Every Wednesday over at LibraryThing the members of the Deep Ones weird fiction discuss a different work of fiction.
I’ve thought about putting up reviews of the works in question, but I thought that might be a bit unfair to the other members of the group if I passed off their insights as my own.
So, I’m going to compromise and put up my reviews of the discussed works before the general discussion takes place.
Review: “The Room in the Tower”, E. F. Benson, The E. F. Benson Megapack, 2013.
The narrator has a recurring dream, starting at age 16 and for a period of fifteen years, of going to a house in the country, meeting the people there, one an old school acquaintance he had little to do with, and given a “room in the tower”.
Entering that room, he is overcome with terror and wakes up.
The odd thing about the dream is that it maintains a continuity. The people of the family move away, marry, and the woman of the house, Julia Stone, dies and is buried near the house with a grave marker “In evil memory of Julia Stone”.
The Conclusion (with spoilers)
The narrator meets an Clinton, old school friend in London, and goes to visit his country house – which turns out to be the house of his dream.
The people are different, and the narrator has a good time finding the gathering not at all oppressive and fearful. Until he is given the room in the tower to sleep in.
There he finds a malevolent portrait, a self-portrait, of Julia Stone.
He tells Clinton he can’t sleep in that room with that portrait. With the help of a servant, Clinton and the narrator move it. It is strangely heavy and leaves blood on their hands though they have no wounds.
When he goes to bed that night, the narrator feels a strange presence in the room. It is Julia Stone, accompanied by a smell of corruption. She tells him
“I knew you would come to the room in the tower … I have been long waiting for you. At last you have come. Tonight I shall feast; before long we will feast together.”
The narrator bolts out of the room, and Clinton hearing the noise, joins him. They see blood on the narrator’s shoulder.
Clinton at first thinks the narrator has just had a nightmare, but he goes into the dark room and finds Stone’s portrait unaccountably back on the wall and a burial shroud.
A sort of explanation follows with a reference to burying a suicide, three times, eight years ago. Her coffin was found open each time and finally she was put in unconsecrated ground outside her home – now Clinton’s house.
The story ends by telling us that her grave was opened a fourth time, and the coffin was full of blood.
Weird Factors and Unanswered Questions
Benson’s tale not only combines the weird dream, ghost, and vampire motifs but the cursed object with Stone’s portrait and an element of clairvoyance.
Unexplained is why it seems Stone has been calling out to the narrator all these years. He never met Julia Stone in life and “rather disliked” her son the brief time he knew him.
The portrait seems to be either sort of a repository for Stone’s soul or an enabling mechanism for her return. There are no wounds on anybody after moving her portrait which suggests, along with its weight, it’s sort of a blood-infused surrogate for Stone’s human body, a symbol her vampire appetites. It is, after all, a portrait painted by Stone which hints at some sort of supernatural investiture of her identity in it.
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