15 October 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 71

This time, I wanted to put a twist in my listening, so I tried enjoying our next radio play with a hearty midnight snack. That is, with the lights on, my eyes open and a distraction in the room. And I might have a full report on how that went, too, if my player hadn't frozen up right before the scene with the dynamite. If you don't know what I mean, here's your chance to, before the discussion . . .

We're starting to see some tropes repeating themselves. The twist at the end of "Behind the Locked Door" isn't as weird or as unexpected as what we heard in "The Thing on the Fourble Board", but they're clearly cousins of a sort. I wonder how many people listened to this Mysterious Traveler tale back in the 1950s and were reminded of the Quiet Please broadcast from a few years earlier . . .

Of course, there are notable differences, my favourite being the character of Cathy. After I heard the ending, I mentally went over all the scenes in which she appears or is mentioned, and realised that they had been setting the outcome up perfectly. When did you realise something was wrong in her relationship with Martin? For me, it was when he asks whether she will go away if he tells her the truth . . . and she, obviously lying, says yes. He instinctively doesn't trust her--and for good reason!

Does anyone else think that Cathy's revulsion at the sight of the creature was not true horror, but jealousy of a rival? While her fiance probably wouldn't break up with her for someone who could be a "star exhibit" at a "Museum of Horrors," maybe she hears something in his voice . . . or perhaps, sees something in his eyes . . . that leads her to that crazy conclusion.

This is the second story we've read in which a "monster" is shown mercy after a man realises that she is female, with the added twist of her ending up worse off when a fellow woman sees her as a threat rather than as a "sister." I don't normally do feminist readings, but these pre-1960s radio plays seem to be begging for them!

Making sex an important element of the story also lets us develop the poor professor's theory a little more. What if the creatures in the cave are not simply the descendants of the trapped pioneers, but the descendants of the pioneers and some other creatures whom they stumbled into? I think the fight over Martin lets us speculate that there are two groups living in the tunnels: one which hates humans and another which identifies with them. Of course, barring another expedition into the tunnels, we'll never know.

The ending leaves us hanging, especially since it is so sad, but that seems to be part of the format. You can only listen to the Mysterious Traveler for a short while before you have to part ways, and some ends are bound to be left loose when you do. As frustrated as I feel, I kind of like that.

What are your thoughts on Behind the Locked Door?

1. What is it about "monsters" turning out to be female that makes them more human?
2. Do you think the creatures are indeed human or part human? Or would your guess be different from the professor's? 
3. If you hadn't had to get off the train, what follow-up question would you have asked the Mysterious Traveler?

Up next is an episode of Beyond Midnight, which ought to be a little different because we're leaving the United States of the 1940s for South Africa of the 1960s! Well, sort of. The show was produced in South Africa, but as far as I can tell, the writer chose to set all the stories in other, more exotic countries. Like England. And the US. =P But according to one review, "Under the Hull Tree" has some real African flavour. Download or listen to it at Relic Radio.


Sheila said...

I couldn't play the video -- it said it was private! I did find the episode here: http://www.myoldradio.com/old-radio-episodes/mysterious-traveler-behind-the-locked-door/1

You're right that I like this one better, since it comes with an explanation. And as usual I'm happy to take what I'm told at face value -- they're just humans who grew up in the dark. Say, like Gollum. Though honestly I think humans who grew up in the dark would be surprisingly well-adjusted. However, if their parents died before having a chance to raise them, it makes more sense -- that would explain why she can't talk.

I personally think it's chauvinism that makes female monsters more sympathetic .... or at least, the men are willing to keep them as pets. Perhaps they aren't so afraid, so long as it comes in a female form? And yet, there's no actual respect or love here. One might expect Martin to calmly say, "Cathy, we're through. You've never cared for me, only tried to control me, to the point that I almost turned down my dream of exploring just because I thought you wouldn't give me permission. You followed me all the way here and refused to leave .... and yet you've never done anything that was really for me in your life. But Cave Lady really cared for me. She saved me from her evil brother and jumped in the water to save me even though she couldn't swim. She's a girl I really could love. Goodbye."

But that's not what happens. He's clearly still terrified of her. Why? She's blind, can't talk, doesn't cut her nails .... that doesn't sound so horrible. And he says she's helpless here in the light. So why the agitation?

