The Moonlit Road Essay

"Contains a number of excellent stories, including several considered Bierce's best. I have to say, all of them were quite good, and I was impressed at how so many of them are still terrifying and suspenseful over a hundred years after Bierce wrote them." — Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased
Famed for the mordant wit and satire of his essays and newspaper columns, Ambrose Bierce (1842–1914) also possessed a fascination with the macabre. His masterful tales of the supernatural bespeak an imagination generations ahead of its time, exhibiting impressionistic conceits of reality in which space and time expand and contract according to individual perception.
This stimulating and provocative collection of twelve of Bierce's finest ghost and horror stories abounds in crimes of passion, restless specters seeking revenge, haunted houses, forewarnings of doom, and sound minds deranged by contact with the spirit world. Selections include "The Eyes of the Panther," a chilling account of a young woman's supernatural link to a beast of the forest; "A Watcher by the Dead," in which a madcap wager has ghastly consequences; "The Man and the Snake," a hallucinogenic encounter between serpent and human; "Moxon's Master," a nineteenth-century caveat against the coming Machine Age; the celebrated title story; and seven others.

Dover original selection of 12 stories reprinted from various sources.
AvailabilityUsually ships in 24 to 48 hours
ISBN 100486400565
ISBN 139780486400563
Author/EditorAmbrose Bierce, John Grafton
FormatBook
Page Count96
Dimensions5 x 8
  • 1

    Do you think that Jenner Brading knew that the panther he killed might be Irene? If so, how does this change how we read his character?

    I think Jenner Brading did not know that the panther was Irene. He agreed with her that the terrifying experience her mother had while pregnant with her would surely make her insane, but she never told him anything about her ability to turn into a panther, so he had no way of knowing. Moreover, when Irene marched off into the darkness after their discussion and he saw the eyes of a panther, he called out to her in warning.

    If we are to believe that Jenner Brading knew the panther was Irene, then this would mean his character was far more jealous and vindictive than we would at first believe. It is one thing to be angry about being rejected romantically, but quite another to kill the one who rejects us.

  • 2

    We read three different perspectives on the same events in "The Moonlit Road." Do you think any of them are lying? Whose story do you think is the most true?

    I think that Julia may be lying about the figure who visited her in the night before her husband arrives home. This figure seen fleeing from their home is mentioned in all three narratives, but is never accounted for. Perhaps Julia was familiar with this figure, but has chosen not to tell the truth. After all, just because she is speaking from beyond the grave does not mean she is telling the full truth.

    I also think that Joel Hetman Jr. suspects that his father played a role in the death of his mother, because he notes that Joel Sr. was "passionately attached [to his wife] with what I now know to have been a jealous and exacting devotion" (10). This indicates that he knew his father was jealous. However, it's hard to say whether Joel Jr. nurtured these suspicions while watching his father jump at every sound, or whether he learned the truth after his mother communicated it to him via a medium.

  • 3

    Do you think Murlock's wife was protecting him from the panther, or was she intercepted in an attempt to undertake even more nefarious actions?

    I think that she was some sort of undead creature that would have attacked him given the chance. It is odd that she would remain unconscious as he engaged in the difficult task of preparing her body for burial; if she was in a coma, surely she would have awoken. Moreover, it is unsettling that a mere woman, especially one with her hands bound, would be able to fight off a panther so easily. I also think that the panther may have sensed this supernatural creature and chosen to attack it, because otherwise it makes little sense for a wild animal to enter the dwelling of a human being when there are so many other options for game in the woods.

  • 4

    What do you think is the primary message about superstition in "The Man and the Snake"?

    I think the primary message about the supernatural in this story is that it only has the power that we grant to it. The supernatural does not exist in this story; rather, it is assumptions about the supernatural that wreak havoc.

    Moreover, the story suggests that denying superstitions does not automatically save us from their effects. Brayton is quite skeptical of the claim that a snake's gaze can hypnotize a man, but clearly on some level he believes it is true because he ends up dying after being hypnotized by a toy snake. This story also suggests that superstitions can actually cause such strong emotions that they lead to death.

