Tuesday Terror! The Moon-Bog by HP Lovecraft

Wraiths and frogs…

HP Lovecraft has become an annual fixture on Tuesday Terror! ever since I first came across him and mocked his overblown style a few years back. Somehow his “weird” imagery wormed itself into my brain and, while I still occasionally mock him, I’ve come to admire his work and to realise how influential it has been on horror and weird fiction right up to the present day. The porpy and I first read this story last year and still remember some of the imagery distinctly, so it seems a perfect choice for this week’s…

The Moon-Bog
by HP Lovecraft

HP Lovecraft

Somewhere, to what remote and fearsome region I know not, Denys Barry has gone. I was with him the last night he lived among men, and heard his screams when the thing came to him; but all the peasants and police in County Meath could never find him, or the others, though they searched long and far. And now I shudder when I hear the frogs piping in swamps, or see the moon in lonely places.

Ah, frogs! Deliciously Lovecraftian! Having made his money in America, Denys Barry has purchased the decayed ancestral castle of his family in Ireland and has spent the last few years restoring it to its former glory, much to the joy of the local peasantry who benefited from the work and money he provided.

But in time there came troubles, and the peasants ceased to bless him, and fled away instead as from a doom. And then he sent a letter and asked me to visit him, for he was lonely in the castle with no one to speak to save the new servants and labourers he had brought from the north.

Artist unknown

Our narrator hastens to be by his friend’s side…

I had reached Kilderry in the summer sunset, as the gold of the sky lighted the green of the hills and groves and the blue of the bog, where on a far islet a strange olden ruin glistened spectrally. That sunset was very beautiful, but the peasants at Ballylough had warned me against it and said that Kilderry had become accursed, so that I almost shuddered to see the high turrets of the castle gilded with fire.

That evening, Denys tells him of the trouble…

The peasants had gone from Kilderry because Denys Barry was to drain the great bog. For all his love of Ireland, America had not left him untouched, and he hated the beautiful wasted space where peat might be cut and land opened up. The legends and superstitions of Kilderry did not move him, and he laughed when the peasants first refused to help, and then cursed him and went away to Ballylough with their few belongings as they saw his determination.

Art by bealinn via deviantart.com

Our narrator laughs too. Oh, how they laugh! Superstitious peasants! What rational man would pay attention to their absurd fears?

They had to do with some preposterous legend of the bog, and of a grim guardian spirit that dwelt in the strange olden ruin on the far islet I had seen in the sunset. There were tales of dancing lights in the dark of the moon, and of chill winds when the night was warm; of wraiths in white hovering over the waters, and of an imagined city of stone deep down below the swampy surface. But foremost among the weird fancies, and alone in its absolute unanimity, was that of the curse awaiting him who should dare to touch or drain the vast reddish morass.

Here’s a tip for anyone thinking of moving to a new neighbourhood: always listen to the fears of the local peasants! Denys proceeds with his plans, bringing in labourers from outside since the locals have left. Meantime our narrator’s nights are disturbed by dreams of wild music and mysterious figures on the bog. And then on the night before the bog is due to be drained, he is woken by the sound of shrill piping and a strange light…

Terrible and piercing was the shaft of ruddy refulgence that streamed through the Gothic window, and the whole chamber was brilliant with a splendour intense and unearthly.

Finally plucking up his courage, he looks out of his tower room window at the bog below…

Half gliding, half floating in the air, the white-clad bog-wraiths were slowly retreating toward the still waters and the island ruin in fantastic formations suggesting some ancient and solemn ceremonial dance. Their waving translucent arms, guided by the detestable piping of those unseen flutes, beckoned in uncanny rhythm to a throng of lurching labourers who followed dog-like with blind, brainless, floundering steps as if dragged by a clumsy but resistless daemon-will. As the naiads neared the bog, without altering their course, a new line of stumbling stragglers zigzagged drunkenly out of the castle from some door far below my window, groped sightlessly across the courtyard and through the intervening bit of village, and joined the floundering column of labourers on the plain.

