On Charles Beaumont’s “The Howling Man”

“The Germany of that time was a land of valleys and mountains and swift dark rivers, a green and fertile land where everything grew tall and straight out of the earth” (79)

“The Howling Man” is a haunting old Germanic legend. It is at once a travelogue written in the first-person perspective by David Ellington, as well as a fascinating bit of historical fiction, taking place in the 1930s not long before the outbreak of World War II. David Ellington an upper middle-class Bostonian who recently graduated from college. He travels to France seeking adventure, before bicycling through the Arcadian paradise of Germany. However, while cycling through a dark forest in the Black Mountains region, he is suddenly struck with a bout of pneumonia.

Suffering from delusions, he awakens in an ancient hilltop monastery called St. Wulfran’s. At his bedside sits Father Christophorus, a man who was strangely hoping for the opportunity to witness a man die, but Mr. Ellington makes a full recovery and he begins hearing a series of shrill, teeth-chattering screams echoing throughout the monastery. When all of the brothers deny hearing the noises, Mr. Ellington ventures outward one night to see for himself –he finds a man imprisoned behind a wooden door. He claims the men who run this monastery are liars who have wrongly locked him up.

Mr. Ellington is then told the truth –this “howling man” is no man at all. He is actually Satan, the Dark Angel, Asmodeus, Belial, Ahriman, Diabolus –the devil” (91). The brothers have captured him in order to prevent further suffering on mankind, since there have been no wars or mass atrocities since the end of World War I. However, doubting this story, Mr. Ellington decides to steal the key and he releases the “howling man,” only for him to flee into the night, cacking all the way. Could he have been the devil? Hitler soon rises in Germany and war is once again unleashed on the world. In the end, Mr. Ellington receives a postcard from father Christophorus declaring that they have recaptured the devil and that the war is ending.      

The brilliant prose woven throughout this dark Gothic tale presents us with an intriguing study in contrasts between the pastoral beauty of rural Germany against the ominous evil lurking behind the high walls of Germany’s monasteries. It calls to mind the likes of Dracula. This magnificent short story by Charles Beaumont has a few notable distinctions from its corresponding Twilight Zone episode –most notably that David Ellington captures and imprisons the devil again (at the end of the Twilight Zone) episode inside his closet before his housekeeper mistakenly releases the devil once again.

Beaumont, Charles. Perchance to Dream and other Short Stories. Penguin Classics. New York, NY (2015).  

Note: In the Foreword to this essay collection, Ray Bradbury offers some lovely reflections on the life of Charles “Chuck” Beaumont, from initially meeting a sixteen-year-old Beaumont at a bookstore in Los Angeles (where they discussed the Terry and the Pirates comic collection, Buck RogersTarzan, and Prince Valiant), to helping Beaumont publish his first short story and embark upon a successful literary career –“His life revolved around a special desk which he had designed and had built by one of the finest cabinetmakers in the West. His files were beautifully stashed, labeled, and stuffed with a half-million notions, idle fancies, half-grown or full-grown dreams…” (xiii). His was a life that was cut short too soon –a great tragedy for American science fiction, and Ray Bradbury offers a fitting series of reflections, such as his thoughts on Charles Beaumont’s funeral: “The friends of Charles Beaumont, at gravesite, felt… above all that a time was over, and things would never be the same. Our old group would meet less often, and then fall away. What was central to it, the binding force, the conversational fire, the great runner, jumper, and yeller, was gone” (xiv).  

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

Click here for my review of “The Howling Man” Twilight Zone episode    

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s