Three Skeleton Key

Last updated
Three Skeleton Key
by George G. Toudouze
Country France
Language English
Genre(s) Short story
Published in Esquire
Publication type Magazine
Media typePrint
Publication dateJanuary 1937

"Three Skeleton Key" is a short story by the French author Georges-Gustave Toudouze. The January 1937 edition of Esquire marked its first appearance in English. This suspenseful tale and "Leiningen Versus the Ants" were discovered by the magazine's editor Arnold Gingrich. [1]


Georges-G. Toudouze (1877–1972) was born in Paris, France. His father, Gustave Toudouze, was a well-known author of the time. The younger Toudouze wrote on such topics as art, architecture, travel and French naval history. Although he penned numerous adventure novels and short stories, he is today remembered for a single work: "Three Skeleton Key". [2]


The plot involves three men tending a lighthouse on an island off the coast of French Guiana. The rock the lighthouse stands on is dubbed 'Three Skeleton Key', named after a tragedy when three convicts escaping from Cayenne became ship-wrecked on the rock and eventually died of hunger and thirst – the only thing left of them were a heap of bones cleaned off by scavenging birds. The three lighthouse attendants are headkeeper, Itchoua (the eldest of the men), Le Gleo, and the narrator (whose name is never given).

An abandoned ship, infested with ferocious rats, makes landfall. A life-and-death struggle ensues as the men seek to save themselves from the hungry horde, who swarm over the lighthouse. [1] The three men barely survive fending off the rats when they break into the tower. The men escape into the lighthouse gallery, which has a metal trapdoor that the rats cannot gnaw through, and are able to use the light to signal an investigating patrol boat. Eventually the rats are lured off the island onto a barge loaded with meat, which is then set on fire by incendiary shells. Many of the rats die and the survivors are devoured by the sharks that infest the waters. The fates of the men are then revealed by the narrator: Le Gleo went insane from the events and was locked away in a French asylum, and Itchoua dies of infection from rat bites and scratches. The narrator continues to work in the lighthouse until his service time is over.

Publishing history

This work first appeared in French in 1927 as "La tour d'épouvante", and was featured in Toudouze's 1946 short story collection Aux Feux tournants des Phares...: Récits de Mer et de Haute Mer with illustrations by P. Peron. [3] The first English edition of "Three Skeleton Key" was in 1937 in Esquire.


James Poe adapted the story for radio in a version that aired on Escape on November 15, 1949. Poe's script gave different names to the three characters: the narrator is named "Jean", the head keeper Itchoua is named "Louis" and Le Gleo is now a hunchbacked former actor named "Auguste"; the adaptation also provides a different and more chilling reason as to why the rats eventually leave the lighthouse.

The One Act Audio Theatre revisited "Three Skeleton Key" in 2001. A modern recording of the piece can be found at the organization's web site as well as the script by James Poe. [5]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Murders in the Rue Morgue</span> Short story by Edgar Allan Poe published 1841

"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe published in Graham's Magazine in 1841. It has been described as the first modern detective story; Poe referred to it as one of his "tales of ratiocination".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Purloined Letter</span> Short story by Edgar Allan Poe

"The Purloined Letter" is a short story by American author Edgar Allan Poe. It is the third of his three detective stories featuring the fictional C. Auguste Dupin, the other two being "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt". These stories are considered to be important early forerunners of the modern detective story. It first appeared in the literary annual The Gift for 1845 (1844) and soon was reprinted in numerous journals and newspapers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vincent Price</span> American actor (1911–1993)

Vincent Leonard Price Jr. was an American actor. He appeared on stage, television, and radio, and in more than 100 films. Price has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for motion pictures and one for television.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prix de Rome</span> French scholarship for arts students

The Prix de Rome or Grand Prix de Rome was a French scholarship for arts students, initially for painters and sculptors, that was established in 1663 during the reign of Louis XIV of France. Winners were awarded a bursary that allowed them to stay in Rome for three to five years at the expense of the state. The prize was extended to architecture in 1720, music in 1803 and engraving in 1804. The prestigious award was abolished in 1968 by André Malraux, then Minister of Culture, following the May 68 riots that called for cultural change.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Gold-Bug</span> Short story by Edgar Allan Poe

"The Gold-Bug" is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe published in 1843. The plot follows William Legrand, who was bitten by a gold-colored bug. His servant Jupiter fears that Legrand is going insane and goes to Legrand's friend, an unnamed narrator, who agrees to visit his old friend. Legrand pulls the other two into an adventure after deciphering a secret message that will lead to a buried treasure.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Fall of the House of Usher</span> 1839 short story by Edgar Allan Poe

"The Fall of the House of Usher" is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1839 in Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, then included in the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque in 1840. The short story, a work of Gothic fiction, includes themes of madness, family, isolation, and metaphysical identities.

