"The Red Lodge"
from They Return at Evening
by H.R. Wakefield
They Return at Evening is a collection of ghost stories by H.R.
Wakefield. It's his first such collection, published in 1928. I'll be
posting reactions to stories individually.
A painter and his wife and young son take a house in the country for a few months, hoping to enjoy a riverside holiday in pleasant surroundings. Little do they know that the Red Lodge is not the pleasant vacation spot they're expecting... (Dun dun DUN!)
It has its moments. This is one of the creepier of the stories, so far. However, I think it's somewhat weakened by the hodge-podge of "haunting elements". There's the mysterious green slime and the "green monkey" that apparently goes after children... Then there are the ghostly human figures people keep seeing entering and exiting rooms... Then there's the story (and apparition) of the people being driven to jump to their deaths in the river. The "green monkey" in particular doesn't seem to have much relation to the "origin story" (of the man who arranged for his wife's death in the river-- so that he could replace her with a harem, of course.). I guess you could draw the conclusion that the green monkey-monster-man is one of the victims of the haunting-- perhaps even the original evil husband, himself-- but why is he especially interested in children? It lacks a certain cohesion. That doesn't make it a bad ghost story, but it diminishes its effectiveness, in my humble opinion.
I've repeatedly seen this lauded as one of Wakefield's best works. Maybe I'm missing something, but if this is the best, I don't know if I see what all the fuss is about... It had a few really good moments, but as a whole was lacking that ineffable something that would have pulled it all together into a crescendo. (The kid being terrified by the green monkey-monster-man into jumping into the river-- not enough, evidently.) Possibly this just isn't "my" genre-- or I'm too prone to nit-picking... (Though I will insist that just because I may seem to tear a book to shreds afterwards, it doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the reading!)
-- This habit of renting out other people's homes and living in them for months at a time seems to be fairly common in British literature (at least, of a certain period). It feels strange to me. Renting a cabin for a week or so seems more normal. I just can't imagine staying in someone else's home for three months! I wouldn't feel comfortable-- and I'd miss my own things at home-- and it would be far too much trouble to bring them all with you-- and I certainly couldn't bear the thought of renting out my own home! Of course, in this instance, I guess the lodge's owner wasn't living there, so it was more like renting a (very nice) cabin than living in someone else's home...
-- The narrator decides not to talk to his wife about the creepy experiences, yet, because "it was conceivable that these phenomena were perceptible only to [himself], being half a Highlander". Highlanders are/were susceptible to paranormal activity, I guess? (g)
-- "'The green monkey won't get me, will it, Mummy?'" Ha ha ha. Sorry, but that just makes me laugh. "Well, now, sonny, that depends on how you behave... I wish I could tell you that the green monkey wouldn't get you, but if you're a bad little boy, there may not be anything I can do about it."
-- The neighbor's dream was shuddery. "'...a certain dream which recurs with curious regularity. I find myself standing at the end of the lane and watching the river-- always in a sort of brassy half-light. And presently something comes floating down the stream. I can see it jerking up and down, and I always feel passionately anxious to see what it may be. At first I think that it is a log, but when it gets exactly opposite me it changes its course and comes towards me, and then I see that it is a dead body, very decomposed. And when it reaches the bank it begins to climb up towards me, and then I am thankful to say I always awake. Sometimes I have thought that one day I shall not wake just then, and that on this occasion something will happen to me, but that is probably merely a silly fancy of an old gentleman who has concerned himself with these singular events rather more than is good for his nerves.'" --The "brassy half-light". I wonder if that's the same beautiful pinkish light that we sometimes get at twilight... --The log-turned-body reminds me of a similar instance in The Willows. --I think I would suffer from serious insomnia if I had a recurring dream like that and seriously suspected that one day I wouldn't wake up...
-- There were a few odd mentions during the course of the story:
-- First, Sedgewick's The Use of Words in Reasoning. (He even quotes from it...)
-- Second, "an article... on a glorious word 'Jugendbewegung', the 'Youth Movement', that pregnant or merely wind-swollen Teutonism! How ponderously it attempted to canonise with its polysyllabic sonority that inverted Boy-Scoutishness of the said youths and maidens. 'One bad, mad deed-- sonnet-- scribble of some kind-- lousy daub-a-day.' Bunk without spunk, sauce without force, Futurism without a past, merely a Transition from one yelping pose to another."
-- After indicating that he wouldn't abandon his family, however terrified he was: "Such things aren't done by respectable inhabitants of Great Britain-- a people despised and respected by all other tribes. Despised as Philistines, but it took the jaw-bone of an ass to subdue that hardy race! Respected for what? Birkenhead stuff. No, not the noble Lord, for there were no glittering prizes for those who went down to the bottom of the sea in ships. My mind deliberately restricting itself to such highly debatable jingoism... [blah blah blah scary stuff monsters&ghosts]." ...What? This was written in the 1920s, I think. What does he mean about the British being "despised" at that point in history? Later-- It just occurred to me... Maybe he was referring to colonialism/imperialism? Clearly this is not one of my (many, many) areas of expertise... ;o)