January 27th, 2011

"The Bride of Dewer" (ick!)

From the July 1930 issue of WEIRD TALES, it's Jules de Grandin dragging Dr Trowbridge along again to tackle another loathsome manifestion of sheer "Ewwww". (Let's see, just eighty more of Seabury Quinn's de Grandin stories to go....)

This is a story that frankly would go over with many readers today about as well as strolling into Newark Airport with a rifle over one shoulder. A sweet innocent young bride (this was 1930, remember) suffers a Fate Worse Than Death. Yep, and not only isn't she spared at the last second, the offender is no ordinary brutish cad but a particularly gross froglike monster. Ick and more ick.

Jules de Grandin and his crony Dr Trowbridge attend a marriage of an especially nice young couple, Walter and Rosemary, wishing them all the best, but, well, this IS Harrisonville New Jersey and you can expect things to go dreadfully wrong. That very night, the dazed and brutalized bride is dumped at her family's house while the equally shell-shocked groom drives aimlessly around and eventually winds up in the pycho ward of the city hospital. This is more of a disaster than most wedding nights, that`s for sure.

It turns out that the groom was in fact warned in his youth by his family never to get married because of the family curse. "Scoff and folderol", he smirks and goes after his sweetie anyway. Little does he know what happened way back in the Eleventh Century. An ancestor of his named Sir Guy de Quimper was losing the crucial battle of Ascalon and, orthodox prayers not seeming to help much, he made a desperate pact with an ancient Saxon god named Dewer. (I know many perfectly decent pagan gods and goddesses were unfairly demoted to demonhood after Christianity muscled in... but in Dewer`s case, it`s appropriate.) Swinging his big ol` sword, the unatttractive being slaughters the enemy. saves the field for Sir Guy and then names his price.

Dewer has a craving for warm human loving, and he forces Sir Guy to accept him as his liege. So when any of the Quimper marry, there will be a nasty intruder in the bridal suite as Dewer claims his droit de signeur, the traditional feudal right of a noble to pluck the rose, so to speak.

Did I mention what Dewer looks like? "Not more than four feet tall, very stooped and bandylegged, with no covering except a thick, horny hide the color of toadskin and absolutely no hair of any kind upon its body anywhere. Above the great, wide grinning mouth there hung a fringe of drooping, wart-like tentacles and another fringe of similar protuberances dangled from its chin..." Not a handsome guy in the conventional sense, and when he rushes into the bedroom of young Rosemary back in the present (well, 1930) to claim his desserts, it`s no wonder she goes into hysterical shock. And when her new husband Walter comes to her rescue and is easily clouted senseless by the monster, he understandably goes to pieces as well.

Dewer promises to come back for more, and things look fairly hopeless but fortunately there is this French ghostbuster named Jules de Grandin living in the very town. De Grandin is at his most insufferable here, calling everyone stupid to their faces and praising himself, but you have to admit he gets the job done. A little research with an antiquarian friend of his reveals that, sure enough, there is an escape clause in this curse (most family curses have a loophole somewhere). It only remains to be seen if poor Rosemary is up to the deed...

Seabury Quinn got away with an awful lot in his WEIRD TALES stories that less popular writers might have found edited out. Many of the de Gandin tales have a strong sexual element that`s still startling today. In "Bride of Dewer", young Rosemary`s ordeal isn`t prevented in the nick of time and Dewer goes away satisfied ("Her nightclothes were ripped to tatters... the trousers almost ripped away, and there were stains of blood upon them"). For that matter, Dewer isn`t destroyed or even punished, just sent away never to bother the couple again.

As much as Jules de Grandin vexes me with his ludicrous dialect and cockiness, every now and then he has a moment that suddenly shows a real human being behind all that posturing. Congratulating the young couple, the middle-aged detective suddenly has tears in his eyes as he wishes them "...may you and Monsieur Whitney be always as happy as I should have been, had not 'le bon Dieu' willed otherwise!" I don`t know why but a sudden vulnerability like this in such a smug character seems very touching.