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‘The Midnight Express’ is a short story written by Alfred Noyes. It is a spooky tale revolving around Mortimer as his childhood fear morphs into something frighteningly real in the later years of his life.
About the Author:
Alfred Noyes (1880-1958) was a notable English writer. He was known for his poems and short stories. Famous works of his include ‘The Highway Man’, ‘The Barrel-Organ’ and ‘The Midnight Express’.
The theme of this short story is horror. It has supernatural aura to it, effectively spooking the readers. Again, it could be perceived to be a nightmare as well, construed out of childhood fear. Thus, childhood fear can also be taken as a theme.
The Battered Old Book:
The story begins with how Mortimer, the protagonist, finding a battered old book in his father’s library. As a twelve-year-old boy, he was fascinated by it and proceeded to read it. The atmosphere here is eerie, with a description of the big house he is living in covered in darkness, its silence with only a candle as a source of light. The book was titled ‘The Midnight Express’. Here, Mortimer is shown to be afraid of an illustration found in page of the book which showed an abandoned railway station in which a man stood underneath the dim light provided. Petrified, Mortimer never read beyond page fifty.
The Dark Solitary Figure:
Years later, now an adult, Mortimer is found waiting for a train in an empty junction. The station here is very much like what he had seen in the book as a child. Suddenly, Mortimer notices a solitary figure, just like in the book. He rushes towards the figure, only to find his own face staring back at him! Panicking, he runs out of the station, all the while hearing his own footsteps echoing behind him. Soon, he finds a white cottage and knocks the door to find shelter.
The Shadowy Figure:
A shadowy figure with a candle beckons him inside without preamble. Shaking with fear, Mortimer goes in. Here again, eerie imagery is produced, the darkness highlighted along with stairs that creaked and dull candle light once again. Upstairs, Mortimer collapsed into the armchair there before he notices an old battered book. It was the same ‘The Midnight Express’ that he’d read as a child. Afraid once more, Mortimer takes a good look at his gracious host in the candle light, only to find that it was himself, once again!
This is a tale that no doubt instils fear in the hearts of the readers. However, given the ambiguity in the story, it can also be perceived in a psychological light. The story thus can be interpreted not just as a horror tale but also as a hallucination or nightmare that Mortimer experiences stemmed from his childhood fears.