Sunday, January 31, 2016

An Excellent Edition of a So-So Story

It's amusing to read S. T.'s Introduction to this wee volume--because he must have felt inclined to say positive things about this late story by Lovecraft.I mean, you don't write an introduction to a book you want to see sold and say therein, "Urm, this story rather sucks." Joshi is rather more upfront about ye story's flaws in his entry concerning it in An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia: "While the tale contains vividly cosmic vistas of hyperspace, HPL does not appear to have thought out the details of the plot satisfactorily. What is the significance of the Old Ones in the story? To what purpose is the baby kidnapped and sacrificed? How can HPL the atheist allow Keziah to be frightened by the sight of a crucifix? Why does Nyarlathotep appear in the conventional figure of the Black man? . . . It seems as if HPL were aiming merely for a succession of startling images without bothering to fuse them into a logical sequence."

I have never read a horror story expecting that it will present a narrative of logic and realism; yet "The Dreams in the Witch House" does seem rather a mess. Nyarlathotep is my favourite of Lovecraft's dark beings, and he is utterly wasted in this story, appearing for no reason whatsoever and adding nothing to ye narrative. Some have complained that the story is poorly written, but I find its prose almoft as good as that found in Lovecraft's finest works. Let's take a look at ye opening paragraph.

"Whether the dreams brought on the fever or the fever brought on the dreams Walter Gilman did not know. Behind everything crouched the brooding, festering horror of the ancient town, and of the mouldy, unhallowed garret gable where he wrote and studied and wrestled with figures and formulae when he was not tossing on the meagre iron bed. His ears were growing sensitive to a preternatural and intolerable degree, and he had long ago stopped the cheap mantel clock whose ticking had come to seem like a thunder of artillery. At night the subtle stirring of the black city outside, the sinister scurrying of rats in wormy partitions, and the creaking of of hidden timbers in the centuried house, were enough to give him a sense of strident pandemonium. The darkness always teemed with unexplained sound--and yet he sometimes shook with fear lest the noises he heard should subside and allow him to hear other, fainter, noises which he suspected were lurking behind them."

I see that opening paragraph as near-perfect in setting mood and faintly establishing curious character. I see no evidence of "overwriting," and the language flows with a natural grace. I love the subtle hints of things that will blossom into full horrors as ye tale progresses. The setting may be consider'd Lovecraft's toying with ye "haunted house" genre, as he did with "The Shunned House" and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Lovecraft would then expand on this theme and depict areas of haunted realm, localities of dangerous weirdness.

The story has its defenders, ye moft eloquent and intelligent being Fritz Leiber, whose magnificent essay is publish'd following the story text. There is also a foreword by Stuart Gordon, who filmed the story for Showtime's Masters of Horror series. The illustrations in this PS Publishing edition, by ye fabulous Pete Von Sholly, are for ye moft part excellent--although one of them in particular seems just a bit "over-ye-top," to mine eyes. There is one superb depiction of Nyarlathotep, on page 31. Pete has also supplied a number of illustrations for Stuart Gordon's awesome Foreword, including a macabre portrait of Gordon in a "Dr. West" environment that is beyond cool. 


  1. The fact that "HPL the atheist [allowed] Keziah to be frightened by the sight of a crucifix" isn't a "flaw" of the story. It wasn't HPL's duty to write stories consistent with his atheism. It seems that Lovecraft was more secure in his atheism than Joshi is in his.

    1. One of the points of the story, as I read it, was that the world-view of "a mediocre old woman of the seventeenth century" is of just as much, & as little, use in understanding the limitless abysses of inexplicably coloured twilight as that of us moderns.

  2. The story, however enjoyable, is extremely flaw'd, especially in its use of Nyarlathotep. HPL's stupid use of ye crucifix adds absolutely nothing to plot or atmosphere.

    Having read S. T.'s books on atheism and his on-going journal on ye subject, I can attest to his complete and solid security on that subject. Get real, girlfriend.

  3. I have got to me some of the illustrated editions. They look beautiful. Thank you Hopfrog

  4. I have got to me some of the illustrated editions. They look beautiful. Thank you Hopfrog