Friday, 27 October 2017

Wilkie Collins

Back to the topic of books and stories...

I can't remember when I first came across Wilkie Collins; another author considered to be the founder of the detective / mystery genre. I'm not even sure how old I was when I read The Moonstone. Maybe I came across it amongst my father's old books? Or the old books that used to kick around the summer camp I went to?

It's also possible I read a short story by Collins in one of those horror anthologies and then went searching at the library for more. I used to read so voraciously...

...and I see that, yes indeed, a story by Collins did appear in the 4th Fontana anthology. Just have a look through its contents, or any of the others (here and here) to see how many you may have read. And while it's true, I have NOT got round to re-reading anything but the Introduction from the 8th edition of Fontana Book of Ghost Stories, it's also true that winter is long and dark here. We had snowflakes just the other morning! So, there will be plenty of time to snuggle up with it.

Now, I recall preferring The Moonstone to Wilkie's other novel, The Woman in White. The former is more exciting involving a legend and a mysterious gem from India. Ah, India; that place where the very creepy monkey's paw (W.W. Jacobs, 1902) came from. Of course!

In Wilkie's story...

Colonel Herncastle, an unpleasant former soldier, brings the Moonstone back with him from India where he acquired it by theft and murder during the Siege of Seringapatam. Angry at his family, who shun him, he leaves it in his will as a birthday gift to his niece Rachel, thus exposing her to attack by the stone's hereditary guardians, who, legend says, will stop at nothing to retrieve it... - Source

And in The Monkey's Paw...(which I know I read in one of those anthologies!)

The short story involves Mr. and Mrs. White and their adult son, Herbert. Sergeant-Major Morris, a friend who served with the British Army in India, introduces them to a mummified monkey's paw. An old fakir placed a spell on the paw, that it would grant three wishes. The wishes are granted but always with hellish consequences as punishment for tampering with fate. Morris, having had a horrific experience using the paw, throws the monkey's paw into the fire but Mr. White retrieves it. Before leaving, Morris warns Mr. White that if he does use the paw, then it will be on his own head. - Source

Of course, the UK's connection to India is long and...eventful. Like many other colonizing forces throughout history, an unfamiliar society and its cultural practices can become both a source of intrigue and fear for the colonizer. Maybe that's why India features so frequently in 19th C British literature. Especially when there is something mysterious or supernatural that is integral to the plot.

The 100 best novels: No 19 – The Moonstone

Christopher Lee reads The Monkey's Paw