Monday, April 23, 2012
THE CENTURY'S BEST HORROR FICTION #6: A review of "The House of the Nightmare" by Edward Lucas White
Here we have another major influence on H.P. Lovecraft, but this one is a lot easier to get through than Machen’s “The White People.” In fact, you can’t get simpler than this little tale. The narrator gets in a car accident in the middle of nowhere, and when he comes to, he finds a young boy with a horrible cleft palate staring at him. The sun has gone down, and it is eight miles to town, so the narrator asks the kid if he can stay the night at his place. They have an odd conversation about how the kid thinks his own place is haunted, that while he hasn’t seen or heard anything, he feels ghosts around him. The narrator then goes to sleep and has a horrible nightmare just like one the kid had told him about earlier.
It doesn’t sound like much, right? Once again, it’s all about the journey. It sounds like many stories of its time. A traveler finds himself waylaid at a haunted house and experiences strange happenings. Yet it’s the way White portrays everything. It seems so plausible because of the way everything is represented . . . at least until the ending.
Sadly, the ending is pretty predictable, at least as far as modern audiences are concerned. SPOILER ALERT (in case the ending isn’t obvious enough for you): THE SIXTH SENSE has ruined this kind of story for us. Of course the kid is a ghost. The modern mind already suspects this. When he doesn’t touch anything throughout the course of the story—he doesn’t help the narrator carry his stuff, he doesn’t open the front door when requested to, and he doesn’t eat dinner with the narrator—it’s like a smoking gun.
The narrator wakes up the next day alone, and he finally gets to town, where he tells a blacksmith (they didn’t have mechanics back then) who is going to fix his car that he spent the night at that house with the kid with the cleft palate. The blacksmith then tells him that the kid has been dead for a long time. It’s not quite so chilling, but the way it’s related is kind of funny. END OF SPOILERS.
So despite the obvious ending, it is still worth a read.
[This story first appeared in the Sept. '06 issue of SMITH'S MAGAZINE and can be read here.]