Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Terrible Old Man"

Spooky Synopsis: The people of Kingsport know the ancient, white-haired sailor only as the Terrible Old Man. He keeps to himself, places bizzare boulders in his yard that look suspiciously like Asiatic idols, and pays for all his goods with coins minted two-hundred years ago. This odd pecuniary arrangement has attracted the attention of three professional thieves, rough types who specialize in home invasions. They think a bit of carefully applied violence will loosen the Terrible Old Man's tongue, get him to reveal the location of his treasure horde. But little do they know the elderly sailor keeps help close by ...

Lovecraftian Language: "It was the design of Angelo Ricci and Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva to call on the Terrible Old Man. The old man dwells all alone in a very ancient house on Water Street near the sea, and is reputed to be both exceedingly rich and exceedingly feeble; which forms a situation very attractive to men of the profession of Messrs. Ricci, Czanek, and Silva, for that profession was nothing less dignified than robbery."

Eerie Evaluation: Did Lovecraft miss his true calling by not writing crime fiction? Probably not, but "The Terrible Old Man" represents a rather nice departure from his usual horror fare. Crooks and criminals take center stage here, and instead of resorting to florid prose, Lovecraft kept the proceedings trim and tidy (a mere three pages in my edition). Menace percolates underneath conversational diction, the trio's malicious intent only underscored by the easy way in which they mention that "there is a lure and a challenge about a very old and very feeble man who had no account at the bank" and how "Mr. Ricci and Mr. Silva were to interview the poor old gentleman." Simple word choice does more to flesh out these characters than pages of description. "Interview," indeed. Unfortunately, Lovecraft stumbles a little with an underdeveloped supernatural twist at the end, but that misstep isn't enough to spoil this short jaunt into society's underside.

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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