The Haunting of Bly Manor has received praise for its tender storytelling, but a Star Trek: TNG episode followed a similar plot to less success.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is just one entry in a long line of adaptations of Henry James’ classic gothic horror novella The Turn of the Screw. The story’s timeless ghost-as-metaphor premise—as well as its public domain legal status—has inspired countless interpretations throughout the years in a variety of different mediums, including as the basis for one of the most hated episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation: the overly campy soap opera of season 7, episode 14, “Sub Rosa”.
Since Henry James published The Turn of the Screw in 1898, the ensuing decade saw a diverse array of adaptations exploring multiple aspects of the original tale, from stage operas to feature films. It was the psychological horror masterpiece The Innocents, directed by Jack Clayton and released in 1961, that brought the novella to then-contemporary audiences and galvanized a wave of analysis about the ambiguous nature of the haunting. Original screenwriter William Archibald based the film itself on his own 1950 stage play of the same name, while Truman Capote’s rewrites called the reality of the ghosts into question and helped distinguish the movie from its source materials.
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The Turn of the Screw, as well as the equally influential The Innocents, have produced so many retellings that Bly Manor isn’t even the first adaptation of the story to release in 2020, nor is “Sub Rosa” the only time Star Trek has referenced the work. The Turning, starring Finn Wolfhard as creepy kid Miles, didn’t get nearly as much attention or critical praise as its Netflix cousin, but the mere existence of a modern version of the more than a century old ghost story proves its lasting impact. In addition, Star Trek: Voyager features the virtual reality holonovel Janeway Lambda one, which is based partially on The Turn of the Screw.
With its presentation of ghosts and hauntings as stand-ins for trauma, grief, and lost love, gothic horror has immense power and potential to pull at the heartstrings and explore psychological complexities. The specters of both Bly Manor and The Innocents serve as representations of a tragic romance, reflecting both the unfortunate selfishness and the admirable tenacity of people who are deeply and beautifully in love with each other. In this way, the ghosts are less spooky apparitions than they are manifestations of the human spirit. Grandma Crusher’s spectral lover in “Sub Rosa” attempts to portray the same idea, but the story leans on melodrama rather than the quiet, haunting tone that is at the heavy heart of gothic horror.
On discussing The Turning of the Screw, Henry James stated that his intention was to bring ghosts into the realm of the mundane, creating sinister spaces of dread in everyday drama. The problem with Star Trek: TNG‘s “Sub Rosa” episode is that the melding of sci-fi concepts and gothic fiction makes the “alien ghosts” come across as strangely anachronistic, while the gothic romance elements seem more at home in a soap opera than in the thoughtful philosophy of Star Trek. This does represent a larger criticism of gothic fiction’s tendency to magnify emotions to the point of melodrama, too. Detractors of The Haunting of Bly Manor (as well as its predecessor, The Haunting of Hill House) have criticized the show for having soap opera aspects, for instance. This is why comparing the two works shows both the strengths and pitfalls of gothic storytelling.
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