Tuesday Terror! Ambrose Bierce

Corpses, ghosts and hangings…

If you look at any list of great horror writers the name of Ambrose Bierce is always there, so a quick download of the Collected Works is bound to be packed full of terrifying goodies – isn’t it? But where to begin? As always, I began with other people’s reviews – on this occasion Goodreads. Several people had named the stories they found creepiest, though in truth my heart sank when I saw how many reviewers were expressing disappointment. However, nothing daunted, I picked a couple that were recommended for this week’s…

Tuesday Terror!

A Watcher by the Dead

delphi bierceWhen three doctors agree that no man could spend the night locked in the same room with a corpse without losing his courage, a mysterious Mr Jarette takes on the challenge. The following morning when two of the doctors turn up to unlock the room, a crowd has gathered round the door, attracted by the screaming from inside. When the door is opened, one man, his hair turned white with fear, rushes from the room and disappears into the still dark morning. There is still a corpse in the room, but no longer peacefully laid out – this corpse appears to have died of terror. What has happened?

Sounds quite good, doesn’t it? But in fact it’s not terribly well written and the author gives the game away early on thus removing any suspense or scariness. There’s some fairly sardonic humour and a neat little twist at the end, but overall it didn’t send my pulse soaring at any point.

Present at a Hanging

A farmer is suspected of having murdered a peddler some years earlier. One night as a clergyman is driving past the farm, he sees the figure of a man dressed like a peddler standing by the road. He stops to offer a lift but the figure merely points silently at the bridge, and when the clergyman looks back the figure has gone. Next day, the clergyman returns to the spot and finds…well, that’d be telling!

He looked back and saw the figure again, at the same place and in the same attitude as when he had first observed it. Then for the first time he was conscious of a sense of the supernatural and drove home as rapidly as his willing horse would go.

A very short story this, straightforward, with no suspense and no chill factor for this reader, at least. To be honest, I wouldn’t have thought a story this short could possibly have bored me, but Bierce achieved this feat with no difficulty. Again, I found the writing as pedestrian as the plot.

So I decided to give it one last shot.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

As the story begins, a man is standing on a bridge with a noose round his neck, surrounded by soldiers. It is the time of the Civil War and we learn that the man is to be executed for attempting to sabotage the bridge. The order is given, the planks that support the man are removed and he begins to choke – but the rope breaks and he plunges into the river. Coming round, he tries to escape as the soldiers on the bridge fire at him with guns and cannon…

From Eerie Magazine #23
From Eerie Magazine #23

Now this story isn’t claimed as a horror story – it is however claimed by some to be the best short story in American literature, apparently. (Well, by Kurt Vonnegut anyway…) Hmm! Definitely better than the other two; the writing is better, the story is told well and it does achieve some suspense (no pun intended). There is a clever twist at the end, although it’s very abrupt. I’d rate it quite highly as a short story…but the best? I haven’t read too many American short stories, but I have recently read Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, and this one doesn’t begin to compare to Poe’s skilful use of language and imagery in even the less good of his stories.

So overall I’m seriously underwhelmed by Bierce and think I’ll give up on him…unless you can recommend any of his stories that gave you chills…

Fretful porpentine rating: 😯

Overall story rating:         🙂 🙂 🙂

27 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Ambrose Bierce

  1. Haha, the professor loves Tuesday Terror! Let me see…well, the part about shooting the poor man in the river with cannons is an interest definitely. I hope he escaped.

    As far as short stories go, the professor loves O. Henry. But he doesn’t write horror, I think.

    (Have you given up on Adam because of the spiritual…tendencies? If so, no problemo. Other than that, I can’t really recommend anything that’s semi-spooky.)

    • That’d be telling… I’d say read it and find out, but honestly it’s not one I would particularly recommend. Either I’m very brave or Bierce isn’t very scary…

      Yet again, I haven’t read any O Henry – or at least not that I recall. I’m not hugely fond of short stories in general so my knowledge of them is pretty limited.

      No, not at all. It’s on my list, but being a book rather than a short story means it’ll be a while before I can get to it – as usual I’m completely backed up with books I’ve promised to review plus all the big pre-Christmas issues are coming out…

      • I think FEF’s very brave. It must be in the gnome genes. (But we must work on the moths… Perhaps you should befriend one.)

        Neither was the professor–until I read O. Henry. I definitely recommend him.

        Well, break your promises, it’d be fine. The professor must nag you. (Seriously, I understand. What a job! The professor would die, I think. Read and review. I can’t write a good review to save my life, and I’m a horribly slow reader! Kudos to you.)

        • I wonder why there are so few moths in horror stories – that would terrify me for sure! I can’t befriend one – they don’t read the same kind of books as me so what would talk about? Maybe they watch baseball…

          You should review him then and maybe he would be a TBR Thursday winner… 😉

          Has the Professor started King Solomon’s Mines yet? (That’ll stop him nagging…) Well, I think reviewing other people’s creativity is a good deal easier than being creative day after day, which I couldn’t possibly do. So kudos straight back to you!

          • Wait! Is the professor being called a moth now?

            Oh! I’m not a good reviewer at all. Truly, this professor wouldn’t be able to interest FEF in a book! (Though it would be an honor to appear in TBR Thursday…)

            😆 I want to! The professor must needs get to the book store. The digital stuff is too new age. For what? I fear the professor is a very uncreative fellow.

            • 😆 Yes, I can see how it could read like that, but honestly it wasn’t meant! We do read the same kinds of books – we just don’t (always) agree about them!

              Ahem! Have I not read and reviewed TWO Mark Twain books on the Professor’s recommendation?

              No more excuses, sir! Order the paper copy from Amazon and get on with it! Anyway someone as ageless as you should definitely have an e-reader. The Professor is very modest, but also very creative…

            • Well, I was a beast about those; that’s why you read them. I doubt I could interest you in a review. (The professor would be quite nervous about it!)

              The professor doesn’t like technology; it’s vexing. Can’t we wait for a trip to the bookstore? I fear he’s not.

            • Well, you were, and it was, but I enjoyed them nonetheless. I bet you could – it’s not so different from a ripio except you mention the good bits too. 😉 (Quite surprised the Professor would be nervous about it.)

              Oh, alright, then – anyway I expect you’re too busy reading books you hate. Though look on the bright side – you may hate KSM! How can my Friday Entertainment Executive say such a thing?

            • Well, you’d be reading it and your reviews are stellar, so it’s only natural.

              The professor probably won’t, actually. I’d probably like the movie too.

              Mic takes care of most of that. I’m just a useless professor. 😉

  2. Oh I am DELIRIOUSLY happy at this review – keep them coming, something i don’t want to buy. Mahvellous!

    PS can you or the Prof explain why you are FEF (Fiction Eating Fan? FictioneyFan? Fair Excellent Fictionfan? Fairly Excellent FictionFan? Flippin’ Exhausted Fantasy!

    • Tomorrow’s is a five-star though…but I think you’ll probably have already read it…

      Fairy Eliminating Fireball. Frightening Ectoplasmic Fantasm. (Well, it is Terror Tuesday!)

  3. I haven’t read much Bierce except “the Devil’s Dictionary”, which was much more shocking when it was written than it would be now, but what I have read I wasn’t impressed by. If you are looking for short story horror can I suggest Saki, especially “Sredni Vashtar” – a seriously scary story.

    • Yes, I glanced at the Devil’s Dictionary but by that stage was so fed up with Bierce I couldn’t get interested. Thanks for the rec – I’ll add Saki to my list, though I might just wait till LF reviews it and plagiarise her… 😉

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