On Guy de Maupassant's "Le Horla", Ambrose Bierce's "The Moonlight Road" and Ray Bradbury, "The Wind"
December 15, 1999
Guy de Maupassant was bom in 1850. The majority of his works are short stories dealing with the social life of the French, most humorous, many with twist endings. In 1883 Maupassant diverted from his career as a humorous short story writer and began on a second career, writing horror literature. The stories in de Maupassant's first nine volumes often speak of insanity, and it becomes clear that the author had a fascination with mental illness. "He" is most often considered de Maupassant's first horror story. Of his terror tales, roughly half are tales with no outward supernatural forces but the impending sense of doom and insanity. Guy de Maupassant's distinctive style was only to suggest what has happened, leaving the rest to the reader, or by weakly explaining what has Happened as results of insanity. The French writer suffered through his last years with syphilis, which produced a growing mental illness. It is during these last ten years he produced his most popular and terrifying stories, "The White Land", "The Ghost", and "Le Horla", all contained no real phantoms, but using illusion of the supernatural to further the plot.
Ambrose Bierce was born in Ohio on June 4, 1842. He was the son of Marcus Aurelius and Laura Sherwood Bierce. Details on his childhood are limited. However, he left his family in 1857 to live in Indiana, working as a "printer's devil" for an abolitionist newspaper. He attended the Kentucky Military Institute for a year before he dropped out. At the outbreak of t'ne Civil War, he enlisted with the 9h Indian volunteers. After the war, in 1867 he went to San Francisco where he got ajob working at the mint; when there he decided on a career in journalism. In 1872, he married Marv Ellen Day. After they were wed, they went to England, where he wrote his first three books. These included stories that opened with a narrator murdering relatives. While in England, Bierce and his wife have two children, Day in 1872 and Leigh in 1874. Upon returning to America, their third child Helen was born in 1876. In 18811 he begins his famous relationship with William Randolph Hearst,joining the staff of the San Francisco Examiner At this time, Bierce's personal life was hit with many tragedies. In 1888 he separated from his wife and in 1889 Day was killed during a duel over a woman. While continuing his newspaper work, Bierce began producing books in America. Between 1891-3, Bierce wrote and published The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians Black Beetles in Amber (among them was included the tale "The Moonlight Road. Again in 1901, his son Leigh died of pneumonia related to alcoholism. In 1906 he published his most famous work, The Devils Dictionary. Then in 1914 he went to Mexico and was never heard from again.
Ray Douglas Bradbury was bom in Waukegan, Illiniois on August 2, 1920. He was the third son of Leonard Spaulding Bradbury and Esther Marie Moberg Bradbury. By 1931, he began writing his own stories on butcher paper. Bradbury graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1938, where his formal education ended there. However, he taught himself at night in the library and by day at his typewriter. Bradbury's first publication was "Hollerbochen's Dilemma" in 1938. His first paid publication was Pendulum in 1941. In 1943, he published "The Wind", after he gave up his job selling newspapers and began his full-time career as a writer. Bradbury has a reputation as a leading writer of science fiction. He has been awarded the 0. Henry Memorial Award, the Benjamin Franklin Award in 1954, the Aviation-Space Writer's Association Award for best space article, the World Fantasy Award for 'lifetime achievement, and the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America. Ray Bradbury currently lives in California and is still actively writing and lecturing.
As all three men have in their lives events and obsessions which are connected to their writing ghost stories, so all three of these stories are psychological as well as really haunted. Guy de Maupassant's "Le Horla" carries the theme in which something that appears to be real if not left alone may get you in the end. The narrator in the ghost story allowed the ghost to seize his mind and control him, that it drove the narrator to insanity. In the end, the narrator attempted to kill the ghost, but he came to realize that he couldift kill an illusion in his mind. Thus, unless one lets go of the illusions within their minds, they will be pursued and controlled until the very end. Ray Bradbury's "The Wind" follows the old saying, "curiosity killed the cat". Allin the man who is being pursued by the wind became very curious when he was on an expedition and he found the feeding ground of the wind. The wind came back to haunt him so that he would not tell anyone else where the feeding ground was located. Thus, Herb's curiosity got him killed by the wind. In "The Moonlight Road" by Ambrose Bierce, effectively presents the theme that the unknown will haunt you forever. In this ghost story, Julie Hetman is murdered. She is unsure as to who her murder is and this continues to bother her long after her death. She cannot rest peacefui'Llv until she knows the whole truth as to how her life ended. Therefore, her own death and who killed her haunt her even though she's dead.
