Friday, August 9, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Thing on the Doorstep"

Spooky Synopsis: Daniel Upton has done something terrible. Instead of serving as the guardian of his friend Edward Derby (which he was suppose to do after the man's near miraculous recovery from madness and subsequent release from the asylum), he shot him. Shot him several times in the face. Said that it was best for everyone. But before you conclude that Upton has gone just as crazy as Edward once was, think about the strange nature of Edward's wife Asenath. Hailing from the eerie town of Innsmouth, she boasted of the ability to manipulate strange, magical forces. She certainly exhibited an influence over Edward, his moods snapping back and forth like a rubber band, but to what end? Upton thinks he knows -- and that he just might have managed to prevent it.

Lovecraftian Language: "It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to shew by this statement that I am not his murderer. At first I shall be called a madman -- madder than the man I shot in his cell at the Arkham Sanitarium. Later some of my readers will weigh each statement, correlate it with the known facts, and ask themselves how I could have believed otherwise than as I did after facing the evidence of that horror -- that thing on the doorstep."

Eerie Evaluation: In some ways, "The Thing on the Doorstep" is really quite remarkable: It's a pastiche of the author's own work that manages to rise above its source material -- far above it. Lovecraft explicitly references "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," linking odd Asenath and the undersea denizens of that tale. He provides a more subtle nod to "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" with its themes of occult possession and generational terror. But "The Thing on the Doorstep" trumps both of them by refusing to delve into extraneous detail, thus keeping its proceedings relatively brisk. True, things drag a bit in the middle, and Asenath's assertion that "a male brain had certain unique and far-reaching cosmic powers" sounds strangely chauvinistic. (It makes much more sense later, though.) But the ending -- oh, the ending -- is where the story really excels. Thoroughly gripping, utterly macabre, and unlike anything I've yet seen Lovecraft do, it establishes the story as something great in its own right.

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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