Sunday, October 14, 2012

James-A-Day: Mr. Humphries and His Inheritance

"Mr. Humphries and His Inheritance" is quite a long story, and has rather an uneven reputation in the world.  Some people love it, others think it has no substance or is too tedious.  What do you say?

I'm a fan, because I love stories about mysterious labyrinths.  (I love the movie Labyrinth!)  What could be better than a spooky, overgrown maze with something scary at the center? 

There are plenty of little details in this story--Latin inscriptions, scriptural references, all sorts of subtle clues about what mystery lies in the maze and what old Mr. Wilson got up to.  The Ghosts & Scholars article "James Wilson's Secret" posits that Mr. Wilson may have been a Cainite, a follower of Cain who used the Old Testament as an upside down guide.  He would have used the allegorical sermon in the library as an inspiration, but turned everything inside out.

What did you think of the sermon, by the way?  I thought it was really neat--a very nice imitation of a real 17th-century sermon from what I could tell.  I enjoyed that part of the story, but others dislike it.

I don't quite understand why Humphries could find his way to the center of the maze with no trouble at all except for the time that he had the neighbor lady with him.  The maze's entrance says that "Secretum meum mihi et filiis domus meae" (My secret is for me and the sons of my house), so it would make sense if only Humphries could get to the middle, but he has no trouble with the malapropistic Mr. Cooper and Mrs. Wardrop for company.

When Humphries decides to make a plan of the maze, he takes a clue with him.  It's not often we see that old usage any more, but a clue was a long string you would use to find your way through a labyrinth or a cave, such as Ariadne gave Theseus--a clew was originally just a ball of yarn. It came to mean anything that would help you find your way to a solution.

Once he does manage to make his plan--he is thwarted more than once--he experiences the most frightening event of the story.  I really wonder what would have happened to him if he hadn't managed to get away!

By the way, I think this is another inspiration for Bellairs' stories--one of his later books, The Vengeance of the Witchfinder, involves a trip to England and a gloomy manor with a very creepy maze...that has something awful in the middle.

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