And then the shrieking begins…

Art by Stephen Fabian

* * * * *

I think this is my favourite of all the Lovecraft stories I’ve read. A wonderful mix of Gothic horror and weird fiction, the frogs are not to be missed, and the whole thing is full of Lovecraft’s amazing imagery. I read it in the gorgeous British Library hardback, The Gothic Tales of HP Lovecraft – a book that I highly recommend both for the quality of the stories and for the tactile beauty of the book. However if you’d like to read this story online, here’s a link.  I warn you, though, if you ever let Lovecraft inside your head, you may never be able to rid yourself of him…

The porpy is refusing to come out of the tree till
he’s sure there are no frogs around…

Fretful Porpentine rating:  😮 😮 😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:           😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link
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The Gothic Tales of H. P. Lovecraft edited by Xavier Aldana Reyes

Fear, frogs and fungoids…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

“Shrieking, slithering, torrential shadows of red viscous madness chasing one another through endless, ensanguined corridors of purple fulgurous sky…”

I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with Lovecraft. When he manages to restrain his worst excesses, he’s the equal of any horror writer I’ve read and far superior to most, but when he gets into full “weird” mode, he seems to lose control and goes wandering off through chapters as long and tortuous as the ancient tunnels and buildings he describes. So the idea of some of his shorter, more Gothic tales collected in one volume appealed to me greatly. I’m happy to say I loved this collection – every story got either a four or five star rating individually, a rare occurrence that has happened to me only once before, as far as I remember.

There are thirteen tales in the collection, ranging in length from eight pages to forty or so. They are simply presented, without illustrations or notes. However there is a short but informative introduction by Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes, Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Film at Manchester Metropolitan University and a member of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies. Reyes discusses how Lovecraft’s reputation as a major influence in weird fiction has led to his more traditionally Gothic work being somewhat overlooked. But Reyes points out that even in his weird fiction, Lovecraft often used Gothic concerns. Having read the stories, I’d say the reverse is also true – that his Gothic tales often include elements of his major weird works, particularly in the settings, the hint of unknown fears from something more cosmic than ghostly, and the idea of the degeneration of humanity, which recurs frequently not only in Lovecraft’s work but in that of many of his near contemporaries.

HP Lovecraft

Reyes also mentions Lovecraft’s well-known racist views. The stories collected here have been selected to avoid the worst of these. I’m not sure whether that’s the right decision – to get a real flavour of the man, unfortunately one has to be made aware of his views, since they underlie so many of his recurring themes. However, there’s no doubt in my mind that the less overtly racist stories are considerably more fun to read.

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 desolation; the putrid, dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation; the awful baring of that which the merciful earth should always hide.

But enough of the analysis! It’s all about the stories, of course! Here’s a flavour of a few of the ones I enjoyed most…

The Music of Erich Zann – I used this for a Tuesday Terror! post. Great stuff!

The Music of Erich Zann

The Alchemist – a young man is brought up in the castle of his ancestors by an old servitor. On his 21st birthday he is given papers revealing the family curse – each head of the family will die around the age of 32. Naturally, this thought obsesses the young man, so he sets out to find the reason for the curse and to reverse it if he can. Lots of Gothic in this one – the ancient castle with ruined wings, decayed aristocratic family, bats, cobwebs, darkness, curses and so on. And a nicely shocking moment when… nah! I’m not telling! And only ten pages… well done, HP!

The Moon-Bog – the narrator’s friend returns to his ancestral home in Ireland. At first all is well… until he decides to drain the bog for peat. This is also heavily Gothic but has touches of his trademark weird – the frogs especially are a delightfully Lovecraftian touch, but I shall say no more about them… It’s excellently written with some wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of the bog before and during the draining.

The Moon-Bog
by bealinn via deviantart.com

The Shunned House – an empty house, a nameless horror, and no Lovecraft collection would be complete without phosphorescent fungoids! This is straight horror, well-paced, and full of great imagery even though it’s written in plainer, more restrained language than usual.

