Good day Hivers and Book Clubbers,
It's been a while since I reviewed a fictional work, and I'm looking to do so now. I recently picked up a sort of anthology of the works of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). It is titled 'H.P. Lovecraft: the Fiction. Complete and unabridged', and is quite the collection of short stories. Released by Barnes&Noble in 2008, it totals at about 1100 (!) pages and contains dozens of works. I'll be reviewing a few lesser known short stories in this review, and might do more in the future out of this book.
The Beast in the Cave
Written by Lovecraft at the young age of 15 in 1905, this short story is set in a cave in Kentucky. It tells of a man (described in first person) lost in said cave, and Lovecraft's fascination with the dark and its possibilities in horror are immediately explored. The man starts hearing sounds, and is soon convinced that a four-legged animal is closing in on him. Because of the dark, he can only surmise this through the sounds it makes. He picks up some rocks nearby to throw towards the sound as it draws near. After a few tries, one seems to connect and the sounds stop. Also, a light draws near from the other side, and he is found again by the guide he once travels with. Because of the torch the guide bears, it is finally possible to look upon the 'beast', which makes for quite the surprise.
This short story starts off in France, with a 90-year-old old nobleman, who lives alone in a crumbling chateau. He retells (in his mind) the story of a curse laid upon his family in the Middle Ages, so about 600 years ago. One of his ancestors was a bit hot-headed, and unnecessarily killed a nearby alchemist in what turned out to be a misunderstanding. As revenge, the alchemist's son, of the same profession as his father, cursed him with the words:
''May ne'er a noble of thy murd'rous line survive to reach a greater age than thine''
And so it was: all following sons of the cursed nobleman died in mysterious circumstances at the age of thirty-two. The narrator learns of all this when he is twenty-one, and slowly grows more restless as his hour of doom nears. Lovecraft clearly uses time as the horror-aspect in this story. Many of us are directly aware of our mortality, and to know the exact point of your death is a strange form of torture. However, as said at the start, the nobleman retells this story at age 90, clearly untouched by the curse. How the story unfolds, I'll leave untold.
The third story makes excellent use of an unreliable narrator to complicate the narrative. It is told by Jervas Dudley, a self-described 'visionary'. The odd-one-out as a child, he became obsessed with a certain tomb close to his house. The door of the tomb was locked, but slightly opened, which enabled one to peer inside. Jervas would spend many nights in front of the tomb, and later, upon finding the key through intuition, goes inside it. Here he has many remarkable visions of the long-dead family that lays there. He also finds an empty coffin with his own name on it.
The visits to the inside of the tomb change him, both in outward appearance, mannerisms and the way he talks. The other villagers become convinced he is slowly turning insane, and he is spied upon regularly. No one ever sees him enter the tomb, and the tomb's lock is still intact when they find it. So is any of Jervas's story true?
These short stories from Lovecraft's younger years all lean to the more mystical side of horror. Not the modern-day horror of torn limbs and bloody murder, but more of a macabre an abstract sort. I'm not well versed in this genre, either in film or in print, and have never read Lovecraft before. In a next part, I'll touch on more stories told in this book. If you have any experience with Lovecraft's stories, do let me know what you think of them. I'll see you all in a next installment.
Top image: source