Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001383, Mon, 28 Oct 1996 10:17:21 -0700

Re: Three questions (fwd)
EDITOR'S NOTE. It strikes me that the numerous responses to Vitaly
Kupisk's "Three Questions" is a marvellous example of the research value
of NABOKV-L. Where else could you plumb the memories of 400 Nabokov
readers and get immediate responses. My
thanks to all of you who contributed.

Date: Mon, 28 Oct 1996 10:28:42 GMT
From: Jerry Goodenough <J.Goodenough@uea.ac.uk>
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@UCSBVM.UCSB.EDU>
Subject: Re: Three questions (fwd)

> From: Vitaly Kupisk <104361.1700@CompuServe.COM>

> 2. In "Nikolay Gogol", VN compares the ephemeral homunculi popping out of
> "Government Inspector" characters' speech to " the little firm heads of witch
> doctors bursting out of the body of an African explorer in a famous short
> story". What story?

Vitaly's question raises in me a memory almost Proustian in nature, for I
remember this story well, though I haven't thought about it in decades. More
than thirty years ago I read it in a collection of horror stories: an explorer
in the jungle worries about his companion who is stricken with a strange plague
and spends much of his time hiding in his tent, treating the swollen plague
buboes by lopping them off with a razor. At the end of the tale, the companion
finally bursts in to discover that these swollen lumps emerging all over the
explorer's body are indeed the heads of little homunculi, chattering
malevolently as they burst through his flesh. The explorer has somehow offended
a local witch and this spell is the result; he pleads for mercy but the
homunculi say that none will be forthcoming, and he dies in agony.

The story, which chilled my blood as a schoolboy, stays with me; sadly neither
the title nor the author do, though I can still recollect the book in which I
read it, its cover, its feel, its editor. This was a man called Herbert von Thal
who edited a large number of collections of horror stories. In England these
were published by Pan Books and so were called the [First/Second/etc] Pan Book
of Horror Stories, but I believe that outside the UK they were published as just
The [***] Book of Horror Stories. This tale appears in (if my memory speaks more
reliably than VN's sometimes does!) Volume 3 of the series. I suspect that they
are long out of print, though I shall check my local book-stores. Some reputable
authors' stories appeared in this series - Poe etc - but I seem to recall that
most were what were once called 'penny shockers'. One wonders what on earth VN
was doing reading stuff like this!

Jerry Goodenough
School of Social & Economic Studies
University of East Anglia
Norwich NR4 7TJ