The Tale of Terror eBook

Edith Birkhead
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 261 pages of information about The Tale of Terror.
execrations of fiends, encounters delusive horrors and at last unsheathes the sword.  The lovers awake, and the whole apparatus of enchantment vanishes.  Conrad tells how he and Bertha, six years before, had been lured by a wandering fire to a luxurious cavern, where they drank a magic potion.  The story closes with the marriage of Conrad and Bertha, and of Egbert and Matilda, a sister of one of the other victims of the same enchanter.

In Dr. Drake’s stories are patiently collected all the heirlooms necessary for the full equipment of a Gothic castle.  Massive doors, which sway ponderously on their hinges or are forcibly burst open and which invariably close with a resounding crash, dark, eerie galleries, broken staircases, decayed apartments, mouldering floors, tolling bells, skeletons, corpses, howling spectres—­all are there; but the possessor, overwhelmed by the very profusion which surrounds him, is at a loss how to make use of them.  He does not realise the true significance of a half-stifled groan or an unearthly yell heard in the darkness.  Each new horror indeed seems but to put new life into the heart of the redoubtable Sir Egbert, who, like Spenser’s gallant knights, advances from triumph to triumph vanquishing evil at every step.  It is impossible to become absorbed in his personages, who have less body than his spectres, and whose adventures take the form of a walk through an exhibition of horrors, mechanically set in motion to prove their prowess.  Dr. Drake seems happier when the hideous beings are put to rout, and the transformation-scene, which places fairyland before us, suddenly descends on the stage.  Yet the bungling attempts of Dr. Drake are interesting as showing that grave and critical minds were prepared to consider the tale of terror as a legitimate form of literature, obeying certain definite rules of its own and aiming at the excitement of a pleasurable fear.  The seed of Gothic story, sown at random by Horace Walpole, had by 1798 taken firm root in the soil.  Drake’s enthusiasm for Gothic story was associated with his love for older English poetry and with his interest in Scandinavian mythology.  He was a genuine admirer of Spenser and attempted imitations, in modern diction, of old ballads.  It is for his bent towards the romantic, rather than for his actual accomplishments, that Drake is worthy of remembrance.


The enthusiasm which greeted Walpole’s enchanted castle and Miss Reeve’s carefully manipulated ghost, indicated an eager desire for a new type of fiction in which the known and familiar were superseded by the strange and supernatural.  To meet this end Mrs. Radcliffe suddenly came forward with her attractive store of mysteries, and it was probably her timely appearance that saved the Gothic tale from an early death.  The vogue of the novel of terror, though undoubtedly stimulated by German influence,

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The Tale of Terror from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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