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Tony Grist

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At The End Of The Passage [Jan. 31st, 2010|03:33 pm]
Tony Grist
"At The End of the Passage" regularly turns up in anthologies of great ghost stories. Like many of the best in the genre- "The Turn of the Screw" for example- it leaves us with questions. Were there really spooks involved or was everything in the mind? And if the spooks are real why exactly is Hummil being haunted?  I have never been able to decide whether Kipling's decision to leave all the doors open and idly flapping is a strength or a weakness. 

Rating it purely for scariness- and how else should you judge a ghost story?- I give it no more than 4 or 5 out of 10.  "Things in a dead man's eye?" No, I don't believe in that either. The most unsettling moment comes when- having always observed Hummil from the outside- we are suddenly jolted into his shoes and see what he sees- as he sees it.

The true horror is existential. Four men gather to play cards once a week, in choking heat, in a bungalow with a torn ceiling cloth, not because they  particularly like one another, but because they'd otherwise go mad from boredom and stress.  If I don't rate this as one of Kipling's masterpieces it's because I feel it might have been even better- by which I mean more frightening- without the ghosts.

[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2010-01-31 07:45 pm (UTC)
I skimmed this last night -- I was really tired -- but the notion of folks going mad from the heat and isolation was the real take-away for me.

It may not be the most successful scary story in the world, but I thought the photographic aspect helped wrench us from the mindest of "Hummil gone mad" to "maybe there was something."

If one posits that there are things in India that are beyond the ken of the sahibs, then Hummil could have done something as inadvertent as whats-his-name did in "The Mark of the Beast."
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-01-31 08:30 pm (UTC)
I don't think Kipling tells us enough. Why is the thing blind? Why weeping? Why can't it wipe its face? Is it an Indian spook or a European one? Does it belong to the place or to Hummil? I like a ghost story to be mysterious, but I also like to be given some idea of what is going on.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2010-02-01 07:20 pm (UTC)
I think it may be an Indian spook. Note that Hummil's attendant describes the circumstances leading to Hummil's death ("he went down to a dark place and could not get away quickly enough") in terms that suggest familiarity with that dark place.

I wonder, having just read "The Mark of the Beast", whether the eyeless weeping face might have belonged to a spirit based on a leper. (Oh, and what's-his-name was Fleete.)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-02-01 10:13 pm (UTC)
I don't think we have enough information to draw any conclusions. It's equally plausible that the horror is something out of Hummil's past.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2010-02-01 11:05 pm (UTC)
No, I think the servant's comments support the "Indian spook" theory. I'll grant you the leper is more speculative.
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