Monday, October 22, 2007

SHORT STORY MONDAY: a small peril

The Specter Bridegroom by Washington Irving

I thought I'd try an older spooky short story after my Stephen King escapades. And you can see how scary subjects have changed over the years, because this little story didn't seem scary at all, actually, it was a little funny. I kept picturing it as a Three's Company episode. OK, I'll begin at the beginning.

I found this story in a small collection called Great Tales of Suspense, which was in the children's section of the library. It includes stories by HG Wells, Charles Dickens, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so I'm sure they are supposed to be scary. The setting was an old castle in Upper Germany, the castle of Baron von Landshort. And yes, even by that name I was amused. He is a little down on his luck, but still proud and yet carrying grudges. He will become Mr Roper in the story in my head. The baron was 'a dry branch of the great family of Katzenellenbogen.' Did you giggle there? I know I did when I said that name in my head. So Mr Roper is trying to marry off his daughter - no wife is mentioned. The beautiful daughter, we'll call Chrissy, has been raised by two maiden aunts, we'll call them Mrs Roper and Janet. My analogy doesn't work perfectly, but bear with me. The Baron arranges a marriage, but nobody in the castle ever meets the guy before the marriage. All the poor relatives arrive for the wedding.

The bridegroom is riding to meet his future wife and runs into an old friend from his army days, Jack Tripper, who alas is an enemy of Mr Roper, but it's an enemy back of few generations, so they haven't actually met. Can you see the set up? It seemed so obvious to me from a mile away, through the Black Forest. The old pals are accosted in the woods and the bridegroom is killed. Jack Tripper agrees to head to the castle to tell the bad news and espy the beautiful bride he has heard of through the neighbourhood, perhaps down at the Regal Beagle over a few beers with Larry.

When he arrives, late, everyone is so happy to see him, and they think he is the bridegroom, so they don't let him tell that he is not who they think he is. He stays, has dinner, makes googly eyes at the bride, and she back. and then leaves. The next day they get word at the castle that the original bridegroom had been killed, so they all think they met a specter.

I won't give away the ending, but Chrissy often ends up as the wise one amongst the idiots, and that darn mix up is usually figured out. If you can figure out a Three's Company episode, this won't be too surprising. So, my question now is, have we changed so much, been exposed to so much that this was once spooky? Or was this really an amusing little story, not meant to be very scary? I've read some books this year, like Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which were creepy, and held up to modern scrutiny, to an extent, since those stories are so famous, that the endings were not surprising.

I enjoyed the story, and making it a 70s sitcom in my head, but I wouldn't call it a Great Tale of Suspense. I must go look for another Washington Irving story, because I'm pretty sure he can do scary. This wasn't it. This was pretty funny, and maybe even on purpose.


  1. Hi, I just stumbled across your blog today. Honestly I'm not sure that I would find The Specter Bridegroom scary either. I had a hard time understanding why Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde was supposed to be chilling. In the opening scene Jekyl knocks over a little girl and steps on her. Maybe I'm too desensitized to violence, but although it certainly wasn't nice, I didn't think it was that shocking.

    You might like Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural. It's a book I'm reading right now with older horror stories, and so far I've found most of them pretty good. Moonlight Sonata by Alexander Woollcott was very creepy.

  2. I'm that loud lady from the studio audience who laughed like a hyena at every stumble Jack ever took. Nice job, btw.

    I agree that it doesn't sound scary by today's standards. But as you questioned, perhaps it was meant to be a bit farcical.

  3. Awesome. Now I'm going to be trying to fit all of my favorite sit-coms into the books I read. Hmmm, how to make "Lonesome Dove" into say "The Love Boat"? A challenge. Nice review.

  4. Oh, that was good! Thanks for the link.

  5. laura - hi and thanks for stopping by. I tried to comment on your blog, but I couldn't figure out how. I rmrmber reading Dr Jekyll, and thinking how horrifying it must have been, originally, when nobody knew the story.

    john - We got a Three's Company dvd for Christmas last year, and my 7 year old daughter loved it.
    There were other funny statements too, so I think it was kind of making fun of scary tales.

    kookie - Love Boat? Every Saturday night. loved that show.

    chris - I should have left the link at your site.

  6. You're so clever, Raidergirl3. I don't think I'd every come up with something so clever. Sounds like a fun story.

  7. Now THAT is funny!! I do agree that times have changed. People have changed. We just aren't as sensitive as we used to be.

    it still sounds like a fun story!


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