The Strange High House in the Mist – this, I felt, was more clearly heading into weird territory though still with Gothic aspects.

In the morning mist comes up from the sea by the cliffs beyond Kingsport. White and feathery it comes from the deep to its brothers the clouds, full of dreams of dank pastures and caves of leviathan. And later, in still summer rains on the steep roofs of poets, the clouds scatter bits of those dreams, that men shall not live without rumour of old, strange secrets, and wonders that planets tell planets alone in the night.

It tells of a house in Kingsport, a fictional town in Massachusetts, and one of Lovecraft’s regular settings. It’s set high on an inaccessible cliff where the sea mists meet the clouds, providing a conduit through which pass things unknown to puny humanity. Until one man decides to ascend the cliff…

The Strange High House in the Mist
by tikirussy via deviantart.com

The book itself is gorgeous. The cover illustrations on back and front are embossed in what looks like silver, but seems to have different tones in it so that it takes on different colours in some lights. The print is clear and the paper is high quality, with a lovely thickness and weight to it. Given the Gothic theme, it would be perfect as a gift not just for existing Lovecraft fans but for anyone who enjoys Poe or MR James and hasn’t yet sampled the delights of weird fiction – a good introduction that clearly shows the crossovers between the genres. Of course, if you’re anything like me, you might prefer to keep the gift for yourself…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, The British Library.

Amazon UK Link
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Tuesday Terror! The Music of Erich Zann by HP Lovecraft

The Devil has all the best tunes…

This story appears in the collection, The Gothic Tales of HP Lovecraft. Lovecraft is known for his long, verbose, weird fiction but he could do short, Gothic and scary with the best of them when he tried. This little story seems perfect to wake the fretful porpentine from hibernation…

The Music of Erich Zann
by HP Lovecraft

HP Lovecraft

I have examined maps of the city with the greatest care, yet have never again found the Rue d’Auseil.

Our unnamed narrator was a student at the time of which he tells, in a city which is probably Paris although it isn’t named. His straitened finances force him to take a room in a ramshackle house in the Rue d’Auseil. Most of the other rooms are empty, but on his first night in the house, he hears strange music being played in the garret room above his own. On enquiring from the landlord, he learns the tenant of that room is Erich Zann, a strange, old, dumb viol-player.

Thereafter I heard Zann every night, and although he kept me awake, I was haunted by the weirdness of his music. Knowing little of the art myself, I was yet certain that none of his harmonies had any relation to music I had heard before; and concluded that he was a composer of highly original genius.

Resolving to make Zann’s acquaintance, the student stops him in the corridor and asks if he may listen while Zann plays. Grudgingly the old man agrees and takes the student to this room.

Its size was very great, and seemed the greater because of its extraordinary bareness and neglect. Of furniture there was only a narrow iron bedstead, a dingy washstand, a small table, a large bookcase, an iron music-rack, and three old-fashioned chairs. Sheets of music were piled in disorder about the floor. The walls were of bare boards, and had probably never known plaster; whilst the abundance of dust and cobwebs made the place seem more deserted than inhabited. Evidently Erich Zann’s world of beauty lay in some far cosmos of the imagination.

Illustration by Andrew Brosnatch, drawn for the reprint of the story in the May 1925 issue of Weird Tales.

But as time passes, the student comes to realise that there’s something very strange about Zann’s playing. When the student is in the room with him, he plays well but conventionally. However, when he’s alone and the student is hearing him from outside the room, the music becomes wild, with weird harmonies such as the student has never before imagined…

There in the narrow hall, outside the bolted door with the covered keyhole, I often heard sounds which filled me with an indefinable dread—the dread of vague wonder and brooding mystery. It was not that the sounds were hideous, for they were not; but that they held vibrations suggesting nothing on this globe of earth, and that at certain intervals they assumed a symphonic quality which I could hardly conceive as produced by one player.

