Short Stories Read! Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft, The Dunwich Horror (1929).

First sentence: “Gorgons and Hydras, and Chimaeras – dire stories of Celaeno and the Harpies – may reproduce themselves in the brain of superstition – but they were there before.”

Last sentence: “It was his twin brother, but it looked more like the father than he did.”

Horror is a genre that I usually avoid, because I know I almost never find a horror book creepy or scary; in stead, most of the time I find the so-called scary things rather ridiculous or, at the best, they leave me completely indifferent.   But sometimes one has to step out of one’s comfort zone and try something else.  So that’s why, for the last two days of 2011, I decided to try some stories by H.P. Lovecraft, as he is seen now as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century.

The first story I read, The Dunwich Horror,  confirmed my opinion that horror just isn’t for me…  The creature that brought chaos, destruction and death to the little village of Dunwich, just seemed to unreal for me to provoke any effect.

Summary Taken from Wikipedia:

Wilbur Whateley is the son of a deformed albino mother and an unknown father (alluded to in passing by the mad Old Whateley as “Yog-Sothoth”), and strange events surround his birth and precocious development. Wilbur matures at an abnormal rate, reaching manhood within a decade. All the while, his sorcerer grandfather indoctrinates him into certain dark rituals and the study of witchcraft.

The plot revolves around the desire of Wilbur to acquire an unabridged Latin version of the Necronomicon — his imperfect English copy is ill-suited for his dark purpose — so that he may open the way for the return of the mysterious “Old Ones”, whose forerunner is the Outer God Yog-Sothoth. Thus, Wilbur and his grandfather have sequestered an unseen presence at their farmhouse; this being is connected somehow to Yog-Sothoth. Year by year, this unseen entity grows to monstrous proportions, requiring Wilbur and his patriarch to make frequent modifications to their residence. People begin to notice a trend of cattle mysteriously disappearing. Eventually, Wilbur’s mother also disappears. By the time Wilbur’s grandfather dies, the colossal entity occupies the whole interior of the farmhouse.

Wilbur ventures to Miskatonic University in Arkham to procure a copy of the dreaded Necronomicon – Miskatonic’s library is one of only a handful in the world to stock an original print of the frightful tome. The Necronomicon has certain spells that Wilbur can use to summon the Old Ones for dark purposes unfathomable to men. When the librarian, Dr. Henry Armitage, refuses to release the university’s copy to him, Wilbur breaks into the library at night to steal the loathsome book. A guard dog attacks Wilbur with unusual ferocity, killing him. When Dr. Armitage and two other professors arrive on the scene and see Wilbur Whateley’s partly non-human corpse, before it melts completely to leave no evidence, they realize that the youth was not wholly of this earth.

The story culminates with the actual Dunwich horror: With Wilbur Whateley now dead, no one can attend to the mysterious presence growing in the Whateley farmhouse. Early one morning, the Whateley farmhouse explodes as the thing, an invisible monster, rampages across Dunwich, cutting a path through fields, trees, and ravines, leaving huge “prints” the size of tree trunks. The monster eventually makes forays into inhabited areas. Part of the cattle of at least two farms, and two entire families (the Fryes and the Bishops), are attacked and devoured. The frightened town is terrorized by the invisible creature for several days, until Dr. Armitage, Professor Warren Rice, and Dr. Francis Morgan, all of Miskatonic University, arrive with the knowledge and weapons needed to kill it. In the end, its nature is revealed: it is the twin brother of Wilbur Whateley, though it “looked more like the father than Wilbur did.”

H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Ctulhu (1926).

First sentence: “(Found Among the Papers, of the Late Francis Wayland Thurston, of Boston.)”

Last sentence: “Let me pray that, if I do not survive this manuscript, my executors may put caution before audacity and see that it meets no other eye.”

The second story, The Call of Ctulhu, I thought much better;  I am not sure why, though.

Summary taken from Wikipedia:

The story is presented as a manuscript “found among the papers of the late Francis Wayland Thurston, of Boston”. In the text, Thurston recounts his discovery of notes left behind by his granduncle, George Gammell Angell, a prominent Professor of Semitic languages at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who died suddenly in “the winter of 1926–27” after being “jostled by a nautical-looking negro”.

