Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Terrifying Tuesdays: Margaret Oliphant's "The Open Door" (1882)


"The Open Door" (1882) by Scottish-born writer Margaret Oliphant (1828-1897) is another ghostly short story, this time involving a child who encounters a spirit.  In this tale a family man rents a house in the countryside outside of Edinburgh, mainly so that his only son can easily ride to and from school every day.  All goes well until the approach of winter.  In London at the time, the father begins to receive letters from home informing him that his son is ill.  Hurrying home, he finds that the boy does indeed seem ill, but the lad declares it is not sickness but a secret which has made him feverish.  He then proceeds to tell his father about a series of encounters at an old ruin nearby, in the evenings when returning from school.  Both he and his pony hear crying sounds, and the latter is so frightened the first time that it runs home wildly, the boy barely managing to cling to its back.  After a short time words become distinguishable, and the boy insists that there is something otherworldly at the ruin calling for its mother.  He then declares that he is sure his father can deal with the problem and help the poor soul calling out so piteously.  His father is perplexed as to just what he must do, but believing that his son's life depends upon his success, the man proceeds to investigate the happenings reported by the boy.  Fortunately, although the haunting turns out to be frighteningly real, a solution is found, and the father has the satisfaction of justifying his son's confidence in him, as well as seeing him recover his health completely.

This short story is well written and a pleasure to read.  The author, whose own life was difficult and who suffered devastating losses of family members, excels at describing the loving devotion of father for son, and vice versa.  She also provides a lesson in the healing power of human kindness.  The tale is quite touching, and has a happy ending as well.  Like Elizabeth Gaskell, whose story was featured last week, Margaret Oliphant was a popular Victorian woman writer, most of whose works did not include the supernatural.  If you would like to read more of her writings, your local public library is a good place to start.  Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this tale as much as I do!

Haunted Ruins (from deviantART)
   

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