It finally occurred to me that she's probably terribly inbred. 100 years, how many generations would that be? How many survivors would they be descended from? She's probably deformed, poor thing.

Yet again, the horror is the narrators. When they rescue a blind, mute, deformed survivor of a catastrophe -- one who's already proved herself to be benevolent -- the only thing they can think of to do is stick her in a museum to be goggled at. That sickens me.

I had thought, before the Traveler's wrap-up, that the cave girl killed Cathy. But no, apparently she just showed herself, and that was enough to unbalance Cathy.

Were people really like that about deformation and disability in the 50's? Or are we *meant* to be horrified?

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for letting me know about the video! I listened to it on Relic Radio, so I wasn't aware that I embedded a bum copy. At least YouTube had a better version which I could edit my post with. =)

I love what you've noticed about the relationship dynamics. At the end of his adventure, Martin is no longer afraid of the cave girl . . . but he remains afraid of Cathy! And for good reason. What she does to the poor girl shows us who the real monster is. But when all is said and done, I think I'm angrier at Martin for being so weak. Unless he is actively trying to rescue the cave girl again, I can't imagine how he can live with himself. I'd like to think that the original audience reacts as we do to the characters: with horror at Cathy, disgust at Michael, and pity for the cave girl.

But I admit that I don't know anything about the 1950s and how deformed or disabled people were treated back then. Wouldn't it be nice to ask someone who remembers that decade and these shows? What really throws me is the ending, when the listener gets to ask a follow-up question and all he or she wants to know is what the cave girl looks like--as if she really were just there to be gawked at. =( At that point, what I wanted to know was how Martin and the cave girl got away (because I optimistically assumed they did); and now that I've heard about the museum, I'd like someone to write some Fan Fiction in which Martin rescues her properly. And again, I'd like to think that the original audience felt the same way. But since this part is already the framing device, and the audience is part of the frame, I can't be sure.

I could listen to more Mysterious Traveler episodes to check if there are a lot of endings in which the listener and the traveler are condemned as much as whomever the monster in the story turns out to be, but I don't know if I'd do that just for this mystery.

Sheila said...

What makes you think *Cathy* put the cave girl in the museum of horrors? I assumed it was Martin, because Cathy was in hysterics. I imagine she demanded that Martin "get rid of it" and that's what he did.

I know the whole premise of other movies is that deformed people were treated that way -- like the Phantom of the Opera. And circus people in real life, like the Siamese Twins, Tom Thumb, and the Elephant Man really did make a living out of being looked at .... though I am not sure how much control they had over their lives. I have heard references of freaks being "sold" to the circus, not "getting a job" at the circus. I'm going to do some research, but I fear I won't like what I find. People will take any excuse to consider other people less than human.

DMS said...

One thing I find fascinating about listening to radio shows is that you have to imagine the characters and their facial expressions. So much happens on tv shows that isn't said- so you have to watch the characters and what they are doing. On the radio we put our own spin on some parts because we imagine what the characters are doing by what they say and how they say it.

Thanks for sharing. Interesting food for thought. :)

Brandon said...

It's interesting how the Mysterious Traveler format lets the audience paint a great deal of the picture themselves. Enbrethiliel interprets the ending as Cathy getting rid of the woman from the cave, Sheila as Martin using her, and my first interpretation was that this is how the woman in the cave is able to find a place in our society -- not much of one, admittedly, but it is how she herself manages to adapt. That's three different agents, around each of whom an entirely different possible ending can be built.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- Good question. I thought it was Cathy because Martin seems the more virtuous (albeit the more cowardly) of the two. And after her scream, I thought, "Great, Martin. Now how much time do you have to get Cave Girl to another safehouse before Cathy can get to the police?" Behind the Locked Door was a fugitive story to me from the first few seconds, so I assumed that those who had been running would continue running.

But your interpretation works as well. Cathy has Martin totally whipped. And putting Cave Girl in a museum seems like something an academic would do.

