Monday, February 1, 2010

Off the Lot 1

Appointment in Samarra

Death speaks:

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

... W. Somerset Maugham. "The Appointment in Samarra"

Note: Later used by John O’Hara in the opening of his first novel.


  1. And recited, to mesmerising effect, by Boris Karloff in his valedictory movie Targets. I had no idea it was Maugham.

  2. Matthew:

    I have always been taken with this piece -- made more interesting by our proximity to O’Hara country. And Maugham was at The King’s School in Canterbury. We have been in those precincts frequently, but for the Powell connection. (My wife reenacts the soldiers’ turn (in Tale) from the town into Christ Church Gate whenever we are there -- perplexing any tourists or locals on site.)

    I have not seen Targets since it first surfaced. Have added it to my Netflix Queue.
    I have a vague memory of having seen a dramatic story based on the old legend / tale on television many years ago as “Appointment in Samarkand.” Variations based on the tale sometimes appear in that guise. Another set of footprints to trace. Best.


    Postscript: Found the Karloff on You Tube. It is as you say. Will still watch the whole once Netflix delivers.