the Little Red Reviewer

Happy Lovecraftian Halloween!

Posted on: October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!  I hope everyone is having better weather than I am, it’s a gloomy rainy day around here, no good for trick or treating. This evening at work, we’ve invited our clients to bring their kids in to trick or treat through  the different departments, so I hope lots of people take us up on that offer so their kids don’t have to trick or treat in the rain.

the other day I reviewed H.P. Lovecraft’s famous At the Mountains of Madness novella. While I was saddened that the story didn’t do much for me, I understand it’s importance, and the post sparked some excellent discussion.  The little Lovecraft volume contained three more stories, all of which I enjoyed much more and wish that I had read first. After the 100+ page Mountains of Madness, it was a relief to get to shorter tales that got to the point much faster. Here are my thoughts on those.

The Shunned House

Many of the homes in Providence date back to the early days of the town. Over the generations, roads have been expanded, hills have been leveled, even cemeteries had to be completely moved to make room for the expanding city.  One house in particular was built into a hill, and as the street was widened, they just built up the foundation of the house and steps up to the front door.  The house hasn’t been lived in for years, the townspeople tell old wives tales about how everyone who ever lived there had an early death. On dares,  children break into the basement or peek into the windows, as there is some kind of mold or nitre in there that glows in the evening.  Mold or no, the stench of the house keeps most people away. I liked how Lovecraft brought other senses into the story, how the house smells, how the smell makes people anxious, the texture of the bricks, the color and smell and texture of the molds in the basements. It was very atmospheric.

Our narrator (I’m not sure he ever identifies himself) gets the history of the house from his bachelor uncle Elihu Whipple, a man who has over the years collected newspaper articles and local stories about the Shunned House.  We learn about the man who built the house, how his children succumbed to illnesses, how his wife lost her mind and would mutter in French at the end of her life, how the house was built on an old cemetery. The narrator and his uncle decide to spend a night in the basement of the house, and see what they can learn.  After that fateful night, during which our narrator finds himself eventually alone and running out into the street,  he decides he needs to dig into the basement to see what is under the house.

I was happily surprised at the conclusion of this story. The narrator actually succeeds in destroying what is under the house. It may have been a horrific demon, but sometimes us pathetic humans can destroy that which tries to destroy us.

The Dreams in the Witch-House

This was my favorite story in the collection.  It had more world building and characterization than the others, and the atmosphere was very effective. It creeped me out, so this is the one that I should have read during broad daylight!  Walter Gilman is a maths student at Miskatonic University, but he’s also read up on his mythos and one particular witch who lived there, Keziah Mason. In fact, Gilman has rented a room in an old boarding house, the exact room where Keziah did her horrific spells over two hundred years ago.  The first thing Gilman notices about the room is the strange angles of the ceiling and one of the walls. The angles don’t match the outside of the house, is there a secret room back there?  There are rats in the house, and he hears scurrying in the walls, so there must be at least a little bit of back there. And the angles of the corners! They must have some mathematical importance, right?

Gilman begins to have very strange dreams, and he wakes up sometimes with muddy feet and with his downstairs neighbors complaining about the noises coming from his room. He must be shouting in his sleep, and walking in his sleep.  He begins dreaming of the witch’s familiar, a furry white rat known as “Brown Jenkin”, who has humanlike hands. The dreams become more vibrant, involving abysses and huge buildings, chthonic idols, a malevolent old woman, and a yearning to visit the throne of Azathoth. In the dreams, he travels around with the woman and a dark man, only to learn the next day that witnesses saw the three of them in another part of town.  How is this possible? Gilman has proof that he never left his room, yet he wakes up wet from the rain, and knowing he was seen across the town with two strange looking people.

There are some great scenes where Gilman’s religious neighbor is chanting prayers, and Gilman is upstairs flipping out, on the edge of a nervous breakdown from his fever and the dreams that he can’t escape. When a physical chthonic idol is found in his bedroom, Gilman practically goes over the edge. It was great to get so much characterization for him, I could feel his edginess, that he’s on the verge of discovery but also on the verge of going crazy, and that he knows he brought it on himself. Had he not yearned for more knowledge about Keziah Mason, none of this would have happened.

This is a story I can happily see myself reading again and again. The tension was more in how Gilman was going to react to things, rather than the descriptions of the terrible things. It also helps, that the terrible things in this story are humanoid manifestations for the most part, not some incomprehensible and unfathomable monster that is described as “impossible to describe”. The story ends with a bang, where years later house has become dilapidated and the roof has falled in, and people can finally see what’s in the crawlspace created by those strange angles.

The Statement of Randolph Carter

A very, very quick story, and exactly what the title implies. Carter and his friend Harley Warren went into the swamps one night, and only Carter returned. Carter is suspected of killing his friend and hiding the body, so this is his chance to tell what happened and prove his innocence.  The men had become friends because they both dabbled in studies of the arcane. They go into the swamp with digging tools at Warren’s insistence, and Warren leads Carter to an abandoned cemetery and a specific sepulcher. They pry it open and find a secret tunnel underneath.  Warren implies that he will be seeing and doing fiendish, horrible things under the surface, so he insists that Carter stay on the surface. The two men stay in contact via a walkie talkie of sorts. For a few minutes, it’s a similar situation as in The Mountains of Madness, when they are waiting for radio reports from Professor Lake’s camp, and Lake is reporting his discoveries, and then an ominous silence. Carter loses contact with Warren, and when he finally raises a voice at the other end of the line, he hears Warren telling him to seal the sepulcher and run away, and then the same voice saying very inhuman things.  Short and to the point, this was a very effective story.

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14 Responses to "Happy Lovecraftian Halloween!"

That’s a nice idea for the trick or treating.
I read your review for At the Mountains of Madness – I’ve just put this on my tbr as well! So, now I’m not sure. Oh well maybe I’ll give it a shot and see what I think.
Lynn :D
Happy Halloween

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yeah, it was a nice idea until the building was overrun with cranky lost children. I thought they were just invited families of our clients (which would have been great, I know all those folks and most of their kids by sight), but no, it was open to the public. A little too chaotic for my tastes, I hid as much as possible the back corner of my department and in the staff lounge!

by the way, Shunned House is over at Project Gutenberg if you want to download for free. :)

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I liked The Shunned House too and The Dreams in the Witch-House sounds great. I need to track that one down.

Happy Halloween!

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Shunned House was excellent. I really need to pick up another Lovecraft short story collection, I want to read his stuff further.

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Hmm, that sounds like every Halloween here. Rain slickers for everyone. (Better than my home town, where we had to alter costumes to fit over winter coats.)

Maybe I should just be Cthulhu next year.

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Happy Halloween, Red.I’m assuming you’re costuming up as Red Sonja tonight? Perhaps Red Riding Hood? Maybe The Red Mask?

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ha ha, NO. I haven’t even left work yet! had I planned a little better earlier today, I could have totally Gothed out for work.

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We had the same kind of weather hear in WI…uggh. We braved it in the rain for an hour and got PLENTY of candy. She was a butterfly and it was a layered costume.

I have read some more Lovecraft…I like his writing, well who doesn’t?

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Butterflies always get extra candy. :)

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The Dreams in the Witch-House is my favourite. Go visit http://hppodcraft.com/ to hear amusing, spooky, and insightful analyses on Lovecraft’s works.

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You have perfect timing with that link, the novel I just picked up is a sort of Lovecraftian mash-up, me thinks I need to do some Lovecraft research to get all the references.

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It’s a great way to hear Lovecraft’s works and learn at the same time! ;)

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