Tag Archives: Robert Louis Stevenson

Night Terror in a Bleak Autumn

The Dream-Woman by Wilkie Collins (From Queen of Hearts) (1855)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror    April 29, 2014


OldEngland-vol2-p223-InnAtCharmouth-262x200A bleak autumn arrives.

Isaac Scatchard, a man of thirty-eight years, has been walking all day through the countryside and comes upon a small inn. He takes a room. The landlord happily closes and fastens the windows and doors, bids him a good night’s sleep. The unsnuffed candle burns down to issue a dull light as Isaac drifts off.

A strange shivering comes upon him.


“Between the foot of his bed and the closed door there stood a woman with a knife in her hand, looking at him.

He was stricken speechless with terror …”


We have three narrators who tell this story of Isaac Scatchard in The Dream-Woman. We begin with a physician who is traveling with a lame horse and in need of a hostler, so he stops at an inn. We meet the landlord of the inn who tells us about poor old Isaac Scatchard, a hollowed, wrinkled man with grizzled hair—a man who sleeps only by the light of day. The physician wonders if there is  something wrong with Isaac’s brain that prevents the man from normal night sleeping.  He decides he must investigate. But investigate Isaac or the power of dreams?


imagesThe full story is told by Isaac’s mother, Mrs. Scatchard, in Chapter Three. She tells us that Isaac’s apparent nightmare of this dream-woman occurred at the precise time and date of Isaac’s birthday at 2 a.m. Superstitious dread or warning? What happens to Isaac? Does he dream of this woman again who tries to stab him?

Like Isaac, you might believe that dreams have power. And you might believe that the elements of dreams are not so frothy as to disappear upon waking. Is there a reality in dreams? Maybe  of prophecy? Or maybe the dream reality is more like destiny?



I adore dream elements in fiction and Wilkie Collins’ The Dream-Woman is a haunting story. You know this author from The Woman in White, The Moonstone; Frozen Deep is his most famous play that he co-wrote with Charles Dickens in 1857.  Collins was known for creating female characters that often showed a masculine side. He is certainly revered for his narrative power in this story. If you’ve ever heard the literary term “sensation genre,” this is the man who started it all.

Collins is one of many writers who uses dreams in stories. There is some speculation that Collins may have had such a dream as Isaac had. Robert Louis Stevenson was said to have based Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on a dream; Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel, The Castle of Otranto came from a dream;  Stephen King found the story of Salem’s Lot in a dream. Everyone knows that Mary Shelley claimed the idea for Frankenstein happened during a dream. I did the same with my novel Night Sea Journey, A Tale of the Supernatural: I dreamed of a woman alone by the sea and ruled by her nightmares of persistent demon. Was I haunted by a winged creature in my own bedroom? Many nights!

I do believe that dreams contain eerie presences and that they have the power to perform a function in our lives. For Isaac Scatchard, the dream operates on both sides of the shadow.


(William)_Wilkie_Collins_by_Rudolph_LehmannThere are several versions of The Dream-Woman by Wilkie Collins. This version here is  Brother Morgan’s Story of the Dream-Woman  from Queen of Hearts by Wilkie Collins:  Read the text at Ebooks.Adelaide.edu


Another version is subtitled A Mystery in Four Narratives and begins with the narrative (a longer version) told by the character Percy Fairbanks at ReadBooksOnline.net 


Or, you can listen to this version in audio, which has four parts on YouTube



Other Reading Web Sites to Visit


Horror Novel Reviews   Hell Horror    HorrorPalace


 Monster Librarian  Tales to Terrify       Spooky Reads

 Lovecraft Ezine      Rob Around Books    The Story Reading Ape Blog

     The Gothic Wanderer   Sirens Call Publications  The Fussy Librarian

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed





Filed under Charles Dickens, classic horror stories, Dreams, fiction, horror, literary horror, Night Sea Journey, quiet horror, short stories

A Devil of a Christmas Murder

Markheim  by Robert Louis Stevenson  (1885)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   December 17, 2013

devilornamentimagesThe jingle of Christmas Day does not ring loud enough for Markheim, a man doomed to evil ways. We meet him in an antique shop with a lonely dealer. Markheim claims to be looking for a Christmas gift for a lady. Of course, this is a lie and the dealer suspects as much: Markheim is a thief. The dealer is impatient and suggests a hand mirror. The shop is filled with mirrors and clocks … reflections … time …  and something else. And soon enough Markheim makes his deadly move.

Christmas Day is a time when bells ring with joy and light fills most everyone’s heart, but Markheim finds gross blots of darkness and shivering shadows after he strikes. Are the mirrors reflecting his guilt? Are the clocks ticking louder now? He becomes haunted by the incessant ticking. And then all goes silent as falling snow. He even thinks he hears the dead getting up. Murder is a salty crime.


Illustration by Michael Lark

When Markheim meets a strange visitor who tells him, “I know you to the soul, Markheim,” the story takes a deliciously sinister turn. Markheim knows clearly this stranger is not of earth and not of God.

Robert Louis Stevenson published this in 1885 in The Broken Shaft: Tales of Mid-Ocean as part of Unwin’s Christmas Annual.  Stevenson was a literary celeb who died far too young at age 44. Some have compared Markheim to Dickens’ Scrooge who was visited by Christmas ghosts. Some find similarities to Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov  in Crime and Punishment. Surely this is a story that begs the question … is evil a mask we choose to wear or a power that comes forth from the human soul? For Markheim to survive at all, he must choose on Christmas Day.


Read the full text of Markheim at East of the Web .

Listen to the narration by Librivox (19 minutes) by  William Coon .

Listen to the adapted radio drama at Weird Circles (24 minutes) .

Happy Holidays to all, and I wish you Happy New Year readings at Tales of Terror for 2014!


Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

Horror Novel Reviews   Hell Horror    HorrorPalace

 Monster Librarian  Tales to Terrify       Spooky Reads

 Lovecraft Ezine      Rob Around Books    The Story Reading Ape Blog

GoodKindles.net      The Gothic Wanderer

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed


Filed under Christmas ghost stories, Christmas stories, fiction, horror, literature, quiet horror, short stories, tales of terror