The first chapter, The Horror in Clay, concerns a small bas-relief sculpture found among the papers.  The sculpture is the work of Henry Anthony Wilcox, a student at the Rhode Island School of Design who based the work on his delirious dreams of “great Cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror.” Wilcox frequently references the terms Cthulhu and R’lyeh, and Angell also discovers reports of “outre mental illnesses and outbreaks of group folly or mania” around the world (in New York City, “hysterical Levantines” mob police; in California, a Theosophist colony dons white robes to await a “glorious fulfillment”).

The second chapter, The Tale of Inspector Legrasse, discusses the first time the Professor had heard the word “Cthulhu” and seen a similar image. At the 1908 meeting of the American Archaeological Society in St. Louis, Missouri, a New Orleans police official named John Raymond Legrasse asked the assembled antiquarians to identify a statuette composed of an unidentifiable greenish-black stone, that “had been captured some months before in the wooded swamps south of New Orleans during a raid on a supposed voodoo meeting.” The idol resembles the Wilcox sculpture, and represented a “…thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence, and squatted evilly on a rectangular block or pedestal covered with undecipherable characters”. The statuette was identified as “great Cthulhu”.

The third chapter, The Madness from the Sea, concerns the investigation into the cult.

H.P. Lovecraft, The Alchemist (1908, published 1926).

First sentence: “High up, crowning the grassy summit of a swelling mount whose sides are wooded near the base with the gnarled trees of the primeval forest stands the old chateau of my ancestors.”

Last sentence: “I tell you, it is I! I! I! that have lived for six hundred years to maintain my revenge, for I am Charles Le Sorcier!”

This is a very short story, only 10 or 11 pages long, and I liked it. The Alchemist, was written when Lovecraft was only 18 or 19.

Summary taken from Wikipedia:

The story is recounted by the protagonist, Count Antoine de C-, in the first person. Hundreds of years ago, Antoine’s noble ancestor was responsible for the death of a dark wizard, Michel Mauvais. The wizard’s son, Charles le Sorcier, swore revenge on not only him but all his descendants, cursing them to die on reaching the age of 32.

The protagonist recounts how his ancestors all died in some mysterious way around the age of 32. The line has dwindled and the castle has been left to fall into disrepair, tower by tower. Finally, Antoine is the only one left, with one poor servant, Pierre, who raised him, and a tiny section of the castle with a single tower is still usable. Antoine has reached adulthood, and his 32nd year is approaching.

His servant dies, leaving him completely alone, and he begins exploring the ruined parts of the castle. He finds a trapdoor in one of the oldest parts. Below, he discovers a passage with a locked door at the end. Just as he turns to leave, he hears a noise behind him and sees that the door is open and someone is standing in it. The man attempts to kill him but Antoine kills him first. His dying words reveal that he is none other than Charles, who actually managed to successfully fabricate the Elixir of life, enabling him to personally fulfill the curse generation after generation.

H.P. Lovecraft, The Haunter of the Dark (1935).

First sentence: “Cautious investigators will hesitate to challenge the common belief that Robert Blake was killed by lightning, or by some profound nervous shock derived from an electrical discharge.”

Last sentence: “I see it – coming here – hell-wind – titan blue – black wing -Yog Sothoth save me – the threee-lobed burning eye…”

This story left me completely indifferent.

Summary from Wikipedia:

The story takes place in Providence, Rhode Island and revolves around the Church of Starry Wisdom. The cult uses an ancient artifact known as the Shining Trapezohedron to summon a terrible being from the depths of time and space.

The Shining Trapezohedron was discovered in Egyptian ruins, in a box of alien construction, by Professor Enoch Bowen before he returned to Providence, Rhode Island in 1844. Members of the Church of Starry Wisdom in Providence would awaken the Haunter of the Dark, an avatar of Nyarlathotep, by gazing into the glowing crystal. Summoned from the black gulfs of chaos, this being could show other worlds, other galaxies, and the secrets of arcane and paradoxical knowledge; but he demanded monstrous sacrifices, hinted at by disfigured skeletons that were later found in the church. The Haunter of the Dark was banished by light and could not cross a lighted area.