Then one night, the music grows so wild that the student is drawn to the old man’s door…

I heard the shrieking viol swell into a chaotic babel of sound; a pandemonium which would have led me to doubt my own shaking sanity had there not come from behind that barred portal a piteous proof that the horror was real—the awful, inarticulate cry which only a mute can utter, and which rises only in moments of the most terrible fear or anguish.

He finds the old man unconscious, and when he comes to, he agrees to tell the student the secret of the music. He sits at the table to write out his story, when suddenly the student becomes aware of music, but it’s coming from outside the window!

Zann leaps to his feet, grabs his viol and starts playing for all he’s worth…

It would be useless to describe the playing of Erich Zann on that dreadful night. It was more horrible than anything I had ever overheard, because I could now see the expression of his face, and could realise that this time the motive was stark fear…

* * * * * * *

Gosh! This woke the porpentine with a shriek! It has touches of Lovecraft’s famed weird tales, but mostly it’s a fairly traditional Gothic-style horror story. It’s brilliantly told, with the descriptive writing gradually bringing it up to a pitch of perfect terror. The old viol-player being dumb adds to the tension since he can’t quickly explain what’s going on, and the narrator’s inability to ever find the Rue d’Auseil again leaves the reader wondering if it was all his imagination; or is the street somehow part of another world hidden within this one into which the narrator had somehow strayed? As it reaches its crescendo, I swear to you that I actually gasped out loud!

So far I’ve read about half the tales in this collection and each one has been superb. I wish HPL had stuck to Gothic rather than creating his weird Cthulhu Mythos – for my taste, these short tales of sheer horror have far more impact. If you’d like to read this one online, here’s a link. But I think it’s safe to say already that I’ll be recommending the whole collection when I finish it.

* * * * * * *

Fretful Porpentine rating:  😱 😱 😱 😱 😱

Overall story rating:           😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

It’s a fretful porpentine!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

* * * * * * *

NB For the benefit of new readers since it’s the porpy’s first appearance for the season, the fretful porpentine reference comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine

So the Fretful Porpentine rating is for the scariness factor, whereas the Overall Rating is for the story’s quality.

* * * * * * *

Tuesday Terror! The Zombie Stories of H.P. Lovecraft

the zombie stories of hp lovecraftLoathsome, blasphemous, hellish creatures galore!

 

Not one short story this week, but an entire collection, stuffed full of HP Lovecraft’s overblown language and trademark use of four adjectives whenever one would do – a truly hideous, bloated, blasphemous, loathsome collection of tales from beyond the tomb – just the thing to resurrect this little horror slot from its summer death…

 

Tuesday Terror

The Zombie Stories of H.P. Lovecraft

 

hp lovecraft 2

There are five individual stories in the book, plus the Herbert West – Reanimator series, which is made up of six linked episodes. The ‘zombie’ reference in the title is a bit of a cheat – only the Herbert West stories contain what we might think of today as zombies, and I suspect were probably influential on the development of the zombie genre, but Lovecraft himself doesn’t use the word. Most of the rest do have a connection to people returning from the dead in one way or another, but in one or two of them the link is tenuous indeed.

All bar the last story were written between 1921-26, Lovecraft’s early period before he developed the themes and style of his best known Cthulhu Mythos stories. There are some mentions of things, however, such as Arkham and the library at Miskatonic University, that he would go on to develop and use in the later stories. Even at this early stage in his career Lovecraft had developed his love for overblown language, though not yet (thankfully) his penchant for ridiculously overlong descriptions of ancient alien buildings. The final story, The Thing on the Doorstep, was written in 1933 and is much more in the Cthulhu style – as a result it is by far the longest story in the book, though still reasonably tightly focused in comparison to some of his other work.

