‘The Monk of Horror’ by Anonymous: Short Story Analysis
This short story should not be confused with the famous Gothic horror novel ‘The Monk’ written by M. G. Lewis. In fact, this is a different horror story written, I believe, around the same time when Lewis’ book became popular.
This short story has yet another name – ‘The Conclave Of Corpses’. It is an intriguing fact to note, that the short story has two titles while the author himself is unknown. However, considering the controversial nature of his work of literature during his day and age, it may have ultimately been a rather wise decision to let ones identity be as mysterious as the subject matter of the creation. The story is written in a simple style, but with a few hidden messages which at first are not easy to analyze. Many Latin phrases are used which is common to the present day Catholic Church teachings as well as the Canon Law of the Catholic church, especially with regard to a monk’s way of life. These laws and phrases also existed before the Renaissance as well as the Reformation. The tone of the story is that of a warning which if not heeded will ultimately lead to an unmentionably dreadful afterlife. It is a horror story which reflects a sort of spiritual redefinition that began long before the Renaissance (the story is set 300 years before the year 1798), and by the quality of the sentences chosen by the author, is still taking place even to this day.
The basic idea that one derives from the narrative, is that one must do ones duty with all ones heart, and not oppress another person but work to alleviate their suffering. This is true holy obedience which, according to the author, stands as a testament after our death as to whether we have done our duty on the basis of truth and righteousness with all our heart, or we have adulterated our duties like the way the corrupt milkman adulterates pure cow’s milk with water. The question asked by the author is, whether a religious or any person for that matter is obedient when he does good out of his own free will, or is being forced to do ones duty and to obey even if ones heart is not in sync with ones actions be ‘obedience?’ Are we good because we genuinely want to be good or do we hide our true feelings behind a thick curtain of false eyewash of good actions?
The protagonist in this story is a curious monk who just like all of us wishes to ascertain or deduce what happens to a human being after he or she dies. He represents not only the common man but also a religious in search of truth. The only way he can find out, being a monk, is by investigating the convent vaults and its dead occupant monks in their coffins. The protagonist belongs to the fictional convent of Kreutzberg suggesting a German atmosphere. He visits the vaults with the sacristan very often. He knows the vaults well including the faces of the dead monks in their coffins. One night he enters the vault at the dead of night and is shocked to see that everything in the vault is altered. There is an unearthly glow in the vault and all the dead corpses of the monks seem a bit ‘alive’ and they sit erect in their coffins. The protagonist’s attention however is taken up by three of the oldest corpses in the vault, who are seated at a sort of ‘coffin table’ engrossed in a book which has been kept open in front of them.
Now, the book here plays a very important role in helping us to understand what the unknown author is trying to convey. If we lose this vital clue, the story seems meaningless. The protagonist it seems does not get a really good look at the book, but from the title inscribed on the top of each page, he comes to know the title of the book:
Obvious to the reader, it is in Latin. The translation would either indicate ‘free obedience’ or ‘book of obedience’. For those of us who are well aware of certain Christian (and today Catholic preferably) rules and doctrines, obedience holds a very prominent place in the life of every Christian, especially every Christian religious. In the case of the Christian religious, it is imperative that he or she should adopt willingly, the sacred vows of holy chastity, holy poverty and HOLY OBEDIENCE. The person who adopts these vows cannot have an intimate relationship with anyone, the person cannot possess any private wealth or property and, most importantly, such a person must be obedient to the elders of the church and their wishes.
The above stated obedience however does not go as deep as ‘Liber Obedientiae’. ‘FREE OBEDIENCE’ according to church Canon law means an obedience which one accepts with one’s whole heart and soul, NOT BY COMPULSION OR FOR SELF GLORY OR TO OPPRESS ANOTHER, BUT TO DO GOOD.
Mentioning that the oldest corpses were reading the book indicates that maybe they failed to obey such a standard of moral living. Furthermore, the narrative conveys to us that because of their behaviour in life (most probably against holy free obedience) they were to have no peace in their afterlife:
‘Hic non pax’ (Here is no peace)
They were also unaware of who they were. Their whole sense of being as a living soul was taken away from them. They were with fear and apprehension simply awaiting the Last Judgement, which for Christians indicates the reappearance of the Christ to administer justice to the righteous as well as to the wicked, at the end of time.
The horrific climax to the story comes in the form of graves from under the vault’s ground simply yawning out skeletons. The oldest corpse with the book states that those skeletons were their victims whom they persecuted. Now this was a sort of a riddle which can be interpreted in many ways. After all, the author did not seem to wait to explain to us the role of the multitudes of gory skeletons literally coming out of the earth, except for writing that they were victims of the monks.
Technically speaking, all these people were victims of the false and corrupt monks of that age. However, people learn from their mistakes, and so does the protagonist learn from the mistakes of his elders. He lives the rest of his life, as the narrative shows, bringing true glory to the church and witnessing to the truth.
Whoever the anonymous author of this work may be, he surely taught an indirect moral which can be accepted today, but perhaps in his day and age, it would not have gone down well. May his work always continue to shine forth his true personality: a seeker of truth.
Copyright 2013 Fiza Pathan