Legal Rites

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"Legal Rites"
Weird Tales September 1950.jpg
Author Isaac Asimov
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Fantasy short story
Published in Weird Tales
Publication type Periodical
Media type Print (Magazine, Hardback & Paperback)
Publication date September 1950
Followed by "Time Pussy"

"Legal Rites" is a fantasy short story by Isaac Asimov, originally published in the September 1950 issue of Weird Tales, and included in the 1972 collection The Early Asimov. It is a fantasy rather than science fiction tale and based on an idea from his friend, the author/agent/writer Fred Pohl. Asimov was unable to sell the story and gave it to Pohl, who rewrote it (under the nom de plume of James MacCreigh) and changed the title from 'Legal Rights'. He sold it some years later after Asimov had forgotten about it.

It is one of several Asimov stories that center about a courtroom drama, such as Galley Slave.

Plot summary[edit]

Russell Harley travels to an isolated part of the American Mid-West to take possession of his inheritance, a ramshackle house known as Harley Hall, willed to him by his late uncle Sebulon Harley. Finding that the house is apparently haunted by a ghost, he flees in terror.

In a bar, he is accosted by a mysterious stranger known only as Nicholls, who persuades Harley to let him place magical paraphernalia in and around the house in an effort to control the ghost.

The ghost visits a lawyer, claiming to be the spectre of Henry (Hank) Jenkins who shared the house for many years and now claims squatters' rights. Despite attempts to mediate, the case comes to court.

Harley's lawyer disputes the claimed legal rights of the ghost and demands evidence that the ghost is actually who he claims to be. Under the pressure of the proceedings, Harley breaks down and admits that he did know of the presence of the ghost and therefore is willing to clear out of the house. The judge of course finds for the plaintiff.

At the conclusion of the case, Nicholls commiserates with Harley and his lawyer. He points out that the precedent now set means that ghosts in the state and the whole of the United States now have legal rights to haunt houses. Having said this, he simply vanishes - he was a ghost himself.


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