All three are also told by first-person narrators which makes us suspect their reality to others. "Le Horla" is a ghost story written in a diary format. The journals describe the day to day life of a man who feels he is being fed upon by some invisible thing that drains him, leaving him sick and weak. At first be puts the feeling off as nonsense but evidence begins to mount when he leaves for a holiday and feels better and then when he notices liquids, like a glass of water he kept at his bedside disappear. Eventually, the narrator witnesses the water being drank-. The man is driven toward madness and burns his home down. Then he still wonders if he has actually trapped and killed "it". If not, he will comnfit suicide. The question is what is persecuting him or where does it come from.
"The Wind" is the story of one Allin, a man who on an expedition in the Himalayas discovered a secret valley of the winds. He is now obsessed with storms and hurricanes, fearful of high winds who are trying to revenge themselves on him. One night, Allin is terrified by a wind which seems to want to destroy him. He calls his friend Herb by phone, asking for him to come over because the wind is trying to get him again. They keep in contact throughout the story over the phone. Allin continues to tell Herb of his fear of the wind. Eventually, the phone line goes dead and Herb suspects that the wind has gotten Allin. Herb steps outside of his house and felt a faint wind on his neck and heard a laugh that reminded him of Allin. The wind had captured Alrin and he now fears this malign force.
The Moonlight Road" by Ambrose Bierce is a ghost story written in the form of documented confessions. There are three confessions, one by the son, Joel Hetman, Jr; one by his father who now calls himself Casper Grattan; and one by Joel's mother whom his father murdered: Julie Hetman. Each statement is utterly subjective and told by a mind hurt and confused. The reader eventually puts together a version of what possibly happened: the husband, Casper Grattan came home and saw a man fleeing from his home. When he retreated to his bedroom, he stumbled upon the body of his wife, who had been murdered. The story told by Casper Grattan is similar, except that he states that he sent a man to his house because he suspected his wife of being unfaithful. When he returned home, he found her dead. The statement told by Julie Hetman is fearful and chilling. She is the ghost, now dead and speaks through a medium. She was wakened one night by a noise; she heard footsteps on the stairs and lay very still, hopint they would stop. When they didn't, and she heard fast heavy footsteps on the stairs, she escapes to a corner of the bedroom. She gives a descriptive account of someone strangling her. We really feel what it is like to be stranged. She does not know who her murder is. She does not know that she has terrified her son on the road. Her husband does not know who he is anymore, and we feel it was probaby he who did the murder.
All three ghost stories, "Le Horla", "The Wind", and "The Moonlight Road" have as one of their major themes the idea that that illusions can conquer and destroy the mind. Things that are unseen by the naked eye can drive a person to insanity and haunt them forever. The effect of these patterns is to leave the reader unnerved. We are led to worry about the power of the mind, but we are also led to think about whether there was an outside force destroying the main character. All three stories are filled with cruelty and poignancy.
In "Le Horla", the illusion is that of an apparition which haunts the narrator, driving him mad slowly. In order to rid himself of this awful spirit, he burns his house down. Upon doing so, he realizes that he cannot kill the spirit and he must commit suicide. The destruction force in "The Wind" is "The Wind" irtself. It haunts Allin for his discovery of its valley; it pursues him to his house and takes him away. Where we are not told. "The Moonlight-Road", the illusion is the story itself. All becomes unknown and uncertain. Nobody knows who killed Julie Hetman, so in essence, it is an illusion to her because the murder was never found. All three of these terrifying inward tales present the theme of the unknown and illusions that can play tricks on the mind, thus leading insanity or death. In two of the cases, the people who are haunted destroy others.
What is interesting is how slowly in the first case the man goes mad -- or is driven mad by some outside force. Guy de Maupassant's "Le Horla" is the ghost story of a man whose mind begins very cheerfully, too cheerfully, but over a period of time becomes filled with thoughts of an apparition that is haunting him. He is all alone throughout most of the tale, and his thoughts lead him to madness. The reader never does see any ghost and we could think it an illusion. Rather the narrator is aware of a presence, but cannot comprehend it: The mystery of the invisible is quite incomprehensible; we canot fathom it With our poor weak senses, our eyes which cannot distinguish either the infinitely small or the infinitely large, either the too near or the too distant... " (Penguin Book, "Le Horla", p. 210).
The narrator begins to dream of the ghost each night and this is making him very ill. The uneasiness that the narrator soon begins to control his everyday habits. He becomes frightened outside; when he is inside he has nightmares in which the illusion seizes him: "I am conscious, too, of someone approaching me, looking at me, touching me. Next he climbs on to the bed, kneels on my chest, seizes my throat and grips it with all his strength to strangle me" (p. 211).
