Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Andrew's Thoughts on the Scary Short Story A Scots Mummy by James Hogg

A Scots Mummy first appeared in the August 1823 issue of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. Questions remain as to how much of the scary short story was fact and how much was fiction--or at least Hogg's exaggeration of the truth. "A  Scots Mummy" is based on the suicide of a boy in Scotland. When Hogg sent it to William Blackwood for consideration in the magazine in a letter dated August 7th, he called it "a curious incident that has excited great interest . . .." James Hogg, like Edgar Allan Poe and others of this period, were no strangers to literary hoaxes. Some believe that the event of the story never happened and was a figment of Hogg's imagination. Evidence of this is the shepard who appears in the horror story and is supposed to be Hogg (the Ettrick Sheppard) himself. He would later publish "A Scots Mummy" in the pages of his novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. As further evidence consider the described fashion in which the suicide hangs himself:
[T]he unfortunate young man had hanged himself after the man with the lambs came in view. He was, however, quite dead when he cut him down. He had fastened two of the old hay ropes at the bottom of the rick on one side, (indeed they are all fastened so when first laid on,) so that he had nothing to do but to loosen two of the ends on the other side; and these he tied in a knot round his neck, and then, slackening his knees, and letting himself lean down gradually till the hay rope bore all his weight, he contrived to put an end to his existence in that way. Now the fact is, that if you try all the ropes that are thrown over all the outfield hay ricks in Scotland, there is not one among a thousand of them will hang a colley dog—so that the manner of this wretch's death was rather a singular circumstance.
One hundred and five years later, when the suicide is dug up, his body is almost perfectly preserved. The lack of gruesomeness in the corpse is somehow gruesome in itself. Hogg published "A Scots Mummy" at the time when reanimation was taking center stage on the Gothic-romantic literary scene. The only fault of this story is that it lacks a certain complexity that would have placed it higher on my countdown of the best scary shortsstories from 1800-1849.

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