The included stories are:

The Outsider (1921) – a rather good story of a boy who grows up locked away in a castle deep within a forest. One day he ascends the black tower and after much peril finds himself in the world of men – but there is also a hideous, blasphemous creature here and a nice, if somewhat predictable, twist ending. (On that point, I always feel a little reluctant to use the word predictable with these early, influential writers, because I suspect they’re only predictable now because so many people have subsequently recycled what were probably original plots at the time.)

herbert west reanimator

Herbert West – Reanimator (1921-22) – This starts off brilliantly with a horrifying tale of a medical student obsessed with bringing the dead back to life. Each episode is told by his fellow student (unnamed) who starts out as a willing assistant but gradually becomes more appalled at West’s experiments and ends up fearing for his own life. The stories get darker and more gruesome as they go on – these are horror in the true sense of the word and very imaginative. Each story stands alone but there is also a strand that runs through them all, and the horrific ending is chillingly foreshadowed throughout. Unfortunately the series was spoiled for me by one episode in which Lovecraft uses some really vile dehumanising language about a black character. I try hard not to let contemporary attitudes get in the way when reading books of an earlier period, but that’s sometimes harder than others. It’s generally accepted, I think, that Lovecraft was particularly racist, more even than different times can account for, but this is the first of his stories that I’ve read where it has been quite so blatantly and disgustingly expressed. A pity – otherwise the series is excellent and spine-chillingly horrific.

In the Vault (1925) – Another lovely bit of horror, although I admit this one made me laugh rather than shiver. A lazy undertaker becomes trapped in a vault with the coffins containing several of his customers. A cautionary tale to remind us all that we should do our jobs properly – angry customers can make their complaints in many ways…

cool air

Cool Air (1926) – Again good! A mysterious doctor lives in rooms in a boarding house, where he has installed a refrigeration system to keep the temperature unusually low. It’s fairly easy to work out what’s going on in this one, but it doesn’t matter – the writing keeps it creepily horrible anyway. And when the refrigeration system breaks down and the temperature rises – ooh! Let’s put it this way – you may want to be sure you have an emergency ice-lolly on stand-by when reading this one…

Pickman’s Model (1926) – the only one I thought was really quite poor. A painter paints weird and horrible pictures that terrify everyone who sees them. I found the twist in this one was not only obvious but weak, and it had the Lovecraftian fault of going on and on with repetitive descriptions for far too long.

Art by Mark Foster http://hplovecraftart.blogspot.co.uk
Art by Mark Foster http://hplovecraftart.blogspot.co.uk

The Thing on the Doorstep (1933) – a story of Arkham and the hideous fish people of Innsmouth. The most traditionally Lovecraftian of the stories, and a very good one to end on. A man who has been over-protected all his life falls for a beautiful but strange girl from Innsmouth, and against the advice of his friends and family marries her. But soon it seems that she has some kind of evil control over him, and his sanity, perhaps his very life, is at risk. Again I think the reader knows what’s going on here long before the participants do, but it’s very well written and has some genuinely disturbing images, particularly towards the end.

Now that I’ve read a reasonable amount of Lovecraft I think I can say I actually prefer his earlier stuff, before he developed his rambling style and before he got so heavily into the whole Cthulhu, ancient alien business. If you can overlook the racist language in Herbert West, then this is a very good collection, which should make your porpentine pleasantly fretful…

It's a fretful porpentine!!

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Dover Publications.

Amazon UK Link
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Tuesday Terror! Polaris by HP Lovecraft

Perchance to dream…

 

the haunter of the darkI’m going to do something quite rare – I’m going to admit that I made a mistake. The first time I read a collection of HP Lovecraft stories I mocked them, using HPL’s own favourite overblown adjectives to describe them as ranging from ‘loathsomely mediocre to hellishly poor’. That was two years ago and, while I still hold firm to the belief that mushrooms are not fundamentally scary and the moon cannot be described as fungoid, yet… those hideous, blasphemous, fish-frog aliens of Innsmouth linger in my mind, and I have often found my thoughts wandering through those ancient ruins that figure in so many of the tales, the remnants of long-forgotten, loathsomely hellish, alien cultures that have ruled the earth before us and may do so again…

So I admit it. I was wrong. HPL deserves his place amongst the greats and I accept that however laughable and, frankly, tedious some of his stories may be on the surface, he has the mysterious power to implant troubling, lingering images in the minds of his readers. So this short story, taken from the book The Haunter of the Dark, is the choice for this week’s…

Tuesday Terror

Polaris by HP Lovecraft

 

HP Lovecraft
HP Lovecraft

Each night, through the window of his chamber, our narrator watches the Pole Star, glowing with its uncanny light, as it…

…leers down from the same place in the black vault, winking hideously like an insane watching eye which strives to convey some strange message, yet recalls nothing save that it once had a message to convey. Sometimes, when it is cloudy, I can sleep.

