The Red Room by H.G. Wells Summary

Instructor: Karen Wolak

Karen has taught 4-8th grade English/Language Arts and has worked closely with adult learners for several years. M.Ed. in Adult Education.

In 1933, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared, 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' Thirty years earlier, H.G. Wells said something similar in his 1894 short story, ''The Red Room.'' Let's take a closer look at this spine-tingling and fearful tale.

A Warm Welcome

''The Red Room'' (1894) by H.G. Wells is told through the eyes of an unnamed narrator. At the start of the tale, the narrator speaks with three elderly caretakers of Lorraine Castle. None of the caretakers seems particularly welcoming. One of them, a woman, stares into the fireplace as if in a trance. The two men seem grumpy. Wanting to escape the uncomfortable situation, the narrator asks to be taken to the Red Room. One of the caretakers says that if the narrator wants to go to the Red Room, that he will need to go by himself. The elderly lady awakens from her trance incredulous that the narrator is choosing to stay in the Red Room. The narrator receives instructions on how to reach the room, and is ominously reminded that he is doing this of his own volition.

Lorraine Castle is supposedly haunted.

The Legend of the Red Room

The narrator takes a candle and walks down a dark passage. We learn that he is there to investigate the supposed haunting of the Red Room. He recalls the legend supporting the haunting. An Earl decided to play a prank on his timid wife. His attempt to scare her had a disastrous end, and their spirits are rumored to be responsible for the haunting.

The castle is shadowy, and filled with old-fashioned furniture. The narrator tries to remain objective, but admits that the atmosphere is making him uneasy. His footsteps echo as he walks through a dark and dusty corridor. At one point he thinks he hears someone moving behind him, but it is a figment of his imagination.

The passages of Lorraine Castle are dark and shadowy.
Spooky Hallway

The narrator finds his way to the door of the Red Room. He recalls that a Duke had attempted to disprove the haunting of the place prior to him. But he was found at the bottom of the stairs outside the door to the Red Room, unconscious and incapacitated. He later died.

Looking around the cavernous, shadowy Red Room, the narrator can understand why such a spooky place could inspire such legends. His candle does very little to light the dark room. In order to address his overactive imagination, the narrator investigates the room thoroughly. He looks behind furniture, blinds, and curtains. He also started investigating the walls for secret passages.

Who Turned Out the Lights?

The narrator decides to make use of the sconces, candlesticks, and fireplace to illuminate every inch of the room. Satisfied, he sits back to begin his watch. Not too long afterward, the candles in one part of the room go out. He attributes this to a draft, and relights the candles. As he does so, he notices that two candles near where he had been sitting are now extinguished. When relighting them, he sees that the candles in the wall sconce go out one right after another. The flame extinguishes without ember or smoke, as if someone had pinched the wick with his or fingertips.

Before he can attend to the sconces, the candles by the bed go out. Candles all over the room begin extinguishing, and darkness begins to close in on him. Frantic, and shaking with fear, he tries to relight the candles, and finds himself racing to fight the darkness. In his rush, he stumbles over furniture, dropping his candle. ''Darkness,'' the narrator says, ''closed upon me like the shutting of an eye, wrapped about me in a stifling embrace, sealed my vision, and crushed the last vestiges of self possession from my brain. And it was not only palpable darkness, but intolerable terror.''

Candles begin extinguishing by themselves.

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