Monday, November 25, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Strange High House in the Mist"

Spooky Synopsis: An odd house rests on the crags that rise above the sea town of Kingsport, a tiny cottage sitting so high on the mountain that no man ought to be able to reach it. Yet someone must live there for lights shine in its windows at night. Many stories circulate about the house, some claiming it's connected to the Elder Ones from the sea, others that it has possessed the same occupant for hundreds of years. No one, though, ever knew the truth -- at least until Professor Thomas Olney arrived.

Lovecraftian Language: "Then one summer there came a philosopher into Kingsport. His name was Thomas Olney, and he taught ponderous things in a college by Narragansett Bay. With stout wife and romping children he came, and his eyes were weary with seeing the same things for many years, and thinking the same well-disciplined thoughts. He looked at the mists from the diadem of Father Neptune, and tried to walk into their white world of mystery along the titan steps of The Causeway. Morning after morning, he would lie on the cliffs and look over the world's rim at the cryptical aether beyond, listening to spectral bells and the wild cries of what might have been gulls."

Eerie Evaluation: Different authors excel at different things, and it's for good reason that people remember Lovecraft's horror stories. His often-overwrought prose seems primed to present terrors so strange that the human mind can't conceive of them without irrevocably shattering. But when he turns his pen to flights of fancy -- as with "The Strange High House in the Mist" -- the results are less impressive. When aiming for a certain emotional effect in genre fiction, presentation is (almost) everything, and Lovecraft tends to fall just a little short with his works of fantasy. Reading how "solemn bells of buoys tolled free in the aether of faery" invokes a sense of archaic tedium rather than carefree wonder. Ditto for "the mist would lift and the sea stand out prosy with the smoke of streamers," which prompts a fit of bored yawning. I'm not saying that "The Strange High House in the Mist" is a bad story. The plot remains fundamentally sound, and it contains some nice nods to "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Terrible Old Man," and "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath." However, a near-century's worth of space has robbed the tale's rhetoric of its impact.

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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