Mystery

Mysteries in Nature

The second to last story we read, “Death by Landscape” by Margaret Atwood, and the final story we listened to by Dave Eggers had similar settings and themes. I also thought it was interesting to compare the reading and listening to see which story seemed the most mysterious or creepy purely based on the context it was understood in.

The similarities are as follows:

1. Both stories had nature and woodsy themes. “Death by Landscape” was set in a camp and the mysterious event took place on a cliff while they were on a canoe trip. You can really get a sense of the isolation and nature aspect while they are discussing the canoe trip. “It took them the same two days to go back that is had taken coming in” (pg. 343) suggests that they are far from any civilization and had to take two days just to get back and get the police. This is similar to Dave Eggers’ story when he discusses Francis’ situation. Francis was in a remote part of a park near a deep lake. She was completely alone when she rowed out to the center of the lake. Both stories have outdoor settings in fairly isolated areas.

2. The girls in the stories both mysteriously disappear. In “Death by Landscape”, Lucy screams and disappears after she was left alone to go to the bathroom. This is a mystery because we do not know if she fell (or jumped) off the cliff, she was kidnapped, or she disappeared by some supernatural force. The characters in the story never find out because neither they nor the police search team ever found evidence. In comparison, there is one piece of evidence in Dave Eggers’ story. “…on it were four words… They said, ‘I did knock first’” (pg. 2) Although this is a clue, it does not tell you what happened to Francis when she was out on the lake. It is quite the mystery because her disappearance seems to be the cause of something supernatural or something we would not be able to understand easily.

Through these similarities, both stories told a tale of a disappearance out in the wilderness. Based on the reading or listening contexts, I think that creepiest story was the one that was listened to. Dave Eggers’ voice portrayed his words in an ideal, mysterious way. The sound effects and pauses increased my anticipation and caused goose bumps to form when the knocking first occurred. It is quite the mystery and truly intrigues me in to wanting to know who was knocking and what happened to Francis.

Exotic Daydreams

Anthony Eastwood’s imagination is what led him to meet a foreign woman who in part inspired him to write his new novel.

In “The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl” by Agatha Christie, Anthony Eastwood’s imagination went wild as he was trying to think of new material for a story. Eastwood discusses the female characters he writes most about with an ivory pallor and big eyes. His editor also prefers female characters with exotic, foreign qualities. Then in his daydream, he meets a woman that matches this description precisely. “She really had the ivory pallor… And her eyes!… She was not English, that could be seen at a glance. She had a foreign exotic quality” (190-191). This description of the woman in the upstairs shop room describes the type of character Eastwood was thinking about right before his daydream began. It would be too coincidental for this to have been reality. Her ivory pallor is parallel to the character of Sonia or Dolores in which Eastwood was debating about putting in “The Mystery of the Second Cucumber.” Being able to tell she is foreign at a glance and describing her as having exotic qualities implicates that she is the type of character Eastwood’s editor would want in a story. Eastwood’s desire to think of a great new mystery novel to make money would encourage him to want to include elements that his editor would pay a lot of money for. Eastwood’s worry about finding a new plot and his ideas impacted his daydream by pulling in pieces of his thoughts into a coherent, mysterious adventure.

Pickling the Cucumber

In “The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl” by Agatha Christie, the word cucumber is used to foreshadow the occurrence of Anthony Eastwood getting into a “pickle” or a difficult situation.

 

In this story, the cucumber is used as opposed to any other vegetable because it can be soaked in vinegar and turned into a pickle which makes it a good candidate to represent the difficult situations Anthony Eastwood gets himself into. Anthony was not in distress when he first typed “cucumber”, or even when he said it to the old lady in the shop. The trouble happened when he acted upon the word and marched up the stairs the old woman pointed out after the “cucumber” pass code was said, right into the vinegar, and got himself in a pickle. He walked straight into the trap set by the girl at the top of the stairs as he was “never one to miss opportunities, [and] echoed her fervently” (p.191). It seemed that his curiosity was the vinegar in this case. The “cucumber” by itself, or just saying that word, was not the problem; the situation was only aggravated by Anthony’s curiosity, but he would not have gotten himself into a pickle if there had not been a cucumber in the first place. It seemed that the longer he spent with the girl, trying to satisfy his curiosity, the longer he metaphorically soaked in the vinegar, which gave her accomplices time to get there and completely put him in a pickle. In this way, the word “cucumber” seemed to foreshadow trouble for Anthony. If Anthony had suppressed his curiosity and had not acted upon the word cucumber, he would not have gotten himself into a problematic situation.

Cool as a Cucumber…Or Not

By repeatedly referring to cucumbers throughout “The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl”, Agatha Christie portrays Anthony Eastwood’s character as a prideful and inquisitive man who becomes easily flustered in his indecision.

 

The author utilizes the word ‘cucumber’ as a gateway between Eastwood’s normal life and the one he wishes to write about, giving insight to his character. While looking around the antique glass shop, Eastwood has trouble deciding whether or not to say the codeword ‘cucumber’. Christie writes, “Mr. Eastwood felt that he was laying up trouble for himself…And yet he could not bring himself to leave the shop” (189). His reluctance to leave reveals his longing for an adventure and an intriguing story. However, the need to create a riveting novel is overshadowed by his indecision to say the password, thus a product of his hesitant nature. The mental battle ensuing in his mind shows how difficult it is for him to make the transition between ‘his’ world and the one of mystery. Christie writes, “He became desperate…What in the devil did it matter what [the shopkeeper] thought? ‘Cucumber,’ he said, clearly and firmly” (189-190). After much deliberation, Eastwood’s inquisitive nature takes the reins and he eventually says the password to get upstairs and into the action. After he finally says ‘cucumber’ to the shopkeeper, he immediately enters into a world much different than his own that is full of mystery, inspiration, and danger. The word is used as a password for him to physically get upstairs; however, it also is a means for him to continue on the journey of finding a story. Agatha Christie portrays Eastwood’s mental dilemma through his decision of whether or not to say ‘cucumber.’ Through the use of this word, Christie juxtaposes the two choices Eastwood has, which further allows his character to develop in the larger context of the short story.

The Terrifying Silence

The mysteriousness and ambiguity of the Mormons’ threats and power are far more fear-inspiring than any concrete threat. Ferrier does not know what tragedy will befall him if he disobeys the Mormon creed, causing him to imagine the worst possible punishment. Doyle describes disappearances of men, saying, “A rash word or a hasty act was followed by annihilation, and yet none knew what the nature might be of this terrible power which was suspended over them” (Doyle 89). The religion that had saved John Ferrier and his adopted daughter from suffering death in the harsh desert is now the most terrifying power that is threatening those same lives. Although the Mormons have not yet officially punished Ferrier, their not so discreet messages reminding him just how many days are left until his punishment play with his emotions. It is for this reason that Ferrier puts so much importance on leaving the jurisdiction of the Saints. Had Young Brigham told him what his punishment would be, Ferrier may have just made sure that his adopted daughter Lucy would be able to escape the Mormon lifestyle while he himself stayed and accepted his fate. However, the terror that Young Brigham and the Elders instilled in Ferrier’s heart was too intense to be overlooked, and Ferrier put his trust in Jefferson Hope, who was not affected by threats from the Mormons, to be the brave hero and save them. In the way that the Mormons are depicted, it is obvious the Doyle believes that organized religion is dangerous and terrifying.