But with sleep come dreams, and in his dream he sees a strange city under a horned waning moon…

Still and somnolent did it lie, on a strange plateau in a hollow betwixt strange peaks. Of ghastly marble were its walls and its towers, its columns, domes, and pavements. In the marble streets were marble pillars, the upper parts of which were carven into the images of grave bearded men. The air was warm and stirred not. And overhead, scarce ten degrees from the zenith, glowed that watching Pole Star.

polaris

And in the city he can make out people – men who walk abroad, talking wisely in a strange tongue that somehow he understands. On waking, he finds himself altered, with vague recollections of something he cannot define. Thereafter, on each cloudy night when he sleeps, he dreams of the city, until he comes to wish to be part of it, to speak to the men who converse there. And he begins to wonder whether the city is real…

I said to myself, “This is no dream, for by what means can I prove the greater reality of that other life in the house of stone and brick south of the sinister swamp and the cemetery on the low hillock, where the Pole Star peers into my north window each night?”

One night, as he listens to the men conversing in the city, he finds he has taken bodily form. But he is not a stranger to these men – they recognise him as one of them, and he knows their names and the name of the city, Olathoë, in the kingdom of Lomar. But the people are troubled, for that very night…

…had the news come of Daikos’ fall, and of the advance of the Inutos; squat, hellish, yellow fiends who five years ago had appeared out of the unknown west to ravage the confines of our kingdom, and finally to besiege our towns…the squat creatures were mighty in the arts of war, and knew not the scruples of honour which held back our tall, grey-eyed men of Lomar from ruthless conquest.

Polaris565

Our narrator is a feeble man, without a warrior’s strength, but with keen sight, so he is sent to the watch-tower, and is to raise the alarm should he see the Inutos approach.

But as I stood in the tower’s topmost chamber, I beheld the horned waning moon, red and sinister, quivering through the vapours that hovered over the distant valley of Banof. And through an opening in the roof glittered the pale Pole Star, fluttering as if alive, and leering like a fiend and tempter.

And into his mind came a whispered rhyme…

“Slumber, watcher, till the spheres
Six and twenty thousand years
Have revolv’d, and I return
To the spot where now I burn.
Other stars anon shall rise
To the axis of the skies;
Stars that soothe and stars that bless
With a sweet forgetfulness:
Only when my round is o’er
Shall the past disturb thy door.”

And drowsiness overtook him, and he slept…

* * * * *

This is a great little story, and it’s actually enhanced by Lovecraft’s grandiose writing style – somehow it seems to match the setting of the dream city in a land from long ago. What I particularly like about it is that the ending is totally ambiguous, and either interpretation is disturbing. There is a racist element to the story, (as unfortunately there frequently is in Lovecraft’s writing), which is a real pity, since it would have been just as effective without it. But the man believed in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race (or perhaps culture), so it permeates his work, and it’s the reader’s choice, as with all these old writers, whether to make concessions to the time of writing – this one was written in 1918. I find with Lovecraft that the stories are so far from reality that the impact of the racism is somewhat lessened, but it can still be pretty off-putting. However, I’m still glad to have read this one, for the imaginative premise, the ambiguity of the ending and the quality of the writing.

If you’d like to know how the story ends (and it’s a very short one), here’s a link…

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Tuesday Terror! The Cats of Ulthar by HP Lovecraft

You have been warned…

 

Tommy says: Why would anyone want to change us? We're perfect...
Go on…make our day!

