Eliphaz Moss

Eliphaz Moss was a farmer living near Homer, Michigan [The Figure in the Shadows; 147-52].

April 30, 1859

On the evening of April 30, 1859 the Moss farmhouse was set afire with Moss inside. Mrs. Zimmermann's grandfather was part of bucket brigade that tried to put out the fire. She recalls hearing stories of Moss running out of the house and throwing himself into the large well behind his house. His body was never recovered and later a large cover was fitted over the gapping hole to serve as a tombstone.

Walter Finzer was Eliphaz's hired man and is generally thought to have started the fire. Why? Rumors at the time fingered Moss as a dabbler in the occult and, since April 30 is day thought to be prime for witches and witchcraft, Moss may have chosen the night to enchant an innocent coin into an amulet that could call forth spirits from the depths to do his bidding. Moss was discovered by a drunken Finzer, who knocked out his boss and set fire to the house [149]; Finzer skipped town with the coin and disappeared in the Civil War. Since the ritual was interrupted, or possibly never properly completed, it backfired and the coin was enchanted by the spirit - or soul or ghost or something - of Eliphaz Moss instead.

The Figure in the Shadows

Moss Ghost

The Moss Ghost, the solitary figure dressed in a long, hooded coat that smelled like wet ashes, chose Lewis as its victim because Lewis recited Zimmermann's prayer of waking and possession. After being summoned, Eliphaz's spirit took shape in the world, manifesting at several places including near the library, in dreams, near the Masonic Temple, and finally, back home, at the Moss Farm. It's the one item of seemingly little significance that allows Mrs. Zimmermann to connect the events from the century before to Lewis's disappearance. Unfortunately for her, the Moss spirit is still extremely powerful and she looses all her powers during her confrontation with it.

Inspiration

Much of the history of Moss, and how he relates to young Lewis Barnavelt, is presented after the fact, resulting in an interesting storytelling technique on Bellairs' part though it tends to leave readers in the shadows as well. Fan Brian Showers writes that the back-story of Moss dropped in at the end seemed a little strained. "I felt as if Eliphaz Moss was lurking a little too deeply in the shadows until the last chapter. The extension story concerning Lewis's great-grandfather and Walter Finzer helped connect the dots to some extent but it would have been nice to know just a bit more about the shadowy creature that was stalking Lewis...not too much to give it away, but a bit more, a peak under the shroud." Showers also notes his favorite line of the book about Moss:

It must have been awfully lonely on farms in those days. No TV, no radios, no cars to take you into town for a movie. No movies at all. Farmers just kind of holed up for the winter. Some of them read the Bible, and some of them read - other books." [149]

"I found that line in particular to be very Lovecraftian. There are elements of The Colour Out of Space but this story much more strongly resembles the chilling Lovecraft tale, The Picture in the House.

Both Showers and James Card have noted the similarities of The Figure in the Shadows to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Showers notes Lewis's addict-like behavior, an unhealthy obsession for the three-cent piece that makes him "a nasty little bugger" like Gollum. Card adds that Lewis wears the three-cent piece around his neck like Frodo and both stories end on the edge of a precipice (or for Lewis, the well). The sinister, shadowy Moss Ghost could be akin to Nazgûl, the Black Riders of Middle Earth, in appearance. Charles Dickens, too, utilized the sinister cloaked figure motif for his symbolic character, the Spirit of Christmas Yet-to-Come, in A Christmas Carol (1843).

Many of Bellairs' characters feature antiquated names, sometimes inspired by his deep reading in his Catholic upbringing. Eliphaz, meaning, "My God is strength," was the first-born son of Esau by his wife Adah. He had six sons (Exodus 17:16; Deuteronomy 25:19). He is also noted as a comforter of Job (Job 2:11).