THE DEEP ONES: "Notebook Found in a Deserted House" by Robert Bloch
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"Notebook Found in a Deserted House" by Robert Bloch
Discussion begins August 29th.
First published in the May 1951 issue of Weird Tales
None found to date.
SELECTED PRINT VERSIONS
Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos Volume 2
Mysteries of the Worm
Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1998)
I guess it will be by battered Zebra Press edition of Mysteries of the Worm for me.
The one with the orange cover featuring the alligator, Randy?
>5 KentonSem: That's the one. I'm out of luck if it's a collectible because I bought it new and it looks like it was on the outside of a bound batch of books that was dragged on the street for a couple of blocks. It's got impressions from binding straps and really scuffed.
I voted for this story on the basis of Ramsey Campbell's endorsement, but I have mixed feelings after reading it. On the whole, I thought it was genuinely creepy and effective, but when I look at the details, I keep finding fault.
The narrative voice was an interesting election on Bloch's part, but I didn't find the language really suited to the writing of a 13-year-old with no formal education. There wasn't even a misspelling until the second full page, and the syntax and vocabulary were often too polished. The Druid hypothesis seemed to augment the boy's sincerity and intellectual unreliability, so that was good.
So much of the story seemed to be cobbled together from HPL material that it amounted to borderline pastiche. There were the strange voices of "Whisperer in Darkness," the ominous shoggoth of "Shadow over Innsmouth," the poisoned well of "The Colour Out of Space," the fatally interrupted MS of "The Haunter of the Dark," and even the giant hand punch-line of "Imprisoned with the Pharoahs"! That last, by the way, seemed quite superfluous to me. In fact, by anthropomorphizing the final horror, it seemed to tame it a little in comparison with the oozy, nasty, tree-like "shoggoth" sightings.
I did find the business with the vanished uncle, distraught aunt, and ersatz cousin to be very effective, and the story's pacing was pretty good overall. The attempted escape with the postman, and the scene at the altar were also sound.
The title's pretense of publishing a found MS seemed to call out for a little pseudo-editorial framing. The reader is left wondering where in the house the boy managed to hide the MS, who found it, what condition the "deserted" house was in otherwise, how long the MS seemed to have been there, etc. Just a sentence or two at the beginning set off by indentation and/or italics could have sufficed.
Bloch creates a novel atmosphere here, as the story is successfully told from the viewpoint of a smart, if unfortunate, 12-year-old boy. You can hear the cicadas chirping in the dense woods as much as you sense a sinister presence lurking in the background. The scary flight along the road with the postman brought to mind the fearful ride of "Young Goodman Brown", while malevolent "cousin" Osbourne was a great villain, with echos of The Night of the Hunter's Reverend Powell. The not-Osbourne simulacrum also reminded me of Akeley in HPL's "The Whisperer in Darkness". Another replicant!
I'll add this to my list of good Halloween tales.
I, too, found the gradual disappearance of the boy's remaining family to be effective. Rather distressing, in fact. I also liked the fact that Bloch didn't waste a whole lot of time with tedious cat-and-mouse between the boy and the not-Osbourne. The boy and the reader both know that something is very wrong, and we get right down to it.
I agree that the "notebook" gimmick was unnecessary. This would have made a fine backwoods horror story regardless.
Many of Bloch's stories seem dated to me, possibly because he was so good at vernacular writing. By choosing a hillbilly-lite dialect he took the story out of a specific time.
Without the notebook gimmick, he would have had to do "And I only am escaped Alone to tell thee", but how could anyone have escaped?
> 10, 11
Yeah, I didn't find the notebook framing unnecessary, just a bit unfinished, actually. It was the "fingerprints" gimmick that I could have done without.
It's strange, but while I enjoy Bloch overall, I wouldn't put him anywhere near my top tier of horror writers. There is something a bit too... plain about his writing technique for my taste. I guess we all owe him a debt just for creating Psycho. I still found "Notebook" to be pretty enjoyable overall, but then I'm a sucker for this kind of fright-tale of the deep woods.
By 1951 Bloch was on his way to developing his signature sardonic, big-reveal style. I think the fingerprints were an early attempt at this that didn't work so well.
