Tuesday, October 19, 2010

For the Horror Hounds at Capac High School

Hello Mr. Partridge,

I teach a class in Horror Stories at Capac High School in Capac, Michigan. We are reading a story of yours, "The Hollow Man." I thought it would be very special if my students could hear back from you about that particular story. Would you be willing to share your thoughts about how you came to write it? What, exactly, the narrator is? Is there a major theme that you were thinking about at the time? Thanks for any time and consideration you can give us.

Janette Shurat
English Teacher
Capac High School
Capac, Michigan

Glad to comment, Ms. Shurat... and howdy, Capac High. Hope you're having a good Tuesday morning.

I've published more than seventy short stories, but "The Hollow Man" is probably the winner when it comes to picking the one I wrote earliest -- I was still in college when I typed it up, not much older than most of you are now. I thought (still think) it was the best story I wrote during that time. I sent it out to horror magazines shortly after graduation, but it came back with rejection slips. Years later, when I started having luck publishing my stories, I took another look at "The Hollow Man." To tell the truth I didn't change much, but this time I had luck selling it, to a respected horror journal called Grue. Since then, the story has been reprinted many times, and it appeared a few years ago in S. T. Joshi's American Supernatural Tales from Penguin Classics.

As to how I came to write the tale: I'd long admired the work of Jack London, and his short story "To Build a Fire" was an old favorite I'd never quite forgotten. That tale of a man's grim battle for survival in a frozen wasteland was in my mind as I set about writing "The Hollow Man," as was T. S. Elliot's poem with a similar title, "The Hollow Men." Boil up those two bits of inspiration with the idea of four men and a monster battling for survival in a desolate, London-style environment, and I thought I had the beginnings of a good story.

Of course, beginnings are usually easy -- inspiration always carries a writer along through those. It's middles and endings that are hard. Telling the tale from the monster's point of view was one thing that made "The Hollow Man" interesting, because I was writing from a viewpoint that was alien to the reader but would not seem that way to the narrator. That was a challenge, as was the clipped, rhythmic cadence of the monster's voice.

As for the monster, part of the initial inspiration was the Wendigo, the legendary cannibalistic creature of the northern United States and Canada. But I didn't really want to make the monster in "The Hollow Man" too easy to define. I wanted to leave it a bit mysterious, which for me means the creature is ultimately more frightening. For my money, the unexplained is always a little bit scarier. In other words, I didn't want to give the reader an owner's manual for my monster; I just wanted to give folks a map to the dark patch of country where the creature might be glimpsed in the dim moonlight of a winter's night.

As for the theme of the tale, I like to leave those answers up to the reader. I'll just say that for me "The Hollow Man" is a tale of survival, and that's one word that can have a variety of definitions depending on your perspective... and the perspective of the characters in the tale.