The Shining Trapezohedron is a window on all space and time. Described as a “crazily angled stone”, it is unlikely to be a true trapezohedron because of the Old Ones’ penchant for bizarre non-Euclidean angles. It was created on dark Yuggoth and brought to Earth by the Old Ones, where it was placed in its box aeons before the first human beings appeared. After the passing of the Old Ones, during the final stages of the lower Triassic period, the trapezohedron was salvaged from the ruins of their cyclopean cities by the serpent people of Valusia. Eventually, after the bloody extermination of the serpent people at the hands of the advancing pre-human hordes of Lomar, the device found its way into the possession of the primitive men of Lemuria, Atlantis and in later cycles the Pharaoh Nephren Ka of Egypt until at last it was unearthed and brought to New England.

After the death of Robert Blake, who came to grief after discovering the Shining Trapezohedron and deciphering texts about it from ancient evil cults, the artifact was removed from the black windowless steeple where it was found by a Dr. Dexter and thrown into the deepest channel of Narragansett Bay. It was expected to remain there, under the eternal light of the stars, forever; yet, Robert Bloch’s sequel, The Shadow from the Steeple, proved that Nyarlathotep had cheated Dexter, forcing him to peer into the stone and actually throw the stone into the bay, where the eternal darkness of the depths gave the Haunter the power to remain perpetually free; it used this power to merge with Dr. Dexter and make him one of the world’s leading nuclear scientists-in charge of atomic investigation for warfare.

H.P. Lovecraft, The Outsider (1926).

First sentence: “Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness.”

Last sentence: “This I have known ever since I stretched out my fingers to the abomination within that great gilded frame; stretched out my fingers and touched a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass.”

Not for me, this one…

Summary from Wikipedia:

“The Outsider” is written in the first-person narrative style and details the miserable and apparently lonely life of an individual who appears to have never had contact with another individual. The story begins with this narrator explaining his origins. His memory of others is vague, and he cannot seem to recall any details of his personal history, including who he is or where he is from. The narrator tells of his environment: a dark, decaying castle amid an “endless forest” of high, lightless trees. He has never seen natural light, nor another human being, and he has never ventured from the prison-like home he inhabits. The only knowledge the narrator has of the outside world is from his reading of the “antique books” that line the walls of his castle.

The narrator tells of his eventual determination to free himself from what he sees as an existence within a prison. He decides to climb the ruined staircase of the high castle tower that seems to be his only hope for an escape. At the top of the stairs, the narrator finds a trapdoor in the ceiling, which he pushes up and climbs through. Amazingly, he finds himself not at the great height he anticipated, but at ground level in another world. With the sight of the full moon before him, he proclaims, “There came to me the purest ecstasy I have ever known.” Overcome with the emotion he feels in beholding what – until now – he had only read about, the narrator takes in his new surroundings. He realizes that he is in an old churchyard, and he wanders out into the countryside before eventually coming upon another castle.

Upon coming to the castle that he finds “maddeningly familiar,” the narrator sees a gathering of people at a party within. Longing for some type of human contact, he climbs through a window into the room. Upon his entering, the people inside become terrified. They scream and collectively flee from the room, many stumbling blindly with their hands held over their eyes toward the walls in search of an exit. As the narrator stands alone in the room with the screams of the party vanishing into far away echoes, he becomes frightened at what must be lurking near him. He walks around the room searching for what might be hidden in the shadows but finds nothing. As he moves towards one of the rooms alcoves, he detects a presence and approaches it slowly.

I cannot even hint what it was like, for it was a compound of all that is unclean, uncanny, unwelcome, abnormal, and detestable. It was the ghoulish shade of decay, antiquity, and dissolution; the putrid dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation, the awful baring of that which the merciful earth should always hide. God knows it was not of this world – or no longer of this world – yet to my horror I saw in its eaten-away and bone-revealing outlines a leering, abhorrent travesty of the human shape; and in its mouldy, disintegrating apparel an unspeakable quality that chilled me even more. (Lovecraft)

In his shock and surprise, he loses his balance and touches the creature. Horrified, he runs from the building back to his castle, where he tries unsuccessfully to crawl back through the grate into his old world. Cast out of his old existence, the narrator now rides with the “mocking and friendly ghouls on the night wind,” forever and officially an outsider since the moment he stretched his fingers towards the creature in the darkness and felt nothing but the “cold and unyielding surface of polished glass,” signifying he had touched a mirror.

