“Call me Count Zakula—Banisher of Evil.”
I really wanted to like this book. The potential was definitely there—it’s about ghosts, abandoned places, and Zak Bagans. Three things I love! But it’s that third thing that’s the problem. Really, Dark World: Into the Shadows with the Lead Investigator of the "Ghost Adventures" Crew, is a paradox. People previously unfamiliar with Zak Bagans and his uber-successful Travel Channel show "Ghost Adventures" would likely not give this book a second glance. For a general reader in the mood for “non-fiction” looks at the paranormal, there are hundreds of books out there on the subject. The Demonologist, for one. No, the ideal audience for Dark World would be those already quite familiar with Bagans et al. And that’s where the disappointment lies. Have you been following "GA" since the first season? Are you a devoted fan? Seen every episode? Then sadly, this book is not going to offer you much of anything new.
The book starts off strongly enough: Zak gets into more detail about the original haunting in his Michigan apartment—the haunting that set him on his current quest. To my knowledge he’s never been as explicit in his details in regards to this anywhere else. His recollection of the event is interesting and even a little chilling. Added to that, Zak talks about himself personally—his own upbringing, places he’s lived, and his own non-paranormal fears (he once had a people phobia—no bullshit!) He even name-drops his favorite movie (Bram Stoker’s Dracula). This, too, was pretty interesting; it’s a side of himself he’s never uncovered before on the show. It humanized him in a way—it was a nice counter to the overly-tattooed, somewhat ego-maniacal TV persona who runs around in tight black shirts and openly talks to ghosts like he’s about to punch them in the face.
Once all that “about me” stuff is out of the way, however, is where the problems begin. While Zak is clearly passionate about what he does, and what he believes in, his attempts to relay his experiences with the paranormal do nothing more than hark back to episodes of "Ghost Adventures" with which we've been made previously familiar. He relays instances at Sloss Furnace, Moundsville Penitentiary, and the Goldfield Hotel—places we’ve already been.
But that’s not the only problem. Zak provides information to the reader with the assumption that they have no knowledge of the paranormal, so some of it can be a little dry. Entire sections of the book are dedicated to orbs, mists, residual hauntings, intelligent hauntings, etc, etc, and after a while you begin to lose interest. I’m not suggesting this information isn’t important, because it is—they are all touchstones of paranormal investigation. But a red pen would have been a huge help in paring down some of the less-important details in order to keep the text flowing. Once you’re on your sixth straight page about orbs—floating balls of energy that may or may not be ghosts—you start to tune out a bit.
The last issue I had with the book was its “voice”—and this is where I think most fans of the book would be split. The book is very conversational in tone, which most fans of Zak’s would prefer, as that’s why they’re reading the thing in the first place. While he does utilize some of the same flowery language he uses on his show, it’s mostly pretty down to earth and simple to follow. Because of this, it’s an easy read. My qualm with this choice is that, again, like his show, you either like Zak or you don’t. As I once previously shared on this blog, a friend of mine who is way into paranormal shows once said that Zak was “kind of a tool.” I don’t think there’s ever been a person more appropriate for that term. Zak, though I do like him, and find him entertaining, is kind of a tool. What he may consider passion can very easily be mistaken for showboating and attempts to look extra macho. Like in the show, this also comes across in the book. A little too often. In one chapter, he mentions thriving in situations where he is absolutely alone in a dark room where he knows a spirit is nearby. He says it's a place where “amateurs” fear, but that he “loves” it. In another passage, he equates going into haunted locations where “bully” spirits are said to inhabit (Zak hates bullies, you see), with standing up to a crowd of bikers in a bar—a situation in which he would not back down. After a while, what may have been innocently said comes across as somewhat pompous and faux-alpha.
One has to realize something: At this point, Zak is basically the rock star equivalent of paranormal reality television. Girls think he's hot and guys think he's gangsta. If you Google "Zak Bagans," the following related searches pop up: zak bagans shirtless, zak bagans body, zak bagans tattoo, zak bagans girlfriend. Funnily enough, not zak bagans ghosts. And the search results for only his name reveal several pictures of him without a shirt, as well as pictures of girls with his own photo horribly cropped into them. Zak's audience aren't all tuning in for ghosts—some are tuning in for him. I think he realizes that, and I think it might be going to his head a bit.
An extension of this is something that's present both in the show as well as the book. Zak kinda thinks he is better than you—you, the fans, the audience—the people who give him a reason to keep doing what he's doing. He likes to remind us that we can't even begin to sense the true danger and evil the "GA" crew might be experiencing because we're at home watching it on our "little televisions." In fact, a snippet from the book says:
Seriously, Zak—what the fuck did we do?You have to remember—while you're at home chilling comfortably on your couch watching this stuff on your flat-screen TV, eating a Lunchable and stacking the cheese on your cracker sandwich, you can't feel what it's like to actually be in the company of one of these nasty spirits.
Lastly, and this is more of minor criticism, but most of Zak’s “humor” really doesn’t work—it barely skirts by on the show, but in text, it’s even more awkward. (See the opening quote of this review—I didn’t make that up.) I’m pretty sure there’s even a fart joke somewhere in the book, too.
At this point I might be coming dangerously close to reviewing the author instead of his book, so I should probably move onto some positives.
In the earlier portions of the book, he speaks very candidly about his early life—not just of his people phobia, but of his somewhat aimless direction that led him to various colleges and jobs where he felt nothing but isolation and despair. It was refreshingly modest.
Additionally, Zak addresses criticisms he or his crew have received in the past—criticisms that I personally have lobbed at the show. He admits to trying to fill in the gaps a bit too much when it comes to EVPs captured in the moment. For instance, the guys might think a voice is saying “GONNA KILL YOU” when in actuality the words are barely coherent. He also admits to coming across a little abrupt in some of his investigations, but explains that it’s the nagging of the skeptics that make him feel like he has to go above and beyond to show that what he brings to your TV each week is real.
For me, the jury’s still out on that.
As a disclaimer, I state that I love Zak Bagans and his "GA" crew. While the investigations alone are enough to get me to tune in, it’s Zak’s dynamic “performance” as host that makes it my number one paranormal show. Whether he is being bawdy or passionate or downright ridiculous, he brings a flavor to the show that there really is no denying. Whether we fans tune in to laugh with Zak or at him, we’re still tuning in…aren’t we?
P.S. Note to Aaron Goodwin: Please write your own book. I’d love to read it.