Monday, January 23, 2017

Among Those Present

"Among Those Present", by Manly Wade Wellman
"Moonlight mean romance to me then, and nothing else. I got a girl and went walking by the river, collegian-fashion; she was a Liberal Arts sophomore. There was a sort of sandy jut out into the water, and we loitered out there. Something I said made her laugh, with her face turned up to me in the mmoonlight. Then she stopped laughing, and her mouth twisted like a snake when you tread on it."
Summary: Mr. Craw is introduced to the narrator by a pair of socialites as a man who claims to be a werewolf. He freely spills his story, from silly medical experiments with pre-Rennaisance potions, to a murder under the moonlight. After many attempts to cure himself, Mr. Craw has come to the socialites' house for another cure, but both he and the narrator think that the couple just wants a bit of fun at his expense.  The narrator quickly leaves.  The Next morning, he reads in the paper about the slaughter of the socialites' party.


A shorter story than most in the Sin's Doorway collection, "Up Under the Roof" demonstrates the Hitchcockian wisdom in not showing the monster. Nothing that the  boy would have found up under the roof would have been more terrifying than what the reader might imagine was present. The decision to not encounter the monster at all was a brave one, for some readers may feel cheated. But the story was about a beaten down boy summoning the courage to challenge his circumstances, and not the monster under the roof.

The Pulp Elements:

Action:  While the story itself is nothing more than the confession of Mr. Craw, his account hinges on his first murder and his escape from the asylum.

Impact:  Each action is irreversible, from the making and use of the devil-ointments to the murders that follow Mr. Craw in his path.

Moral Peril:  Mr. Craw damned himself by using the ointment he made from rendered baby fat. He escaped prison through lies. By inviting Mr. Craw over for a bit of fun at his expense, the socialites sealed their fates. By fleeing from Mr. Craw, the narrator allowed him to kill the socialites' party. Once again, Wellman tells a story of the costs of moral failures.

Romance:  Mr. Craw ends the life of a young woman quite taken with him, as the moonlight turns him from man to beast.

Mystery:  Is Mr. Craw telling the truth about being a werewolf?

Structure:  Story within a story. The narrator's tale acts as a framing story to Mr. Craw's account. It also provides the obligatory revelation and punch line that characterizes pulp short fiction.  Mr. Craw's account once again follows the five act structure.  The inciting action is the choice to experiment with the devil ointments.  The turning point is Mr. Craw's move to quiet his frightened date.  And the resolution is his decision to lie to earn his freedom from jail.

In response to the "Larroes Catch Meddlers" review, Kevyn Winkless pointed out:
I'd go a step further and note that the image you use to illustrate the structure is particularly apt because the reason for the difference between "Larroes Catch Meddlers" and a typical pulp story is that most pulp stories are heroic, while this one is a tragedy - and the plot structure you've offered is the Elizabethan tragedy structure.
The key difference is that heroic action is driven by the heroes' virtues; tragedy is driven by the protagonists' failings.
Mr. Craw's story, like "Larroes Catch Meddlers" is driven by his failings - and the failings of the narrator.  Thus the use of the tragedy structure comes as no surprise.

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