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John W. Pinkerton


Saki---surely you remember at least one of his short stories from when you were in high school.  Do either of these titles ring a bell: “The Interloper” or “The Open Window”?  One of these two seemed to be in every textbook on the freshman or sophomore levels.  You probably remember them because of their surprise endings.  Heck, everyone likes a surprise ending.

You probably don’t remember his real name, Hector Hugh Munro.  “Saki” was his pen name, and like a lot of facts about his life, it’s uncertain how it originated.  One version says that it was based on a character in a poem.  Another version says it’s the name of a South American monkey.  It’s not important, but what is important was that he was master of the short story which is something I admire because I find them very...very difficult to write.

Munro was born in Burma in 1870.  His mother died when he was only two.  He and his siblings were sent back to England to live with their grandmother and aunts…a very puritanical household.  Munro returned to Burma to be a policeman but then returned to England after contracting malaria.

When World War I broke out, he volunteered as a regular trooper.  He had turned down a commission---bad decision: he was killed by a German sniper.  No glorious last words for “Saki”: “Put that bloody cigarette out!”

The main reason that we don’t know much of the truth about his life is that his sister (bless her heart) destroyed his papers and wrote her own version of his life which left out the fact that he was probably a homosexual.  Homosexuality was a No-No in Britain at the time which required secrecy on his part, and I’m pretty sure a secrecy his sister enthusiastically embraced.

In addition to his short stories, Munro wrote a full length play, two one-act plays, a historical study, a short novel, Westminster Alice (parody of Alice in Wonderland), and a fantasy based on the imagined invasion of England by the Germans.  However, no one cares today.  It’s his short stories which are still alive.

The Interloper”  is a dark tale of disputed property.  It begins, “In a forest of mixed growth somewhere on the eastern spurs of the Karpathians, a man stood one winter night watching and listening, as though he waited for some beast of the woods to come within the range of his vision, and, later, of his rifle. But the game for whose presence he kept so keen an outlook was none that figured in the sportsman's calendar as lawful and proper for the chase; Ulrich von Gradwitz patrolled the dark forest in quest of a human enemy.”

The Open Window” has a little lighter tone.   It begins with, “‘My aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel,’ said a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen;  ‘in the meantime you must try and put up with me.’” It concludes with, “Romance at short notice was her speciality.”

Many of his short stories can be found at “H. H. Munro (Saki).”  Most are decidedly short, so give a couple a try.