As the world continues to fill up with ever more horrifying technological devices designed to keep cats from… er… generously fertilising other people’s flower beds, Tommy & Tuppence have asked me to share their favourite horror story with you all – as a friendly warning – for this week’s…

TUESDAY TERROR!

The Cats of Ulthar by HP Lovecraft

 

In Ulthar, before ever the burgesses forbade the killing of cats, there dwelt an old cottar and his wife who delighted to trap and slay the cats of their neighbours. Why they did this I know not; save that many hate the voice of the cat in the night, and take it ill that cats should run stealthily about yards and gardens at twilight…

A tale of horror and revenge to chill the blood of all who have harboured unkind thoughts about their furry feline visitors, the story begins with the (wimpy) people of Ulthar living in fear that their precious moggies will wander onto the grounds of the cottar and his wife after dark – for it is unlikely that such an unfortunate beast will ever be seen again. But the villagers don’t confront the cottar because…

In truth, much as the owners of the cats hated these odd folk, they feared them more; and instead of berating them as brutal assassins, merely took care that no cherished pet or mouser should stray toward the remote hovel under the dark trees.

And so things stood, until one day some mysterious travellers arrived in the village, amongst them a young boy, orphaned by the plague, and with only his beloved kitten for pleasure and company. But one morning, the kitten couldn’t be found… and the (kindly but wimpy) villagers told the boy that his precious pet had no doubt been trapped and slain by the old man and his wife. (Ah, they didn’t believe in mollycoddling children back in the good old days…)

And when he heard these things his sobbing gave place to meditation, and finally to prayer. He stretched out his arms towards the sun and prayed in a tongue no villager could understand…

the cats of ulthar

And the clouds began to take the shape of strange beasts – ‘the shadowy, nebulous figures of exotic things’. And the mysterious strangers packed up their belongings and left the village, never to return. But that night the people of the village noticed that all the cats in the village had disappeared – every one. Some thought it was the strangers who had taken them, in revenge; but others thought the cottar and his wife were to blame.

However, when daybreak came the following day, all the cats had returned, looking sleek, contented and suspiciously well-fed…

…the refusal of all the cats to eat their portions of meat or drink their saucers of milk was exceedingly curious. And for two whole days the sleek, lazy cats of Ulthar would touch no food, but only doze by the fire or in the sun.

And gradually the villagers noticed that it had been some time since they saw the cottar or his wife – in fact not since that same night. And so the bravest of the wimps made their way to the cottage and…

Well, suffice it to say, nobody in Ulthar kills cats any more.

* * * * * * *

This is a nice little horror story with a tongue-in-cheek moral. Not terrifying but creepily fun. Written in 1920, it’s one of his earlier stories which may account for why the style is not at all what I think of as Lovecraftian, except for some of the overblown language. No tunnels, no ancient buildings, and no fish-like aliens – and beautifully short. It didn’t scare me exactly…but then I’m always nice to cats! But I thought it was well-written and it’s made me realise that Lovecraft isn’t totally limited to the style for which he’s best known.

HP Lovecraft
HP Lovecraft

Want to read it? http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Cats_of_Ulthar

Now, you must excuse me while I put out some cream for Tommy & Tuppence and then go check on the neighbours…

Fretful Porpentine Rating:      😯 😯

Overall story rating:                😀 😀 😀 😀

Tommy & Tuppence’s rating:  👿 👿 👿 👿 👿

The Classic Horror Stories by HP Lovecraft

Beneath the bloated, fungoid moon…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

classic horror stories lovecraft“As the ghastly light shone hideously down from the bloated, fungoid moon, the alien and unnameable creature from another aeon revealed itself as so loathsome, blasphemous and hellish that it would drive me to the uttermost edge of madness if I were to describe it…”

OK, I made that sentence up, but I bet anybody who’s read HP Lovecraft was fooled for a moment. 😉

This book brings together some of HPL’s stories published from about 1926 onwards. Each story is extensively and interestingly annotated to tell when it was written, where published and how it fits in not just to HPL’s own “Cthulhu Mythos” but also the wider landscape of “weird tales”. There is also an excellent introductory essay by Roger Luckhurst which tells us about HPL’s life and puts his work into the context of the period in which he was writing. Luckhurst’s argument in part is that, love him or hate him, HPL has remained an influence on writers of weird fiction up to the present day. He credits HPL with being one of the main writers who moved horror away from the human-centric gothic tale, with its vampires, crucifixes and garlic, to a universe where man is an insignificant and helpless part of a greater whole.

