My essay will be about how Wells can create and sustain horror in his story ‘The Red Room’. I will be paying close attention to how he makes the reader feel, by looking at the language and techniques he uses. The story is a Victorian gothic horror/ghost story written in the year 1896.
The first line in this story is straight to the point and already shows you what the main character is like. It shows off his confident and maybe even pompous attitude. Right from the start of the story fear is already being created. Much of it is done through traditional horror story techniques such as using an old castle and long ‘draughty subterranean passageways’. The story the guardians tell the young man adds fear because then everyone expects something to happen – apart from the confident, self assured young man. There is already suspense being built up too as the reader waits to see if the ‘legend’ of the Red Room will come true.
Wells creates fear from his characters too. The ‘grotesque’ guardians are not the type you would use in a love story, but of course they fit in perfectly with the traditional ghost story. They are deformed and seem senile. The man with the withered arm and the old woman make you feel quite uneasy with their repetition of strange sentences ‘This night of all nights’ and ‘It is your own choosing’. These are the first signs of repetition in the story. They don’t give anything away, which is making the reader curious to what they mean. The last person you meet is the decaying old man. I say decaying as the way he is described makes him sound almost dead. His ‘lower lip, half averted, hung pale and pink’, ‘bent’ and ‘more wrinkled’ than the others. Wells makes it evident that they are quite frightening people as they make even the confident young man feel ‘uncomfortable’.
Although Wells is using contrast between the narrator and the guardians of the house to build drama, I feel that they do have something in common. When the young man leaves the room, he tells of the image of them all huddled round the fire. When he described the old woman she was constantly ‘staring into the fire’. I feel this may be a link between them and the young man, or even the Red Room. When all hope is given up in the Red Room, the confident young man turns to the fire for reassurance; this may be what they are doing.
I think that the journey to the Red Room has a big part to play in the horror story. Little twinges here and there build up a sense of horror. The constant reference to shadows, hints hugely to the main part of the story, ‘the shadows cower and quiver’, ‘vivid black shadow’ and ‘it’s shadow fell with marvellous distinction’. As he walks up to the Red Room he explains that it’s in a ‘shadowy corner’.
He also uses personification a lot. This also has a lot to do with the main point of the story when we find out that, it was not a person or ghost, but ‘fear’ that caused the incidents in the Red Room. He explains how echo’s ‘fled before’ him and shadows (again) ‘came sweeping up after’ him. He also mistakes a shadow to be a person ‘crouching’ to waylay him. This is showing that darkness is a lot more frightening than being able to see and know what is there. He is still building up the sense of horror little by little.
Wells is starting to show you that the horror is only starting to begin. This once brave young man is starting to slip up. When people are scared their imaginations do start to run wild with misconceptions of the slightest things. The young man seems to describe everything with a twist of horror to it. Although of course, Wells wants us to see that this castle is a spooky place so he can keep us on our toes while reading.
Once in the room he carries on expressing his fears for darkness, he speaks of ‘legends that had sprouted in its black corners’ and of its ‘germinating darkness’. He uses metaphors and explains how he feels small and how his candle was only a ‘little tongue of light in its vastness’. Wells is starting to create mystery in the room by making the young man speak of the room being like an ‘ocean of mystery’ and beyond his ‘circle of light’ lays suggestion. To cure all this, he goes through a very thorough examination of the room. For this brief time the reader is not being built up, I neither feel he is building tension. I feel for this small while it’s almost a breather for the reader while the young man potters about checking everything. Of course once he’s finished the reader is then being brought up again to suspect something, as the young man describes that even after his examination, he felt no comfort from the room.
While the young man tries out different ways to calm himself down, finally relighting more candles. I think the reader already is starting to think if anything will happen with the candles. They are so unreliable and dangerous, even though the young man describes them as ‘cheery and reassuring’; we are still suspecting something to happen.
When the first candle goes out, the reader is glued as H.G Wells starts to build the horror. One goes out, then two more, this is more than a coincidence, and we feel the fright of the young man as he ‘rose at once’ which adds more urgency to the situation.
When the young man can no longer comfort himself, his actions add to the horror of what is happening. His voice reaches a ‘high note’, he stands ‘gaping’ and he starts ‘scratching’ away at his matches franticly to keep back the shadows that are slowly closing in on him.
The horror we are starting to feel is the fear of the unknown. The young man cannot see where there is darkness, so he does not know what could be there. The light is the only weapon he has against it, and we know this. The horror is being sustained as we see the man still trying to fight back the shadows with his matches. When we think he is ‘gaining on the extinctions’ we feel slightly calmer, but soon after we see all that happens is just more go out at once.
But yet the horror is still not at it’s peak, the young man is still slightly in control of his actions. The sentences are shorter now, to show the haste of the situation. The reader feel the horror in the room as the young man describes how the shadows ‘crept in upon’ him and he uses similes, ‘it was like a ragged storm cloud’. The young man soon is clearly afraid ‘frantic with horror’; his self-control is almost non-existent as he ‘stumbled and fell’ and looses his only weapon, the candle.
Wells keeps showing signs of hope throughout the story, but quickly takes them away and replaces it with even more horror. The last straw is when we think the young man will be ok as the fire was still ‘dancing’. But no, the flames ‘dwindle and vanish’ and the man is left in complete darkness, ‘wrapped’ round him it ‘sealed his vision’ and ‘crushed the last vestiges of reason’ from his brain. This is the part where the reader just holds their breath. The reader believes there can be no hope left. But no, Wells gives us a small bit of hope once more, and as the young man makes his way to the door, something happens, but we don’t know what. Probably the most horrifying thing that can happen, is not knowing what happens. Not being able to see what is happening or know what is with you.
This is why I really enjoy the ending, it is still a mystery. The description of the fear is good, as it makes the reader think. I feel every reader would agree that ‘fear’ is ‘worst of all the things that haunt poor mortal men’. But even though this is explained to us, we still do not know the reason for the candles going out… surely our fear could not have so much power that it could extinguish a candle. I feel there is more to that room, more than what meets the eye in the story.