Monday, May 3, 2010

Andrew's Thoughts on Dr. Heidegger's Experiment the 21st Best Scary Short Story 1800-1849

Let's take a look at "[t]hat very singular man, old Dr. Heidegger" and his horrific experiment that proved the only thing worse than getting old is to be young again and then to quickly turn old once more.  Dr. Heidegger's Experiment was published in 1837. In the scary short story Dr. Heidegger invites "four venerable friends" over to his place. The doctor has obtained water from the Fountain of Youth. They have a sip and their ailments due to old age begin to go away. They demand more and drink until they are young again. The effects of youth are short lived.
His guests shivered again. A strange chillness, whether of the body or spirit they could not tell, was creeping gradually over them all. They gazed at one another, and fancied that each fleeting moment snatched away a charm, and left a deepen-ing furrow where none had been before. Was it an illusion? Had the changes of a lifetime been crowded into so brief a space, and were they now four aged people, sitting with their old friend, Dr. Heidegger?
"Are we grown old again, so soon?" cried they, dolefully.
In truth, they had. The Water of Youth possessed merely a virtue more transient than that of wine. The delirium which, it created had effervesced away. Yes! they were old again. With a shuddering impulse, that showed her a woman still, the widow clasped her skinny hands before her face, and wished that the coffin-lid were over it, since it could be no longer beautiful.
Edgar Allan Poe enjoyed "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment." In his review of Hawthorne's Twice Told Tales in Graham's Magazine, Vol. XX, 1842, he said that it was "exceedingly well imagined, and executed with surpassing ability. The artist breathes in every line of it." The story is well written, yet lacks a building of terror throughout that would have placed it higher on my countdown of the Top 40 scary short stories from 1800-1849.

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