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They Bite by Anthony Boucher
Episode 1820th May 2022 • Classic Ghost Stories • Tony Walker
00:00:00 00:45:06

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Anthony Boucher

Anthony Boucher known as was the pen name of William Anthony Parker White and he was known at Tony. He was born in 1911 in Oakland California and died aged only 56 in Oakland of lung cancer. I guess he liked it there.  

He graduated from Pasadena High in 1928 and went to the University of Southern California and did his masters at University of California, Berkely. Boucher is to rhyme with Voucher rather than the French bouche. 

Boucher was close to his grandfather who had been a steel worker in Glasgow and got free passage to America after signing up to fight in the Civil War. He couldn’t have afforded the passage otherwise. It’s said that the grandfather who made a big impression on Boucher was a rake and a rogue. 

He was a sickly child with asthma and other illnesses and this made him a voracious reader and later writer. 

Boucher was a professional writer of fiction who wrote mystery novels, short stories, science fiction and radio dramas. His story Nine Times Nine was voted the best locked room master of all time. He edited anthologies of science fiction and was a translator from Spanish, being the first to translate Jorge Luis Borges (I must do one of his stories). 

Boucher founded the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and edited it from 1949 to 1958.  He was a friend and mentor of Philip K. Dick. In addition to other things he was a keen poker player, a sports fan and a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. He collected records of early operatic singers. Apparently he was a friend of the occultist Jack Parsons who also lived in Pasadena

His first story was published in 1927 in Weird Tales when he was 15. It was entitled “Ye Good Olde Ghost Storie”. 

They Bite

This story was suggested by many many people. I watched a couple of videos on how to do Western accents, but I think I have not succeeded very well and hope that doesn’t detract from the story.

This is a classic folk horror story albeit set in the American West, though it references Sweeny Bean a Gaelic cannibal from Galloway.  Boucher’s grandfather was from Scotland. The story is similar to Samantha Hick’s story: Back Along The Old Track, though I don’t think Sam’s story was consciously modelled on this. The similarity is in the trope. Also similar is Lovecraft’s Dreams In The Witch House

It isn’t clear to me why Tallant is climbing the rocks all day or has come here at all. He makes notes of what he sees of the glider training school. Perhaps he is going to sell what he sees to the highest bidder – some sort of freelance spy.

Some of the characters I don’t get. The old man who warns Tallant and whose dog is killed by the Carker. The young man with the beard who is a stranger, the Flight Sergeant on the pinball machine and the construction worker being fleeced at poker. I don’t get those, apart from Boucher’s real life love of poker. He only needs one Warner and the bartender really.  He is planning blackmail but I don’t get how the Carker story will help that. 

I wasn’t surprised when he killed Morgan. I think the dream of him being a superman king narcissist type let me know he was not a bloody good bloke. But it is Morgan’s murder that leads to Tallant’s doom. It is his fiendish plan to attribute Morgan’s death the the Carkers that leads him inside their tumble down adobe.    

It has an unreliable narrator. Remember Boucher was a mystery writer and the unreliable narrator became a staple after Agatha Christie. There is no hint that Tallant is a blackmailer. In a sense he is like the Crakers who have come to Oasis opportunistically in search of prey — as has Morgan, a fellow blackmailer. There is a hint to Tallant’s shady past at the beginning, but no detail given so that when the twist comes it is satisfying. The end is a moral tale of the biter bit. We like stories that reinforces our ideas of good and bad and that bad needs go punished.

The things themselves are interesting and dessicated and I think come perhaps from Boucher’s Californian life of sun and dry weather (though SF can be foggy as it was when I was there. I went over the Golden Gate bridge shivering).  British and Irish writers monsters have more moisture in them. But desiccation is death in the desert.

The guys in the bar are devices to fill in the narrative. Very tell not show. But it works. I recently read Call of Cthulhu and that is purely tell but a famous story nevertheless. They set up the end. That the Craker’s house is one to be avoided. And this man (his sin is a belief in his own superiority over fate and law). It is set up that the Craker’s should be avoided, he sins in ignoring this and persists in his sin (twist) and then biter bit, satisfying us. 

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Music By The Heartwood Institute***