  • 5

    How is domestic violence depicted in "The Secret of Macarger's Gulch"?

    Domestic violence has a major role in this story: Elderson witnesses a terrifying reenactment of Thomas MacGregor's murder of his wife Janet in the darkness of the cabin. In this story, domestic violence is an act that tears through time and space, causing moments from the past to collapse in on the present.

    Moreover, domestic violence is depicted as utterly senseless and an act that goes unpunished. Thomas MacGregor has no reason to kill his wife, he just does. He also never suffers any consequences for this action, as he runs off after committing the heinous act and his wife's murdered body is only discovered months later by the visiting Morgan. Instead, this unpunished act continues to play out in an endless loop.

  • 6

    Do you think Rosser, Sancher, and King knew what would happen to Manton when they lured him back to the mansion?

    I think they wanted to take take revenge for her, especially after they recognized who Manton was. They wanted to do it in a very ordinary way, but they did not know that the ghost of Manton's wife would rise up and kill him in the house. King seemed just as surprised as the sheriff when they noticed the strange footprints in the dust bear Manton's body. There was also no mention of this supernatural intervention in their plans, which were deadly enough without the intervention of a ghost. After all, facing three men with knives in a dark room was a very dangerous situation for Manton in the first place.

  • 7

    What do you think is the connection between Janette Harford and William Jarrett?

    I think that they may be brother and sister. William Jarrett makes no mention of his parents, and he may have been - knowingly or unknowingly - adopted after their deaths. He notes that he feels a strange magnetism to Janette, but he is not in love with her, so perhaps this is a sense of kinship that draws them together.

    Additionally, the passage from Denneker's Meditations makes mention of kin that may find each other across great distances, which implies that William and Janette are known to each other. She may even have summoned him there in order to keep her fiancée Gordon Doyle informed about her whereabouts.

  • 8

    Why doesn't John Bartine just get rid of the watch?

    I think that John Bartine does not get rid of the watch because he is actually the same person as his great-grandfather Bramwell Olcott Bartine. This is indicated by the fact that the portrait of Bramwell Olcott Bartine in the watch is described as looking exactly like John Bartine; his friend says, "This portrait is you in every feature, line, and expression" (62). Secondly, Bartine's peculiar outburst at the "traitorous" Washington and his "ragamuffin" rebels (60) seems peculiar for someone who is three generations removed from such events, and who lives in a country that hails Washington as a founder and central hero. It is possible that the watch has transported him through time to the present, and by doing so, has postponed his death until the clock strikes 11.

  • 9

    Do you think that it was Jarrette or Mancher who survived?

    I think that it was Mancher who survived. Deaths from fear are common in Bierce's stories, and it would make sense if Jarette died from fear at seeing someone who looked so much like himself rise from the dead. Mancher likely panicked and feared being framed for murder, and so he decided to take Jarette's clothes (just as he explained to Helberson and Harper) and flee. He may have become insane from guilt at having murdered a man, but even so, he still claims to be a physician at the head of an asylum, indicating that he still maintains some of his identity as a doctor.

  • 10

    Ambrose Bierce's stories contain a number of examples of time slips, or moments when two different moments in time come together. What does this accomplish, and what are some of the reasons why it happens?

    A time hub or slip is "a specific narrative moment where multiple timelines intersect." In "The Secret of Macarger's Gulch," for example, Paul Juhasz points out that there are actually three distinct temporal moments overlapping the night of Elderson’s stay: the past moment (broadly speaking) in Edinburgh presented in his dream, a second past moment when Janet MacGregor’s murder is represented, and the present moment of Elderson’s overnight stay in the ruined cabin.

    As in many Bierce stories, the time hub is prompted by an event of great cruelty, in this case the murder of Janet MacGregor by her husband Thomas. In other stories, such as "John Bartine's Watch," a time hub is prompted by a violent death that goes unpunished. This act continues to play out in an endless loop, tearing through time and space, causing moments from the past to collapse in on the present.

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