Wednesday, October 16, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Lurking Fear"

Spooky Synopsis: The backwoods inhabitants of Tempest Mountain agree little about the nature of the lurking fear. Some thought it a bat, others an animate tree, and still others some sort of serpent. But all agreed that it only came out during nocturnal thunderstorms -- and that it had a taste for human blood. In addition to all the losses that have disappeared down the well of time, seventy-five souls from a nearby village recently perished, about a third of which were found rent to pieces and the remainder never found at all. The investigation of these deaths will lead back to the ancient family of Gerrit Martense, a Dutch settler whose hatred of the British led to his family's isolation in the wild mountains and turned his descendants' name into the worst sort of byword.

Lovecraftian Language: "Then came the devastating stroke of lightning which shook the whole mountain, lit the darkest crypts of the hoary grove, and splintered the patriarch of the twisted trees. In the daemon flash of a monstrous fireball the sleeper started up suddenly while the glare from beyond the window threw his shadow vividly upon the chimney above the fireplace from which my eyes had never strayed. That I am still alive and sane, is a marvel I cannot fathom. I cannot fathom it, for the shadow on that chimney was not that of George Bennett or of any other human creature, but a blasphemous abnormality from hell's nethermost craters; a nameless, shapeless abomination which no mind could fully grasp and no pen even partly describe."

Eerie Evaluation: Lovecraft readers will quickly recognize most of what "The Lurking Fear" majors in. Curses reaching down over generations. Murky horrors that hover just on the edge of perception. An inbred rural populace smitten by ignorance and fear. But Lovecraft adds something unexpected to the proceedings -- mystery. The narrator is essentially a paranormal detective. (Think of a less-refined version of William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki.) Readers follow his investigation through its myriad twists and turns, ups and downs. It's a horror procedural of sorts, and a great gulf lies between the narrator's initial graspings at what the titular fear might be and what it actually is. The big reveal more than satisfies, and while the story draws heavily on the central conceit of "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family," it mercifully lacks that tale's racial tinge. Also, a touch of visceral (but not excessive) grue adds impact. Not all is well, though. Lovecraft defaults to florid prose during the greatest moments of narrative tension, and the pacing rattles along like an old Chevy down a washboard road. Still, this "Fear" skulks about long after the final page.

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.


Scattercat said...

Oh, come on. I love "The Lurking Fear." It has one of the greatest moments of dawning realization ever, as the narrator stands on the mountain in the dark, looking out over the miles and miles of oddly bumpy ground...

I think you just don't like Lovecraft's ridiculous verbosity, full stop. ;-) You really just kind of have to get in the groove for it. Get your inner Doctor Doom on. Lovecraft is writing to be ranted and mumbled in alternating terms. Try reading it out loud with expansive arm gestures while pacing in the dark. Bonus points if you're tipsy.

Loren Eaton said...

But, but, but I liked it, really I did. I just didn't think it was quite as good as, I dunno, "Pickman's Model" or "The Dunwich Horror." And, yeah, the verbosity plays a role. Given my uptight nature, I have a hard time rolling with phrases like, "I felt the strangling tendrils of a cancerous horror whose roots reached into illimitable pasts and fathomless abysms of the night that broods beyond time."

Reading it out loud, though. That's not a bad idea. I don't seem to notice the wordiness quite as much when Norm Sherman performs Lovecraft.