Just for fun, here’s an interview with the titular protagonist of the Alastair Stone Chronicles series.
Dr. Alastair Stone: Your Tour Guide for Things that Go Bump in the Night
by Christina Wu, Daily staff reporter
For this week’s Faculty Spotlight, we’re talking with Dr. Alastair Stone of the Occult Studies Department.
I caught up with Dr. Stone at Bela’s on University Avenue. In his long black overcoat, Pink Floyd T-shirt, jeans, and Doc Martens, the 31-year-old professor doesn’t look at all like your typical stodgy academic. He instantly put me at ease with his cheeky grin and cheerfully sarcastic manner.
CW: Thank you for speaking with me, Dr. Stone.
AS: My pleasure. Sorry I’m a bit late—the parking’s frightful around here.
CW: Suppose we start out by talking a little bit about Occult Studies. I think a lot of people aren’t even aware we have a department like that. Can you give our readers an idea about what it is?
AS: Well, it’s a great subject for people who love things that go bump in the night. We study both the history and practice of the occult over time, and the way it influences modern life, including popular culture. Almost every society on earth has some sort of occult tradition, so there’s a lot of material to draw from.
CW: So you’re talking about things like ghosts and vampires?
AS: That’s part of it. Since those sorts of things are popular right now, it’s been a bit of a boost for the program. But there’s a lot more to it than that. We get into religion, magic (with and without the “k”), rituals, examples of occult occurrences, so-called psychic abilities…we even have little field trips in some of the upper-level courses where we go to places that are reputed to be haunted.
CW: Interesting! What would be an example of a haunted place around here?
AS: Oh, there are quite a number of them. The big one, of course, is the Winchester Mystery House down in San Jose, but I usually pick the lesser-known ones for the trips. There’s a toy store in Sunnyvale, a pizza parlor in Pleasanton…it’s fascinating.
CW: Sounds like it! Let’s switch gears a little here, if we can. I can tell by your accent that you’re not originally from this area. Can you tell us a bit about where you’re from, and how you ended up getting into studying the occult? It seems like an unusual subject to just decide on out of the blue, so I’m guessing there’s a story there.
AS: I’m from a little village south of London that nobody outside England has heard of, called Holmbury St. Mary. It’s in Surrey. And as for how I got into the subject… hmm… I guess I could say that I’ve always been interested in magic and the paranormal and Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. I’m not sure I can pinpoint a particular time where I decided to make it into a career. I just sort of fell into it, I guess.
CW: What made you decide on Stanford? That’s a long way from home, isn’t it?
AS: Bit of a long story. The short version is that I had some personal issues a couple of years ago and decided it was time to make a change. An opening had turned up in the department here and they were pursuing me fairly hard, so I finally decided it might be just the change I needed. It was an adjustment at first, but I’ve mostly settled in now.
CW: Since you’re surrounded with all sorts of odd things, I wonder: do you personally believe in the occult? Have you ever seen anything like a ghost or something else unusual like that, that you can’t explain?
AS: That’s hard to say. I’m not going to tell you that there’s nothing out there that we haven’t been able to sort out yet. I’m not a “believer,” though, if that’s what you mean. I think part of how I’m able to keep my objectivity about the subject is that I’m more than a bit of a skeptic. I don’t believe anything I haven’t seen for myself, and even then not always. The human mind is a very easy thing to trick or manipulate, especially when it wants to see something.
CW: Do you get students who are believers sometimes? How do you deal with them?
AS: Same way as I deal with the rest. It’s not my place to tell someone what to believe, or not to believe. I’ve got all sorts of students, all with their own reasons for their interest in the occult. Some of them are writers, some are Pagans—I’ve even got one who’s majoring in Christian Theology and wants to see how the other half lives, as it were. Just because I’m not a believer myself doesn’t mean I don’t treat the material with respect.
CW: All right, great. Just a couple more questions, if you don’t mind. What do you like to do when you’re not teaching or out hunting down haunted places?
AS: I like to hunt up obscure little music clubs and check out new bands. The restaurants around here are quite good so I do a bit of that, bit of pub-crawling with a few friends…and I’m slowly rediscovering how to play the electric guitar. I used to be decent back in my University days, though I’ve gotten rusty since then. I’m certainly not good enough yet to inflict it on anyone these days. Oh, and I do a bit of long-distance running, usually at night. It’s great for clearing the head.
CW: Okay, last question: Tell us what you like better about England, and what you like better about the United States.
AS: Hmm…well, the weather’s certainly better here. I haven’t been outside California much yet, so I suppose it’s different elsewhere, but I quite like it here. Took me a bit of getting used to, how friendly everyone is. Not that they aren’t friendly back home, but it’s…different. Bit more reserved. And everything’s so much more spread out here. Bigger. It amuses me sometimes when people talk about things being ‘old,’ too. I heard once that the best way to tell a the difference between a Brit and an American is that the American thinks a hundred years is a long time, and the Brit thinks a hundred miles is a long distance.
CW: I never thought about it that way! Well, I want to thank you again for talking with me, Dr. Stone. I’m sure our readers will find your story fascinating.
AS: <chuckles> Well, it’ll give them something to line their birdcages with, at any rate. It’s been a pleasure.