Our conversation has also been reminding me of circus people--in particular the actors who appeared in the movie Freaks. The film reflects the sensibilities of an earlier time (the 1920s and 1930s), but they seem similar to what we're dealing with here. While I think our age sees more clearly why such a job would be exploitative, "freaks" still abound in Horror. And I regret to say that the modern stories are actually less compassionate--and less likely to moralise--than this Mysterious Traveler episode.

Jess -- Right! I'm sure that if Sheila and I had to make stage or movie adaptations of Behind the Locked Door, our visions would be dramatically different!

Brandon -- That's an interpretation I hadn't once considered! I'm sure that the life you imagined for her is quite different what flashed through my mind when I heard the words "star exhibit." I pictured her caged up indoors all day and maybe baited when she wasn't being entertaining.

I'm definitely going to feature one more Mysterious Traveler episode before I'm done! Let's see if it will get us all imagining different endings again. =D

love the girls said...

It's rather apparent that the professor got his story wrong on what happened.

True, the indians did chase a wagon train into the cavern, but what the professor didn't know is that the cave already was the home for a hunting party of Yeti males, who upon being trapped, killed the men in the wagon train and took the women as wives.

And while I suppose it might not be polite to stare at Yeti, none the less, I think I hero of the story was rather kind to marry the poor thing given it's other option was living in a cave eating raw fish.

Enbrethiliel said...


Yes, but what about her babe factor??? =P

love the girls said...

The babe factor?

Most people are unaware of this, but the Yeti women are actually rather comely beneath their penitential hairshirt habits. And so in comparison to the rather plain Kathy, our hero does come off pretty well in the babe department.

love the girls said...

I should add, or at least our hero comes off pretty well when the wife isn't wearing her full body hairshirt which is the only clothing yeti will wear because of a vow the tribe has kept in payment and remembrance for God sparing them from the flood by not letting the waters reach above the highest mountain top in their homeland himalayas.

mrsdarwin said...

I'd been putting off listening to this one because Darwin was away at a conference for several days, and I don't like to be creeped out when I'm the only adult in the house responsible for a passel of small souls, but having heard it, I needn't have hesitated. I think that The Darkness episode had a more lingering eerieness.

I'm not sure why everyone's so down on Martin. Doesn't anyone remember that he was injured and sick? He could have slipped into delirium or even died before the Cave Girl was discovered. Remember, he did take the trouble to save her life and bring her back with him -- he feels indebted to her. I was a bit puzzled with Cathy's behavior. Why didn't she believe him when he said there was someone in the room? He didn't sound that incoherent. To me, that indicates problems in the relationship far more than Martin weighing whether to leave her to go on the expedition -- to me that sounds more like consideration than being "wrapped", as we used to say.

Eleanor asked right as the show ended, "How come the things are always 'she's and the guys are always 'he's?" Good question, and I think it does point to an underlying sexual implication, even if it's not wholly negative (though I think it was in The Fourble Board). In this case, Martin's saving the Cave Girl was an act of justice, and of decency -- she's helpless in the light as he was helpless in the dark.

Perhaps it was just our connection, but I kept thinking that in the later half of the episode, as Martin was speaking to Cathy, that there were voices in the background. It sounded like a posse was coming to the house, and I assumed it was they who took the girl, although I wondered that they weren't mentioned.

I didn't believe that the descendants of the pioneers wouldn't have been able to speak -- unless, as you speculate, they'd interbred with Something Else. But that seems a bit of a foreign element to the story. Perhaps you're right that the parents died too early to teach the surviving children speech, and the girl is feral. Frankly, that's a more horrifying prospect to me -- these poor feral children alone in the dark.

I would have asked the Mysterious Traveler more about how the Cave Girl was living now. She's the most interesting character to me.

Enbrethiliel said...


The question I wanted to ask, but ultimately thought was too loaded was: "Is granting mercy to the monsters when they turn out to be female chivalrous or chauvinistic?" It's a good thing that Martin repays Cave Girl for her kindness to him . . . but would he have been as decent to a Cave Boy?

