100 Books. 100 Years

100 Years. 100 Books #7 – 1912

The Room in the Tower by E.F. Benson

In high school, I went on a bender for vintage ghost stories, primarily due to MaryAnn Satter, my English teacher at Nazareth Academy who also loved a good ghost story. She introduced me to authors such as J. Sheridan LeFanu, Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe, Algernon Blackwood, and E.F. Benson. When I came across The Room in the Tower by Benson in my search for a title published in 1912, I was reminded of the fierce and cold terror many of these authors wrote into their stories and decided I had found my entry of 1912.

The Room in the Tower is a short story, but it packs a whole lot of terror into a few pages. The narrator describes a terrifying recurring dream he’s had for years, where he finds himself at a lovely country home with an old school acquaintance and his family. The dream begins with tea or some sort of gathering with all the guests and family, and invariably ends with the hostess, Mrs. Stone, getting up and telling the narrator “Jack will show you your room. I have given you the room in the tower.” Those words start the shivers up the narrator’s spine, which only worsen as he follows Jack up the stairs to the room in the tower. The dream ends as the door is closed and locked behind the narrator.

The dreams recur until the day he finds himself face to face, in real life, with the tower and the country home. As in the dream, he is led up the stairs to the room in the tower, where he and his friend find comfortable lodgings, with the exception of a creepy looking portrait of Julia Stone, the former owner of the property. The portrait is removed and carried to the hall, where both men find their hands covered in blood. That night, the narrator is awakened by a horror too awful to comprehend, Julia Stone come back from the grave.

I know this sounds like a typical ghost story, but what I always found unique about Benson’s writing is how he was able to build that swell of terror while describing ordinary activities and objects. By the time the narrator is awakened by the ghost, I was gripping my Kindle so tightly my fingers were white. Contemporary authors who do as good a job with that are Stephen King in Pet Semetery  and Peter Straub, with Straub’s Ghost Story is equal to Benson’s best work.

Definitely recommended for ghost story and horror aficionados.

4 out of 5 catalog cards.