Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Haunter and the Haunters; or, The House and the Brain

The Haunter and the Haunters; or, The House and the Brain
By Edward Bulwer-Lytton
1859, originally published in Blackwoods

Walter B. Gibson, creator of the pulp version of the Shadow, credits the influence of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The House and the Brain aka the Haunted and the Haunter.  From both there is an element of shadowy figures and mesmerism.  During a haunting scene there is even an apparition referred to as the Shadow, in capitals:
"Nothing now was left but the Shadow, and on that my eyes were intently fixed, till again eyes grew out of the Shadow—malignant, serpent eyes"
However, the pulp character began as a radio narrator and was named before Gibson's involvement.

The story is significant for being one of the first modern occult detectives, and is credited with being the first modern haunted house story.  It also bears some similarity to Richard Matheson's Hell House.

The story has our narrator volunteering to stay the night in a haunted house in order to investigate the phenomena.  During the course of the night he is overwhelmed with fear, sees mysterious apparitions in a surprisingly trippy sequence, and his servant flees the country to Australia, and his dog dies.

The narrator suspects a mortal cause to the apparition and that it emanates from a particular room.  He persuades the owner to demolish the room and a secret underground room is discovered, filled with occult and psychic doodads.  This is the origin of the haunting, and after the room is destroyed the hauntings cease.

Here the abridged version ends.  The longer version has the narrator discovering the creator of the hidden room, an semi-immortal mystic who proceeds to zap his brain by long distance.  After reading the abridged version I was eager to read more, but the longer version raises more questions.

Bulwer-Lytton has an undeserved reputation for purple prose.  Despite being over 150 years old, this story is quite a breezy read, and in my opinion more accessible than his contemporaries Dickens or Poe.

The abridged version is available at Project Gutenberg.  The fuller version is available at Bartleby.  There may be more versions floating around.

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