Thursday, May 30, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Haunter of the Dark"

Spooky Synopsis: Common consensus holds that Robert Blake died from an electrical discharge, and there are more than a few good reasons to hold to that conclusion. The night of his demise saw a torrential downpour studded with lightning strikes so severe that they knocked out all power, plunging the town into darkness. As for the dilapidated old church downtown that burst asunder during the deluge, the superstitious murmurings of a few Italians, and the look of exquisite horror frozen on Blake's face, all of these have purely natural explanations. Certainly we mustn't countenance Blake's belief that he had disturbed some entity from beyond space and time while exploring through the boarded-up old house of worship on a lark ...

Lovecraftian Language: "In his diary he told of the hideous experience which had brought the collapse. After retiring on the night of the 30th he had suddenly found himself groping about in an almost black space. All he could see were short, faint, horizontal streaks of bluish light, but he could smell an overpowering foetor and hear a curious jumble of soft, furtive sounds above him. Whenever he moved he stumbled over something, and at each noise there would come a sort of answering sound from above -- a vague stirring, mixed with the cautious sliding of wood on wood."

Eerie Evaluation: No doubt about it, "The Haunter of the Dark" works. Originally penned as a tribute to horror writer Robert Bloch (who Lovecraft mentored), it unfolds like HPL's taut early tales. Think "Dagon" or "Cool Air," but with little asides to the cosmic span of "The Call of Cthulhu." Despite some early pacing problems -- Lovecraft always seems to take his time getting into the action -- "Haunter" unspools masterfully, a waxing sense of unease stealing up on you much like a chill draft slips beneath the lining of your coat. We never get a good description of inevitable trans-dimentional abomination, which works well rather than feeling like a copout, and Blake's final frantic scribblings instill more fear than any carefully penned explanation. Sometimes a mind at war with itself is the greatest terror.

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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