When I was a boy, I saw an old black-and-white horror movie on TV. I’d not seen this kind of movie before and was emotionally unprepared for what a jolt it would be.

A woman was spending the night in a castle. She wakes up in the middle of the night because of a noise. Instead of doing what I would do (jump out of bed, run to the door, double-check that it’s locked, run back to bed, jump in, and cover up my head), she lit a candle and walked through the dark, gloomy castle searching for the source of the noise.

I had inched forward onto the edge of my chair. My heart was beating so hard I could feel it thumping in my chest. In my mind, I was saying to the flickering candle—the woman’s only source of light—’Keep burning. Keep burning. Don’t go out. Please don’t go out.’

The noise got louder, meaning the woman was getting closer. And I was more and more frightened. Suddenly the woman stopped, got a look of terror on her face, and screamed. I gave an involuntary yell of my own and slipped off the edge of the chair onto the floor. And just as I feared it would, the candle went out.

Fortunately, neither my mother nor my brother was there to witness my reaction. My brother would have laughed. My mother would have turned off the TV, and I’d be wondering to this day if the woman survived. (She did.)

When I was in the Army and stationed in Germany, my wife and I and our kids toured a medieval castle. The height and solidity of the place were impressive. The tour guide led us up spiraling stone steps and through room after room, giving information in German and then again in English. I wondered how people managed to build such large sturdy structures. I also imagined—I couldn’t help it— making that tour alone. At night. In bedclothes. By candlelight. Searching for the source of a strange noise. No, thank you.


The castle we toured was unfurnished, undecorated, and unheated.

An interesting thing I have since learned is that castle staircases usually spiral upwards in a clockwise direction. This meant that if attackers got in and were trying to rush up the stairs, right-handers would have a hard time swinging their swords. Defenders, however, would have the curve of the outer wall to allow a better swing.

I also learned that castles tended to be lavishly furnished and brightly colored. If a noble was rich enough to have a castle, there was also money enough to make it beautiful and comfortable.

Often, the interior walls were white-washed. There would be fine furniture and gorgeous carpets. Tapestries and paintings would grace the walls. Yes, castles were defensive, but they were also homes to kings and queens who wanted to live in grandeur.

They did not look like the set of a horror movie.

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