A Comparison Of ‘The Bodysnatcher’ and ‘The Blood Bay’. How Do The Two Writers Create Different Styles Of Horror Story? ‘The Bodysnatcher’, written by R. L Stevenson, was originally published in 1878. ‘The Blood Bay’ written by Annie Proulx, was first published in 1999, over one hundred years after ‘The Bodysnatcher’. Set in Debenham, Kent, ‘The Bodysnatcher’ begins at its end, with its characters considerably aged compared to the main part of the story. Edinburgh is where the story takes place, a setting which had previously been the city in which Burke and Hare’s infamous bodysnatching had taken place, upon which this story is based.
‘The Blood Bay’ was set solely in Wyoming, Texas during the years 1886-87. In this short-story, Annie Proulx portrays horror not only through the evilness of the characters but through ‘animal nasties’ as well. R. L Stevenson was well known for his plagued sleep and it is thought that the horror which he experienced during his unconsciousness provided the inspiration for ‘The Bodysnatcher’. This horror story also has ‘human nasties’, however contains strong psychological components in the shape of Grays apparent resurrection. ‘The Blood Bay’ uses aspects of black comedy to produce an atmosphere of horror whereas R.
L Stevenson uses descriptive writing technique to create tension. The evil acts carried out in ‘The Bodysnatcher’ are predominantly set during hours of darkness, ‘… it was bitter cold, windy, and frosty; the town had not yet awakened… ‘ This gives the reader an impression of mystery, subtly in itself creating a sensation of horror. R. L Stevenson also uses many different contrasts to emphasise the feeling behind each setting, ‘… by the warm radiance of the bar-room window. The George thus brightly advertised itself to passers-by in the cold street. ‘
This description shows the audience how inviting The George appears to the public outside on the winter evening, creating the feeling of welcoming warmth and hospitality. R. L Stevenson also incorporates the weather to add to the sensation of horror, ‘… the incessant, strident pouring of the rain. It was pitch dark… ‘ The phrase ‘… incessant, strident… ‘ intelligently compares the weather to a harsh voice calling out, one which doesn’t stop and as the reader, I instantly felt tension. The atmosphere is clearly set with this quote and I believe that the vivid description enhances the emotion felt by the reader.
The author also cleverly mentions the fact that the scene is again in darkness which automatically creates fear and tension. Annie Proulx however uses completely different techniques to create the horror genre in her short-story, ‘The Blood Bay’. ‘The Winter of 1886-87 was terrible. Every goddamn history of the high plains says so. ‘ This quote is the first two lines from the story and informs the reader immediately of the season and the years in which this story is set. One similarity between this story and ‘The Bodysnatcher’ is that they both take place during winter months.
By describing winter in such a way, the author cleverly injects a feel of tension, leaving the reader in wonderment of what is to happen. ‘Blizzards and freeze-eye cold followed, the gaunt bodies of cattle piling up in draws and coulees. ‘ This metaphor ‘… freeze-eye cold… ‘ gruesomely creates horror as one can clearly imagine it in reality. With its involvement of death, this quote blatantly sends out a message of fear to the reader and it is my opinion that this statement lays the foundations of horror in this story. One obvious difference in comparing these two stories is time.
Where in R. L Stevenson’s short story the evil events for the most part occur during the night, Annie Proulx chooses daytime for the same theme. ‘Sheets pulled out a Bowie knife and sawed through Montanas shins… and lost most of the daylight getting them out. ‘ For me, as the reader, this daytime is not as effective at creating the horror atmosphere as evil scenes during the night. Annie Proulxs techniques are completely contrasting to those used by R. L Stevenson. In fact, the more relaxed scenes in ‘The Blood Bay’ are set in hours of darkness.
‘It was a fine evening, eating, drinking and playing cards… ‘ It is my belief that in a horror story, this technique is not successful in creating the fear needed for this particular genre. However, Dirt Sheets was apparently eaten during the night. Seen as though Old Man Grice’s discovery was in the morning, ‘… up with the sun… something that looked like a mans foot. ‘ It is my opinion that this does not add to the feeling of horror. Also the fact that the reader is well aware of who the feet actually belong to, fails to create tension. ‘Sheets set his trophies behind the stove.
‘ Describing the feet as Dirt Sheets ‘trophies’ implies that Sheets is also extremely proud of the action he took. This metaphor successfully induces a nauseous feeling within the reader thus creating a small amount of horror. In ‘The Bodysnatcher’ the author includes two main characters, both of which are very complex. Fettes is first introduced at the very beginning of the story. Through description, he comes across as a mysterious man, who everyone knows by physical appearance, yet have no idea of the man he really is. ‘… had grown to be an adopted townsman.
His blue camlet cloak was a local antiquity, like the church spire. ‘ This simile shows how integrated Fettes is with the town of Debenham, the church spire is part of the community, and I believe this quote shows just how accepted he is amongst his neighbours. In this statement, we are told of Fettes being recognised by his regular adornments. However, the following quote shows how little they actually know about him, ‘… we had no knowledge of his character and previous antecedents. ‘ I believe that this is a contradiction of what has previously been mentioned in the story.
