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Three Skeleton Key: Reviewing George G. Toudouze's Short Story

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Three Skeleton Key is about three men who work in a lighthouse. They are the unnamed narrator, Le Gleo and Itchoua. The lighthouse they operate is on a small island off of Guiana called Three Skeleton Key. It gets its name from three escaped convicts whose stolen canoe crashes into the island, eventually they die of hunger and thirst.

Itchoua sees a ship headed straight towards the island and alarms the other two. The ship was abandoned and eventually crashes into the rocks. The men signalled for the ship to turn away/around but soon found out it was rats on the ship. They assumed the ship was abandoned but realized the deadly ships’ rats had eaten the entire crew. The rats swam to the island and completely covered it. The men are trapped in the lighthouse. Soon, the starving rats ate through the window opening and forced the men to go to the upper level of the lighthouse (where there is no food or water).

The night before (the sixth day trapped), the men decided not to light the signal as they should always do. This gets the mainland’s attention and they send people to check out the lighthouse. When the people arrive, they assume the three men had been eaten alive but Itchoua sends a morse code message using the lighthouse’s light. The first rescue attempt (seventh day trapped) was using a fireboat to spray the rats off the lighthouse with water. This failed and Le Gleo is no longer right in his head. On the eighth day, the fireboat returns but with a boat full of fresh meat behind it. The rats swim towards the easily accessible meat. The fireboat burns the rats after drenching them with gasoline an;ld the rest of the rats are eaten by sharks.

The men are then saved. Le Gleo’s mind cracked and was sent to an institution back in France. Itchoua died due to infection from fighting off the rats. The narrator returns to work at the repaired lighthouse.

Characters:

  • Narrator
  • His most terrifying experience was on Three Skeleton Keys
  • Decided to work on Three Skeleton Keys because the pay was high and he was determined to save a good sum before his marriage
  • Greatly satisfied with the life on the key
  • Lived at the key for 2 years
  • Worked at the lighthouse with Le Gleo and Itchoua
  • After his most terrifying experience on the island, he returned and resumed his service there
  • Worked at lighthouses for 35 years
  • His most terrifying experience happened after he returned from shore leave at the end of June
  • Le Gleo
  • Frenchman about the narrator’s age
  • His mind cracked from the experience and he was sent back to France. He spent the rest of his life in an institution
  • Itchoua
  • The head keeper of the light
  • From Spain
  • About 10 years older than Le Gleo and the narrator
  • Died within a week of the experience from a rat’s bite

Vocabulary:

Provisions: a supply of food and other things that are needed

Maneuver: to move in a careful and usually skillfully way

Readily: quickly and easily

Riveted: to attract and hold all of someone’s attention

Besiegers: to gather around (someone) in a way that is aggressive, annoying, etc

Barge: a large boat that has a flat bottom and that is used to carry goods in harbors and on rivers and canals

Key: a low lying island

Maritime: relating to ships or navigation

Brethren: the lay members of a male religious order

Regatta: a series of boat races

Pestilential: likely to spread and cause an epidemic disease

Diminution: change toward something smaller or lower

Predominate: be larger in number, quantity, power, status or importance

Flotilla: a fleet of small craft

Phalanx: any closely ranked crowd of people

Themes:

Notify when you are warned.

Even when the friends thought they would die they believed that they would live

Settings:

  • Three Skeleton Key
  • Place where the lighthouse is located
  • A jagged strip of rock twenty miles away from the mainland
  • Built off the coast of Guiana
  • 150ft long and 40ft wide- “just big enough to let you stretch your legs”
  • Risk of drowning were not so great but the waters around the island swarmed with sharks
  • Earned its name and bad reputation from the story of 3 convicts who escaped from a jail in a stolen canoe. The canoe was wrecked on the rock and they were stranded on the key. They eventually died of hunger and thirst.When they were finally discovered, nothing remained but three heaps of bones picked clean by the birds.
  • Treacherous reefs hidden under the surface
  • Mainland
  • Lighthouse
  • A tall gray cylinder welded to the solid rock by iron rods.
  • Place where the narrator, Le Gleo, and Itchoua dwelled on the Three Skeleton Keys
  • 120 ft high
    • Additional Information:

      • Written by George G. Toudouze(1877-1972)
      • Fascinated with the sea
      • Wrote a history of the French navy, as well as numerous adventure novels
      • Wrote several plays and dozens of articles on travel and art
      • His father, Gustave Toudouze, was a well know writer at the time
      • The characters stayed on the Three Skeleton Key for 18 months at a time until their turn for shore leave came
      • The name of the three master ship was Cornelius de Witt
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