I have read Sredni Vashtar, The Lumber-Room and The Holy War and have noticed that they have many similarities. Religion is a theme in all three stories. In The Holy War the title itself has religious connotations, suggesting a conflict over a very important issue, and the hooting of owls is described as “Vespers”. In Sredni Vashtar Mrs De Ropp’s Christianity is contrasted with Conradin’s fierce and impatient religion, while in The Lumber-Room the aunt exploits Christianity in an attempt to frighten the children into obedience.
Saki does not deny life a spiritual dimension, but he does not seem to have doubts about the value of conventional Christianity. Nature often seems a more important force in his short stories. In The Holy War the garden and its animals represent nature. Thirza makes “improvements”, introducing order, monotony and profit, and is appropriately, killed by a wild swan. In Sredni Vashtar, Conradin’s only companions are a Houdan hen and a polecat-ferret. Nature also takes revenge in this story, Mrs De Ropp being killed by Sredni Vashtar.
In The Lumber-Room, depictions of nature- an embroidered hunting scene on a fire-screen and a book about birds- are important elements in the story. Nature seems to be of particular significance in these stories because it appeals to the imagination of males. In The Holy War, Revil Yealmton regards the house and garden as an “earthly paradise” and “his desired land”. Conradin’s imagination, “rampant under the spur of loneliness”, converts “a simple brown ferret in a hutch” into “his wonderful god”.
Nicholas’s imagination gorges itself on the many “objects of delight and interest” that he discovers in the lumber-room. Imagination helps the males to endure and gives meaning to their lives. All three stories are based on a single struggle between a male and a female, which the female loses eventually. The Holy War is an exception because the struggle there is between husband and wife. As the story is set in the Edwardian period, it is not surprising that Revil, the husband, gets his own way. The other two stories centre on conflicts between male children and female adults who are not their parents.
Despite having authority, resources and privileges, the females are deflated and Saki clearly invites us to enjoy the victories of the male underdogs, Conradin and Nicholas. There are, however, major differences between Nicholas and Conradin. Conradin is ill and has only five years to live. He hates his guardian and is desperately lonely. His only two companions are the polecat-ferret and the Houdan hen. He is used to suffering defeat and definitely does not expect to triumph over his guardian.
The ending and victory are a major surprise to him and the reader. Nicholas, on the other hand, is not ill or lonely and does not hate his aunt. Victory is not a matter of life and death to him, but he is bored and mischievous and enjoys outwitting his bossy aunt. He is cleverer and more resourceful and resilient than Conradin. The latter is extremely fortunate to receive victory; the former plans and achieves a deserved victory. Despite Nicholas’s cunning, he is still an underdog and is victimized by his aunt in many ways.
She exploits Christianity in an effort to frighten him into obedience and when this fails she punishes him by excluding him from “hastily inverted” treats. He is also denied small pleasures such as strawberry jam merely out of spite. More important is the lack of stimulation for Nicholas’s imagination. The house is dull and bare and the aunt does not realize how important it is for children’s lives to be varied and interesting. If the children behaved perfectly all the time, they would never get “a special treat”. In some ways, then, Nicholas is a victim, but his aunt has not managed to break his spirit.