Friday, April 2, 2010

The Picture in the House by H.P. Lovecraft

The Picture in the House
by H.P. Lovecraft

An amateur genealogist of sorts is traveling through the Miskatonic Valley by bicycle, chatting with the locals and researching certain undeclared data. As a real doozy of a storm breaks overhead (my words), he trespasses into an old homestead for shelter, sure that it is empty.

Well, empty it is not. An extremely old man lives there, but not of the grumpy variety. This particular old man is a friendly one, and he welcomes the stranger with open arms. Despite this, our protagonist can not help but get the creeps from this old salt. Maybe it's the tattered rags he wears for clothes, maybe it's the thought-to-be-extinct dialect he uses...or maybe, just maybe, it's the unnatural obsession he has with the archaic, museum-quality book full of images detailing acts of bloodshed, carnage and (gasp!) cannibalism!

With this story, the downside of writing a horror tale in the first person becomes painfully obvious. There is a severe sense of dread permeating the entire story, and a palatable sense of impending doom. Unfortunately, since the narrator obviously lives to tell the tale, you never fear for the one man that we should be fearing for. There are only two characters here, and since we know that the narrator is our 'hero', then we instantly know that the creepy old man is our 'villain'. If there were at least one or two more sympathetic characters, this could prove to be a moot point, but with such a minuscule cast it kind of cuts back on the suspense.

I should warn you that Lovecraft, never willing to pass up an opportunity to belittle another race, drops the N-Word right in the middle of this tale.  I know, I know, he is a product of his times, but it can still be a little jarring.

On the positive side of things, Lovecraft's opening paragraphs here are some of the best he has so far written, and solidify his philosophy of the genre--genuine horror, whether cosmic or earthly, found in your own backyard.
"But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous."
"The Picture in the House" takes place in the fictional Miskatonic Valley and makes mention of the neighboring town of Arkham, both of which are important locales in Lovecraft's canon.


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  1. How is using the n word in this context racist?

  2. Anonymous: Seriously? How is using the n-word in any context NOT racist?

    1. The person using the "N-word" is a depraved cannibal who was born sometime in the early to mid 18th century. For him to use any other term than that to refer to black people would be not only out-of-character but also out-of-dialect: remember, one of the clues as to the old man's true nature is that he is speaking an 18th-century version of the regional dialect. So it's not just a 1910's attitude, it's an 18th century attitude.

  3. back then it was common place it was the 1920s when h wrote it

  4. LOL, johnny ask the black kids on the sidewalk right now! I heard them say it to each other.

  5. I think that the really-significant thing about this story is that it is the first appearance of "Lovecraft country" in fiction: it's the first published story written by Lovecraft to mention the Miskatonic Valley, where so many of Lovecraft's tales would be set. Here's a link to the version I ran with notes and commentary:


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