Tuesday Terror! The Festival by HP Lovecraft

Festive fun…

The porpy is ready to go into hibernation and is rather huffy because we read more mystery and science fiction short stories than horror this year, but I’ve promised him that next year I’ll be sure to build up a stock of scariness just for him! I’ve also agreed with his demand that no horror season could be considered complete without at least one story from HP Lovecraft, master of the weird, so here it is. Taken from the collection Chill Tidings, from the British Library’s Tales of the Weird series, a collection I didn’t get around to reviewing before Christmas and now feel the moment has passed. We enjoyed it though – probably a four-star read overall. Anyway, here’s Lovecraft…

The Festival
by HP Lovecraft

HP Lovecraft

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten.

One feels that primal secrets should be forgotten as quickly as possible – who ever heard of a primal secret that wasn’t trouble?? Anyway, our idiotic intrepid hero ends up in the infamous town of Kingsport, known to all HPL fans as a place where slithery things are common, dark forbidden books are the only kind the local library keeps, and humans are regularly driven insane…

…snowy Kingsport with its ancient vanes and steeples, ridgepoles and chimney-pots, wharves and small bridges, willow-trees and graveyards; endless labyrinths of steep, narrow, crooked streets, and dizzy church-crowned central peak that time durst not touch; ceaseless mazes of colonial houses piled and scattered at all angles and levels like a child’s disordered blocks; antiquity hovering on grey wings over winter-whitened gables and gambrel roofs; fanlights and small-paned windows one by one gleaming out in the cold dusk to join Orion and the archaic stars. And against the rotting wharves the sea pounded; the secretive, immemorial sea out of which the people had come in the elder time.

Yes, half-fish, half-frog, half-human people if my memory serves me better than my maths! It’s a cheery old place, Kingsport – perfect for a winter weekend getaway…

The printless road was very lonely, and sometimes I thought I heard a distant horrible creaking as of a gibbet in the wind. They had hanged four kinsmen of mine for witchcraft in 1692, but I did not know just where.

He finds the house of his distant family, whom he’s never met before…

When I sounded the archaic iron knocker I was half afraid. Some fear had been gathering in me, perhaps because of the strangeness of my heritage, and the bleakness of the evening, and the queerness of the silence in that aged town of curious customs.

Curious is one word for the customs of Kingsport, but perhaps not the one I would choose. He is welcomed by an old man, dumb apparently, and with a bland face that at first strikes him as kindly, but on entering the gothic old house, he feels fear returning…

This fear grew stronger from what had before lessened it, for the more I looked at the old man’s bland face the more its very blandness terrified me. The eyes never moved, and the skin was too like wax. Finally I was sure it was not a face at all, but a fiendishly cunning mask.

The Festival in Kingsport
by mcrassuart via deviantart.com

Does he turn and run? Nope. Instead he takes a seat and waits for hours to be led to the festival. Meantime he whiles away the time with some pleasant reading material provided by his host…

I saw that the books were hoary and mouldy, and that they included old Morryster’s wild Marvells of Science, the terrible Saducismus Triumphatus of Joseph Glanvill, published in 1681, the shocking Daemonolatreia of Remigius, printed in 1595 at Lyons, and worst of all, the unmentionable Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, in Olaus Wormius’ forbidden Latin translation; a book which I had never seen, but of which I had heard monstrous things whispered.

Finally the time comes for the people to make their way to the festival…

We went out into the moonless and tortuous network of that incredibly ancient town; went out as the lights in the curtained windows disappeared one by one, and the Dog Star leered at the throng of cowled, cloaked figures that poured silently from every doorway and formed monstrous processions up this street and that, past the creaking signs and antediluvian gables, the thatched roofs and diamond-paned windows; threading precipitous lanes where decaying houses overlapped and crumbled together, gliding across open courts and churchyards where the bobbing lanthorns made eldritch drunken constellations.

And yet still he doesn’t run…

* * * * *

Lovecraft’s style is so instantly recognisable and while he creates a wonderfully weird atmosphere of impending horror, I must admit his overblown vocabulary always makes me laugh! This story is much shorter than many of his rambling excursions through the terrors of Kingsport and its surrounds, and is very effective. It’s also utterly typical of his style so a good introduction for newcomers to his work, though I found I had to read quite a lot of his stuff before I became a real fan. If you’d like to find out exactly what happens at the festival, here’s a link. I promise it’ll make even your worst family Christmas look cosy in comparison and your weirdest relatives will suddenly seem normal…

(The porpy has now gone off to his hibernation box to dream of ghosties and ghoulies and Gothic horrors of all kinds. He’ll be back in the autumn, refreshed and ready for more!)

