Monday, 28 March 2011

In the Vault

"In the Vault", first published in Tryout, November 1925.

This is  the  This is the the thirteenth entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.
We have a kind of view of HPL as an outre outsider creating bizarre individualistic and perverse tales of poetic weirdness, but a lot of his output so far has been fairly conventional. There's no ancient cosmic horror or inhuman entities here, and this tale of revenants fits a very traditional horror story pattern of vengeful ghosts. That's not to say it's entirely artificial - George Birch's fate is winngingly horrible, and HPL revels in the gruesome nature of the funeral home setting.

An H P Lovecraft Encyclopedia says this was originally rejected by Weird Tales for being too gruesome (WT was shuddering from a recent censorship furore), and so HPL tried instead to sell it to a “true” ghost stories magazine. The story itself has more in common with the supernatural in literaterature than the way the supernatural is perceived in the outside world.

For all that spectral vengance is a common theme in ghost stories, I can't recall a single instance of revenge from beyond the grave in The Penguin Book of Ghosts.
A far more common pattern is that the evil are cursed to become phantoms, forever excluded from heaven, and having to walk the earth, either for an eternity or until the completion of some unacheivable task, rather than be brought down by vengeful revenants.

The jocular tone is common to lot of old or very trad ghost stories; generically, it's like the nervous laugh that we hope will keep fear at bay. Comedy and horror are structurally similar, as well: this type of poetic justice is a kind of a narrative pun, with a set up and punchline. Perhaps it's the protagonist's faults that let us laugh at his predicament? If he was a skilled and diligent artisan, however, the story would never have happened in the first place.

HPL's attempt at a more vernacular style is not entirely successful: the teller of the tale seems altogether too pleased with himself. Joshi suggests that this colloquial tone is what made Lovecraft think this story would pass for a true tale; it sounds more like the stories being related by one of those EC Comics horror hosts.

Next up "The Outsider".

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.