Good luck finding a copy of Charles Beaumont’s original short story “The Howling Man”. It’s out of print, and has been for years. You might get lucky and stumble across a dog-eared copy at an old bookstore, yard sale or flea market, or pay an outrageous “collector’s” price online, but other than that? Tough beans for you. Even most libraries don’t carry a copy anymore.
And I don’t like that. Not one bit. Not only was young Beaumont a supremely gifted writer, but “The Howling Man” itself is such an incredible piece of writing. It’s a terrible shame that today’s readers are being deprived of this masterpiece.
The Twilight Zone adaptation — be sure to read the previous sister post, “The Howling Man”: The Script” — which aired on this date in 1960, stays very true to Beaumont’s original story. The only real difference is the ending. So allow me to recap that alternate ending for you now.
Having just been told the identity of the strange howling man that the Brothers keep locked in a cell, David Ellington leaves Father Jerome (he’s Father Jerome in the story, but Brother Jerome in the adaptation), set to go to the authorities. Returning to his room where Brother Christophorus is asleep, he lies down and waits. Two hours later, he goes back to Jerome’s room and steals an iron key from around his neck – the key that opens the howling man’s cell.
Convinced the man is innocent and deserving of freedom, he makes his way to the cell. Sliding the key into the lock, the door opens and the howling man steps out into the corridor. “I felt a momentary fright as his clawed hand reached up and touched my shoulder; but it passed.”
The two make a run for it, leaving the Abbey and heading down toward the village. Ellington grows very ill and begs the howling man to wait for him. He cries out for help. “Help you?” He laughed once, a high-pitched sound more awful than the screams had been; and then he turned and vanished in the moonless night.”
Ellington tells the police everything, and all of it is, of course, denied by Father Jerome and the Brothers of the Abbey. They claim he was suffering from visions brought on by his pneumonia, denying that there was any howling man at the Abbey. Father Jerome tells Ellington, “I fear that you will be delirious a while, my son. The things you see will be quite real. Most real. You’ll think—how quaint!–that you have loosed the Devil on the world and that the war to come—what war? But aren’t there always wars?” Beaumont makes special note of Jerome’s disposition during this exchange: “those old eyes burning condemnation! Beak-nosed, bearded head atremble, rage in every word!” Brother Christophorus is more honest and sympathetic, telling Ellington, “Your weakness was his lever. Doubt unlocked that door. Be comforted: we’ll hunt him with our nets, and one day . . .”
With nothing else to be done, Ellington moves on with his life and goes about his daily work. But he is plagued by constant uncertainty and doubts. Were the monks mad? Was the howling man? Or did it even happen at all? He dreams every night and he can’t shake the uneasy feeling he gets when “… the pictures of the carpenter from Braunau-am-Inn began to appear in all the papers … when the carpenter invaded Poland, I was sure.” And that superbly clever yet subtle reference to Hitler just makes Beaumont’s story that much more poignant, relevant and striking.
The story comes to a quiet, gratifying end when Ellington receives a card from the Abbey. “On … the card is a message. It is signed “Brother Christophorus” and reads (and reads and reads!): “Rest now, my son. We have him back with us again.”
And there you have it — the same story with two different endings. Both are superb. Both are fitting. Both are brilliant. If you haven’t yet, revisit last year’s “Howling Man” anniversary post, “The Devil Made Me Do It,” and read my analysis of the two endings. Which ending do you prefer? The short story or the episode? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
“The Howling Man” was originally published in the November 1959 issue of the men’s magazine Rogue, and certainly represents some of Beaumont’s best work. Plagued by a horrible degenerative aging disease that destroyed both his mind and his body, Charles Beaumont died at only 38, leaving behind a legacy enviable of any writer today.
But Beaumont lives on in his stories and scripts. He was a prolific writer, friend and colleague to other literary giants including Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury and of course Rod Serling. Like all of these men, the spirit in which Beaumont wrote is plainly seen in the writing itself. Heart, spirit, soul… he was a natural talent, a candle glowing in the darkness whose light was snuffed out far too soon.
When I read the first one, I said: ‘Yes. Very definitely. You are a writer.’ It showed immediately. It’s not like so many people who come to you with stories and you say, ‘Well, they’re okay,’ You know, if they keep working they’ll make it. Chuck’s talent was obvious from that very first story.
~ Ray Bradbury on Charles Beaumont