Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Outsider"

Spooky Synopsis: The nameless protagonist of "The Outsider" can barely recall anything about his childhood except the castle. Ancient and crumbling and perpetually dim, it provides the sole setting for all of the narrator's memories, and he despises it. The dark trees squatting outside, the scummy moat surrounding, the blackened tower lifting into the gloomy darkness -- he hates it all, finding himself suffused with a nameless yearning with a little bit a brightness. So one day he decides to ascend the tower's slick stairs to see what lies at its pinnacle. And what does he find? A yielding barrier that opens up to reveal a cool, brilliant luminescence and a horror beyond anything he has ever experienced.

Lovecraftian Language: "I cannot even hint what it was like, for it was a compound of all that is unclean, uncanny, unwelcome, abnormal, and detestable. It was the ghoulish shade of decay, antiquity, and desolation; the putried, dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation; the awful baring of that which the merciful earth should always hide. God knows it was not of this world -- or no longer of this world -- yet to my horror I saw in its eaten-away and bone-revealing outlines a leering, abhorrent travesty on the human shape; and in its mouldy, disintegrating apparel an unspeakable quality that chilled me even more."

Eerie Evaluation: Nine decades have passed since Lovecraft penned "The Outsider," and during that span a lot of horror literature has come and gone. Is it unfair to say that later works have robbed the story of much of its surprise? Perhaps, but that doesn't make the ending seem any less predictable. Plus, Lovecraft cheats just the tiniest bit with his mention of "vine-encumbered trees that silently wave twisted branches far aloft." I want to avoid blatant spoilers here, but the castle's true location essentially precludes any such vegetation. I liked the story, though. It's well-structured despite its familiarity, and Lovecraft leaves much of the backstory implied, although readers can suss out tasty little details here and there.

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.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I have only read a few of his stories although a collection sits across the room. Should do better than this.

Loren Eaton said...

Patti, give "Nyarlathotep" a try. It's a super-short, oddly lyrical, nihilistic myth. I rather liked it.