Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Lame Priest by S. Carleton (1901)

The Lame Priest
by S. Carleton (Susan Morrow Jones)

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WARNING:  Consider this an official Spoiler Alert.  Although, as with most crimes, I'm pretty sure that this has a statute of limitations, and if you haven't read this story yet, chances are you're not going to.
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It's the beginning of a long hard American winter when an aging hermit has the odd fortune of making the acquaintanceship of the titular Lame Priest, a limping and darkly holy man of faith. Despite his obvious handicap, the man moves with a swift fluidity that implies he is something more than his appearance would suggest.

Shortly after their initial interaction, the hermit returns to his desolate homestead to find Andrew, his only close friend, waiting for him. Andrew, being a Native American of the spiritual sort, had a certain atunement to the universe that the hermit does not have. After a number of cryptic warnings (which the hermit neither understands nor heeds), Andrew disappears, leaving only a strange, very Blair Witch-like totem in his stead.

As the winter progresses in its severity, Andrew's odd prophecies begin to be fulfilled as the locals live in fear of a lone wolf that has strayed from his pack and is preying on young children. The hermit, having heard stories of these attacks, keeps an open and vigilant eye, but everywhere he looks, he sees only the Lame Priest.

While by no means a balls-to-the-wall horror story, The Lame Priest is an excellently subtle and unjustly forgotten entry into the werewolf subgenre. How subtle is it? So subtle that, although there are definitely eerie elements throughout, you're not even sure that you're reading a horror story until the finale. Meaning that this tale won't necessarily be everybody's cup of tea. But for lycanthropy fanatics who want a little taste of history--this story is more than 100 years old! (although, like a MILF, it looks great for its age)--this is one to pounce on.

In retrospect, when picturing the Lame Priest, my mind's eye conjures up the image of Kane from Poltergeist 2, a fellow member of the dark clergy who also preyed on youngsters. Curiously, were this story written in more recent times, it would resonate on a deeper level and could be seen as symbolic of allegations within the Catholic church: a priest, having spiritually separated from his brethren (as the wolf physically separated from his pack), assaults the innocent children in his parish.

Whether any such allegory was intended when this was first published in the December 1901 issue of Atlantic Monthly, I can't be sure. But reading it in this modern context certainly gives it an extra layer of chills. And horror with a little social commentary is always a good thing.

Where would George Romero and the zombie film be without it?

One of the benefits of this puppy being a Centurion is that it has fallen into the public domain. Interested parties can download it (or read it online) at ManyBooks.net.  It runs about 36 pages, and it's free, so it isn't going to require any major investment on your part.  So what the bloody hell are you waiting for?  Get with the clickin'!

--J/Metro

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