Saturday, January 21, 2017

Up Under the Roof

"Up Under the Roof", by Manly Wade Wellman
The thing up under the roof sounded as an amoeba looks, a mass that stretches out a thin, loose portion of itself, then rolls and flows all of its substance into that portion, and so creeps along. Only it must have been many, many thousands of times larger than an amoeba.
Summary: A twelve year old boy, currently trapped in a stiffing house, is haunted nightly by strange noises from the garrett above his room. Night by night, the sounds grow more disturbing, as though some thing is trying to break through the ceiling. One day, the noises don't wait for nightfall before starting. The boy grabs an axe and heads into the attic.


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:  Had the boy encountered the monster, there would have been a fight.

Impact:  By confronting that thing under the roof, the boy drives it off. Since that day, it has not returned.

Moral Peril:  At first glance, this is another one of Manly Wade Wellman's stories where mortal peril replaces moral peril. As the boy says:
But I knew then, and I know now, that there was something, or that there had been something, that was a mortal peril until I drove myself to face it. If I had done anything else that day, it would have come looking for me that night.
However, the crisis point of the story is whether or not the boy can summon enough courage to face his monster. Prior to this point, he has been beaten down by uncaring guardians and ignored by the same. The only help he had was what he could give himself. Courage, after all, is a classical virtue. Did the boy have enough?

Romance:  There is only one character.

Mystery:  What is up under the roof?

Structure:  An abbreviated version of Lester Dent's Master Formula. The original formula was intended for 6,000 word stories. "Up Under the Roof" is far shorter. It follows the Master Formula conventions of heaping trouble on the hero's shoulders, introducing a mystery, and shoveling even more trouble onto the hero. But where a longer story has room for multiple twists as it winds its way to the conclusion, "Up Under the Roof" heads straight towards the revelation and punchline that ends Master Formula stories. Michael Moorcock showed how the Master Formula can be adapted to longer works. Here, Manly Wade Wellman adapts it to a shorter work.

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