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S0304 Beyond The Door by J. Paul Suter
Episode 428th January 2022 • Classic Ghost Stories • Tony Walker
00:00:00 00:55:11

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Beyond the Door is a story of a haunting. A man is haunted by visions of something coming out of the well in his cellar and by the scratching sounds in the passages of his old house.

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Beyond The Door by J. Paul Suter

This story was recommended by Terry Illikainen and this version was from Weird Tales volume 01 number 02, 1923-4.

Jospeh Paul Suter wrote pulp tales during the early to middle part of the 20th Century for the magazines that specialised in genre fiction. He wrote mystery, detective, and supernatural stories. He was prolific and had more than two hundred stories published in these magazine.

He was an American author born in 1884 who died in 1970. And that’s about all I can find about him.

Beyond the Door

It seems to me that Beyond The Door is one of those stories that leaves it up in the air whether the narrator is insane or haunted. In this it is like The Yellow Wallpaper or The Horla or The Beckoning Fair One. It’s a common sub-type of the ghost story genre. 

My feeling is that this eccentric driven, bookish man who is focused on his interests in the scientific study of insects cannot tolerate deviation from his routine. He sees the love interest of his Australian lady as a threat to his work, and the anxiety thus provoked drives him to hill her and throw her down the well.

If I was meeting him today, I would probably think he had Asperger’s Syndrome and that he couldn’t remember his murder due to dissociation. 

Clues to the fact it’s a murder not a haunting are that he keeps having visions of a dog and he comments how she nuzzled his hand like a dog. No one else sees or hears anything supernatural, though the freaky house decorated with bugs dose unsettle them. The body is bruised again supporting the coroner’s theory that the stone slab of the well came down on him when his guilt just wouldn’t let him leave the crime scene alone. 

The coroner’s theory that the slab somehow paralysed him is a nasty end for anyone. Apparently the stone caused an injury that left him paralysed for two days, head down the well and thus he died. He screamed, but no one heard.

Suter wrote a whole bunch of crime thrillers, so perhaps he preferred a criminal to a supernatural explanation in this story too.

Although listening it again, it seems that the girl killed herself, but then entomologist blamed himself for her death because he had refused to marry her. I don’t think it’s his fault. He apparently covers her up with dirt at the bottom of the well. Out of guilt? The coroner talks about people rarely being punished accurately for his sins, though the entomologist was.

I still think it’s a lot to blame him for her suicide. 

Ghosts however are often the agents or retribution and the paying out of sins. So even if this is a ghost that only appears mentally, it still has the same role. Not supernatural retribution but some psychological expression of karma. 

As well as the pulp genre, this story reminds me strongly of Edgar Allan Poe, particularly The Tell-Tale Heart, where the subconscious pressure of a crime won’t let the criminal rest until a confession comes out.

It is told as is very common in older stories through a frame: we don’t hear the protagonist themselves, but have the story related through a witness or documents. This is much less fashionable these days: I don’t think Steven King or Neil Gaiman for example use this structure, but it was very common in older stories and lots we’ve read on The Classic Ghost S tories Podcast follow this pattern: The Turn of The Screw. H G Well’s The Door In The Wall

The young narrator has a final passage where he tells how similar he must have been to his uncle. I think this is an attempt to put us closer to the horror, but it’s rather after the fact. 

The door in the study with its rubber strips is explicitly compared to the door we all go through upon death (or do we?) at the end, thus justifying the title, though the door in the study is only a second line actor. The slab over the well is the real door and it would have been better if he could have equated that with the final door by using a different metaphor and thus a different title to the story!

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