THE DEEP ONES: "The Horror-Horn" by E.F. Benson
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Discussion begins on January 29, 2020.
First published in the September, 1922 issue of Hutchinson's Magazine
SELECTED PRINT VERSIONS
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine, May-June 1984
Visible and Invisible
The Collected Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson
The Screaming Skull and Other Classic Horror Stories
It may interest someone to know that Ungeheuerhorn more literally means "Monster-Horn".
This could be the first appearance, in popular fiction, of the yeti. The British expedition referred to at the beginning of the story, the one that reported mysterious footprints in the snow, was in 1921. Benson, of course, doesn't use the term yeti nor do his creatures match the current stereotype of yetis being tall and white furred.
I thought that Ingram's reaction to meeting a primitive human was well done, the horror of a lifeway most of humanity has escaped from. It's not only the creature's "sensual and malevolent beastiality" but there is terribleness in life itself.
I'll note that, when Ingram and the narrator deliver their reports of their encounters, it is against the height of civilization: tea-time at a Swiss mountain resort with Puccinni in the background.
I think there is some lurking post-World War One anxiety. At the beginning of the story, the narrator says "the fate of nations and life and death had seemed to me of far less importance" since starting his holiday. Yet, to Ingram, the inefffable beastiality could "fructify again". For the narrator the ledge could crumble and pitch him and humanity back into the abyss. The narrator, at story's end, is probably back to thinking about "the fate of nations and life and death".
Encounter stories, I believe, usually describe the yeti as dark-furred. The white version of popular culture comes perhaps from misinterpretation of "snowman" as looking like snow rather than living in snow.
It's perhaps because society has had another century to come to terms with Darwin, but I found it difficult to relate to Ingram and the narrator's extreme horror not merely at the prospect of being eaten, but at the mere existence of the ape-men.
I wondered if this story was "in the style of" Algernon Blackwood but I gather Benson was a keen athlete (including skiing) and the setting and details of skiing in the Alps would have been familiar to him personally.
The details of the ape-woman's dismemberment of the chamois was surprisingly gory - Benson is certainly a less reticent about such things than M. R. James, for example.
It appears the Engadine has been invaded by another monstrosity of late:
Benson perhaps missed a trick in not working in any mention of sgraffiti or "Centuries-old stone dwellings with mysterious renderings of wild men and mountain goats ... etched into white facades."
I was reminded of Leiber's Fafhrd & Gray Mouser tale, "Stardock" for its setting of a mountainous ascent.
>6 RandyStafford: the horror of a lifeway most of humanity has escaped from ... terribleness in life itself.
I had the impression Benson described a species of the uncanny valley, that gazing on something so human and yet so alien created a special kind of terror.
And then he uses Ingram's encounter with the ape man as an example of this particular horror, of the crossing of boundaries between man and beast. it is "a being that refuses to remain in a symbolically established place and, shifting between animal and human features, confounds what should be a definite and absolute distinction.".
I think this analysis complements the Death of God/Darwinism and uncanny valley suggestions advanced above, and doesn't contradict them.
By the way, it occurred to me that the setting of this story, the Alps, were a source of sublime terror to the 18th century Romantic intellectuals who went on pilgrimage to them.
Your note about the Alps as a source of the sublime is also appreciated. The classic Friedrich painting "Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer", came to mind -- I think we've referenced it before in DEEP ONES.