THE DEEP ONES: "The Shunned House" by H.P. Lovecraft
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"The Shunned House" by H.P. Lovecraft
Discussion begins on August 8, 2018.
From ISFDB: "First published in 1928 by W. Paul Cook as a 59 page book with introduction by Frank Belknap Long. No more than 100 copies were printed, and only 6 copies are known to have been circulated." First readily accessible publication was the October, 1937 issue of Weird Tales.
SELECTED PRINT VERSIONS
H. P. Lovecraft: Masters of the Weird Tale
H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction
The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories
At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels
At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror
Online for me, and in this case I don't think the story is contained in any of my (boxed up) titles so it would be online regardless.
I suspect also that I've never read this one, though I'll admit to not recognising many HPL titles apart from the canonical, so I could be mistaken.
Only have this in the massive Centipede volume. Didn't realize that until now!
It's also in the Library of America volume. Should be able to grab that when I get to work tomorrow.
Given the curious publication history and Robert Weinberg's description as "one of Lovecraft's best short novels", I look forward to deciding whether or not I agree. If so good, was it merely ahead of its time or was it financial pressures that let over a decade pass between writing and print? Evidently people knew about it since 1928: Frank Belknap Long wrote an introduction for it, since it was printed but left unbound. (Not a case of HPL leaving it in a drawer for 13 years.) Haven't found more detail than what's in Wikipedia, but my first suspicion is that the publication rights were bound up with W. Paul Cook's Recluse Press and that obstacle wasn't sorted until Weird Tales came along.
I think I may not have ever read this one!
I've got it handy in:
I read it in an electronic version that, for whatever reason, had a fair lot of extraneous spaces, generally splitting words at morpheme boundaries, e.g. "consider able" for "considerable". OCR errors?
I'd read this before, but that was a decade or more ago, and about the only thing I remembered was the scene where the buried vampire is destroyed by acid. And I'm calling it a "vampire" because for all the narrator's rationalization in terms of modern physics, a plainly supernatural interpretation seems to fit the events of the story better.
Something we've discussed before with Lovecraft is that the "final revelations" of his stories are often foreshadowed beyond any surprise but on the part of the most naive of readers. Here's there's not only no "final revelation", but we're straight up told that "the horror is gone" as the end of ch. 2. What's the point of telling the reader already at this point that the horror has been vanquished, rather than simply survived?
I really enjoy it when HPL is in his more purely gothic mode, as we find here. Frankly, I prefer his descriptions of brooding Providence to those of its eldritch horrors. The house itself is the major character in this story - as it had better be - and it is brought to menacing life with great care and skill. I had to go back and compare the descriptions of it to photographs of the real house. Grandpa nails it, of course, and the story itself adds some nuance back into to those images.
I found the "vampire", as Andreas aptly describes it, and despite HPL's enjoyable attempt at a "their magic is our science" explanation, to be nearly forgettable compared to the house itself and its basement environs. Even more fun than that, however, is the first half, in which the narrator traces the unfortunate history of the cursed Harris family and their immediate circle. Fascinating, high-gothic stuff. Nathaniel Hawthorne would be proud. I was also reminded of the thrilling genealogical mystery found in William H. Hallahan's great horror novel The Search for William Tully.
I have to wonder how the narrator would explain away his dissolved uncle at the coroner's inquest.
Rugose! Crookes tubes! HPL is usually good for introducing me to unfamiliar vocabulary, and no exception here.
Despite the narrator's flash decision not to use the flamethrower, he ends up unable to X-Ray the vampire to death, and ultimately does destroy it bodily via acid. I wonder if the flamethrower would have worked, though it's an open question whether the yellow vapour was anything more than a projection of the gelatinous creature buried below the cellar.
The house is certainly the feature here. Curious that HPL opted to exorcise it rather than allow its malevolence to endure into the present. Perhaps he wanted to bring his story into line with current Providence lore, and the house was no longer shunned? If so, I further wonder if the "industrial accident" he hints at near the end is also historical. I wasn't able to identify any such event after a quick online search, but it did suggest another parallel HPL may have had in mind: the 1918-19 influenza epidemic. Yellow vapours are suggestive in this light (less for scientific accuracy than impressionistic character).
One thing that I did like about the ending was the unearthing of the giant blue elbow, which is simultaneously funny and freakish. Sort of like finding a Basil Wolverton monster buried in the basement. I know we've encountered giant body parts once or twice before in our Weird meanderings, but I can't quite place them...
The titular critter from "The Drowned Giant" naturally had a complete set of giant body parts, but maybe that's not what you're thinking of?
Hmmm... that could well be it. Or maybe it was just a dream I had. :-D
>13 KentonSem: There's a giant foot (how Pythonesque!) in The Castle of Otranto. Dunno if that's been read here though...
I don't think we've done "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs"/ "Under the Pyramids" but Lovecraft uses a variation of the idea there.
Coincidentally, I had just been reading Robert Westall's 'The Wheatstone Pond', which has such a similar plot - giant creature buried under spooky old house taints the whole neighbourhood with evil - that I wondered if Westall had read this one. Both stories really evoked the eldritch-old-house atmosphere beautifully and both ended very similarly, although Westall's monster is more demonic in nature and goes up in flames rather than being dissolved in acid.
Anyway, despite the derivativeness (if that's a word) I enjoyed them both.
On re-reading this story after a number of years, I noticed that this story has one of the earliest references to the Exeter vampire story which only got wider coverage in the 2000s. (At least the Wikipedia only has sources that recent.)
It also strikes me as a transition story for Lovecraft. It’s a gothic tale centered around the rumors around a house and the evil is traced through history. It strikes me that this 1924 story prefigures 1926’s “The Call of Cthulhu” which is sort of an international gothic tracing evil through history in several locations. The idea of a malevolent presence sapping people’s lives figures prefigures 1927’s “The Colour Out of Space”. The introduction of a new scientific ideas and apparatus (the acid and Crookes Tube and flamethrower) point the way to greater use of science in later Lovecraft stories though only the acid works here in destroying the monster.
The point about this being a transitional story was one that occurred to me a well, although as it features quite heavily in the HPL/CAS correspondence collected in Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill, making its place in the chronology clear, I don't give myself any credit for noticing those story elements. We could add the antiquarianism that the story shares with "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", I think. And - although this might be a stretch - the vampire's victims showing signs of possession and crying out in French is along the lines of De La Poer’s regression in “The Rats in the Walls”.
I hadn't grokked that the story was written several years before the 1928 publication: I even thought about, altho didn't get around to, remarking that its unusual for a post-1926 story in not invoking any "Mythos" names.
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