Primary Genre(s): Short Story, Horror
Published: August 1910 in Strand Magazine
Page count: 64
My Format: audiobook via Hoopla Digital
Ending: Ambiguous and Effective
Would I recommend it: Yes
My rating: ★★★★☆
Synopsis from Goodreads
Dr James Hardcastle, who is convalescing in a Derbyshire farm, discovers Blue John Gap, a Roman Derbyshire Blue John mine. He begins to investigate the mine and the extensive underground formations to which it connects, despite the warnings of a local farmer who claims it contains a monster that has been stealing his sheep.
Here we are with another Arthur Conan Doyle short story! Remember, spoilers are almost inevitable when reviewing a short story and I will be discussing a lot of the story below, including quotes, because I found the writing to be impressive. If you don’t want to know about plot details, please read the short story first. Click here for a version I found available online. Here are my pros and cons for The Terror of Blue John Gap:
- First, I learned something new and that is always a plus! Blue John is a semi-precious mineral found only in Blue John Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern in Derbyshire. If you are interested in learning more click here.
- At the onset there is a scene were Dr. Hardcastle enters the Blue John Gap (the cavern) and sees a large round indention in the ground. Not knowing what it is, and unable to determine its origin, he continues on into the cavern. Eventually, misadventure ensues and he falls into an underground stream, extinguishing his candle and wetting his matches. He is thrust into total darkness.
The darkness was opaque and horrible. It was so utter, one put one’s hand up to one’s face as if to press off something solid.
After sitting in the dark for quite a while, since he now has no sense of direction and no idea which way leads to the exit, Dr. Hardcastle starts to hear footsteps and he even starts to smell strange odors.
It was a tread – yes, surely it was the tread of some living creature. But what a tread it was! It gave one the impression of enormous weight carried upon sponge-like feet, which gave forth a muffled but ear-filling sound. The darkness was as complete as ever, but the tread was regular and decisive. And it was coming beyond all question in my direction.
After the noises stop, Dr. Hardcastle is able to relight his candle (he had been in the cave long enough for his matches to dry) and he hightailed it out of there! Near the exit he noted that the round indention he saw in the ground upon entering the cavern was now joined by three others.
…for there were three similar imprints upon its surface, enormous in size, irregular in outline, of a depth which indicated the ponderous weight which had left them. Then a great terror surged over me. Stooping and shading my candle with my hand, I ran in a frenzy of fear to the rocky archway, hastened up it, and never stopped until, with weary feet and panting lungs, I rushed up the final slope of stones, broke through the tangle of briars, and flung myself exhausted upon the soft grass under the peaceful light of the stars.
This was an awesome scene! Scary, intense, frantic, desperate, and creepy! I felt like I was in the cave! Doyle masterfully described the situation and definitely created a tense atmosphere.
- Creature aside, one of the scariest aspects of the book is how no one believed Dr. Hardcastle when he tried to tell his story. He was either laughed at, ridiculed, or referred to a psychiatrist! Honestly, there is nothing worse than not being believed when you absolutely know what you are saying is true!
- Hardcastle decides if no one will believe him, he has to take it upon himself to return to the cavern, neutralize the monster, and prove his story. Since I have shared a lot of the story already, I will not reveal the ending other than to say it is ambiguous and effective. However, I will say that the description of the creature at the end of the story is beyond creepy!
- This is a horror story and a tragedy. It is well-written and I thought it was very atmospheric.
- There was a pseudo-epilogue at the very end of the story that tried to identify the creature’s origin. I thought that was completely unnecessary and affected the final impact of the story.
The ambiguity about the creature and its fate, and the fact that no one believed Dr. Hardcastle’s story about encountering the monster, is what made this an effective horror story for me. On the surface, this really is a basic monster story… but the atmosphere that Doyle creates is what makes it great in my opinion.
Click here for a description of my rating scale.
(image from Goodreads)