One of these days I'll have to revisit his 1978 Mythos novel Strange Eons.
A good and genuinely creepy tale. Bloch is obviously taking one out of the Arthur Machen playbook here ("The White People", anyone?), but he does his own thing with it in taking Machen's awe-full tale and transforming it into a gritty, vernacular* American horror story. It definitely got me thinking about the "endangered child" motif that occurs so frequently in the horror genre (probably best known in the popular imagination in the works of Stephen King (The Shining, It, etc.), and why it occurs so frequently. That's because it works, right? We remember how scary so many things were when we were kids. We didn't have the sophistication and/or mental filters that we have as adults; we didn't necessarily say, "Oh, that sound is just the house settling/branches hitting the side of the house/cats mating/whatever"; our default setting, up to a certain age, anyway, was to say, "That's a big scary monster!" Therefore, if the author can successfully lure us into seeing the events of the story from a child's point of view, and can successfully get us into a child's mindset, he/she has a much easier time scaring us.
A question: What, exactly, is Cousin Osbourne supposed to be? Is he supposed to be some sort of extraterrestial/supernatural being (a la ""Whisperer in Darkness") or is he supposed to be one of those beings' human servitors? (Or is he actually Ozzy Osbourne in disguise?)
*Though I must agree with PA in #8 that the occasional sophistication grammar and (particularly) the vocabulary streches one's suspension of disbelief of bit.
Good points, Art. It also helps when the kid is not only in danger, but is also a likeable sort, as is the case here. You do feel empathy for him, just as you do for the resourceful children in such works as The Night of the Hunter, The Bottoms, Summer of Night, etc.
I'm glad that Bloch provided no explanation for the non-Osbourne. I bet it would be a squishy one, though. And yes, I couldn't resist picturing him as resembling the infamous Ozz.
You do feel empathy for him, just as you do for the resourceful children in such works as The Night of the Hunter, The Bottoms, Summer of Night, etc.
With Night of the Hunter being perhaps the greatest of them all. Still can't quite get my head around the fact that that film got released by a major motion picture studio in America in the 1950s.
Another usage of this motif outside the horror genre (although it may be said to express a form of existential horror) is in Bruce Springsteen's song "My Father's House", which begins with a depiction of the narrator dreaming that he was a child, running through a haunted landscape with "the devil snappin' at my heels". It's a great song - gives me goosebumps every time I hear it:
Yeah, it seems likely that Bloch was consciously reworking "The White People" in a more convention-laden Cthulhu mythos vein. He dropped the frame story from the structure, though.
Another unanswered question: Why didn't the "Druids" just grab the boy like they did his aunt? Why the fake Osbourne? Were they maybe hoping to recruit the kid?
Forgot to mention that I can never come across a reference to druids without thinking of this song:
I have read this story before and remembered liking it but not many of the details.
I thought it had some strengths: the child's narrative voice, the physical description of the shoggoths, the chase with Pritchett, and a motif that usually activates the paranoia centers of my brain -- the character, here Osborne, whose very appearance and manner doesn't hide the threat of imminent violence.
I agree with what others said about the negatives. We should have more of the frame and context of the notebook being discovered. Not only was the narration a bit too polished for the age of the child but, at the end, it repeats facts a lot more than necessary for someone desperately writing a record of events. Not too many words, though, if you're building the dramatic suspense. And I also thought the giant fingerprint thing was kind of cheap. It was too reminiscent of the giant elbow in Lovecraft's "The Shunned House" -- a plot point that didn't work for me in that story either.
I thought we were going to do one of Lovecraft's inexorable calls of heredity when we heard Willie's absent father used to visit the hills where the drums were heard.
Innsmouth Free Press (innsmouthfreepress.com) recently had a review of Strange Eons, and now I'm interested in reading that.
Giant body parts in horror fiction always remind me of the giant helmet in The Castle of Otranto.
ETA: Which in turn reminds me of the giant foot in the Terry Gilliam Monty Python animations!
Here's hoping that it's the beachfront property that gets disassembled. No such luck I guess?
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