On the other hand--and this is something I would have pointed out to an Eleanor of my own--the situation is reversed for Cave Girl. But then again, Martin, the Professor and Sam didn't really act like "things," did they? Unless they accidentally killed someone with the dynamite (which isn't likely), their presence in the caves was totally benign. In any case, Cave Girl is the most interesting character to me, too. =)

As for Cathy . . . I assumed that her impatient reaction to Martin was typical of the way she dismisses the things he says--or at least it seems that way when compounded with the earlier joke about her having to give him "permission" to go exploring for two weeks. (Admittedly, taken on their own, these incidents would be pretty neutral.) I don't know if Cathy's insistence on opening the locked door is so she can prove Martin wrong (again?) or so she can see for herself whether they are alone in the house. There is something creepy about the thought that there may be someone else there. Remember the urban legend of the baby-sitter who realises the prank calls are coming from upstairs? I can imagine Cathy wanting to put her own fear to rest, once and for all, by proving to herself that there couldn't be anything behind the locked door. Unfortunately, it backfired.

love the girls said...

Miss E. askes :"Is granting mercy to the monsters when they turn out to be female chivalrous or chauvinistic?"

Given that these 'monsters' are human, which they are because the specific difference of man is rational and thus they are human, it is neither chivalrous or chauvinistic, but instead simply decent and proper behavior of a man towards a woman.

mrsdarwin said...

Remember the urban legend of the baby-sitter who realises the prank calls are coming from upstairs?

Gah, taking me back to my slumber party days!

Sheila said...

Oddly, this is the first show I've actually found even remotely scary. Staggering around in the dark is a pretty universal fear, because you never know what you're going to bump into, and it's a million times worse if you know there's something dangerous in there with you. And if blundering around could get you lost for life, where you will die of hunger or thirst, it adds up to something quite terrifying. The cave scenes in The Hobbit, Tom Sawyer, and the catacomb scene in Fabiola (which is a book I highly recommend) always gave me the heebie-jeebies. It doesn't work on TV, obviously, but radio is good.

Did it bother anyone else how fast they ditched Sam once they saw he was dead? "Oh well, nothing we can do, let's leave him to rot in this cave. After all, it's not like it's OUR fault he was dragged in here against his better judgment." Of course since they get lost right after, it's just as well, because they couldn't exactly haul his body around for 10 hours. But still.

And then when they decide to watch .... why not take it in shifts? Did it occur to them to save the batteries of one flashlight while shining the other? Or did they mean to do those things and Martin just dozed off (and somehow bumped his flashlight at the same time)?

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- I'm not arguing with your main point, but look at it in the context of the twist. The story is set up so that, before the big reveal, most readers think the worst of the cave creatures. And we want to get Martin out of that "fate worse than death" as soon as possible. Only after we get to the twist do we interpret Cave Girl's actions in the best possible light. By "we," I mean the mostly female listeners who have joined the discussion. Brandon hasn't chimed in yet and I don't know how you perceived Martin's "captivity" before you knew that Cave Girl was a hot young Yeti.

But would the rest of us have reevaluated our thinking along similar lines, had Martin been rescued by a Cave Boy? Basically, we're also giving her the benefit of the doubt because she's female. Martin is the first one to show Cave Girl mercy, but the listeners, male and female, all follow suit.

Mrs. Darwin -- I know, right? ;-)

Sheila -- This play reminded me of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel about spelunking. In one of the endings, the characters are doomed to wander about in darkness until all their supplies run out and they starve to death. I hated that ending so much . . . And Bilbo's facility in complete darkness is probably my favourite thing about him.

As for Sam . . . What bothered me was that he was clearly "fodder": one of those characters in Horror who exist only in order to be killed off, that the "real" heroes might have a warning that something is off. It didn't help that he was an ethnic stereotype; it's easier to kill off the "others."

Now that I think about it, Sam also makes an interesting foil to Cave Girl. That's why I--and I think most listeners--suspect that if Cave Girl had been male, she would have been left behind, too, even if she had still been alive.

Sheila said...

Oh, I was a fan of "Cave Boy." After all, this mystery creature did save Martin and feed him, too. She wouldn't let Martin leave, but presumably that's because the caves are dangerous and the Bad Cave Creature is still around. Also, the rescuer probably thinks the outside world is dangerous, because it is for her. So even when I thought it might be male (and actually I suspected it was female, because its gurgly voice sounded female) I thought of it as good and assumed that Martin would figure out some way of explaining to it that he wanted out.