‘… come rain or snow or frost, we four would be each planted in his own particular arm-chair. ‘ This quote suggests a close relationship between the four friends. Why wouldn’t Fettes tell his closest friends about his past? This immediately evokes a feeling of fear within the reader, what exactly has Fettes done? The way in which the narrator speaks about Fettes also encourages the reader to think that he has been involved in something impure. ‘We called him the Doctor, for he was supposed to have some special knowledge of medicine…
‘ The way the townspeople nickname Fettes the Doctor, automatically produces an uneasy feeling within the reader. Dr Macfarlane is the second main character in this story. R. L Stevenson chooses to describe Macfarlane as totally contrasting to Fettes. The author intends Fettes to be perceived as a slow drunken old man, ‘… in a state of melancholy alcoholic saturation. ‘ Doctor Macfarlane however ‘… was alert and vigorous… ‘ had an ‘energetic countenance. ‘ and ‘He was richly dressed… ‘ This immediately brings about an image in the mind of the reader, one in which Macfarlane is completely the opposite of Fettes.
Not only is Fettes a contrast to Macfarlane, he is also completely contrasting to his past self, as we find out later in the book. ‘… he was in those days well favoured, and pleased in his exterior. ‘ The fact that this quote points out Fettes used to be ‘well favoured’ implies that an event occurred to change the opinion of those around him. ‘… made a dart like a serpent… ‘ This simile encourages the reader to think that Macfarlane is evil. As snakes often symbolise evil, R. L Stevenson cleverly evokes a feeling of unease, therefore horror is created.
When Fettes is first told that Macfarlane is in the town, he reacts strangely, as if recognising the name, ‘… and repeated the name ‘Macfarlane’ twice, quietly enough the first time, but with sudden emotion the second’ This quote implies that Fettes has a past with Macfarlane, the fact that he spoke Macfarlanes name ‘with sudden emotion’ makes the audience think about what evoked that feeling, what has happened between the two? This is a clever technique used by R. L Stevenson in which a strong feeling of tension is the product. Another contrast between Fettes and Macfarlane is the way in which they handle the events which unfold.
At the beginning, when Fettes’ suspicions about how the bodies were provided in ample amount were first confirmed, he was haunted by his conscience, ‘… by nights of roaring blackguardly enjoyment; and when that balance had been struck, the organ that he called his conscience declared itself content. ‘ Simply meaning that Fettes drank himself into a stupor to escape his guilt, and only when had that been accomplished, could he try and forget about the vile dealings he’d just been involved in. Macfarlane on the other hand appears to be calm and confident about the whole situation.
‘… if you’re a lion, you’ll live and drive a horse like me… ‘ When Macfarlane makes this statement to Fettes, it is a clear message that Fettes must be confident as well to survive the ordeal. R. L Stevensons excellent use of animal comparison produces a successful atmosphere full of tension and mystery, the very basis of a horror story. There are however psychological elements in this story, many creating the essential fear needed for a good horror story. ‘A horrible sense of blackness and the treachery of fate seized hold upon the soul of the unhappy student.
‘ This fantastic quote shows just how plagued by guilt Fettes actually is. The full extent of his self-doubt is realised and the style of horror created is very effective. Mr K, ‘… a certain extramural teacher of anatomy’ gives the story a sense of fear due to the fact the character is based upon Dr Knox, the employer of Burke and Hare. ‘His name was subsequently too well known… skulked through the streets of Edinburgh in disguise, while the mob that applauded at the execution of Burke called loudly for the blood of his employer. ‘
As many people want this character dead, an instant sense of horror is obvious to the audience. The factual references in this story add to the well structured plot, bringing a sense of realism to the book, enhancing the fear. R. L Stevenson’s intention is for Macfarlane to be the stronger willed of the two main characters. However at one particular point of the story it becomes apparent that there is one other who is stronger, the only man that can control Macfarlane. This character is Gray. ‘The cut of his features gave a promise of intellect and refinement… upon further acquaintance, course, vulgar and stupid’
Why would a man such as this have a tight hold over Macfarlane? This is the question raised in the mind of the audience when reading this section of the story. This is an accomplishment in itself for the author as the uneasy sensations, and fear become greater. Who exactly is Gray? Is he the evil in the book? These points encourage the reader to find out exactly who this man is by continuing with the story. Grays return at the end of the story after supposedly being dissected, ‘Richardson can have the head. ‘ This creates an overwhelming feeling within the reader. How?
Is the question raised in the mind of the audience and it fails to be answered. This alone leaves the reader thinking about the twist to the story long after they have finished reading it and I believe this is the key technique in creating a successful horror story. As with Annie Proulxs story, R. L Stevenson lets the audience know what genre the story is going to be almost immediately. When the first characters are introduced, an undertaker is among them. He is simply referred to as ‘the undertaker’ and this intentional use of language cleverly incorporates the theme of horror from the start.