Prior to telling of how he discovered that the monster was, in fact, himself, the narrator explains that he fled to a valley of the Nile in Egypt, where he exists alongside other outsiders – presumably undead, like himself – and even enjoys something of a social life (for example, a feast beneath one of the Pyramids), although he describes how “nepenthe has claimed me”, hinting that he is still trying to forget his haunted past.

H.P. Lovecraft, The Whisperer in Darkness (1931).

First sentence: “Bear in mind closely that I did not see any actual visual horror at the end.”

Last sentence: “For the things in the chair, perfect to the last, subtle detail of microscopic resemblance – or identity – were the face and the hands of Henry Wentworth Akeley.”

This was my favourite story.

Summary from Wikipedia:

The story is told by Albert N. Wilmarth, an instructor of literature at Miskatonic University in Arkham. When local newspapers report strange things seen floating in rivers during a historic Vermont flood, Wilmarth becomes embroiled in a controversy about the reality and significance of the sightings, though he sides with the skeptics. Wilmarth uncovers old legends about monsters living in the uninhabited hills who abduct people who venture or settle too close to their territory.

He receives a letter from one Henry Wentworth Akeley, a man who lives in an isolated farmhouse near Townshend, Vermont. He affirms that he has proof that will convince Wilmarth that he is wrong. From this point on, most of the story involves the exchange of letters between the two characters. Through their correspondence, we learn of the existence of an extraterrestrial race of monstrous beings that have an outpost in the Vermont hills where they mine a rare metal. They have no interest in the human race and usually hide from people. Nonetheless, they ruthlessly defend their outpost and their secrecy, often employing human agents with whom they have made secret pacts.

The aforementioned agents intercept Akeley’s messages and proceed to harass his farmhouse on a nightly basis. The two eventually exchange gunfire, killing many of Akeley’s guard dogs. Although Akeley expresses more worry in his letters, he abruptly has a change of heart. He writes that he has met with the extraterrestrial beings and has learned that they are a peaceful race. Furthermore, they have taught him of marvels beyond all imagination. He urges Wilmarth to pay him a visit and to bring along the letters and photographic evidence that he had sent him. Wilmarth reluctantly consents.

Wilmarth arrives to find Akeley in a pitiful physical condition, immobilized in a chair. Akeley tells Wilmarth about the extraterrestrial race and the wonders they have revealed to him. He also says that the beings can surgically extract a human brain and place it into a canister wherein it can live indefinitely and withstand the rigors of outer space travel. Akeley says that he has agreed to undertake such a journey and points to a cylinder bearing his name.

During the night, a sleepless Wilmarth overhears a disturbing conversation. When he investigates, he makes a horrifying discovery. He then runs from the farmhouse, steals Akeley’s car, and flees to Townshend. When the authorities investigate the next day, all they find is a bullet-riddled house. Akeley has disappeared, along with all the physical evidence of the extraterrestrial presence.

As the story ends, Wilmarth recounts the horror that drove him from the Akeley farmhouse. When he went to the chair where Akeley had sat, he found only his disembodied face and hands. We are led to conclude that it was not Akeley who had sat in the chair and conversed with him but one of the extraterrestrials in disguise, whilst all the while Akeley’s brain had rested in the named cylinder.

This was the 22nd ‘book’ I read for the 2011 E-Book Challenge!

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2 Comments

  1. I guess I’m more suggestible than you, because I do tend to find horror pretty horrific! I’ve read a particularly horrific book by Chuck Palahniuk which was totally intriguing but also very aargggghhhh! I’m not sure if I’d be happy to read these stories.

    • I wonder why I have no problems at all to go with books as Harry Potter and co., and yet I do not care at all for horror books. Perhaps I have never read a really good, creepy, scary one? Luckily there are other books to read… 🙂
      Thanks for your comment, Judith.

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