Spooky Synopsis: Even though it is Christmastime, the narrator of "The Festival" hasn't come to the town of his ancestors to celebrate Advent. No, he has arrived to remember an older, grimmer holiday that occurs only once a century. Yet he doesn't know the nature of that celebration, not in truth. Soon he will find himself caught up in a hellish processional that leads him to the darkest depths of existence, both figuratively and literally.
Lovecraftian Language: "We went out into the moonless and tortuous network of that incredibly ancient town; went out as the lights in the curtained windows disappeared one by one, and the Dog Star leered at the throng of cowled, cloaked figures that poured silently from every doorway and formed monstrous processions up this street and that, past the creaking signs and antediluvian gables, the thatched roofs and diamond-paned windows; threading precipitous lanes where decaying houses overlapped and crumbled together, gliding across open courts and churchyards where the bobbing lanthorns made eldritch drunken constellations."
Eerie Evaluation: No doubt about it, "The Festival" contains some great imagery, particularly when the tale goes all freaky-deaky around the midpoint. The narrator beholds an "unhallowed Erebus of titan toadstools, leprous fire, and slimy water," watches as those unearthly flames coat "the nitrous stone above with a nasty, venomous verdigris," and recoils at "a horde of tame, trained, hybrid winged things that no sound eye could ever wholly grasp, or sound brain ever wholly remember." Here, at least, Lovecraft knew he needed to provide a kind of internal logic if he wanted readers to be able to follow his over-the-top descriptions, a lesson that Jeff VanderMeer was all over like maggots on week-old meat and one that M. John Harrison seems to have never quite grasped. Unfortunately, Lovecraft doesn't brace up these vivid imaginings with an equally gripping plot. The narrator meets some strange folks, descends with them into hellish underground grottoes, sees them celebrate the universe's meaninglessness, and later wakes in the hospital apparently suffering from what doctors believe is a bout of psychosis. Wikipedia calls this tale "one of the first of [Lovecraft's] Cthulhu Mythos stories," so perhaps I'll find the imagery recycled in a better way later on.
Number of Sanity-Shredding Shoggoths (out of five):
To visit the story index for "An Eldritch Education" (my year spent reading H.P. Lovecraft's work), please click here.