‘The Horror At Chilton Castle’ by Joseph Payne Brennan: Short Story Analysis
The author of this short story has really understood the meaning and the technique of how to create a really terrifying story. What is marvelous about the author is that he comes straight to the point without using any unwanted descriptions, psychological rigmarole theories or anything that distracts the reader from the main core of the story. That is why Joseph Payne Brennan is successful in creating a horrifying story which can be considered a real classic.
Anticipation and fear of the unknown are the main ingredients of this plot which is accentuated with fine narration. In this story, one can actually try to delve into the mind of a person so evil, that she made a pact with the devil, just so that she may not die. The story does not therefore only terrify the reader but also makes the reader contemplate indirectly about what exactly separates one from being evil and good and exactly how evil can a human being really become if given an opportunity to do so.
The title of the short story is apt, for it is only ‘horror’ that a person encounters inside the worn down walls of Chilton castle. This horror is however far from a usual ‘scare’ as one might put it to a lay man. In fact, it is a horror right from the abyss of all evil and hate which we sometimes refer to as hell, while certain psychologists refer to as the human mind.
The story begins with the author himself out on a leisurely vacation in Europe concentrating on his studies on his family’s genealogy. His father’s roots are well accounted for whereas his mother’s show a few gaps. He decides then to go north towards the vicinity of the Chilton Castle. He states at the beginning of the narrative itself that he is a sort of ‘distant relative’ of the Chilton’s. The frightful part of the story is when I noticed that the author’s middle name (Payne) coincides with the Earls of Chilton castle as well, making me wonder for a minute whether I was reading a story or a real person’s account of what happened to him at a place called ‘Chilton Castle’. While the author resides at the inn of the Red Goose, he meets the actual factor of Chilton castle who looks to be seventy years of age and who is restless. This factor apparently states that a week ago the 12th Earl of Chilton Castle was laid to rest and that night was the night for the 13th Earl to take his father’s place and to begin with, the young man had to be shown a secret room in the depths of the castle. The factor implores the author to accompany him with the 13th weak and wan Earl to the secret room as the author was the only somewhat ‘near’ relation in the vicinity and the act had to be carried out on that dreadful night itself.
The atmosphere during the whole narrative plays a great role in what happens at Chilton castle. The incessant rain, the lightening and thunder adds to the restlessness of all three men namely the factor William Cowath, the 13th Earl Frederick, and the author himself. However, as it is noted in the short story, no one is left without blemish after they observe what lies within the secret room in Chilton Castle. All three men dive in deeper and deeper into the bowels of the castle until they come across a rather modern brick wall which is immediately broken down by the factor to reveal the room that had such a terrible impact on the weak & frail 13th Earl that he lost his mind that very night. The nerve of the factor was shaken on seeing what was in the room while the author himself the very next day literally runs away from the castle and Europe to get back to America. All three men were shaken by what they saw; but what indeed did they see?
The author himself, before he meets the factor, was contemplating in the inn of the Red Goose about what exactly was contained in the secret room of the Chilton’s. On the basis of his research, he narrows down the following possibilities:
- In the room there exists the skeletal remains of the Gowers who were left to starve to death by the Chilton’s and who in desperation resorted finally to cannibalism.
- The medieval torture tools were present in that secret room with the last of their victims’ bodies still attached to them in a grotesque fashion.
- A female ancestor of the Chilton’s, a Lady Susan Glanville, who was supposedly a witch and was saved from the stake had something to do with the secret room.
The author keeps us in the dark till the very end. When however the truth is known, it seems most horrible and absolutely demonic in every sense of the word which makes the story a wonderful piece of literature. The author has remarkably enchanted us with the truth and yet has frightened us to the extreme.
The short story is a fantastic work of art which must be read with due reverence to its creator. I shall not divulge the ending for obvious reasons.
Copyright 2013 Fiza Pathan