"The Trial for Murder" by Charles Dickens (1866, 11 pages)
"Srendi Vashtar" by Saki (1910, 5 pages)
An All English Paranormal Short Story Day
Can Saki Really Triumph Over
Charles Dickens and Algernon Blackwell?
I am having great fun participating in Carl V's RIP 6 reading event (Sept 1 to Oct 31) devoted to horror, Gothic, and paranormal literary works. (The rules are on the RIP 6 web page. Carl has made it easy and fun for all to join in and does a great job as a host.) Today will be an all England paranormal read off with a visitor from Mount Parnassus, Charles Dickens being taken on by one very odd (and scary looking) gentleman, Algernon Blackwood, and our own gently witty Saki.
Algernon Blackwood (1869 to 1951-UK) is one of the founding fathers of the "Weird Story" genre, along with Arthur Machen and H P Lovecraft. He wrote hundreds of short stories, twelve novels, and numerous plays in addition to a vast amount of journalism. He is best know for his collection of paranormal short stories, Incredible Adventures (1914), which is considered by many the best collection of weird stories ever published by a single writer. His most famous work is, I think, a long short story, "The Willows". (There is a good story about his interesting life and his work here). Waite, like Machen was interested in the occult and was influenced by The Order of the Golden Dawn lead by A. E. Waite. (I think when the dust over the history of occult literature in the late 19th and early 20th century settles this order will be seen as huge "background influence". If you look hard enough you can see it in even as a strong influence on Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield.) Blackwood was also a TV and stage actor.
This morning I checked Americanlit.com to see what their short story of the day was and when I saw it was a story by a famous paranormal and new to me writer, Algernon Blackwood, I took it as an omen and I read "Keeping His Promise" right away. I am glad I did as it was fun if not real scary story. The story begins in the college rooms of a young man studying for the finals in medical school. He is not the best of students but he is not the worst either. He has been cramming for two weeks now and all his friends know to leave him alone as he must pass these exams or he is out of school. He hears a knock at his door and he wonders who it could be. He is so shocked to see an old once very close friend he has not seen in seven years at his door. He is even more shocked when he sees his once well off friend now dressed in rags and looking very unhealthy with his skin a clammy white. He sees his friend looks like he is starving and he feeds him. He looks exhausted so he puts him in his spare bedroom. He wonders why his friend never spoke to him. He hears his heavy breathing and goes in the room to check on him. He cannot find him but the heavy breathing can be heard anywhere in his apartment. A neighbor in the dorm rooming house stops over and he asks what is that noise. Fearing he is going mad, the narrator tells him to go in the bedroom to see the man but he still cannot be found. Then his neighbor notices blood coming from the wrist of the narrator. Upon closer examination under the new cut on his wrist is an old scar. Now he recalls seven years ago he and his strange visitor became blood brothers through cuts in their wrists. Things turn weird now and I do not want to spoil it for new readers but when he writes his old friends sister to find out how he is doing, she tells him he killed himself years ago in a fit of despair.
"Keeping His Promise" is a good story, not a great one, entertaining and well written.
About twelve or so years ago I read all of Dicken's novels in publication date order. It was one of the great reading projects of my life. I have revisited him twice on my blog in posts on Oliver Twist and Sketches by Boz. "Trial By Murder" is a pretty simple story (there will be links to read all the stories at the end of the post). A man is called to jury duty on a murder case and he begins to see the murder victim in the court room. (It does sound sort of like a Ghost Stories plot.) Dickens does a great job of describing the mix of people on the jury. The trial lasted ten days and the jury (all men of course) slept on the tables at an inn with a guard to make sure they did not leave. This is kind of a two note story. The first note is the appearance of the ghost of the murder victim. The second note comes in a pretty good twist at the end and I will leave it unspoiled. This is a very much an OK story but not great at all. Algernon Blackwood's story is better done (I think I can say this as I totally love Dickens).
I really enjoy reading the short stories of Saki. Yesterday I read and posted on my first Saki (1870 to 1916) short story with a paranormal element, "The Cobweb". Yesterday Tom Conoboy suggested I read Saki's "Srendi Vashtar". I did and it is the best Saki short story I have ever read (out of 30 or so-270 or so to go!). It is just perfect and a great paranormal story. The best paranormal writers often leave it up to decide what happens in the story and Saki does just that. There are two lead characters in the story, a boy of maybe 10 to 14. and his adult female cousin who tries to run his life. The boy pretty much hates her. Saki has been called a "malicious boy delighting in being in smarter than the real adults" and I guess that is accurate.
The boy gets a pet ferret. He begins to worship ferret as a god, calling him "Srendi Vashtar". As the story goes on it seems the boy really does begin to worship the ferret. His female cousin does not know about the ferret and would make him get rid of him so he keeps him locked in a tool shed and hides the key in his own room. Every day he begins to pray, "Great Srendi Vashtar grant me one wish". The boy clearly believes the ferret is a god. One day the cousin finds the key and opens the took shed. When he hears a horrible scream from his cousin and sees the ferret has blood on his mouth and is running to the woods he is very happy. When the family maid announces the cousin is dead on floor the boy knows the ferret god has granted his wish and will now return to the woods, having fulfilled his mission
Saki's story is way better than those of Dickens and Blackwood.
Link to "Srendi Vashtar"-best Saki story I have read so far
Link to "Keeping His Promise" by Algernon Blackwood-decent Gothic horror short story.
Link to "Trial by Murder" by Charles Dickens-read it because of who wrote it and it does give us a look at jury duty in England in the 1860s that I found interesting.
I hope to read Blackwood's most famous work "The Willows" before October 31.