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WritersBlock

Photograph which represents an author having difficulty writing a story.

"Thurlow's Christmas Story" is a short ghost story by the American author John Kendrick Bangs. It first appeared in print, under the title "Thurlow's Ghost Story", in the December 15, 1894 issue of Harper's Weekly Magazine. It was published again, under its current title, in Bangs' 1898 anthology Ghosts I Have Met and Some Others.

The story's title character and protagonist is a writer named Henry Thurlow who is asked to write a ghost story for the Christmas issue of a magazine called the Idler. Thurlow has great difficulty writing the story. At the time that he is supposed to be working on the story, Thurlow finds himself being haunted by a ghostly double of himself. The story is presented in the form of two letters. In the first letter, Thurlow explains why he submitted twenty-four pieces of blank paper to the Idler magazine instead of a story. The second letter is a reply from the editor of the magazine to Thurlow.

An abridged version of "Thurlow's Christmas Story" is read by Christopher Eccleston in the third episode of the British radio mini-series The Devil's Christmas.[1] The episode first aired on BBC Radio 2 on December 19, 2007.

Plot

Henry Thurlow is a writer who is well known for his humorous short stories. He has also written many ghost stories, both serious and comic. Henry Thurlow has had many supernatural experiences in his own life. He does not dare speak about them, however, out of fear that people woud believe him to be mad. For some time, Thurlow has been troubled by bad dreams. Each night, Thurlow dreams that he leads a wicked life and commits many crimes.

In the summer, Henry Thurlow is asked by G. Currier, the editor of the Idler magazine, to write a ghost story for the magazine's Christmas issue. Thurlow has a lot of difficulty coming up with a suitable story. In August, he believes that he has come up with the perfect story and writes it down. When he reads his finished story, however, Thurlow finds that it is just a collection of sentences that is completely devoid of any meaning. Thurlow asks Currier to let him have a month of complete rest. Currier agrees to Thurlow's request but tells him that his Christmas story must be completed by October 15.

Thurlow attempts again to write the story, although he does not manage to write down very much of it. During that time, Thurlow also begins to be haunted by a ghostly double of himself. The expression on the double's face suggests that it represent the evil side of Thurlow's personality which he has always tried to repress.

The evening of October 15 comes. Thurlow has not completed the story and has no possibility of doing so. His doorbell rings. A middle-aged man, whom Thurlow has never seen before, is standing at the door. The man asks if Henry Thurlow the author lives at that address. He is surprised to find out that the man he is talking to is Henry Thurlow. It is later revealed that he did not expect the writer of so many comic stories to look so unhappy. Intrigued, Thurlow invites the man into his house. The visitor explains that he is a great admirer of Thurlow's work. He decided to visit the author while he happened to be in Thurlow's town on business. The two men sit in Thurlow's library and have a long discussion about Thurlow's works and about literature in general. The visitor asks Thurlow about his writing process. Thurlow explains it to him. The process does not sound very demanding. The visitor comments that Thurlow must be a contented man. Although he does not mention his bad dreams or his ghostly double, Thurlow admits to the man that he is troubled because he was supposed to submit a Christmas ghost story to the Idler magazine that day but has failed to write one. The visitor wants to help. He suggests several possible ideas for a story. Although many of his ideas are good, none of them are very original and Thurlow cannot use any of them.

Before the visitor leaves, he hands Thurlow an envelope. He explains that the envelope contains the manuscript of a story which he has written in his spare time over the past ten years. He says that he would be delighted if the story were published under Henry Thurlow's name. After the man leaves, Henry Thurlow realizes that his visitor did not give his name or address. They are not written on the manuscript either.

Thurlow reads the manuscript. It is an excellent story, better than anything ever written by Edgar Allan Poe or any of the great horror writers in any language. Thurlow considers submitting the manuscript to the Idler with a note explaining that it was written by another man.

Henry Thurlow's ghostly double then appears and speaks to Thurlow for the first time. The double reminds Thurlow that his visitor gave him permission to pass off the story as his own. The double adds that it is such a good story that it will guarantee Thurlow's reputation as a great writer long after he is dead. Thurlow eventually gives in to temptation and signs his name on the manuscript. the double says that Thurlow has made a foolish mistake by doing that. The manuscript is in someone else's handwriting. Currier knows that Thurlow does not have a secretary. If he submits the manuscript to the Idler, Currier will know that he is trying to pass off someone else's work as his own. The double tells Thurlow that he must write out the entire story himself. Thurlow does so. At three o'clock in the morning, he goes out to mail the manuscript to the Idler. When Thurlow returns home, he finds his double still there. The double explains that he will not disappear until Thurlow covers up his act of plagiarism by destroying his visitor's original manuscript. Thurlow burns the papers.

The following morning, Thurlow receives a telegram from Currier asking him to come over to the offices of the Idler magazine at once. Thurlow goes there. Currier accuses Thurlow of playing a bad practical joke on him. He shows Thurlow the story that he submitted. It is twenty-four sheets of blank paper. Thurlow finds himself unable to speak and runs away. Shortly afterwards, Currier writes a letter to Thurlow, demanding once again that he explain himself. Thurlow makes a full confession in his letter to Currier. He also states that he cannot remember anything about the story which his visitor wrote.

Currier writes another letter to Thurlow. He does not believe Thurlow's explanation but thinks that it is one of the best works of fiction that Thurlow has ever written. Currier adds that Thurlow's letter will be published in the Christmas issue of the Idler and encloses a check for one hundred dollars.

See also

Footnotes

  1. The other episodes of The Devil's Christmas are based on "The Signalman" by Charles Dickens, "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant and "The She-Wolf" by Saki.

External links

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