A reading of H. H. Munro’s miniature masterpiece
‘The Open Window’ is one of Saki’s shortest stories, and that’s saying something. Few of his perfectly crafted and deliciously written tales exceed four or five pages in length, but ‘The Open Window’, at barely three pages, outstrips even ‘The Lumber-Room’ or ‘Tobermory’ for verbal economy. It is so brief it has almost the air of a parable about it, except that it’s far from clear what the ‘moral’ of the story is, or even if there is one. Saki uses language so deftly and to such effect, that it is worth unpicking and analysing ‘The Open Window’ (which can be read in full here) a little.
Although on first glance it seems different from some of Saki’s better-known stories, such as his classic werewolf tale ‘Gabriel-Ernest’ and his story about a polecat worshipped as a god, ‘Sredni Vashtar’, ‘The Open Window’ follows the same essential setup as many of Saki’s other stories, in having an adolescent character whose supposed innocence (supposed by the adult character, that is) turns out to be guile, cunning, and the mischief in disguise. But whereas Nicholas in ‘The Lumber-Room’, Conradin in ‘Sredni Vashtar’, or Gabriel-Ernest actively seek to cause harm to their adult antagonists (or, in the case of Nicholas, to refuse to help an aunt who has got herself trapped in the water tank), Vera’s only weapon is her imagination. Yet this alone suggests that she shares some kinship with Conradin in ‘Sredni Vashtar’, whose cousin and guardian dislikes her ward’s imaginative streak. Read the rest of this entry
The best stories by Hector Hugh Munro
The English short-story writer Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916), better known by his pen name Saki (a pen name he probably borrowed from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam), is one of the wittiest and funniest writers of short fiction in all of English literature – arguably the not-so-missing link between Oscar Wilde and P. G. Wodehouse. Yet his work remains less widely read and appreciated than it deserves, in our view. The following ten stories represent, in our opinion, the perfect introduction to the witty and unsettling world of Saki’s short stories. We’ve left out his remarkable 1913 novel When William Came – set a few years in the future when German and Britain had been at war, and Germany had won – as we’ve limited ourselves to Saki’s short fiction here. And Saki’s short fiction is often very short – no more than four or five pages in many cases.
‘The Lumber-Room’. Possibly Saki’s best-known story, ‘The Lumber-Room’ is a classic short story about a child who is too clever for the adults. Specifically, it is about how one clever but mischievous boy, Nicholas, seeks to outwit his aunt so he can gain access to the lumber-room with its hidden treasures and curiosities. Nicholas’ clever use of his aunt’s own logic and morality to justify his refusal to rescue her from the rainwater-tank is one of the finest moments in Saki’s fiction. Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a classic cat story
The cat is the perfect subject for a Saki story. There is something catlike about many of his young protagonists: aloof, urbane, poised, louche, and yet underneath it all there is a feral streak. So it comes as little surprise that Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916), better known by his pen name ‘Saki’, wrote a wonderful cat story, ‘Tobermory’ (1911). Even better, it’s about a cat that is taught to talk. You can read ‘Tobermory’ here.
Talking cats go back a long way in English literature: one of the books we discuss in our whistle-stop tour of forgotten literary curiosities, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, is a sixteenth-century English novel which features talking cats. But Saki puts his own stamp on this small but rewarding genre of animal tales. In summary, a man named Cornelius Appin has managed to teach a cat, Tobermory, to talk. Tobermory belongs to his friends, the Blemleys, and it is at Mrs Blemley’s house party that Appin reveals that he has managed to teach Tobermory the power of speech. At first, the party guests are naturally incredulous, but when Sir Wilfred Blemley fetches Tobermory in from a neighbouring room, it soon becomes clear to everyone present that Tobermory has indeed learned to talk. Read the rest of this entry