November 8th, 2019

Kid

Ghostly Conveyance



Despite the Halloween season being over, I've kept up reading H.P. Lovecraft Selects, a collection of stories drawn from Lovecraft's famous essay on supernatural horror. To-day I read Rudyard Kipling's "The Phantom 'Rickshaw". Lovecraft describes Kipling as approaching greatness despite "omnipresent mannerisms". These may be the pervasive bits of local colour Kipling is famous for and it is a great and subtle addition to the story of a man seeing his dead lover stalking him in a 'rickshaw. That one element of strangeness is made the more striking for the abundant evidence of the author's casual familiarity with the reality of the place.

This piece of window dressing even comes to the fore as the story's narrator tries to use it as a tool to keep himself sane;

Two or three times I found myself saying to myself almost aloud: “I’m Jack Pansay on leave at Simla—at Simla! Everyday, ordinary Simla. I mustn’t forget that—I mustn’t forget that.” Then I would try to recollect some of the gossip I had heard at the Club: the prices of So-and-So’s horses—anything, in fact, that related to the workaday Anglo-Indian world I knew so well. I even repeated the multiplication-table rapidly to myself, to make quite sure that I was not taking leave of my senses.

As for the story itself, the poetic justice of a man undone by the ghost of a woman he so cruelly spurned isn't as satisfying as it is horrific. There's a surface of a basic, functioning morality--man does wrong, man gets punished--but the strangeness of it against the authenticity of the location emphasises a dreamlike quality in the proceedings. She may indeed be a manifestation of the narrator's conscious or self-loathing. It's an effective story at any rate.