“Lazarus” by Leonid Andreyev

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This week i drew the seven of clubs for my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. Clubs are my suit for Russian authors this year, and this card was assigned to Leonid Andreyev’s story, Lazarus. I’m going to borrow an idea of Hanne at Reading on Cloud 9 and share the opening lines of this story:

“When Lazarus arose from the grave, after three days and nights in the mysterious thraldom of death, and returned alive to his home, it was a long time before anyone noticed the evil peculiarities in him that were later to make his very name terrible.”

Isn’t it better to let the dead rest in peace? Certainly in literature that appears to be the case. Zombies, vampires, etc? – these stories never end well. Not to mention Stephen King’s Pet Sematary or W.W. Jacobs’ story “The Monkey’s Paw.”

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Maybe these types of stories are our echoes of the biblical story of Lazarus, a man from the town of Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem. In the gospel of John (found in chapter 11, if you wish to re-read), we learn that Lazarus had been sick while Jesus was visiting his sisters, Mary and Martha, and him. After Jesus leaves, news reaches him that Lazarus has died. Jesus returns to Bethany. Moved by the tears of Lazarus’s sister Mary, he asks to be led to the tomb, where the stone is rolled away and, following his command, Lazarus (dead four days, not the three days in Andreyev’s story) walks out, trailing strips of linen and grave clothes. We don’t hear much about what happened to Lazarus afterward.

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Andreyev (above), however, proceeds to speculate in his story. “It was evident that the disintegration of the body had been halted by a miraculous power, but that the restoration had not been complete; that death had left upon the body the effect of an artist’s unfinished sketch seen through a thin glass.” Lazarus, as you might imagine, is quite the sensation and – at first anyway – everyone wants to see him and ask, “Why do you not tell us,Lazarus, what was There?”

Of course there is a dark side to Lazarus being brought back. Meeting this Lazarus has a dreadful effect on people. His gaze is worse than Medusa’s and Andreyev writes that “men thus stricken by the gaze of Lazarus began to fade away listlessly and quietly and pass into a slow death lasting many years.”

(Below: Medusa from classical mythology)

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This was a very disturbing story, and I almost feel that, just by reading it, I too have suffered at least a glancing blow of this dreaded gaze. The very reading of it cracked open the door to thoughts about what really does lie There, on the other side of life. It seems also that it is only with forceful effort that this door may be shut again. I hesitate to recommend this story to anyone except those who are prepared for their equilibrium to be perturbed. It is available in the public domain and may be found for free on line. One such place is at east of the web: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Laza841.shtml I own the story as part of my electronic copy of “Best Russian Short Stories.”

A bit of trivia I learned when “researching” this blog post is that the day before Palm Sunday is known as “Lazarus Saturday.” (In 2014, Lazarus Saturday will fall on April 12th – mark your calendars!) Maybe I’ll read this story again on that day in a few weeks. Coincidentally – or perhaps not – Saturday is the day of the week I’ve been drawing my card from my short story deck for the past few years.

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“But what of Lazarus? What of Lazarus?” (famous last words of Captain Kirk in an otherwise forgettable episode – “The Alternative Factor” – of Star Trek, the Original Series, which featured an alien character named… Lazarus)

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6 Comments

  1. March 16, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    “We don’t hear much about what happened to Lazarus afterward.” This is a good point. The Bible is occasionally sorely lacking in following up with its tertiary characters. Sounds like a good, if discomfiting tale.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      March 17, 2014 at 6:37 am

      Thanks for the comment, Katherine. I wanted to do more “biblical” research on the story, but didn’t find a lot in my admittedly cursory search. If any other readers know more about Lazarus, do share. 🙂
      -Jay

      Like

  2. Dale said,

    March 16, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Jay! Based on your post, I had to stop everything and read this. I had not heard of this author or this story before. Your post is spot on!

    I liked your comment: “It seems also that it is only with forceful effort that this door may be shut again.”

    Interestingly enough, one of my Ray Bradbury stories that I picked is called “Some Live Like Lazarus”. Now I’m curious what Bradbury’s story will be about. Although, I’m not sure even he could write a story as chilling as Andreyev’s.

    -Dale

    Like

    • Jay said,

      March 17, 2014 at 6:43 am

      Hi Dale,
      I’m pleased that my post made you want to read the story right away. I occasionally do that after reading certain posts about short stories too. I found it difficult to convey the pervading mood of this story, but did eventually end up with one of those rare posts that I’m actually happy with when I hit the “publish” button.

      That’s intriguing about the Bradbury story. I think I’ll ask Jon Eller at the next Vonnegut meeting what he knows about that story, and if Bradbury was familiar with Andreyev’s work. It wouldn’t surprise me.

      -Jay

      Like

  3. chuckofish said,

    April 12, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Now I really want to watch that Star Trek episode!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      April 13, 2014 at 11:20 am

      Not one of that show’s best efforts, but it has its moments. 🙂

      Like


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