Escape is an American radio drama. It was radio's leading anthology series of high-adventure radio dramas, airing on CBS from July 7, 1947 to September 25, 1954. Since the program did not have a regular sponsor like Suspense, it was subjected to frequent schedule shifts and lower production budgets, although Richfield Oil signed on as a sponsor for five months in 1950.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">C. Auguste Dupin</span> Fictional French crime-solver created by Edgar Allan Poe

Le ChevalierC. Auguste Dupin[oɡyst dypɛ̃] is a fictional character created by Edgar Allan Poe. Dupin made his first appearance in Poe's 1841 short story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", widely considered the first detective fiction story. He reappears in "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" (1842) and "The Purloined Letter" (1844).

Claude de Bourdeille, comte de Montrésor (c. 1606–1663) was a French aristocrat and Count of Montrésor, who played a role in the intrigues of the first half of the 17th century, and was also a memoir-writer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marcel Schwob</span> French writer

Mayer André Marcel Schwob, known as Marcel Schwob, was a French symbolist writer best known for his short stories and his literary influence on authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, Alfonso Reyes, Roberto Bolaño and Patricio Pron. He has been called a "precursor of Surrealism". In addition to over a hundred short stories, he wrote journalistic articles, essays, biographies, literary reviews and analysis, translations and plays. He was extremely well known and respected during his life and notably befriended a great number of intellectuals and artists of the time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jean Epstein</span> French film director, essayist and novelist

Jean Epstein was a French filmmaker, film theorist, literary critic, and novelist. Although he is remembered today primarily for his adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, he directed three dozen films and was an influential critic of literature and film from the early 1920s through the late 1940s. He is often associated with French Impressionist Cinema and the concept of photogénie.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cordouan Lighthouse</span> Lighthouse

Cordouan lighthouse is an active lighthouse located 7 kilometres at sea, near the mouth of the Gironde estuary in France. At a height of 67.5 metres (221 ft), it is the tenth-tallest "traditional lighthouse" in the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Man of the Crowd</span> Short story by Edgar Allan Poe

"The Man of the Crowd" is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe about a nameless narrator following a man through a crowded London. It was first published in 1840.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edgar Allan Poe in popular culture</span>

Edgar Allan Poe has appeared in popular culture as a character in books, comics, film, and other media. Besides his works, the legend of Poe himself has fascinated people for generations. His appearances in popular culture often envision him as a sort of "mad genius" or "tormented artist", exploiting his personal struggles. Many depictions of Poe interweave elements of his life with his works, in part due to Poe's frequent use of first-person narrators, suggesting an erroneous assumption that Poe and his characters are identical.

James Wilber Poe was an American film and television screenwriter. He is best known for his work on such films as Around the World in 80 Days, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Summer and Smoke, Lilies of the Field, The Bedford Incident, and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Louis Valtat</span> French painter (1869–1952)

Louis Valtat was a French painter and printmaker associated with the Fauves, who first exhibited together in 1905 at the Salon d'Automne. He is noted as a key figure in the stylistic transition in painting from Monet to Matisse.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">La Vieille</span> Lighthouse

La Vieille is a lighthouse in the département of Finistère at the commune of Plogoff, on the northwest coast of France. It lies on the rock known as Gorlebella, guiding mariners in the strait Raz de Sein, across from the companion lighthouse Tourelle de la Plate—also known as Petite Vieille. It is among the small class of lighthouses around the coasts of France carrying the moniker "hell", due to a remote position in rough seas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Museum of modern art André Malraux - MuMa</span> Museum in Le Havre, France

The Musée d'art moderne André Malraux is a museum in Le Havre, France containing one of the nation's most extensive collections of impressionist paintings. It was designed by Atelier LWD, an architecture studio led by Guy Lagneau, Michel Weill and Jean Dimitrijevic. It is named after André Malraux, Minister of Culture when the museum was opened in 1961.

<i>Razzia sur la chnouf</i> 1955 French film

Razzia sur la chnouf is a 1955 French gangster film directed by Henri Decoin that stars Jean Gabin, Lino Ventura, Lila Kedrova and Magali Noël. The screenplay, based on a novel by Auguste Le Breton, explores the contemporary drug scene in Paris and the efforts of the police to limit it. The film was released as Razzia in the United States, distributed by Kassler Films Inc. with English subtitles by Herman G. Weinberg.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tévennec Lighthouse</span> Lighthouse

TévennecLighthouse is a lighthouse located at the western tip of Brittany, in the northern part of the Raz de Sein off the Pointe du Van. Automated in 1910, it accompanies the light of La Vieille in securing the passage of the Raz de Sein, which presents many difficulties. The rocks near Tévennec were historically known as Stevenet Banks.


Vincent Price in the movie Laura in 1944 Vincent Price in Laura trailer-crop.jpg
Vincent Price in the movie Laura in 1944
  1. 1 2 The Greatest Survival Stories Ever Told edited by Lamar Underwood, (Guilford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press, 2001) pp. 61–71.
  2. 1 2 One Act Virtual Museum Retrieved: May 20, 2012.
  3. Toudouze, Georges-Gustave (1946). "II: La Lumière dans la nuit: Quatre récits". Aux Feux tournants des Phares...: Récits de Mer et de Haute Mer (PDF). Paris: Éditions Brittia. pp. 57–82. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  4. Radio play Retrieved: August 7, 2013.
  5. One Act Audio Theatre Retrieved: May 20, 2012.

Streaming audio

Short Film