The Terror of Blue John Gap
|"The Horror of the Heights"|
|Author||Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Published in||Strand Magazine vol. 40 #236|
|Publication date||August 1910|
The story comprises the adventures of a British doctor, recovering from tuberculosis, who goes to stay at a Derbyshire farm looking for rest and relaxation, becomes entrapped in a series of sinister events and is forced to uncover the mysteries surrounding "Blue John Gap" and the "Terror" that lurks within it.
||This section's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (July 2007)|
The story begins on 7 April at Miss Allerton's farm, where Dr James Hardcastle is recovering from illness. During his recovery he has taken to strolling around the Derbyshire hills where he investigates the limestone geography and geology and muses on life.
During one of his walks he discovers Blue John Gap. This is a mine built by the Romans to mine the valuable mineral Derbyshire Blue John. He also learns that the shaft connects to naturally formed tunnels and caves miles underground. This fits in with what he has already discovered about the limestone landscape.
During his investigation of the gap he runs into a farmer called Armitage who warns him away. Armitage believes that there is some sort of creature lurking in "Blue John Gap" which has been stealing his sheep. He also claims to have found blood trails leading into the Gap and to have heard strange noises in the dead of night. Hardcastle is sceptical and Armitage leaves him in temper.
Later Hardcastle himself hears a strange roar. Mystified, Hardcastle resolves to learn more and plans to investigate Blue John Gap.
Armed with candles, Hardcastle descended into the gap as planned. He eventually finds the place where the mine and the natural caves join and investigates further. However, he has an accident when crossing a river and loses his candles and gets the matches wet, trapping him in pitch blackness.
When waiting in an attempt to see if his matches would dry Hardcastle hears something large coming his way. He hears it drinking from the stream and then after a tense moment, it turns and lopes back into the dark depth of the cave.
When Hardcastle finds the courage to move he finds that his matches are dry and, after lighting one to help him find his way, flees. When safe at the Allerton's farm he reviews what happened and comes to the conclusion that what he heard was real and not some delusion. He then begins to look for allies in his bid to stop the Terror before it strikes again.
He eventually went to see Dr Mark Johnson, a friend of his friend Professor Saunderson. Johnson then sends Hardcastle to see Mr Picton who is "pre-eminently suited to help him." It is later revealed that Picton is in charge of an asylum. Hardcastle spends the night cursing the world which deems him mad and considering the irony that he himself had thought the same about young Armitage.
Later he learns that under the cover of darkness, when no moon shone in the sky, more sheep have vanished from the farms around Blue John Gap and Armitage has also disappeared in the night. Convinced that the "Terror" has killed him, Hardcastle resolves to put a stop to the creature's reign of terror on his own.
Hardcastle stakes out the gap on a dark night without a moon (the creature seems to hunt on these nights) and waits for the beast. Eventually the creature emerged and, in his surprise and terror, Hardcastle allows the creature to pass by him. However, he braces himself for its return, resolved that "not for a second time will it pass unchallenged."
When the beast returns from its hunting Hardcastle ambushes it with his elephant gun. Wounded, the beast flees back into Blue John Gap with Hardcastle in pursuit. When in the caves he corners the beast, which turns on him. During the fight, Hardcastle's gun is knocked from his hands and all would have been lost if he hadn't used his lamp to blind the creature's sensitive eyes.
On his return to the Allerton farm, with concussion and a broken arm and two badly fractured ribs, the locals, who always believed in the terror, unlike the city folk, viewed Hardcastle's tale and injuries as final corroboration. So in the early hours of the morning they gathered and blocked the tunnel, preventing the terror from emerging again.
Most Londoners believe, however, that Hardcastle was suffering from hallucinations. He later died of his traumatic experience and when relatives went through his effects they found his journal and notes of what happened in an envelope titled "A Short Account of the Circumstances which occurred near Miss Allerton's Farm in North-West Derbyshire in the Spring of Last Year." The envelope was sealed, and on the other side was written;
"DEAR SEATON, It may interest, and perhaps pain you, to know that the incredulity with which you met my story has prevented me from ever opening my mouth upon the subject again. I leave this record after my death, and perhaps strangers may be found to have more confidence in me than my friend."
One of the central themes of The Terror of Blue John Gap is Hardcastle's difficulty in getting the world to believe him. This theme is mirrored with Conan Doyle's other character, Professor Challenger's struggles to get the world to believe the truth of his adventures in The Lost World (the creature in The Terror of Blue John Gap is also a prehistoric survivor just like the creatures in The Lost World).
It also echoes Conan Doyle's career as a campaigner for various causes such as the atrocities in the Congo and spiritualism where he was met with denial in the former case and doubt in the latter. In that respect Philip Gooden theorises that Dr James Hardcastle, and Professor Challenger, who boldly prove the scientific community wrong, may have been a wish fulfillment on Doyle's part.
- Dr James Hardcastle - The hero of the story. A doctor who, while recovering from tuberculosis, discovers the mystery of Blue John Gap and bravely resolves to solve it alone when the world scorns him. While he emerged triumphant the ordeal left him a broken man. He died on 4 February 1908 in South Kensington.
- Armitage - A young sheep farmer. He was the one who first introduced Dr Hardcastle to the sinister goings on around Blue John Gap. He later vanishes without a trace and is presumed to have been killed by the "Terror".
- The Miss Allertons - Two elderly sister spinsters. They run the farm and inn where Hardcastle is sent to recover from his illness. They are described as quaint with hearts of gold.
- Dr Mark Johnson - A friend of Professor Saunderson. Hardcastle turns to him for help and he promptly sent Hardcastle to Picton's asylum as a result.
- Professor Saunderson - Hardcastle's Doctor. He was the one who recommended Miss Allerton's farm as a place for Hardcastle to recover and apparently grew up there himself.
- Seaton - A friend of Hardcastle. Hardcastle addressed his notes of the events to him. Enquiry apparently failed to identify who Seaton was and his identity, and even existence, remained a mystery.
- Miss Allerton's farm: the place in Derbyshire where Hardcastle was sent to recover from illness. The farm is 1,420 feet (430 m) above sea level and surrounded by limestone cliffs and hills. Professor Saunderson was "not above scaring crows in those very fields."
- Blue John Gap: a mine, one of only two in the world where the beautiful and rare Blue John mineral is found. The Romans created the mine and, in the process, their shaft intersected into the great water-worn caves of the underworld.
- Underworld: Hardcastle discovers that the limestone hills are hollow; "Strike it with some gigantic hammer it would boom like a drum." Inside, he theorised, is a huge subterranean sea. The evaporation from this sea supports a forest and animal life, which entered the caves from the surface and became trapped when the caves where cut off. Since then they have evolved into the creatures Hardcastle encountered.
- "The Strand magazine 1891-1930". Studium magazine. Retrieved January 30, 2012.
- The Terror of Blue John Gap, chapter 1
- Gooden. Philip (2001). Conan Doyle and Skeptics.
- The Terror of Blue John Gap title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- The Terror of Blue John Gap at Locus Magazine's Index to Science Fiction
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