Last Updated May 1, 2017
In Here There Be Tygers, Stephen King explores the absolute depth that social fear can take through the eyes of a school child. This short story falls early in Stephen King’s short fiction and was originally published in 1968 when King was just 20 years old.
This is an analysis of Stephen King’s Here There Be Tygers as it was published in the short story collection Skeleton Crew in 1985, at least 17 years after King wrote it.
Just like Cain Rose Up, Stephen King published Here There Be Tygers for the first time in Ubris, the University of Maine’s literary journal, in Spring of 1968. It was not the first time, and it would not be the last time King published in Ubris.
Given the timing, this means King was likely just 20 years old when he wrote Here There Be Tygers, although he may have been 19.
Although King had the opportunity to collect Here There Be Tygers in the short story collection Night Shift, he waited until 1985 with his second collection, Skeleton Crew, to revise and re-publish it.
This review concerns only the version published in Skeleton Crew. If some day I am able to get my hands on the original publication of Here There Be Tygers, I will update this article. For now, the original version that appeared in Ubris is extremely difficult to find, although it does reside at the library on the campus of the University of Maine and can be photocopied. Alas, I am about 900 miles away.
If you have not yet read Here There Be Tygers, go do it now. This analysis will not be spoiler-free. It won’t take long. It’s a very short story.
The Narrative Story
The narrative story is simple. Charles, a third grader, is in class and needs to use the bathroom very badly. However, he fears asking to use the restroom in front of his class, due to how stern his teacher is. He is granted permission to go after some embarrassment.
When he gets to the restroom, he discovers that there is a tiger in the restroom. He goes back into the hallway without using the restroom and eventually speaks to one of his classmates wondering what is taking him so long. The classmate goes into the restroom after Charles warns him that there’s a tiger inside, and the tiger presumably kills the boy.
Charles eventually musters up the courage to go back into the restroom and urinates in the closest sink. He is caught urinating in the sink by his teacher, who scolds him for doing so. She is likewise also presumably killed by the tiger, though King does not explicitly say so. Charles then calmly returns to his classroom.
That’s it. The End.
According to Rocky Wood, the genesis of this story is Stephen King’s scary first grade teacher. His Literary Companion says nothing else about where the story came from.
Oddly, I am pretty sure King was really mixed up about the origin of the story when he spoke at the Billerca Public Library in Massachusetts on April 22, 1983. The transcript of this speech is printed in both Secret Windows and Bare Bones. In that speech, he says:
Now, some months ago my youngest boy said, “I’ve got one problem with kindergarten.” And I said, “What’s that?” And he said, “I’m embarrassed about going to the basement.” And at first I thought he meant the basement. I couldn’t imagine why they were sending kindergarten kids down to the school basement. then this sort of ancient memory from grammar school came up in my mind and I thought, he means the bathroom, because that’s what we always used to say, “Can I go to the basement.”
I remembered that I had been terribly embarrassed about that as well. So I said something that I hoped was comforting, and a little story came out of it, which was, I think, a direct response to that question. I began to play with the idea of mean old teachers who make you raise your hands in front of all these little kids and they all laugh when you’re walking out of the room because they know what you’re going to do. They know it. This became the story Here There Be Tygers, which was for my little boy. But it’s also for anybody else who wants it or needs it or anybody else who ever sat there in school and suffered ’cause you didn’t want to admit in front of everybody else that you had to do those things.
The problem with this is that Here There Be Tygers was originally published in 1968, and Owen King was not born until 1977. So it’s impossible that Here There Be Tygers was written for Owen King. What is possible is that Owen King gave rise to the odd usage of the word “basement” in this story, and when King revised Here There Be Tygers for Skeleton Crew, it is the usage of the word “basement” that was integrated into the story. However, I don’t know that, because I don’t have the original version of this story.
That said, King’s usage of the word “basement” as a substitute for bathroom is odd in this story. I’ve never in my life, in any context, heard somebody refer to the bathroom or restroom as “going to the basement.”
Bryant Burnette’s review of Here There Be Tygers goes more in depth than I am here. What he points out is that this story might work well as a story written for children. The narrative is certainly simple enough for children to understand, and children likely would be thrilled by this story more than adults are.
King’s description of Charles’ fear of the teacher works particularly well:
Charles had known he would end up with Miss Bird. He had known that. It had been inevitable. Because Miss Bird obviously wanted to destroy him. She did not allow children to go to the basement. The basement, Miss Bird said, was where the boilers were kept, and well-groomed ladies and gentlemen would never go down there, because basements were nasty, sooty old things. Young ladies and gentlemen do not go to the basement, she said. They go to the bathroom.
The sentence “It had been inevitable” works well for me, because I remember thinking just that on several occasions as a child. It was simply a feeling that the worst of several possible outcomes would occur, and then it did. Of course, sometimes it didn’t, but who remembers those times?
When Charles gets to the restroom, King specifies the brand name of the paper towel dispenser: “(NIBROC)” he puts in parentheses. Of course, this made me curious, and it turns out that yes, Nibroc actually was a paper towel manufacturer back then.
Another thing King does particularly well is setting the tone after the classmate Kenny is killed by the tiger:
The washbowls and the mirrors were neat, and the faint smell of chlorine was unchanged. But there seemed to be a smell under it. A faint, unpleasant smell, like freshly sheared copper.
And, as an aside, Kenny was apparently being killed as far back as 1968.
Where Does the Fear Come From?
Here’s the best part about this story to me: What’s more scary? Is it the social fear of needing to announce that you need to urinate as a school child, or is it a tiger waiting for you when you get to the bathroom. It’s pretty clear that the fear of saying you need to use the bathroom is the greater of the two fears.
The tiger is almost incidental in the context of this story. And it’s also a happy ending. Charles gets to urinate, and the teacher dies.
According to Rocky Wood, at least two Dollar Baby films have been made. One was in 2003, and one was in 2010. I was unable to find either one on the internet.
However, I did find a couple of adaptation attempts on YouTube, though I do not believe these are officially approved Dollar Baby films. The first I think would qualify as animation (and it’s not very good at all):
The second is live action, and better, but still not very good:
Other Notable Curiosities
Ray Bradbury published a short story by the exact same name in 1951. It is about a human expedition to another planet and bears no similarity to Stephen King’s Here There Be Tygers.
As Wikipedia points out, both titles may be a reference made to phrases medieval cartographers would write on maps to denote uncharted territories.
Is this a good short story? No, it’s nothing extraordinary, but it’s adequate. King has written far, far better. And we will get to those in future analyses. In the meantime, check out the other analyses I have written thus far for The Glass Floor and Cain Rose Up.
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