Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"The Moonstone Mass" by Harriet Prescott Spofford

In this short story, dating from the 1860's, Spofford clearly illustrates Manifest Destiny, and America's thirst for uncovering the unknown, the mysterious, the open frontier. What I liked about this story was the first person narration; it essentially forces at least some identification of the reader with the narrator, and in a horror story, creates more emotion in the reader than third person stories do. As much as I like to say I'm a well-cultured individual, I also liked the fact that this was written in fairly modern English, as opposed to ye olde English that many European stories of this time period are written in. This story was, once again, all about the unknown, and the fact that nothing that happened was explicitly stated and understood to have happened makes it all the more creepy and chilling. (Plus there was winter and ice involved, so I put my sweatshirt on before I had finished reading because I was getting cold).

The narrator is revealed to us as a financially savvy young man, which is another way of saying he is cheap as hell. Putting off marriage more and more because he was unsure if he could support two (or more) people comfortably, even though he's working and investing and has a decent income? Yeah, that's cheap and silly. Anyway, his even cheaper uncle Paul entices him into seeking out the Northwest Passage, so he could live vicariously through his nephew.. andd we're off into the great unknown!

Fast forward three years, and the Albatross (the ship he set sail on) is still traveling through the now icy waters riddled with glaciers and more ice. A sledding expedition to seek out land passages goes horribly awry, as the 'land' that they are on breaks up, revealing itself to be an ice mass, and the narrator is suddenly on his own as the other man, and all the sled dogs, perish (a moment of silence for the dogs, please). At this point, the story is left up to the reader's own devices. Is there some ice demon at play? Or does the narrator simply become mad from hunger and hypothermia? Either way, he is tossed and turned on this sheet of ice along the water's current, and finds himself in a huge ice cavern. In this cavern, he sees a moonstone mass, an immensely valuable object should he attain it. Surprise, he doesn't, and instead propels down what to me sounds like a waterfall, awakening to whalemen who find him and, thinking him and his story insane, get him back home and away from them. Nobody believes him, except his now wife (who I don't think actually believes the story, but simply wants him to never leave her again), and he pines for that lost treasure and fortune that he almost gained.

I definitely like the vagueness and mystery in this story, as it plays on a person's fear of the unknown. Even traveling in a forest that someone might know his way around, there is still a level of not knowing what he will come across, or what might happen, and Spofford does a great job playing on this curiosity/fear. I can only imagine what other horrific things early explorers might have suspected were lying in wait for them on their expeditions..

POSTSCRIPT! I am hoping to finish Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik by tomorrow night, meaning that there'll be a new book post by Thursday or Friday (on top of my daily story reviews). I also hope to start and finish Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf and Isaac Marion's Warm Bodies within the next two weeks (seeing as I borrowed one from the library, and the other from work, and have a two week deadline on each). As always, let me know if you have any recommended books/stories for me, and definitely post your responses to my reviews, and to the books/stories themselves. Until next time (and stay warm!),


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