"An even better weird story with an even worse ending" than The Night Wire? The Human Chair...

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Summary: Someone found a candidate for a story with a worse ending than The Night Wire: Edogawa Ranpo's The Human Chair. A man hides himself away in furniture and becomes obsessed with human contact. It's weird and kind of spooky in its own way, and could be an allegory...until the ending.

BLOT: (02 Aug 2014 - 11:49:31 AM)

"An even better weird story with an even worse ending" than The Night Wire? The Human Chair...

A reader of my post about how H.F. Arnold's "The Night Wire" is possibly the worst ending for an otherwise great weird fiction story emailed me to say he had a better candidate. John, the reader, said that Edogawa Rampo's "The Human Chair" was, and I quote, "an even better weird story with an even worse ending". It immediately got my attention. Even if bad endings are a dime a dozen in the weird/horror/etc genre, truly bad ones are almost formational to fans, especially when they are attached to stories that deserved so much better. They forge us in fire. Also, while I have heard of Rampo [according to Wiki, now romanized "Ranpo"] in connection with Japanese detective fiction, I had never read anything by him. Picked up a copy1 at the library I work at, and set off to test John's thesis.

Let's just say that John is an honest man. This is indeed a great weird story—whether it's better than "The Night Wire" is debatable, but it feels more memorable than Arnold's story—and it indeed has an absolutely stinker of an ending. Buckle up, Doabites, I am about to spoil a story, though thankfully this is the kind of story, I'd say, that spoilers do not absolutely ruin. Me just telling you about it has a similar impact as you reading it, but go ahead and put it on your "to be read" list as well...

In "The Human Chair", a writer gets a manuscript sent to her home. The manuscript is written by a craftsman who describes himself as irredeemably ugly—shades of Dostoevsky's, "I am a sick man..."—but despite his ugliness, he has true passion in his heart. He has some skill as a cabinet maker, which turns into making luxury items, and he enjoys making chairs and then sitting in them and then imagining all the wonderful places his craft may show up. Sounds like a sweet guy, right? A true romantic? Yes, indeed!

He eventually gets an order to make this big old honking leather armchair for a hotel that serves international guests. He gets to it, puts his heart and soul into, dedicates his life to it, and when he gets done he stares upon his magnum opus. Then he gets the idea. He wants to accompany the chair. He rebuilds the chair so that—wait for it—he can fit inside with his knees down under the seat and his torso up along the back of the chair with his arms through the chair arms. He gives himself space for supplies and a bag he can store his waste in, and gets inside and waits for the delivery to the hotel.

Imagine a chair like the one pictured above, hollowed out so a craftsman can fit inside. As you sit on it, you're in his lap, leaning against him. He can feel you move, squirm, lean back. He just waits there, in the utter darkness of the chair, listening to you, being pressed upon by you. Got the mindset? Good. Let's move on.

The craftsman explains that his initial plan was to rob the place, to get out at night, steal things, and then hide back in the chair until the cost was clear. After a couple of good hauls, he could leave by the front door as a semi-rich man. Except, his plan changes when a European woman in a good mood sits on him and sings. As she sits on him delightedly for a bit, he imagines that his head is right there by her neck and if not for the leather between then, he could simply wrap his arms around her and kiss her and stroke her pale skin.

This leads to him becoming obsessed with the women who sit upon him. Let us look at one of the more delightful quotes in the whole thing:

Gradually the truth seemed to dawn on me. For those who were as ugly and as shunned as myself, it was assuredly wiser to enjoy life inside a chair. For in this strange, dark world I could hear and touch all desirable creatures.
Love in a chair! This may seem altogether too fantastic. Only one who has actually experienced it will be able to vouch for the thrills and the joys it provides. Of course, it is a strange sort of love, limited to the senses of touch, hearing, and smell, a love burning in a world of darkness.

He goes on to explain how some women have the slimy body of snakes, and others are fat with the bounce of a rubber ball, and some are muscular like statues. Eventually a internationally famous dancer comes and sits upon him, and he is enraptured by her build and how she feels sitting on his lap. He points out that it is not his carnal instincts aroused, but pure joy. Ah, what a double-headed song this story is. On one hand, you have an ugly, marginalized craftsman forced to be literally subsumed into his craft before he can have anything like, and I use this in the broadest possible sense of the word, a "normal" relationship. On the other, you have a serial molester that is getting off on women sitting on him. You could debate those aspects for days.

At any rate, now that you are creeped out and vaguely saddened by a craftsman's plight, let's move on the end of the story. The hotel gets bought out by new management. They eschew luxury for economy, so the chair gets auctioned off. The man, now obsessed with his relationship to the chair, goes with it and he is bought, eventually, by a rich man who gives the chair to his wife. The craftsman falls in love with the wife and the weight of her upon him. She uses the chair for long periods of contemplation. He adjusts his legs and body to make her more comfortable. He wants to admit his love to her and...wait for it...

BAM! The woman reading this manuscript? That's her. He's been her chair this whole time. And, really, the story should have ended right there. RIGHT THERE. That spot. But then it goes on to explain that he is not in the chair currently because he is wandering around her house for a sign from her, which is still creepy...and then it could have ended there...except the horrible ending that John has foretold is upon us, because there is another letter that says, "Ha, that was just a creepy story I wrote to you and I made it all up, what do you think?" and if you take the last letter literally, then this whole thing, the whole allegory of a worker's plight versus the notion of molestation, the sense of being invaded spiritually by the unseen elements in your own home, all that becomes a literal story inside of an actual story. Bah.

Of course, you can ask yourself how a person who wasn't the human chair would have known about her chair and her habits upon it, so maybe he has chickened out and now he is still her chair—surely she could just check?—preferring to be only a piece of furniture to her rather than risk losing her, so it might be an "Is it or isn't it!?" ending. I don't know.


Now that I've done these two, I think I should probably try out "Watercolors" by Koji Suzuki, the horror story whose "bad ending" hit me the hardest. Damn, it made me sad.

By the way, of interest to those who are fans of horror comics/manga, Junji Ito wrote a sequel to the story. It starts out rehashing the story, and then quickly moves into "what happened next" territory. It has a similar reasoning as to what I have, above, but has a few moments that are pure Junji Ito—such as when you found out happened to the author—and I'll let you go and read that, then. Make note, in keeping the story a bit about sexual politics, there is a bit in the Ito version where the husband of the woman is jealous over her success as a writer and the craftsman is hinted as understanding her better more for what she is.

1: The 1956 Tuttle edition of Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination, as translated by James B. Harris. Interestingly, the copy we have has a deckle-edge on the bottom of the page, but not the sides or the top. I may need to look up the history of such things.

Credits: The image of the chair is taken from Ryan Harvey's Chestfield Chair, https://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanh/4912883499/. The comic image is taken from Junji Ito's "The Human Chair", based off of Edogawa Ranpo's "The Human Chair", and is translated by iemonsy [aka, Sy] http://iemonsy.tumblr.com/post/24781524204/junji-ito-human-chair.

Weird Fiction


Written by Doug Bolden

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