Wednesday, March 6, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Hound"

Spooky Synopsis: The unnamed narrator of "The Hound" and his libertine sidekick, one St. John, have grown rather bored of your standard licentiousness. They've tried all of the tame depravities of your ordinary bohemians, immersing themselves in the extravagancies of the Symbolists and the pre-Raphaelites, the Decadents' hedonism and Baudelaire's degeneracy. Now they've decided to try something new, namely grave robbing. The chill of midnight air, the sound of spades striking stones, the scent of freshly turned earth -- of these sensations thrill their aesthetic sense. So do the trinkets they pilfer from each and every expedition. But the amulet they'll discover on this last trip will bring them much more than just artistic satisfaction. It will draw a horrific entity after them, one that will tear St. John into ribbons.

Lovecraftian Language: "I can recall the scene in these final moments -- the pale autumnal moon over the graves, casting long horrible shadows; the grotesque trees, drooping sullenly to meet the neglected grass and the crumbling slabs; the vast legions of strangely colossal bats that flew against the moon; the antique ivied church pointing a huge spectral finger at the livid sky; the phosphorescent insects that danced like death-fires under the yews in a distant corner; the odours of mould, vegetation, and less explicable things that mingled feebly with the night-wind from over the far swamps and seas; and worst of all, the faint deep-toned baying of some gigantic hound which we could neither see nor definitely place."

Eerie Evaluation: See that sentence up there? (Yes, that block of text is one sentence.) Imagine that purple prose repeated again and again and again. So. Many. Adjectives. Calling it overblown hardly suffices, although S.T. Joshi (who edited my annotated edition of Lovecraft's work) says that "the story is an obvious self-parody." Maybe, maybe. He susses out allusions to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ambrose Bierce, and Edgar Allan Poe, but I'm still skeptical. Laughable diction aside, the story itself is too good to be merely a parody. Much of the second half recalls the best of M.R. James, and the ending really twists the proverbial knife. Still, the style blunted my enjoyment, satire or not.

Number of Sanity-Shredding Shoggoths (out of five):

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To visit the story index for "An Eldritch Education" (my year spent reading H.P. Lovecraft's work), please click here.

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