walk-in closet. As he was lying there the closet door began to open by itself, and the witness claims:
One night as I was trying to get to sleep (my brother was already asleep), the door opened and I know this sounds crazy, but out came Big Bird (of the children’s show Sesame Street). I remember being frightened at first, but others came out too and they were very friendly and led me into the closet with them. All I remember at this point is that Big Bird gave me a flavored chap stick (most likely to ease my fear because I loved chap stick), and they brought me back to my bed. I went to sleep very happy over the whole experience and was not afraid anymore. I put the chap stick under my pillow after taking a tiny nibble leaving my teeth marks just to see if it was still there in the morning. The next morning, I checked and low and behold the chap stick WAS there, JUST like I remembered, and at that moment I knew for a fact it was not a dream. If it were not for that chap stick the experience probably would not have stayed with me all these years. I tried to tell my brother, but he laughed it off, as anyone would, it sounds totally crazy. Now, after reading the other accounts of similar experiences, I am wondering if it was an abduction disguised as a friendly interaction.
What in the world? Big Bird? The witness gives an interesting observation, in that he believes it might have been an alien abduction, with the entities taking a form that would seem nonthreatening to a child. This is a feature of some abduction cases, with the beings allegedly able to either shape shift or manipulate perceptions in order to take the form of whatever will best serve their purposes in the eyes of the abductee. Is that what was going on here? How else could we explain an actual character from a children’s show emerging from a darkened closet? It could have been just the imagination of a child, but the fact that the witness remembers it so vividly all of these years later is notable. Indeed, this has been one theory postulated on how people can be seeing these fictional characters come to life, that they are some sort of shapeshifting extraterrestrial, or perhaps even more likely an interdimensional presence that takes the form of whatever the witness is expecting or hoping to see at the time. Such an explanation has been used to try and make sense of everything from ghosts to Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster, and it all seems rather far-out, but is there the possibility that something else entirely different could be going on?
One increasingly talked about possible explanations for such phenomena as we have looked here is that they are some sort of mental projection appearing in reality, an entity commonly called a tulpa, or "thought-form." The concept originally comes from Tibetan Buddhism, and basically involves a visible construct built entirely from the mind and belief of human beings, basically willed into being. With enough will and belief, they are even said to be able to take on a life of their own, becoming a sort of independent apparition that can exist apart from its creators and can be seen and even interact with the world around them.
The idea that a character from someone’s mind can be brought to life in the real world has been such a pervasive concept that there was even a rather famous experiment designed to see if this was possible. Called the Philip Experiment, it was carried out in September of 1972 by the Toronto Society for Psychical Research, with the help of poltergeist expert Dr. A.R.G. Owen, and it sought to bring a made-up character to life and bring it into the real world, essentially to create a tulpa. In order to do this, eight individuals from various backgrounds were gathered to participate, after which they went about creating a fictional character from scratch, who would be named Philip Aylesford, envisioned as a Catholic nobleman from the 1600s. Every detail of Philip’s life was planned out, including his hobbies, what foods he liked, his family life, and even how he died, and there were numerous drawings made of what Philip looked like.
Philip wasn’t just some nondescript nobody either, as he had to stand out as unique, colorful, and memorable. To that effect, his history was rather meticulously plotted out and rather interesting to say the least, with some quite bizarre details. The most flat out bonkers of these was the time Philip fell in love with a gypsy woman named Margo and invited her to live on his estate despite being very married and living there with his wife. As one would expect with such an arrangement, Philip’s wife found out about their affair and took it far from well. In fact, she had Margo tried and executed for witchcraft, during which time Philip said nothing in her defense. He would then become so downtrodden and despondent because of this betrayal that he would take his own life by jumping from a high window. The end. It is a pretty dark little tale for an experimental fictional character, but it made him stand out.
The group concentrated on talking about and thinking about Philip as a real life person who had actually existed, and they spent hours meditating on him. When this failed to produce any perceivable results towards bringing him into existence they tried new avenues, such as arranging a series of actual séances, because after all, since they all thought of him as long dead perhaps Philip’s tulpa had been generated as a ghost. To this end, they set up a séance complete with candles and even items that were thought of as his actual personal possessions. The end result was that they claimed that Philip communicated with them from beyond the grave, answering questions through anomalous bangs and raps on the table.
