Thursday, January 24, 2013

"The Nightmare am I, the child of horror, and it is mine to ride upon thee."

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli, 1781

The following is from G. K. Chesterton's early story 'The Taming of the Nightmare' (1892) and sums up in imagery the essence of my Christian philosophy of horror:

'Jack began to feel that things were even getting a little, as it were, unusual, if one may say so, but he clenched his hands and crept into the hole, which only just held him, and crawled along a dark low passage, at the end of which, upon a heap of skulls and bones, sat the Nightmare with gleaming eyes and teeth, and he knew that she was at bay.  But Jack, who always felt compassion at inopportune moments, was willing to make an amicable arrangement.  “Why do you object to my riding on you?” he asked.  “I wish you no harm, but rather that we may both help each other.  All things should help each other.  It is the will of the Central Board.”

“Mortal,” replied the Nightmare, with a hideous laugh.  “Dost though not know that I am no common mare.  The Nightmare am I, the child of horror, and it is mine to ride upon thee.  Many myriads of thy race have I ridden and made them my slaves, oppressing them with visions.”  And with that her eyes flamed terribly and her nose seemed to grow longer and longer as she came towards him.  The next moment they were struggling for the mastery, rolling over one another, so that now one was uppermost and now the other.

And when Jack was undermost, with the black fiend sitting grinning on his chest, strange trances fell upon him and he fancied that he was falling from heights and fleeing down interminable roads, with a strange hopelessness in everything.  And when, with a mighty effort, he cast them off, and threw his enemy under him, he found himself upon a silent moor under the starlight.  So, through a long night, they kept changing places, till at last, after one fierce, foaming struggle— side by side, Jack rose uppermost, and tossed back his dishevelled hair, and the Nightmare sank helpless beneath him.  She appeared to have fainted, and, after what the poor lady had gone through, it was perhaps not to be wondered at.

And Jack took the big, ugly head in his lap and kissed it and guarded it in silence, till at last the Nightmare opened her eyes, now as mild as the Mooncalf’s, whinnied sorrowfully and rubbed her head against him.  At last the Nightmare rose and stood silent and ready and Jack sprang upon her back and they rode away.’