Fretful Porpentine rating:   😮 😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:            😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link

51 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Festival by HP Lovecraft

    • Haha, I know – actually he seems a bit restrained in this one! I don’t think he described a single thing as indescribable, although I’m sure there were plenty of blasphemous and hellish things slithering around… 😉

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  1. Ah, Kingsport, where the sun never shines, the inhabitants are always slithering around and the gibbous moon is always ghostly. Oh, and I almost forgot — there’s usually someone around with a copy of the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred! I used to be quite the Lovecraft fan back in the day although it’s been ages since I read any of his stuff. Although much of it is totally over the top, I still think some of his stories are truly classics of horror (Pickman’s Model; The Rats in the Wall; The Dunwich Horror)
    It’s been interesting to see how modern writers react to the racism in Lovecraft, but that’s a topic for a whole different discussion . . .

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    • Don’t forget the blasphemous hellishness of the indescribable horrors! Hahaha, I always find him more funny than scary, and I’m fairly sure I’m not supposed to! I only came across him a few years ago and I can only take a little at a time, but I have come to appreciate him and to see what an influence he has been on generations of horror writers. It’s a pity about the racism – some of it is so extreme, far more than can be allowed for just by the difference in time. Ugh!

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  2. Hah, who’d’ve want to visit anywhere in New England during HPL’s lifetime, and who is even now certain that no Great Old Ones linger there undetected, waiting for the unwary to awaken them from their sleep? Hark, what is that high fluting sound? Who or what is chanting? What is that smell emanating from that crack in the floor, the crack that is slowly widening…

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  3. Trust Lovecraft to create a deliciously weird, eerie, horror story, FictionFan! You have to wonder why this guy does the equivalent of going down alone to check the basement… 😉 Still, what a sp-o-o-oky story, and with a great touch of otherworldiness. I can see why you chose this one!

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    • Hahaha, I love that he uses all these old words like eldritch, and the moon is always bloated or leering! No spooning in June for Lovecraft! 😀 The poor old porpy was ready to hibernate after this one – he’s still twitching in his sleep… 😉

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    • Make sure Monkey is with you for protection! The poor old porpy didn’t get much of an outing this year the way things worked out, but I’ll make sure to have some treats for him next year… 😱

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    • I prefer his shorter stories for that reason, but the more I read of him the more I get into the swing of it, and now the overblown stuff that used to annoy me makes me laugh instead – not sure it’s supposed to though! The porpy is twitching contentedly in his box… 🦔💤

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  4. All of his photos seem to show a man permanently stuck in Kingsport down in a basement! But to be fair this does sound like a excellent story for a dark and stormy night. Sweet terrifying dreams for porpy during his long nap.💤

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    • Haha, I know – I really feel that the only possible career he could have had was as a horror writer! I love the photo of him stroking his cat – it’s the creepiest thing in the world… 😉 The porpy has snuggled down and is twitching gently… 🦔

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    • Haha, he does make me laugh – my favourite is when he says a thing is “indescribable” and then takes forty words to not describe it! The porpy is contentedly snoring and only twitching occasionally when the bloated, fungoid moon leers from the darkened sky… 🦔😱💤

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  5. I have to admit that I’ve never read any Lovecraft! Partly just because I’m not a horror reader, partly because his reputation as melodramatic put me off. The authors who cite him as an influence don’t tend to be particularly to my taste. However, I enjoyed your review tremendously and am a bit tempted to give this story a go, since it’s suitable for newcomers!

    Also, I like your observation that primal secrets are always trouble – how very true! You’d think that eventually the characters in these books would wise up to that, but they never do.

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    • Haha, no horror story would work if the human characters behaved sensibly though! 😉 I found Lovecraft’s language really offputting at first and I still think he has a tendency to waffle on for way too long in a lot of his stories. But there’s something addictive about him – he kind of worms his way into your brain and gradually you feel you need just one more hit of eldritch screams at indescribable beings huddling beneath a bloated, fungoid moon! I still prefer when he keeps it reasonably short though…

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  6. I do like your occasional nudges to read a little Lovecroft, and appreciate short doses of his overwrought language (‘elbows that seemed preternaturally soft’ – a wonderfully disturbing image). There is a bit of a counter-weight here too to the literary nostalgia of the usual Christmas stories, with the dark references to pre-Christian rituals – maybe it was good to read it after Christmas 😳

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    • Ha, yes, I always think Lovecraft works best in short doses! But there is something strangely addictive about his writing and weird imagination – he puts images in the mind that tend to linger! I won’t be booking a short break to Kingsport for next Christmas, though… 😉

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  7. I love that you are promising more horror in the Fall, it’s something for me to look forward to! That overblown vocabulary makes me smile too, it’s a bit over-the-top but its what makes it fun too I suppose 🙂

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    • Ha, yes, it’s like Poe – his style only works for horror too. I can’t imagine putting up with that overblown style in any other genre! I’m glad you enjoy the horror posts – I feel I haven’t done many this year, but I ended up with so many anthologies of mystery and SF I just didn’t have time. Next year I’ll plan better! :d

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    • It’s a good one, isn’t it? I always prefer Lovecraft on the rare occasions he managed to keep it relatively short! And his style is instantly recognisable – must be quite easy to pastiche, I’d think.

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