I finally tore off the plastic that wrapped H.P. Lovecraft – The Complete Fiction in pristine newness. This classic-bound tome that I bought from Barnes & Noble sat on my bookshelf for a long time, waiting to be fondled – such a dirty, dirty book! I had several of Lovecraft’s stories in digital format, so there was no hurry to tear open this book and strip away its protective packaging. But I did not have his complete works. Not on my Kindle device, not on my Nook. I wanted to see if he had written any haunted house tales. The easiest way to check on this was to open the classic-bound book. And so I did.
The table of contents listed several possible haunted house stories. I read three of them:
- The Picture in the House (Originally published in National Amateur –1921)
- The Rats in the Walls (Originally published in Weird Tales – 1924)
- The Shunned House (Also Published originally in Weird Tales – 1937)
Before I get into the specifics of these haunting tales, it would help to take note of a few things about the author himself. What do I know of Lovecraft? He was a prolific horror writer of the early part of the twentieth century. He wrote short stories and novelettes for various pulp magazines, including Weird Tales. He did not achieve fame until after his death and he died in poverty.
God, what I wrote seems pretty damn sad. But I want to look at in another way, a way that is, shall I say, more inspiring? Lovecraft reminds me of today’s blogger and indie writer. Fame is far away, but indie writers plug away at the keyboard, not for riches but on account of their “love” for the “craft” (“Lovecraft!” Sorry, I had to!). Their work is displayed either in the blogosphere or at self-publishing outlets such as Kindle Direct Publishing at Amazon.com. These writers network with other writers. The communities of writers read each other’s work and offer praise and constructive criticism. And they have fun!
There was no Internet back in Lovecraft’s day. Perhaps the pulp magazine was the blog of yesteryear – the place for unknowns to share their work with the larger world. Or, at least, with that small portion of the larger world that sought out genre specific tales at a cheap price. Through these magazines and other journals, such as the United Amateur Press Association (ohhh but how “indie” sounds so much better than “amateur!”), Lovecraft shared his work. He corresponded with other such writers via handwritten letters and befriended them, even though they never met person to person. Ahh, such is the way with today’s indie writers, only the Internet makes the process so much easier.
As an indie horror writer, I knew I had to pay homage to Lovecraft eventually. So I will to so now. However, he was not a gigantic contributor to the paranormal genre. Ghosts are usually the key ingredients for any haunted house tale. But Lovecraft didn’t have that much to say about ghosts.
From the introduction of H.P. Lovecraft – The Complete Fiction:
As Lovecraft’s work progressed, he himself began eschewing traditional supernaturalism more and more. He had, in fact, never used such conventional tropes as the vampire, the ghost, or the werewolf…
…in his most characteristic work Lovecraft devised conceptions and entities entirely his own.
Lovecraft envisioned gigantic aliens, vengeful deities, ravaging sea monsters, and terrifying savages. He plucked out the horrors within science, religion and civilizations and for the most part left the ghost behind to haunt the minds of other writers. This being said, what then haunts the creepy old houses that sometimes show up in his tales? The answer- very weird things!
The Picture in the House – In this story, the house is haunted by a graphic book depicting cannibalism, a weird-bearded old codger, and a ceiling that drips blood. A weary traveler rests inside a backwoods farmhouse. He thinks it’s abandoned, until he meets its dweller – and unkempt, white bearded old man who at first commands the visitor’s respect. Later, he brings only terror to the guest as he watches his face contort in perverted ecstasy at a book depicting a butcher that has several human limbs hanging on the walls. Then for the finally whammy, blood drips form the ceiling.
The Rats in the Walls – What else might haunt a house? I know – how about rats in the walls? The protagonist moves into an ancient monastery where “indescribable rites had been celebrated there.” At night, the cats stare at the walls in fright. Why? The scurrying of the rats. Hundreds. Thousands. Maybe more. The cats hear them. The protagonist hears them. But the servants do not. Eventually, the protagonist follows the sound down to the cellar. Then he follows it to even greater depths as he explores a passageway that is hidden underneath a stone altar, and this leads to a very horrible scene. Thousands upon thousands of human bones, all containing the gnaw marks of rodents.
The Shunned House – The haunter of this tale is perhaps the weirdest yet. Sort of a vampire, but not quite. Maybe a spirit, but that doesn’t work either. Its substance is best described as a gas. It flows out the chimney and makes strange images appear in the smoke. It takes on bizarre fungal forms on the earthen cellar floor. It arises in the form fumes that take can overcome a person and transform his face into faces of the dead. But underneath the cellar floor it exists in a gelatinous form. Oh and it sucks the breath out of sleepers. Yeah, I would shun this house too, I think.
There are more stories of cursed and doomed domiciles in my book and I look forward to reading them. Who knows what other kinds of bizarre creatures haunt the houses of Lovecraft’s tales!