Saturday, October 11, 2014

"The Ape"

"The Ape"
by E.F. Benson


An Englishman on a tour of Egypt purchases an ancient fragment of sculpture, never guessing that in so doing, he has just taken the first step down a dark and frightening road.

My Reaction:
I liked it!  Maybe waiting so long between Benson's creepy stories has whetted my appetite, but in any case, I enjoyed it.  

Tidbits (with SPOILERS):
--  The story opens with a long description of the setting-- in particular, a detailed rendering of an Egyptian sunset and twilight.  It took me a minute to get into the right mode, but once I did, I found it very effectively written.  I could see it.  I get the impression that readers are "supposed" to be bored by descriptions of nature in fiction-- especially sunsets.  If they're done well, though, I love them.  (L.M. Montgomery is a great author for those fond of beautifully rendered settings.)

--  There are a few stereotypes that probably won't sit well with modern sensibilities. 

--  Early in the story, the little scrap of pottery shaped like a monkey puts me in mind of "The Monkey's Paw", but the similarities are limited.  "The Monkey's Paw" is more intimately horrible-- and a better story, to be honest-- but the sense of evil in "The Ape" is on a much larger scale.

--  Fun Fact:  If you do a web-search for "Tahumet" (the name of the ape demon), "Tagamet" (the heartburn medicine) is suggested.  Safe to say that "Tahumet" was Benson's own creation, then, I guess, and not a real part of Egyptian mythology.

--  Possibly the strangest part of the story for me (even stranger than the AMAZING coincidence of Hugh finding one half of the extremely rare ape talisman, then purchasing the second half from a vendor that same day) is the thing that reminds him of his humanity and saves his soul. 

...So, he has this mended talisman.  He's decided to use it against the woman who has so cruelly led him along and the man that she actually loves.  The apes have brought the two people before him.  All sorts of terrible ideas are dancing through his mind-- but then the woman looks toward him, and her hair has fallen loose during the struggle-- "fallen down and streamed over her shoulders".  "And at that, the sight of a woman's hair unbound, the remnant of his manhood, all that was not submerged in the foulness of his supreme apehood, made one tremendous appeal to him, like some final convulsion of the dying"-- and he decides to have mercy and break the talisman and the spell.  I had no idea that the sight of a woman's hair unbound was so powerful...  I doubt it would prove as effective, these days, when we walk around with it unbound all the time.  ;o)  (It reminds me of old-school Church of God-type stuff.  One of my great-grandmothers believed that women should keep their hair long.  She always did, and wore it up in a bun.  Of course, if I'm not mistaken, she also believed that women shouldn't wear pants...  It was a different time, as they say!)

--  When Hugh breaks the talisman, the couple he's just released seem to be aware only of the "earthquake" and the fact that the horses have fled.  They don't appear to remember being herded by the apes or seeing Hugh on his throne, leaving the reader to puzzle out for him or herself exactly what has just happened.  How much was real?  How much imagined?

Right before this story, there was a "title page" for a short story titled "The Passenger", but no story... I'm not sure if it was a mistake in the e-book or not.  Possibly "The Passenger" is included later in the e-book, and the editor(s) neglected to remove the extra title page.