Annie Proulx uses an entirely different approach when writing her characters into the plot. Dirt Sheets, ‘… a cross-eyed drinker of hair oil… ‘ is the main character of ‘The Blood Bay’. Just by the name, the reader receives an image of a dirty looking man. Proulx then goes on to describe that he has, ‘… no socks and curl-toe boots cracked and holed. ‘ This description in my opinion does not create much of a feeling of fear or mystery and only leaves the audience with a clear image of what this man looks like. However, the character of Dirt Sheets is somewhat different,
‘… I’ll cut em off and thaw em after supper. ‘ This attitude toward the dead cowboy found on ‘… Powder River’s bitter west bank… ‘ is one of complete lack of respect. Or could it be that the ‘cowpuncher’ does what he has to do to get by? As Dirt Sheets has no suitable footwear to brave the elements of ‘the high plains’ then maybe this is the case. However, Proulx does cleverly use the character to produce fear. The fact that Sheets is willing to saw off another mans legs for shoes, leaves the audience wondering what else he would do.
Old Man Grice is in my opinion the only other important character in ‘The Blood Bay’ The first impression of Grice is of a friendly good natured old man, ‘Come on in, puncher or rustler, I don’t care. ‘ It is my opinion though, that as a first impression in a horror story, this is not successful in creating the atmosphere that is needed. Old Man Grice’s reaction to his horse apparently eating Sheets is one of complete lack of caring, ‘There’s a bad start to the day,’ is what Grice says. As the reader, I found this reaction humorous, sick as the joke may be, and the fear that is essential for a successful horror story fails to be delivered.
‘Secretly he was pleased to his own horse with the sand to eat a raw cowboy. ‘ This quote succeeds in delivering more emotion. As Grice is happy about the horse eating a human, we can see that he does have another side to his personality. One of horror and as the reader becomes aware of this; the horror genre in ‘The Blood Bay’ begins to take shape. However it is most unfortunate that this is at the end of the story.
The other two cowpunchers do show a side of their character, a cunning side in which they manage to con Old Man Grice out of ‘… forty gold dollars… and three and four bits… ‘ The two cowpunchers are well aware of the fact that their friend, Dirt Sheets, is very much alive, and after they leave Grice’s shack to meet up with Sheets they never mention the small fortune they’ve just taken from Grice. ‘When they saw Sheets… but said nothing about blood bays or forty-three dollars and four bits. The arithmetic stood comfortable. ‘ As the two cowpunchers can’t even tell their friend the truth, it leaves the reader wondering what kind of people these men are.
Overall, the characters in this story did nothing to create the fearful and tense atmosphere required for a successful horror story, but instead transformed an uneventful anecdote into a farce consisting of black comedy. Throughout ‘The Bodysnatcher’ the reader is well aware that the narrator is always a step ahead. The omniscient story teller knows the entire plot, and this detail leaves the audience wondering just who the narrator is. How does he/she know the story? R. L Stevenson uses both subtle and obvious approaches to inform the reader what is going on and this technique is very successful in creating his own style of horror story.
Proulx’s approach at interacting with the reader is very forward and leaves no after thought in the mind of the audience. Where as in ‘The Body Snatcher’ the reader is left wondering just how ‘the body of the dead and long-dissected Gray’ managed to resurrect itself. The ending of ‘The Blood Bay’ is so abrupt that the reader can barely remember the events which have occurred previously!! It is my opinion that the moral behind ‘The Bodysnatcher’ was that you cannot escape from your conscience. The fact that Gray was resurrected is the guilty conscience of both parties finally becoming too much for either to handle.
Fettes, the long time sufferer of guilt tips over the edge as his mind gets the better of him. Macfarlane, the character in the story who always seemed so confidant, ‘Seemingly Macfarlane was affected in the same direction… ‘ The full extent of Macfarlanes actions suddenly catch up with him and the body of Gray is what I believe to be the guilt of both these characters following them. At the beginning of the story when Fettes and Macfarlane meet again, Macfarlane seems eager to make something up to him. ‘We must do something for you Fettes. ‘ Blatantly ignoring his own and Fettes’ horrific past.
‘Have you seen it again? The great, rich London doctor cried out… ‘ This quote shows that Macfarlane is still haunted by his past therefore the confidant countenance he projected in his youth seems to have been permanently scarred by the events which took place. This is the skill required when writing a story, being able to make you’re audience think further than the words you have written down. R. L Stevenson has this skill; the cliff-hanger ends the story in a very emotional scene thick with tension and fear. Proulx however does not allow her audience to think deeper into the plot of ‘The Blood Bay’.
The words on the page are all the reader can go by and in a horror story; this style of writing isn’t successful at all. In conclusion, I believe ‘The Bodysnatcher’ to be a much better horror story than ‘The Blood Bay’ simply because R. L Stevensons book contains a raw talent of horror story writing. His book is actually scary; at some points in the plot the emotions are so intense for the characters that they are palpable for the reader as well. Proulx’s attempt contains humor of a kind that does not belong in a horror themed story. The fact that I laughed at certain descriptions completely contradicts the purpose of horror.