It’s time to continue the tradition of the Christmas Lovecraftian delvings, and look at some of the short stories that I’ve been reading by the light of the Christmas tree. This year, I’ve been re-reading some old favourites, as well as investigating some little things that are new to me!
Let’s start with the always-wonderful Thing on the Doorstep. I first read this about five years ago now, and it was one of the few Lovecraftian tales that genuinely chilled me. It tells the story of Edward Derby and his ill-fated marriage to Asenath Waite, one of the Innsmouth Waites who has some very peculiar ideas about transferring consciousness (among other stuff). Over the course of the tale, Edward Derby becomes increasingly insane, it seems, convinced that his wife has some kind of hold over him, only to be revealed that she has indeed – through some foul sorcerous deeds – been taking control of her weak-willed husband. Even a marital separation can’t prevent Asenath from possessing Edward, and she eventually seems to have taken permanent control of his body. It’s up to the narrator to sort things out, by shooting his best friend before it’s too late – but what on earth is that thing crawling on his doorstep..?
It’s one of my favourite of his tales, with a very definite tie in to the Arkham line of board games etc – I remember a game of Arkham Horror where I had both Asenath and Herbert West as allies, making for a particularly hilarious game as I thought of the mischief each would no doubt be plotting behind my hero’s back! I also remember playing a game of Eldritch Horror with Charlie Kane travelling the globe and using Asenath for spell-casting… Anyway!
A short tale, The Statement of Randolph Carter is a bit of a spooky tale that seems to be told as a kind of confession. It concerns the nocturnal adventures of the titular Randolph and his occultist friend Harley Warren, as they attempt to access the underworld following Warren’s researches in a peculiar Arabic tome. Harley goes deep into a tomb in a graveyard somewhere near a cypress swamp, and screams for Randolph to flee before never being seen again. Randolph, for his part, loses part of his memory of the event, and the story is effectively his testimony as to what happened to Harley in the swamp. It is the first time the character of Randolph Carter appears in a story by Lovecraft, though he would reappear in later writings – including the famous Dream Cycle.
Continuing the link with the Arkham games now, The Unnamable is a short little tale that is set in the graveyard of the New England town, and details a debate between two gents on the nature of the supernatural. It has the hallmarks of a sort of campfire ghost story to it, and references several locations within the town that will be familiar to fans of the boardgame as being locations to be investigated. Notably also, the narrator is again Randolph Carter.
Herbert West – Reanimator is another classic that I’ve read before, chronicling the black-hearted career of Herbert West and his attempts to return people from the dead. Notably, Herbert and the narrator attended Miskatonic University in Arkham, the first time this venerable institution was mentioned in a short story by Lovecraft. West and his assistant have a series of near-successes across six short installments, each ending with a particularly gruesome climax. The tale had been serialized, which leads to some slightly annoying recaps at the start of each section, but the story itself is just wonderful gothic horror. We see West, always keen to have the freshest corpse possible, actually kill someone in order to then bring him back from death, before finally being abducted off into the bowels of the earth by his failed experiments of the past. Wonderful stuff!
Also serialized was the short story The Lurking Fear, which is a sort of classic haunted-house-on-the-hill type of tale. The house had been shunned by those living in its shadow, who were convinced some fell beast stalked within. The intrepid narrator attempts to get to the bottom of the matter with predictably morbid and horrific results. Again, it has that sort of sensationalized ending to each of its four parts, and while I wouldn’t say it was quite as classic as Herbert West – Reanimator, it was nevertheless a decent enough read!
He is a weird little tale, which is similar in parts to Cool Air that I read a couple of years back. The narrator follows a mysterious gentleman who appears to have preserved his life for more than a few centuries, and proceeds to show him some eldritch magic or other, including visions of the past and future New York, with dire warnings about the rise of the Chinese that, unfortunately, shows some of Lovecraft’s darker side.
Weird, but then, I suppose that’s the point of these stories!