Tuesday Terror! Sredni Vashtar by Saki

Beware the child…

 

Many moons ago when I first started my journey into horror, regular commenter BigSister (who coincidentally is my big sister) recommended a story that she described as “seriously scary”. So it seems like a good choice for this week’s…

TUESDAY TERROR!

Sredni Vashtar by Saki

 

sredni vashtar

Conradin is ten years old, an orphan under the care of his cousin, Mrs de Ropp. He is a sickly child, though the impression is quickly given that that has more to do with nurture than nature. Though she provides him with the basics…

Mrs. de Ropp would never, in her honestest moments, have confessed to herself that she disliked Conradin, though she might have been dimly aware that thwarting him “for his good” was a duty which she did not find particularly irksome.

In return, Conradin hates her. Deprived of everything that might be enjoyable in life, Conradin has found himself a little bolthole in the tool-shed in the dismal garden, where he keeps two treasures hidden – a hen which he loves and a polecat-ferret which he both fears and treasures. In his loneliness, Conradin lives within his imagination, and he has spun a story around the ferret that he has almost come to believe himself…

…one day, out of Heaven knows what material, he spun the beast a wonderful name, and from that moment it grew into a god and a religion…Every Thursday, in the dim and musty silence of the tool-shed, he worshipped with mystic and elaborate ceremonial before the wooden hutch where dwelt Sredni Vashtar, the great ferret.

Slowly Conradin develops rituals around his new god, making offerings at his shrine, especially when he feels grateful for something – such as when Mrs de Ropp is suffering from severe toothache. This escape into his imagination is the only thing in his life that Conradin cherishes.

But Mrs de Ropp soon notices that Conradin is disappearing more and more into the garden and sets out to discover what he does there. It’s not long before she discovers his hiding place in the tool-shed and, although in the gloom she fails to spot Sredni Vashtar in his hutch, she finds the boy’s beloved hen…

… and at breakfast one morning she announced that the Houdan hen had been sold and taken away overnight. With her short-sighted eyes she peered at Conradin, waiting for an outbreak of rage and sorrow, which she was ready to rebuke with a flow of excellent precepts and reasoning. But Conradin said nothing: there was nothing to be said. Something perhaps in his white set face gave her a momentary qualm…

Polecat3_cpt_Elliot_Smith

In his rage and sorrow, Conradin turns to his god, this time not to praise him, but to ask a boon. He doesn’t feel he needs to specify its nature, since surely his god will know, so he simply asks…

“Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.”

And, half-believing, he repeats this request each night. Until one day, having noticed that Conradin was still visiting the tool-shed regularly, Mrs de Ropp decides to investigate further. As she disappears inside, Conradin stands watching from a window in the house, and fervently repeats his prayer…

“Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.”

…then chants the hymn he has made for his idol…

Sredni Vashtar went forth,
His thoughts were red thoughts and his teeth were white.
His enemies called for peace, but he brought them death.
Sredni Vashtar the Beautiful…

* * * * * * *

Ooh, this is a scary one! Although it’s always fairly clear where the story is heading, Saki builds up an atmosphere of oppression and dread, and given that it’s only a few pages long, he packs in enough character development for us to hate Mrs de Ropp nearly as much as Conradin does. The horrific climax is beautifully played out off the page, with us working out the course of events from noises heard through a door. But it’s not so much what happens in the tool-shed as Conradin’s reaction to it that provides the chilling effect (and a generous dollop of blackish humour). I feel it may be a while before I can look at toast and butter in quite the same way again…

Good choice, BigSister! The Fretful Porpentine thanks you…

Want to read it? http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/vashtar.html

Or enjoy this fabulous reading as the wonderful Tom Baker brings out all the horror and humour in the story…

 

Fretful Porpentine Rating:      😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:                😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Bah! Humbug! A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens narrated by Tom Baker

Christmas starts here…

santasantasantasantasanta

 

 

This little pre-Christmas Dickens mini-series started with one version of A Christmas Carol and is now ending with another. (Think yourselves lucky – I could be recommending the Complete Works. 😉 ) If none of the previous choices have tempted you, let me try one last time to persuade you to…

HAVE A DICKENS OF A CHRISTMAS!

 

51CWXmZKCgL._SL300_Like King Lear, every actor reaches a point in his career where he wants to stamp his mark on this classic, so you have to be really quite special to compete with the crowd. Fortunately, this reading by Tom Baker IS really quite special!

Forget your Peter Capaldis, your Matt Smiths, even your David Tennants – Tom Baker was THE Dr Who and there will never be a better! Who else could carry off a hand knitted stripy scarf and make it a cool fashion trend? But when he wasn’t saving the planet, Baker had time to play many other roles, including a stint at the National Theatre – not to mention being a very fine Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, beloved of Narnia fans everywhere. He is also an accomplished voice-actor both on radio and as narrator of several animated series.

Puddleglum the Marshwiggle
Puddleglum the Marshwiggle

I approached this recording of A Christmas Carol with some trepidation because, much though I like Baker, for me the definitive version is Patrick Stewart’s and I doubted Baker could match him. I was wrong – Baker brings drama, fear, sorrow and ultimately joy to the story just as much as Stewart does. As with all of the best of the Dickens’ narrators/performers, Baker has a huge personality and a powerful voice – necessary to fill the shoes of Dickens’ larger-than-life creations. Although this is a straight reading, Baker uses his fine acting skills to give each character an individual identity. Unlike the Stewart version where we hear only his voice, this one has occasional background music and other sound effects at the more dramatic points, and these work well with Baker’s performance.

tom1

I intended to listen in instalments but by the time the first disc ended, I was so hooked I ended up listening to the whole thing in one session. Not better than Stewart (not possible!) but as good, and of course this is the unabridged version. Three hours of pure listening pleasure – this set has now joined my select collection of Christmas Carols, to be brought out and savoured time and again over many Christmases to come. Just the thing to ensure that you Have a Dickens of a Christmas!

NB This disc set was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

Amazon US Link
Audible UK Link
Audible US Link
Currently not available as discs on Amazon UK.