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The Tales from Times Past

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You should consider:

* Style, technique and tone

* Language, setting and characterisation

* Openings, creation of suspense/intrigue

* Use of the supernatural

* And anything else you feel as relevant

In this essay I intend to discuss the distinguishing features of three horror stories in “The Tales from Times Past”, namely “The Monkey’s Paw”; “The Old Nurses Story” and “Hurst of Hurstcote”. This collection was written over one hundred years ago and has a strong religious element.

I would like to start by considering the importance of atmosphere and setting in each of these short stories. Isolation is regularly used and symbolises the absence of assistance nearby which makes readers feel nervous when help is needed. In “Hurst of Hurstcote” the house is set far away from anything else;

“It lies in the hollow, ringed round by its moat, its dark red walls showing the sky behind them.”

Also in “The Old Nurse’s Story” the house is hard to escape from and difficult to see,

“The road went up about two miles”, “with many trees close around it.”

Similarly in “The Monkey’s Paw” the house is also remote, “That’s the worst of living so far out.”

The houses that are in these short stories besides from being isolated are also generally very large. In “Hurst of Hurstcote” there is a mansion which implies more rooms, secrets and the sheer size is daunting. It is an old mansion which suggests mystery and a history we cannot change. This is emblematic for a horror story;

“Seventy years ago was one of the most perfect, as well as the finest, brick Tudor mansions in England.”

Since the house is so big it also shows signs of neglect;

“…ivy to force itself through the window and make an uninvited third at our dinner-table.”

Nature takes over which shows the reader it is uncared for. In “The Old Nurse’s Story” the condition of the large house indicates that it would be an unloving and inhospitable home;

“the branches of the great forest trees had grown overshadowed again and there were very few flowers that would live there at the time.”

Considering the neglected atmosphere, these stories often use pathetic fallacy where weather reflects the mood.

In “Hurst of Hurstcote” and “Monkey’s Paw” the most tragic events happen in winter.

The statement “As winter drew on…” in “The Old Nurse’s Story” implies unfavourable events are going to occur.

Horror writers’ convey a great deal of sympathy for the victim and feelings of dislike towards the villain. They tend to use hyperbole to make the victim appear more important and special and often distinguish characters by extreme goodness or beauty. In “The Old Nurse’s Story” the victim is a young girl, “Miss Rosamond slept on sound” She has that childhood innocence that makes us feel compassion for her. In “Hurst of Hurstcote” the victim is exceptionally attractive, “…the beauty of the country…” This is exaggerated because it makes the story more tragic. Instead of a plain girl she is more special and it is sadder for the readers to accept her death. In “Monkey’s Paw” the family has vast warmth and happiness;

“‘Never mind, dear,’ said his wife soothingly…perhaps you will win the next one.”

When a horrible situation happens to the family we feel more heart-broken for them because we know that they are such a good, loving family.

An effective characteristic in horror stories is the credibility of the narrator. In “The Old Nurse’s Story” the narrator is believable because she is an eye-witness to what happened. She also builds up trust in a loving way, “you know, my dear…” and convinces the audience that she is honest in a modest way, “…my being a good girl at my needle, and a steady honest girl.” In “Hurst of Hurstcote” the narrator is trusted by a character which makes us believe him, “I’ve always thought I was sure of one soul in the world to stand by me” Furthermore he is a doctor who therefore has signed the Hippocratic oath and the technique of using upper class, very intelligent people is done in order to make us think that they are trustworthy.

Creating suspense is equally as essential in horror stories in order to further grip the reader’s attention. The use of suspense is an essential element in any horror story. One method writer’s use for creating mood is secrecy. In “The Old Nurse’s Story” there is a lot of mystery which creates secrecy, “If I show it you, you must never let on.” This statement inevitably leaves the reader wondering why and wanting to know more. “I wished I had never been told, for it only made me afraid more than ever.” This creates tension as we find out there is something awful that happened and therefore we want to find out what it was. In “The Monkey’s Paw” the character does not want to explain what happened which gives the notion of anonymity, “Nothing…Leastways nothing worth hearing.” Unfinished mystery is often used to create suspense. It also helps generate more interest and encourages the reader to read on. In “Hurst of Hurstcote” the reader never finds out what Kate is going to say, “John would never – was always-.” This generates concern and leaves us on a cliff-hanger. In “The Old Nurse’s Story” shadows are used to build anxiety on account of the use of pathetic fallacy, “A black shadow fell into the snow.” In the “Monkey’s Paw” the number three is used, signifying evil which suggests tragic events are to come, “Three times he paused at the gate.”

