Xélucha and Others Essay - Critical Essays

Analysis

Most of the tales in this collection fall under the broad generic tag of “weird fiction,” ranging from ghost stories to seemingly supernatural happenings that ultimately are explained rationally. The stories span Shiel’s most productive period, from 1895 to the late 1920’s, with some subsequent revision in the author’s later life.

Edgar Allan Poe is an obvious influence. “The House of Sounds” recalls Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” much as “The Primate of the Rose” carries echoes of “The Cask of Amontillado.” Shiel’s stories, however, exhibit his unique style and are highly original, with significantly different plots and a more pronounced use of the fantastic.

Style may be the most obvious feature of Shiel’s work. His language is rich in lyrical qualities, and he often plays with syntax and employs alliteration and off-rhymes to produce an incantatory rhythm. Shiel’s imagery is equally rich, revealing the early influence of the decadent movement on his work. Many of these qualities surface in the description of the monster in “Huguenin’s Wife,” for example: “its fat frame wrapped in a mass of feathers, gray, vermilion-tipped—with a similitude of miniature wings on it—with a width of tail vast, down-turned, like the tails of birds-of-paradise.”

Shiel was widely praised during his lifetime by such writers as Arthur Machen, Rebecca West, Hugh Walpole, L. P. Hartley, and Arnold Bennett. H. P. Lovecraft acclaimed Shiel’s work, particularly “Xélucha” and “The House of Sounds,” as did Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth. Since his death, however, Shiel’s work has largely fallen into neglect; the author is primarily remembered for his science-fiction novel The Purple Cloud (1901).

Overall, the stories in Xélucha and Others exhibit both the richness of Shiel’s language and his deft handling of fantastic or eccentric situations and characters. Tightly constructed and engaging, the stories in this collection avoid the philosophical expositions that (in the opinion of some readers) mar some of Shiel’s novels and short stories.