Thursday, February 6, 2014

"The Man Who Went Too Far"

"The Man Who Went Too Far"
by E.F. Benson

A man visits the home of a friend he hasn't seen in years and is amazed to find that this friend looks younger-- and more radiant-- than ever.  His friend explains that the apparent reversal of the aging process is the result of years of focusing solely on the joys of nature.  However, there is a dark side to the obsessive pursuit of joy and worship of happiness...

My Reaction:
I liked this better than "At Abdul Ali's Grave", but it still felt less... horrifying than I would like in a "horror story".  There are some interesting ideas here-- but in the end, I'm afraid that (so far) I'm more befuddled than really frightened by the concept of ancient pagan gods.  The "Greek god" aspect reminded me of one or two other short stories I've read... "Dionea", for instance, which was another that I didn't complete "get". Still, this was better than "Dionea", imho.  Just not great.

Random Particulars (with SPOILERS):
--  "One story indeed I have heard with some definiteness, the tale of a monstrous goat that has been seen to skip with hellish glee about the woods and shady places..."  ...A "monstrous goat" skipping around with "hellish glee"?  Hm.  O-kay...

--  Of a house:  "It was low-built, only two stories in height..."  Well, how many stories would it take for a house to not be considered "low-built"?  Around here, single-story homes are more the norm, and two-story homes would never be referred to as "only". 

--  "'I would as soon think of eating meat.'  'Another victim on the smoking altar of vegetarianism?'"  ...Yeah.  Meat's just too darn tasty to be given up lightly.

--  "'...that awful and terrible disease which devastated England some centuries ago, and from which by heredity of spirit we suffer now, Puritanism.  That was a dreadful plague, the brutes held and taught that joy and laughter and merriment were evil:  it was a doctrine the most profane and wicked.'"  I don't agree with Frank on much, but on this... Yes, I think it's a terrible mistake to believe and teach that God does not want us to be joyful and find pleasure in our earthly lives.  You won't win many souls by preaching that innocent happiness is a sin.  White-knuckling your way through every single day-- it's no way to live.

--  "'I believe that just as there is nothing in the world which so injures one's body as fear, so there is nothing that so much shuts up the soul.'"  ...If only it were easier to live without fear!

--  As with the first story in this collection, my knowledge of the author's (assumed) "predilections" can't help but color the way I read some things.  In the last story, there was a man stripped naked, sweatily digging up a grave and performing some sort of supernatural mouth-to-mouth.  This time, there was an odd scene in which one man comes up to another's bedroom and puts him to sleep with his hypnotic talk.  It seems a strange thing to do, does it not?

--  Frank's unnaturally powerful abhorrence of the pain and suffering in the world around him-- his absolute terror of seeing something that was not joyful-- was much more disturbing than the suggestion that Pan had come to scare him to death. That said, I definitely understand the impulse to avoid the unpleasant.  It's why I change the channel or mute the TV when certain commercials come on-- or immediately flip past particular types of ads or articles in magazines, for instance.  There has to be a limit, though-- and a grown man stopping up his ears and running away from a child who cries after taking a tumble...

--  "'The radical unsoundness of your idea.  It is this:  All nature from highest to lowest is full, crammed full of suffering; every living organism in nature preys on another, yet in your aim to get close to, to be one with nature, you leave suffering altogether out; you run away from it, you refuse to recognize it."

--  The end is predictable-- if you can still call it "predictable" when Frank's friend (sorry, can't recall his name) has issued an explicit warning regarding the likely nature of the eagerly-awaited "final revelation".  Frank replies that he doesn't care if he dies as a result of the revelation.  He must see this through to the end.  ...And, well, if he doesn't care if he dies, why should the reader?  I certainly didn't.  The hoof marks weren't much of a surprise, either.

-- Conclusion:  Meh.