The supernatural also plays a very effective role within horror stories. There are several examples of incidents which are illogical and suggestive of supernatural power. Inexplicable things happen. In “Hurst of Hurstcote” John is haunted by a person beyond the grave, “I forbid her soul to leave its body till my time came to die.” He interfered with death and strangely the body that had been dead for five weeks showed no sign of decay,

“…the body that lay in John Hurst’s arms, among the mouldering coffins of the Hursts of Hurstcote, was s perfect and beautiful as when first he clasped her in his arms, a bride.”

“Let me go, John-let me go!” implies the presence of supernatural powers. In the “Monkey’s Paw” the paw has power beyond the victims’ control and they cannot control it. In “The Old Nurse’s Story” incomprehensible things happen. The chandelier was totally lighted yet the room was not illuminated plus the fire was alight but gave no heat. “I saw it was all broken and destroyed inside” The organ played music even though it was broken. This creates nervousness because there is no logical explanation for such events to occur. This supplies uncertainty and trepidation.

In all three horror stories the authors create fear effectively by using unseen terror. In “Hurst of Hurstcote” the writer uses black magic as the medium to create fear, “A wild paper on ‘Black magic’.” This portrays evil in the human mind, the very nature of black magic. In “The Old Nurse’s Story” there is a ghostly figure that is seen by just Miss Rosamond, “I tracked you by your footmarks through the snow.” No one else saw the girl which creates apprehension. When the family hear that the little girl was with Miss Rosamond they are all frightened, this builds intrigue as it is not usual to be afraid of a child, “my very blood ran cold.” In “Monkey’s Paw” the reader does not know how much damage the paw will do until it happens and the situation does not end the way they expect it to.

The writers’ use of language enhances the reader’s ability to sense the drama and tension of the plots, creating a vivid picture in the mind. In “Hurst of Hurstcote” exclamation marks and capital letters are used to convey the fear and panic of the speakers, “John! John! Let me go! For heaven’s sake let me go!” In “The Old Nurse’s Story” repetition is used, “Never, never tell.” this is exaggerated and adds fear. In “Monkey’s Paw” repetition is again used, “Why didn’t I think of it before? Why didn’t you think of it?” This is a classic horror story technique. Repetition tends to makes the reader feel more uptight about what is happening. Melodramatic phrases are used to build up dread. In “Hurst of Hurstcote” it is used, “the chamber of death.” This exaggeration makes things sound worse than they are so the reader is more scared. Short sentences add drama building towards a major scene, it increases the pace and it creates more tension;

“A shudder ran through him.

‘I must go and see for myself,’ he said.

Then I knew – all in a minute – what to do.”

The use of question marks creates anxiety and intrigue. In “Monkey’s Paw” they are used to build up to a major scene, “Where? Where is it? What’s the matter?” In “The Old Nurse’s Story” personification is used to describe the little girl, “Phantom Child” and “Spectre Child” making the character appear more mysterious.

A supplementary characteristic of horror stories and one evident in each of the three stories is Irony. In “Monkey’s Paw” the name of a character is, “Laburnum” which is ironic because it means poisonous plant and this fits in with the character. Irony is also used in “The Old Nurse’s Story” with the name, “Miss stark” ironically portraying her character. In “Hurst of Hurstcote” it is strange how Katie became sick when the doctor was present and yet he still couldn’t cure her illness. In “Monkey’s Paw” there is a lot of irony as the characters meddle with fate, “I bet I never shall see it” and he never manages to see it because he dies. Additionally, “I expect you’ll find the cash tied up in a big bag in the middle of your bed,” and the money is replaced for him.

Furthermore, biblical and moral references are common characteristics which serve to heighten the sense of horror or evil in the stories. Up until the 20th century it was considered wrong not to attend church in the UK and many people were very religious. The sentence “As I wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake” in the “Monkey’s Paw” is symbolic for evil, as the first reference to Satan in the bible was as a snake. The moral of this story directs us to entrust God with our lives because He holds ultimate power. In “Hurst of Hurstcote” there is the use of black magic and hypnotism, “He used to mesmerise me.” The outcome of this story is that we have no right to interfere with death, only God. In “The Old Nurse’s Story” there are a lot of religious elements shown as two girls were outside under dressed for the severe conditions the father did not let them in. The biblical phrase is “feed the hungry, help the poor.” A shepherd finds the child and saves it from death. This is a religious element as Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd. The comment “Flesh is grass” is a biblical phrase which means no matter how much people fight they will become wrinkly and die.

To conclude, it is clear that the many characteristics of horror stories contribute to a sense of tension, fear and credibility. The use of these features motivates the reader to continue reading, heightening interest and anticipation.

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