At this point, the narrator is becomes mad or is obsessed with find out the reason and identity of the ghost. He goes to a monk seeking answers, but comes away with none. He tries to do everything he can to protect himself from this ghost that he dreams of. He locks his bedroom door one night and the following morning he realizes that the ghost hasbeen in his room because his water bottle is empty: "Gazing in panic terror at an empty water-bottle, from which a little water has disappeared, while he was asleep. I am going mad! Someone has emptied my water bottle again tonight. I'm going mad -- no-one can save me!" (p. 214). The reader enters wholly into this terrible atmosphere as the illusion slowly deteriorates the narrator to go -insane.
Finally, the narrator decides his only way out is to kill the ghost. He sets the house onfire and escapes, locking the doors behind him. By this time the whole house was "one dreadful, magnificent holocaust, a terrifying sight, lighting up everything all round ... and he, my prisoner, the new being, the new lord of the world, Le Horla, was being burnt too," (p. 228) Maupassant 228). After the fire is out, the narrator believes that there is no way to kill this invisible being. The only way to fid of him was to commit suicide, "No! There is no doubt, no doubt whatever, that he is not dead! So there is nothing left for me to do but to kill myself!" (de Maupassant p. 228). The ghostly illusion has taken over the narrator's being. He can no longer live, he has gone mad with continuous fear of the ghost.
The second and third story show the same kind of unnerving experience: again we can't tell whether the people are responsible for what has happened to them, and if not, we are frightened to think that outside forces would work so hard to be so cruel and mocking. Ambrose Bierce's "The Mootilight Road, is the story of a woman who may have been murdered. No-one has been apprehended for her murder, so we are not sure if the idea that there was a live killer is an illustion. Perhaps she committed suicide. The woman never sees the face of the man who killed her; she tells the medium, Bayrolles that someone or something woke her from her slep.. She was left alone in her house. She fled to a comer of her bedroom. She tells of her death and how she was strangled. But she has no idea who did it or why: "No, I have no knowledge of what it was. The sum of what we knew at death is the measure of what we know afterward of all that went before" ("The Moonlight Road", p 269). What we do know is her husband was jealous; from his half-crazed story we see that he could have been the man who came in and strangled her. The poignancy of the story is that when her ghost appears, she just chills her son the more. All three are lost souls. Perhaps the husband's testimony is the most dreadful since he is unaware of who he is. He thinks he is a number.
The last story, Bradbury's "The Wind" may also present a case of a character haunted by a false illusion. Here the joke is it's the wind -- air, the breath of life. Again the character cannot see his opponent and the reader is left to imagine that it may not be there. He is again all alone. He is again confused. His friend's wife will not let the friend come to his house. What we do know though is Allin disappears.
As with the other two stories, the ghost is a matter of something felt, a presence, nothing seen. Allin knows the wind is there because it is so high and threatening his house. Yet if it were so high, why does the phone line last so long? Is Allin trying to get his friend to come to his house because he is desperately lonely? He has called before and it was a false alarm. Is it the wind wanting more than one victim?
In a sense this story is the most illusory of all: the wind is an illusion to Allin because literally he cannot see it. He knows when it is there because he can feel it. However, he is constantly looking behind him and hiding from the wind so that it will not get him. This recalls the subjectivity of the narrator of "Le Horla" and the subjectivity of the husband who left the house to leave his wife time and space to have a lover visit her. Allin was a scientific explorer who while on an expedition learnt of the feeding grounds of the Valley of the Wind. He is convinced that snce then the wind has pursued him around the world to kill him so that he cannot expose its secrets. This illusion haunts Allin to the point where is dependent upon his friend Herp for protection. 'I wish you could come over.... Yeah. Yeah, it's the wind" ("The Wind", p 410). In context this sounds laughable and to Herb's wife Allin's way of seeking some psychological refuge in the kindness and patience of Herb, her husband who cares about his friend's well-being. Allin wants Herb to protect him from the wind; perhaps though he wants protection from his insanity.
In the story, the only means of contact between the two friends is via telephone. It is when the phone goes dead that Herb feels that the wind has gotten the best of Allin. An invisible power has killed his friend. "Then the telephone lines are down! He let the phone drop.... 'Oh, Lord, Lord!" (p. 418). Herb feels responsible for the well being of his friend and he wants to help him, but it is too late, the wind has gotten the best of Allin. Our only external proof that there was such a wind is the sense of malign laughter Herb hears at the close of the story.
This last story links up with two ethical ways: at their close the main characters are haunted forever. They can never find rest or peace. We are also to ask if it matters that the madness was within or if there was a ghost. There is a deep sense of powerlessness in all three stories: the characters who we care about are all powerless, though they feel they have intense powers and are in the grip of intense powers. And the power is that of illusion -- or vision.