Study Guide

William James Henry in The Monstrumologist

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William James Henry

Loyal Serva—uh, Assistant

If Will Henry were a dog, he'd be a golden retriever rescued from a shelter and willing to do just about anything to earn his new master's approval. In fact, Will Henry really is a rescue—Dr. Warthrop took him in upon the tragic death of his parents.

However, Will Henry's not some fawning devotee. He may fetch Dr. Warthrop his slippers, but that's where our comparison ends: He doesn't do it for the metaphorical pat on the head. Often his services are dispensed with a begrudging weariness, like he has resigned himself to his fate:

He dropped the necklace into a tray and called for the scissors. To the devil with him, I thought. Let him fetch his own scissors. He called again, his back to me, hand outstretched, bloody fingers flexing and curling. I rose from the stool with a shuddering sigh and pressed the scissors into his hand. (1.103)

So it's not for the praise that Will Henry does his duties, especially because Dr. Warthrop is hardly effusive with his commendations. Instead Will Henry performs his invaluable service to Dr. Warthrop because he believes that it's the best way to honor his parents and their deaths:

Perhaps, then, it was love that stayed me. Not love for the doctor, of course, but love for my father. By remaining I honored his memory. Leaving would have invalidated his most cherished belief, the one thing that had made service to the monstrumologist—and the terrible cost of that service—bearable: the idea that Warthrop was engaged in "great business" and to be his assistant meant you, too, were part of that greatness; that, indeed, without you his "business" could not even have approached that exalted level. Running away would have been tacit acknowledgment that my father had died in vain. (7.78)

Regardless of his motives, though, we can all agree that Will Henry goes above and beyond the normal call of duty. He assists with gruesome necropsies and the wholesale slaughter of vicious creatures, but he also shops, cooks, cleans, and generally looks after the man who should be taking care of him. Even when he's totally sleep deprived, Will Henry hauls his tired bones downstairs to sit with Dr. Warthrop as he struggles with insomnia. That's some dedication, right there.

'Cuz I'm All Alone, Nobody Here Beside Me

Due to the nature of their peculiar calling, Dr. Warthrop and Will Henry are pretty isolated from the general public. Sure, people know whom to turn to when they find Anthropophagus corpses or have a problem with something else that goes bump in the night, but it's not like they invite them over for tea.

Because of this, poor Will Henry is pretty lonely. There's a heartbreaking moment in the book when Will Henry has retreated to his room to cry and he falls asleep remembering his old friends playing stickball:

At the schoolhouse my former chums were in the yard playing stickball, squeezing in the last at bat before Mr. Proctor, the headmaster, called them back inside for their afternoon lessons. Then, at the last ringing of the bell, the excited race for the door, the explosion into the soft spring air, the bedlam of a hundred voices shouting in unison, "Freedom! Freedom! The day is ours!" Perhaps the stickball game would be resumed, mid-inning, the minor distraction of afternoon lessons dismissed with. I was small for my age and not a very good batter, but I was fast. When I left the school for the private instruction of Dr. Warthrop, I was the fastest runner on my team and the holder of the most stolen bases. I had stolen home a record thirteen times.

Now he's on his own with Dr. Warthrop and his days of stickball are over. Beyond this, Dr. Warthrop barely even remembers to talk to the boy, let alone engage him in anything resembling play. This leaves Will Henry feeling pretty lonesome, indeed:

I was not unused to this odd isolation in his company, but had yet to become accustomed to the effect it had upon me: There is no loneliness more profound, in my experience, than being ignored by one's sole companion in life. Whole days would pass with nary a word from him, even as we supped together or worked side by side in the laboratory or took our evening constitutional along Harrington Lane. (4.69)

Can you imagine? One day you're happily living with your parents, going to school with your friends like an ordinary twelve-year-old, and then suddenly you're an orphan living with someone who barely remembers you exist until he needs something done. Poor Will Henry.

Despite the fact that Dr. Warthrop is hardly a boon companion, Will Henry is fiercely protective of him—because he's all he's got. When Malachi is holding a gun to Dr. Warthrop's forehead, Will Henry stops him:

"He took everything from me, Will!" he whispered.

"And you would take everything from me," I answered.

I reached for the hand that held the gun. He flinched. His finger tightened on the trigger. I froze. "He is all I have," I said, for it was true. (9.49-51)

Dr. Warthrop may leave a bit to be desired on the companion and guardian fronts, but he's better than nothing and Will Henry most definitely doesn't want to lose him.

He May Be Small, But He Is Fierce

If he wanted to use them, Will Henry has plenty of excuses to get out of doing the more daring things he does in Dr. Warthrop's service. He's only twelve years old, for Pete's sake, and he's a pretty petite kid at that. He recently lost his parents to a devastating fire, and his whole life has been uprooted and replaced with an unconventional existence (to say the least). But he never lets any of these things get in the way of doing what needs to be done.

Although several people make it a point to protest his presence (due to his age and innocent nature), Will Henry sticks around—half at Dr. Warthrop's insistence, and half because he doesn't know what else to do:

"And Will Henry? Surely you're not taking him."

I spoke up, hardly believing the words coming from my mouth, as if spoken by a hardier soul, "Don't send me away, sir. Please."

His answer was presaged by a smile, small and sad. "Oh, Will Henry. After all we have been through, how could I send you away now, at our most critical hour? You are indispensable to me."  (11.117-119)

Fortunately, when push comes to shove, Will Henry proves he can hold his own pretty darn well.

During the massive Anthropophagi slaughter, Dr. Warthrop takes it upon himself to rescue the human "bait" Dr. Kearns so creatively employed. But as the battle commences, Will Henry is the one who steps up to stay with the woman during the commotion:

The doctor grabbed my shoulder and brought his face close to mine, looking deeply into my eyes. "Can you, Will Henry? Can you?"

I nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Here." He pressed his revolver into my free hand and turned to go.  (11.207-209)

These moments of bravery, impressive as they are, amount to small beans, though, when Will Henry enters the heat of battle. He manages to kill a juvenile Anthropophagus with just a bowie knife while defending the "bait." Even Dr. Kearns is impressed:

"There's one more, sir," I said. "Under the platform."

"Under the platform?" asked Kearns, startled.

"I killed it."

"You killed it?"

"I shot it, and then I stabbed out its eyes, and then I stabbed out its brain."

"Stabbed out its brain!" cried Kearns with a laugh. "Well done, Mr. Assistant-Apprentice Monstrumologist! Very well done indeed! Warthrop, award this boy the Society's highest honor for bravery!"  (11.252-257)

And in a moment no one can forget, Will Henry somehow finds the presence of mind to keep calm when confronted with the alpha female, the most dangerous Anthropophagus they have to face:

Wait. Wait, Will Henry. Let her get close. You must let her get close! Closer. Closer. Ten feet. Five feet. Three. Two… 

And when the beast was close enough that I could see my own reflection in its black, soulless orb, when all the world was her rotten stench and her snapping teeth and her slick, glistening, pallid skin, when I reached that instant wherein a hairsbreadth separates life from death, I smashed the muzzle against her groin and pulled the trigger.  (12.333)

Will Henry: The kid you can count on whether you're having a hard time sleeping, need someone to fetch your slippers, or are hoping to kill the most terrifying beast we can imagine. Not too shabby for a twelve-year-old orphan.

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