Monday, 19 December 2016

Deal Me in Challenge: The Boarded Window by Ambrose Bierce (1891)

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I encountered Ambrose Bierce for the first time during last year's "Dead Me in Challenge" with An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and it turned out to be one of the finest short-stories that I have ever read. Talk about a "twist" ending! Unfortunately, I did not end up writing any review on it but Bierce immediately became a permanent fixture on my radar. It is difficult for me to describe his unique style but he often relishes in dark imagery and creates an imposing sense of dread but I would be hard pressed to call him a horror writer in the same vein as, say, Stephen King. His cynicism and ominous depiction of death crops up in a lot of his stories so it makes sense that many would consider him as a horror writer but perhaps it would be more accurate to classify his writing as psychological horror that has more in common with H.P. Lovecraft's 'weird fiction.' Having fought in the American Civil War and being wounded, a lot of Bierce's stories usually revolve around the horrors of war although The Boarded Window is a little different. Here, we get a grim depiction of isolated frontier life with elements of the supernatural. So, indeed, one can certainly read this particular story as "horror" but it must be reiterated that this is not always the case in Ambrose Bierce's work.

As a ghost story, The Boarded Window is steeped in mysticism and ambiguity. With the expansion of the American frontier, many settlers found themselves living in remote areas, far removed from civilization. The unnamed narrator relates a story passed down from his grandfather about a man named Murlock who settled in these parts many years ago and became isolated from the community by moving deeper into the forest with his wife. We are never given any explanation as to why they become social outcasts, nor do we get the wife's perspective at any point. He seems wholly dependent on her and yet she seems entirely compliant to give into his desire to become hermits. Very odd. She eventually dies of an illness and then Murlock becomes even more of a recluse in his grief. He then gets super creepy, locking himself up in the cabin with his dead wife's corpse by boarding up the windows (wink, wink) to literally shut out the external world but this particular act also serves as a metaphor for his own psychological imprisonment. Paralyzed by such immense loss, he wallows in despair and stubbornly refuses to let go of the past. The ending threw me for a loop and I am still not sure what to make of it. During one of Murolock's emotional breakdowns as he is clutching his wife's corpse in agonizing grief, she mysteriously disappears and a vicious panther breaks through the window and kills him. So, yeah, very weird. Does this really happen or is he suffering from some kind of hallucination? Bierce purposefully leaves the ending shrouded in ambiguity although I found the whole encounter with the panther to be rather silly, which greatly diminished the quality of an otherwise decent story. 



  1. Good heavens, you are such a good example! If only I could get through some of my Deal Me Ins so quickly. And how do you manage to put together such excellent reviews so quickly? Too bad this one had a disappointing ending. You wonder if the author had some deeper meaning in mind or it was simply a cheap way to add shock or suspense....??? In any case, I hope your next Deal Me Ins turn out better!

  2. Haha, I appreciate the compliment but I have a deadline to make! There is only about 2 weeks left and I am waaaaay behind schedule. I am glad you think these reviews contain some sort of merit but my main concern is just to pump out as many reviews as possible to finish this challenge! I firmly believe in quality over quantity but in this particular case, the latter wins out.

    Have you read any Ambrose Bierce before? I think you might like his work (you can skip this story) and he would probably fall under the "classics" category.

    I am pretty sure that the weird ending has some sort of symbolic meaning but it went over my head. nature vs. man? I dunno.

    Indeed, after reading this disappointing story, I really want to stumble upon something GREAT.

    *shuffles deck*

  3. I liked this particular story (it was also on my 2016 DMI list) a lot more than you. :-) Of course, I may be prejudiced because Bierce has an Indiana question. His other story that I read this year (The Haunted Valley) WAS a disappointment for me, though. His Beyond the Wall was a favorite of a past year's DMI.

  4. Interesting, I will have to check out your review to see what I might have missed with this one.

    I didn't realize just how many stories Bierce wrote in his lifetime and will certainly keep an eye out for "Beyond the Wall." Thanks for the recommendation Jay!