Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

C.L. Moore, “Shambleau”


Moore, C.L. “Shambleau.” 1933. The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories. Ed. Alan Ryan. NY: Penguin Books, 1987. 255-281.


The most dorkily enjoyable cowboy-vampire-outer-space-medusa-on-mars story ever.

The Characters:

Northwest Smith — Obviously Moore is thinking of the classic pop lit kind of male name, consisting of an everyman monosyllabic last name and a depersonalized macho first name (cf. Rock, Rod, Granite, Bulk, etc.), although in this case it’s not even a substance but, rather, a vector. His lunk-headed assumption of the role of renegade protector (257) keeps him from making some basic inquiries such as “What in hell is a Shambleau?” But he’s the stereotypical male doofus and can’t ask for directions. No doubt he sees himself as a victim, and Moore (a female author, somewhat surprisingly, given the gender dynamics here) seems to foster this reading; but really Smith’s arrogant self-image keeps him so busy that he lays himself open for what happens. Shambleau is just there.

Shambleau — Mo[o]re stereotypical gender politics have the female creature named representatively for the entire species. It’s the “tender trap” crap again, presupposing that men are straightforward while women are forever plotting to undermine them. This Shambleau is certainly less devious than Carmilla even, who weaves only the thinnest of webs in that vampire story. Issues of her “own language” (260) and the gaze (259, 261) are potentially interesting.

Yarol — Moore tells the story (in 1975) of being a secretary and the origin of the story simply as a launching from typing exercises. Yarol is an anagram of the brand of typewriter: Royal.


“Earth’s latest colony on Mars — a raw, red little town where anything might happen, and very often did” (256).

“‘I’, taking care of her,’ drawled Smith” (257).

“They were frankly green as young grass, with slit-like, feline pupils that pulsed unceasingly, and there was a look of dark, animal wisdom in their depths — that look of the beast which sees more than man” (259).

“‘Some day I — speak to you in — my own language,’ she promised, and the pink tongue flicked out over her lips, swiftly, hungrily” (260).

“After all, she was no more than a pretty brown girl-creature from one of the many half-human races peopling the planets” (264).

“That warm softness was caressing the very roots of his soul with a terrible intimacy. The ecstasy of it left him weak, and yet he knew — in a flash of knowledge born of this impossible dream — that the soul should not be handled…. And with that knowledge a horror broke upon him, turning the pleasure into a rapture of revulsion, hateful, horrible — but still most foully sweet” (265).

“Their normal form must be that — that mass, and in that form they draw nourishment from the — I suppose the life-forces of men. And they take some form — usually a woman form, I think, and key you up to the highest pitch of emotion before they — begin. That’s to work the life-force up to intensity so it’ll be easier…. And they give, always, that horrible, foul pleasure as they — feed” (278).

“I only know that when I felt — when those tentacles closed around my legs — I didn’t want to pull loose, I felt sensations that — that — oh, I’m fouled and filthy to the very deepest part of me by that — pleasure — and yet –” (280).

“You say they — they don’t turn up again? No way of finding — another?” (280).


If only he’d been more speciesistic and gun-happy (263, 264, 268)!
I suppose that’s what we’re left to think. But what really is the problem? That his addiction to being bloodsucked signifies a loss of will and purpose in life — a purpose, by the way, that is so deep and sacred we can’t even know what it is? All very well to imply mind-control and soul-sucking (260), but give me a break.

Works Cited

Moore, C.L. “Afterword: Footnote to ‘Shambleau’… and Others.” The Best of C.L. Moore. Ed. Lester Del Rey. Garden City, NY: Nelson Doubleday, Inc., 1975. 306-309.

—. “Shambleau.” The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories. Ed. Alan Ryan. NY: Penguin Books, 1987. 255-281.