Through these questions the entity said that it indeed was Philip, and it was able to provide incredibly detailed knowledge of his fake history and even provide details that they hadn’t even written out for him. The presence would also allegedly cause the lights to dim or flicker and even make objects move with unseen hands, and these séances became big news at the time, witnessed by many and even filmed. It is hard to say just what was going on with the Philip Experiment, or just what it was that they conjured up. It could have been a sham, a tulpa, or even some other spirit or demon that used Philip’s identity. In the end it doesn’t prove that tulpas can be willed into existence, but it is a rather curious experiment nevertheless, and makes one wonder if they had actually managed to create a character and bring him into the world.
The idea of tulpas as causing fictional characters to spring to life is not so odd if they actually exist as advertised. After all, authors spend a good portion of their lives thinking about and envisioning these characters in their minds, living with them in a sense and basically giving them a life on paper. Indeed, it is not at all uncommon for an author’s character to develop its own persona and begin to do or say things in the story that the writer had never even originally intended. It is a weird feeling to see these characters to begin to exist on their own within the mind and spring to life, so has this extended to actually going beyond the mind to somehow launch themselves into reality based on the sheer concentration and will the writer imbues them with?
Such tulpas could even be hypothetically created from the minds of readers. Such is the case of a rather odd account from the site Stranger Dimensions, with a witness who claims that he saw a character from his wife’s book, which he had been proofreading for her. The witness says that his wife is a published author, and that she would often have him read through her manuscripts before putting them out into the world. He had done this many times without incident, but during one such reading he says he had a very strange experience which he suspects was a tulpa. He says of this:
I started reading the book about the 3rd week of September. When I read any book, I create a picture in my mind of what a character looks like. I did this with an adult character by the name of Maree who is mentioned quite often through out the book. So, I'm a slow reader. It takes me quite a while to get through any book I read. Sometimes I have to re-read something I just read because my attention may have drifted from the book to something else. So I take my time and read carefully. My wife started to fuss a bit, asking me if I didn't like the story. I honestly was enjoying the book, and kept telling her that it just takes me longer than the average reader to finish a book.
So, Saturday evening, Sept 28th, I'm home alone washing some dishes in the sink. The sun is setting, so it's still light out. I hear a banging sound coming from the backyard. I recognize the sound as being the shed door. I walk into the living room to look out a window and see who is out there, when I see this woman standing there just swinging the shed door to the close position and reopening it again consistently, making the banging sound. The shed sits about 40 yards directly behind the house/window I'm looking out. Dark hair, baggy off white gown, looking as if into the neighbor's yard just slamming the door. My first thought is, who is this woman in my yard, why is she doing that? I push off the window and head for the backyard, the noise stops before I get to the door that leads to the back porch. I didn't look up towards the shed until I was out of the porch on the patio, and she is not there. My shed door is open, and I figure she is now in the shed or behind it.
I first walk around the shed, before opening the door wide enough to look in. Nothing. She is gone quicker than anyone could physically remove themselves from sight, without climbing fences and such. It wasn't until later that night did I make a connection. The woman in my yard very much matched the description of the character in my wife's book that I was currently reading. The hair, the outfit as I pictured it... Granted this person was about 40 yards from my window when I was watching her.
I started to do some digging online, and came across the Tulpa. Could my wife's anger with me for reading her book too slowly have created some kind of "thought form?" If that is even possible, what purpose would it serve except to confuse? And if this was some random person who wandered in my yard, why the odd behavior?
Could these tulpas, these thought forms, be behind the bizarre phenomena we have looked at here? Is it really possible for a figment of the imagination to be infused with a life and reality of its own in the physical world? Or are these just misunderstandings and hallucinations, the mere workings of overactive imaginations seeing mere phantoms? In every case we are left with questions such as these, and with our current knowledge it is impossible to know at this point. However, it is interesting to think that the next time you are working on your novel or even reading one, that character may just show up right in front of your eyes, leaping from the world of the imagination into the world of the real.