Tuesday, November 9, 2021

L.T. Meade, Postscript

So, one detail I forgot to add to my post about Meade relates to the title story, "Eyes of Terror". This tale involves a plucky young woman who's being haunted by a sinister figure with glowing eyes. In the end all is revealed: the haunting is a fake staged by her cousin, who wants to break down her resistance to marrying him where he cd get his hands on the family fortune.

All this is pretty standard stuff, and a good example of what Todorov calls 'the uncanny', in that in the summing-up the mechanism behind the haunting is explained.

Except that the explanation doesn't hold water for a modern reader.

We're told the villain has been using radium, which, "as you know, when held near the eyes, can give them a luminous and very ghastly appearance" (Meade p.224). Thus he's using doses of radium to make his eyes glow like Gollum's. 

It's that "as you know" that gets to me here. I've seen this kind of hand-waving around the lesser-known properties of new radioactive elements before -- e.g. in an old episode of THE SHADOW (which revealed the dubious solution that exposure to radium causes whatever pathogens are in the body to re-assert themselves --- thus each victim dies of a different disease from the same cause). Here it makes me think that Meade's scientific and medical advisors were perhaps behind the curve so far as expertise went.* 

One other detail that caught my eye was the jingoism of the recent Boer War** that forms an important part of the background to the tale. We are told that the detective agrees to help the point of view character because she is "the daughter of that Colonel Dallas whose gallant action, when he sacrificed his life for his country on the march to Pretoria, is the talk and admiration of the country" (Meade .201).

So, does the story remain Uncanny, as it wd have been at the time of writing in the intent of the author? Or does the passage of time here undercut the credibility of the solution, transforming the tale into an impossibility, or Marvellous in Todorov's terms? At least we know it's not in the middle category, Fantastique (Fantasy), a designation reserved only to strories which end without the Uncanny vs Marvellous dichotomy being resolved. 

--John R.

--current reading: BARDS OF BONE PLAIN

--today's song: THE BOSTON RAG

*to be fair, after his capture the villain does complain repeatedly that his eyes hurt and that the radium seems to have affected his vision.

**the story was first published in THE STRAND in 1904.

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