"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 76
So far, the stories we've been listening to have been full of monsters and supernatural forces. In stark contrast, the threat in this play comes from something in nature--that is, something "rational" people can believe in. That doesn't necessarily make it scarier, but it does give it a special kind of charm.
Forget about being "trapped like a rat"! Apparently, the real worst-case scenario is to be "trapped by rats." Just ask Winston Smith. =P
Coincidentally, a friend and I were just discussing these rodents a few weeks ago. I was saying, half boasting, that Manila rats are the ugliest, nastiest, most deformed in the world . . . and she kept insisting that New York rats were worse. How she could have believed that, having never lived in New York, I don't know. As for my own stance, I base it on the time I saw a rat the size of a cat, with a tail twice as long as its body, waddle out of a Manila sewer. Beat that, New York!
But I'll admit that the sea rats in Three Skeleton Key are something else. They apparently have no fear of people (Then again, does any mob?), are able to climb many metres up stone walls, and can take a lighthouse beam straight in the eyes without losing some very tenuous grips. I don't know how realistic they are, but considering what I'm prepared to believe about Manila rats, I can surely accept that rats which either ate up an entire human crew or caused the crew to abandon an otherwise good ship would be unusually . . . capable.
When the lighthouse keepers first slammed their door and windows closed to the rats, how long did you give them? I was naive enough to think they would last as long as their food and water supplies held, though I did wish that they had had the foresight to store some of the food in the room where they would have been most likely to have made a last stand. But as the situation got worse and worse, I couldn't imagine how human wit alone could get the three men--or at least the narrator--out of their hellish prison. The resolution was truly a reprieve from death . . . but at a horrible price for the unwitting saviours.
Again, I was curious about the original version, so I was happy to find an online copy of Three Skeleton Key by George G. Toudouze. I think the story does a better job of foreshadowing by explaining why the island was named after three skeletons, but that the play has a superior ending. The original resolution is great for the human characters and terrible for the rats (and therefore "happy"), while the "alternate ending" is great for both the humans and the rats. That is, great for one group of humans--but not so great for another group, which unwittingly get the evil passed on to them. Like, you know, a sacrifice.
Three Skeleton Key didn't frighten me the way some of the other plays have done, but what it had to say about our clumsy attempts at saving ourselves definitely disturbed me.
What are your thoughts on Three Skeleton Key?
1. Do you think the fear of rats is cultural (i.e., something we learned and can get over) or psychological (i.e., something we've always had)?
2. Can this be read as an allegory in which the rats represent something in human nature or society?
3. Are we ever justified in dealing with a problem by laying it on someone else's head?
How about a slightly different challenge for next time? Let's give the "golden age" of radio another break and try something from the first really ambitious revival. Our next play will be "Possessed by the Devil" from CBS Radio Mystery Theatre. Listen to it on the official CBS Radio Mystery Theatre site, My Old Radio, or YouTube. Note that it's an hour long!