THE BLACK REAPER (1899) – By Bernard Capes. Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues with this neglected horror tale. The story takes place in 1665 in a secluded British farming town called Anathoth.
The Black Reaper of the title is an interesting humanoid monster. Religious superstition and human evil mingle in this tale, just like in so many other great horror stories. And it seems Stephen King must have been, uh … “inspired” by The Black Reaper.
The citizens of Anathoth are described in the narrative as the kind of religious people who merely pay lip service to their beliefs but don’t live by them. They even treated their previous Vicar like a joke.
Now the plague is once more at large in the land and a new fire-and- brimstone preacher has replaced the disrespected man in Anathoth. The new “holy” man frequently rails at the citizens, telling them that they are all horrible sinners and that God will one day mow them down like ripe corn.
All of them, that is, except the children.
By August plague victims are fleeing London and many have congregated in and around Anathoth. One day the heat and the proximity of the infected Londoners combine with the Vicar’s Hellfire haranguing to drive a mob of citizens to seize the holy man and throw him down a well. The mob then cover the well with rocks.
The time for reaping arrives and our narrator – one of the men who disapproved of the violence against the preacher – is carrying his daughter on his shoulders. Many of the other townspeople and their children also approach the cornfields, ready to set to work.
Suddenly a dark form that they call the Black Reaper springs out of the corn and begins swinging his coal-black scythe, and each time he gathers up a sheaf one of the adults of Anathoth drops dead. Only the children are spared, even those who are in the Black Reaper’s path.
As the corpses pile up, the paniced townspeople set fire to the cornfields, hoping to destroy
He Who Walks Behind The Rows the Black Reaper. The Black Reaper gestures and the flames are extinguished, following which the adults who started the fire burst into flames and die screaming.
The disgraced former Vicar tries to stop the dark being but the Black Reaper merely places one of his hands on the Vicar’s head and causes him to sink into the ground of the cornfield. But he does NOT say “Top THIS for wishing people into the cornfield, Mumy!”
At length our title menace is done with the upper, smaller portion of the cornfields and, scythe held in a casual manner, strides toward the larger portion. The story’s narrator manages to rally the paniced people of Anathoth, organizing them into bringing their children to surround the Black Reaper.
The scythe-wielding figure stops, then, for it still refuses to harm the children, who may yet repent, unlike their sinful parents. The Black Reaper doffs his hat to the narrator and departs as mysteriously as he arrived.
This is certainly not a classic horror story but it is a nice change of pace with a unique “monster.” My fellow mythology geeks will certainly share my laughter over the way the fire and brimstone preacher who gets killed is a nice caricature of the half-crazed “Dissenter” preachers who were in vogue after the English Civil War(s).
And surely I’m not alone in wishing Robert E Howard had done a Solomon Kane vs the Black Reaper story. +++
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14 responses to “THE BLACK REAPER (1899) – GOTHIC HORROR”
I’m thinking if we in Italy have similar characters… I don’t think so (but I could be wrong). I think it is due to the millenarian presence of the Pope 😀
You may be right about that!
I don’t know, but we are so “butt and shirt” (it’s an Italian way of saying) with the Catholic Church that the suspicion arises spontaneously 🙂
Ha! I understand!
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Stephen King actually borrowed a lot of stuff from old literature, old movies, and old TV shows. All he does is put his own spin on things.
I agree, but since I think King is overrated I always make a point of mentioning his ripoffs of material from other sources.
Yes, he is definitely over-rated. His earlier stuff was the best, in my opinion.
This is much more of a classic story than Children of the Corn.