HP Lovecraft(source: Wikipedia)
HP Lovecraft
(source: Wikipedia)
I admit it – I thought the stories ranged from loathsomely mediocre to hellishly poor myself, (even though I’ve always been partial to mushrooms). Luckhurst quotes Edmund Wilson on the subject of HPL’s tendency never to use one overblown adjective when four would do… “Surely one of the primary rules for writing an effective tale of horror is never to use any of these words – especially if you are going, at the end, to produce an invisible whistling octopus.” My feelings precisely!

However, whether a fan of HPL’s style or not, the introductory essay and annotations provide interesting insights into a genre that has had considerable influence over the years and those alone make the book a worthwhile read, hence my four star rating.

The stories are: –

The Horror at Red Hook – based on HPL’s experiences in New York, a story of demon-worship and with a lot of racist undertones. Luckhurst’s introduction makes clear that a belief in racial superiority was part of what made HPL tick and this is the story where that comes through most clearly.

The Call of Cthulhu – Hellish, blasphemous aliens from space and the story that started the “Cthulhu Mythos”, which most of the rest of the stories build on. One of the better stories.

The Colour Out of Space – A meteor crash brings loathsome aliens to a village in New England. (Poor New England – all the aliens seem to end up there – if you live there, just one word of advice…RUN!!!) This is quite a good story but meanders on for way too long, which seemed to become a recurring feature of HPL’s work. This has the first example in the book of one of my favourite HPL techniques – to describe a horror as ‘indescribable’ – well, that helps!

The Dunwich Horror – one of my favourites. Alien child born to village woman – he is loathsome, blasphemous AND hellish! There are a couple of effective plot mechanisms in this that I liked – the use of ‘party lines’ where people can hear over the phone as horrors happen to their neighbours, and the legend of whippoorwills waiting to take the souls of the dead.

Cthulhu sketch by HPL(source: Wikimedia)
Cthulhu sketch by HPL
(source: Wikimedia)
The Whisperer in the Dark – another goodie! (Relatively speaking, that is.) Aliens followed by a cult of humans closing in on the one man standing against them – unusually, this one has a neat and effective ending. The notes to this one are also particularly interesting, showing the crossover between the imaginary worlds of fellow weird tales’ writers and also showing how traditional folk tales have been altered to tie in with more modern beliefs, such as space, time travel etc.

At the Mountains of Madness – ancient aliens in Antarctica. Incredibly long and very, very dull. Page after page of wandering around ancient ruins. This one was rejected by Weird Tales and only published in a cut version in Astounding Stories and it’s very easy to see why.

The Dreams in the Witchhouse – short and pretty good! Missing children, haunted dreams, a rat with the face of a human. Much more of a traditional, almost Gothic, story.

The Shadow over Innsmouth – what can I say? Hideous, blasphemous, fishfrog aliens (don’t giggle – they were almost quite scary!) in a devilish pact with the townsfolk of Innsmouth in New England. This one would have been quite good if it had been about half as long, but instead of ancient ruins this time we wander for hours round a half-empty town.

The Shadow Out of Time – a man haunted by dreams of a loathsome alien culture and terrifying fungoid monsters. A lot of wandering around ancient ruins again in this hugely overlong tale, not to mention a bloated, fungoid moon – I kid you not!

Enjoy!

Just as an addition to this review, any Lovecraft fans should check out the trackback link below – a great kickstarter project to produce an Art Zine based on Lovecraft’s hellish, loathsome and truly blasphemous creations. It looks as if it’s going to be fantastic! Many thanks to The Grinning Skull for the heads up.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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