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Episode 27 of 28

The Entrance by Gerald Durrell

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Classic Ghost Stories by Tony Walker
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The Entrance by Gerald Durrell Gerald Durrell was born in Jamshedpur which was then part of British India, in 1925 and died in St Hellier, Jersey in 1995, aged 70. This story, The Entrance was published in his collection The Picnic and Suchlike Pandemonium in 1979. This title was renamed The Picnic and Other Inimitable Stories though I suspect that someone who didn’t understand the word pandemonium would struggle with inimitable too. But that’s marketing for you. His family’s life has been the subject of a popular TV series “My Family & Other Animals” taken from the title of one of his books. He was a prolific writer, usually of light, comic fiction and autobiography and a life-long animal lover who set up the Jersey Zoo. Those of you who read these notes will probably predict offended comments about animals being hurt in The Entrance and how zoos are bad. My only comments are: it’s fiction. There were no animals, and; attitudes change over times. I don’t think he set up a zoo because he was a wicked man who wanted to hurt animals. Zoos were uncontroversial once. Those who don’t make comments on videos expressing their hurt and offence probably won’t read the notes.Durrell’s famous siblings is the author and poet Lawrence Durrell. In his early years, as his family were middle class and British, he had an Indian nurse called an ayah. He ascribes his lifelong love of animals to a visit to a zoo when he was small in India. The family moved to the Crystal Palace area of London (with its concrete dinosaurs) and he avoided going to school by pretending to be ill. In 1939 the family moved to Corfu, Grreece and Durrell began to build his menagerie. This period of his life was an inspiration of his many books.Because of the Second World War, the family moved back to England and he ended up working in an aquarium and a pet store. He was not medically fit to be a soldier but ended up working on a farm. After the war he went to work at Whipsnade Zoo. After that, he got a job collecting animals for zoos by visiting Africa and South America. He was known for treating his animals well, which caused him financial difficulties .He founded his own zoo in Jersey in 1959.The EntranceThe Entrance was recommended to me by Alison Waddell. It is a frame story and thus hearkens back to the classic ghost story tales which are often told as frames and often feature old, occult manuscripts. Gerald Durrell goes to meet his charming, slightly comic friends in Provence. They hand him a manuscript they found in Marseilles that belonged to a strange man called Dr Le Pitre. Dr Le Pitre is another layer to the story that seems quite unnecessary to me, but I might be missing something. The manuscript dated as March 16th 1901 features a lengthy set up of a Victorian (the old queen died on 22 January 1901, but her influence lingered a few months at least) antiquarian book dealer (very M R James) who is stalked by a strange foreigner on a foggy night in London (so far so trope, and I suspect that Durrell was doing this to play with the genre). He gets a mysterious warning from his friend about the family, but becomes great mates with this aristocratic frenchman. Ultimately we see that this was a grift and Durrell drops a few ominous sentences along the lines of “If I knew then what I know now”. “That was my gravest mistake” which sort of spoilt the surprise of the twist at the end. But it’s full Gothic. Alone in an ancient chateau in terrible weather, cut off by snow with a lurking monster in the mirrors. Instead of strange old servitors he has some friendly animals. Again he can’t help himself intruding the comic parrot and friendly cat and dog. The canaries don’t get a speaking part. I wondered how such a monster kept such happy pets? In fact we have pea soup fog in London, thunder and lightning in Provence and heavy snow in Gorge du Tarn. Classic stuff.I am guessing that young Gideon resisted his hideous uncle but at the final summoning got eaten. “No, no. I will not be devoured so that you may live!”, or else when the mirror smashed at the narrator’s flat in London it got him. But anyway, Gideon in some way was possessed by his uncle’s evil, who only looked 50 (despite being described as old by the warning bloke in the pub) and whom the teen Gideon tried to resist being devoured. At least the uncle was decent enough to give him the heads up rather than just devouring him. Anyway, how did the uncle get into the mirror world? The uncle was murdered when Gideon was in Marseilles. So what killed the uncle? Was the murder just the uncle getting into the mirror world? If so, then the inscriptions seem old. Perhaps the library had occult books because the uncle was a sorcerer? Then what’s the thing about the ornate key: the key to life and death