7-inch: Bingo-Master’s Break Out by the Fall
2016 Superior Viaduct SV107
Favorite Track: Repetition
*There are spoilers for two short stories in this post*
Last night, I read “The Lurking Fear” by H.P. Lovecraft to friends who made me dinner. It was an appropriate dark and stormy night. Some of the sentences or adjective-noun pairings were hilarious: “squatter legend”, “ended in mocking Satanism”, “rode the midnight lightning” and “a loathsome night-spawned flood of organic corruption more devastatingly hideous than the blackest conjurations of mortal madness and morbidity”. How metal Philip, how metal.
I’ve been reading lots of horror short stories lately in preparation for a future library program. For the purposes of this blog, I will review two of them: “The Lurking Fear” and Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows”. “The Lurking Fear” is an early tale of Lovecraft’s and suffers from his deplorable racism, but what Lovecraft tale doesn’t? “The Lurking Fear” is basically a cautionary tale against interracial breeding. Le sigh. It also suffers from Lovecraft being new to writing. As a reader who is interested in writing stories myself, it is interesting to see how Lovecraft learned his strengths and covered up his weaknesses. Lovecraft is great at atmosphere, setting, and historic folklore. He is terrible at characterization and complex plots. “The Lurking Fear” has plenty of long sentences with every noun carrying one or two adjectives. He also doubles up every description: the moon in morbid and insane; the primal trees block out the sun and the howling wind; etc. But there are effective moments. The first is the sleeping scene where the protagonist wakes up to find his companions missing. In the night, he felt one of them place an arm on him and he dismisses as the man rolling over in his sleep. But the actual reveal comes later…
The second fright is the fate of poor Arthur Munroe (possibly a nod to Arthur Machen, a weird tale writer Lovecraft adored). There Lovecraft keeps his sentences taunt like the tension building. Why isn’t Arthur moving from the window? Oh, he lost his face. At this point in the story, Lovecraft is suggesting some terrible winged thunder monster/snake. When the reveal happens at the end of the story, I think a good question arises: what really did happen to Arthur’s face? The third fright is when you realize that these degenerate apes were crawling all over him in his sleep–oh I just felt a shiver.
Best line of the story: “the frightful outcome of isolated spawning, multiplication, and cannibal nutrition above and below the ground.”
“The Willows” is a different beast, but a more effective story than “The Lurking Fear”. Two men take a canoe down the Danube River and wind up ashore a strange island where the willows seem to be moving slowly towards them. Like Lovecraft, Blackwood excels at atmosphere; his descriptions of the trees and river paint a sinister picture causing the reader to fear something will jump out behind every word. But where Lovecraft fails (at least in “The Lurking Fear” whose main character continues looks into a horrific mystery simply because he is curious) “The Willows” is an excellent character study. It could be a stage play. Both characters interpret the mystical events differently and their clash drives home the true fear. Out in the wilderness, out amid the strange, humans will suspect and turn on each other; we are our own fears. Blackwood has good pacing to the story, perhaps a tad slow at the beginning, but as the narrator becomes more entrenched with the changing environment, so do we curl up tighter in our chairs and read a little bit faster. If I were to say a little negative thing about the story, I would say the ending is a bit convenient, however, it works in the whole of the tale.
My future library program is to read ghost stories out loud. I believe I will read “The Willows” for the first program, but I have to time myself reading it out loud first. On my reading list are the Carnacki the Ghost Finder stories, some August Derleth stories, and a book called the Disciples of Cthulhu. I need relatively short stories from fifteen to thirty-five pages in length to read. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment with title and author. Thanks!