Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Musings upon the Short Stories of Saki

Saki cover Having always enjoyed the short stories of Saki, I was hard pressed to select just one to review. As most people know, Saki is the pen name of Hector Hugh Munro, who grew up in Burma, the son of English colonials, raised mostly by his aunts after his mother’s death. That’s probably why he was able to portray a variety of settings in his stories, from English tennis lawns to Carpathian forests to Asian villages. While the Edwardian backgrounds are distinct and references to current events and artists of the period abound, there’s also a timelessness to his work. I think it’s because, despite the outer trappings, the main focus of his stories is human thoughts and behavior and how circumstances or other people manipulate them. That can be used for comic effect, such as in The Unrest-Cure where a man convinces a staid brother and sister that insurrectionists are coming to murder their neighbors unless they are sheltered in their family home. Or in a more malicious way, as in Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger where a servant gains the upper hand.
Animals show up often in Saki’s stories, often as a pivotal instrument and exist as symbols as well as having the nature of the actual animal. These can range from a ferret who becomes a deity to wolves as harbingers of revenge.
Like many writers of the times, Saki also wrote a number of Gothic tales. Of course, being a wimp, I skip those, so I can’t say how they stack up to others. He is a master of creating atmosphere, with vivid descriptions of nature and light. And like many of the best short stories, there is often a surprise ending.
With insight and prose as pointed as “Without his imagination, which was rampant under the spur of loneliness…”, Saki could count on admirers across the literary spectrum, as diverse as Graham Greene and A.A. Milne. And though I’m certainly not of that strata, I am one, too.

3 comments on “Musings upon the Short Stories of Saki

  1. Simon T
    October 20, 2015

    I adore Saki’s stories. So funny, and so unmistakably him. Beasts and Super-beasts is my favourite collection.

  2. Christine Kendell
    October 20, 2015

    Does any one know if there’s a more recent biography than the Languuth one?

  3. Michael King
    October 27, 2015

    Yes, and I am also.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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