I’ve lately found myself often in coffee shops or parks between jobs so I’ve had plenty of time to read. Mainly still from H.P. Lovecraft Selects and I’ve recently read two more stories from the compilation; “The Red Room” by H.G. Wells and “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs. The latter is of course the more famous story but I also consider it to be much more effective, as much as I did like “The Red Room”.
“The Red Room” is another example, like “The Dead Valley”, of accomplishing a lot with very little, of creating the sensation of horror from a few subtle suggestions. A man agrees to stay in a haunted room and his courage is shaken by minor but truly inexplicable occurrences. Simply the mental image conjured by a “red room” accomplishes a lot. I found myself thinking of the interiors from Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers.
I don’t think I’d ever read “The Monkey’s Paw”. Though it’s quite possible I did but forgot. Sometimes when I look through my blog entries from fifteen years ago I discover even good movies or stories I’d forgotten all about having seen or read. In any case, I was certainly familiar with the concept even before the first airing of The Simpsons episode that parodied it in 1991. I was pleased by the actual story’s psychological subtlety, the tormenting ambiguity about the guilt the main character bears for the death that resulted from his use of the paw—and the more fascinatingly murky subject of whether it was a good idea to resurrect the dead man.
The old man turned and regarded her, and his voice shook. “He has been dead ten days, and besides he - I would not tell you else, but - I could only recognize him by his clothing. If he was too terrible for you to see then, how now?”
The knocking at the door at the end of the story reminded me a bit of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “The Body” which concludes with Buffy’s sister nearly resurrecting their dead mother. The end of “The Monkey’s Paw” is better, though, because it’s not as clear that the resurrected person is a zombie or just plain and simply alive again. The man and wife in the story, assuming the wife doesn’t get her hands on the paw, will always have that wedge between them because one expected a zombie and the other expected their normal, happy, living son. There will always be the unanswered question and the husband will always have to stand by a position that can never be proved. That’s one sinister paw.