After his son dies from wartime injuries, Delapore begins rebuilding and refurbishing his old family home of Exham Priory in England. It was from his son’s letters that he had learned of the house after his son had heard the sinister stories about the place from Captain Edward Norrys, a wartime friend living close by.
The house had stood empty since the time of James the First, when Walter de la Poer (an obvious jumbling of the names of two writers) had murdered his father, five siblings and several servants, escaping to America, where he founded the family from which the narrator had descended.
Delapore is startled from a dream one night by the behaviour of his cat, the abominably-named black person Man, who becomes excited by sounds of rats which seem to be coming from the very walls. Next day he learns that all the cats in the place have reacted similarly. The dream had been a disturbing one in which he had seen a ‘daemon swineherd’ in a shadowy grotto herding strange and revolting ‘funguous beasts’. Later the dream recurs and as the details become clear, he thinks that the swineherd has his own face, while one of his filthy beasts also has a human face which is terrifyingly familiar.
Determined to trace the rats to their lair, Delapore and Norrys descend to the crypt, where evidence of ritual sacrifice is found. Then they find that the trail leads deeper – below an ancient altar and into the earth.
The story, although quite short, now takes on some of the qualities of an epic. An expedition of seven men descends into a subterranean nightmare world where steps take them down into a sea of human and animal bones. There are buildings from earlier times in this night world: Roman, Saxon and English.
“Horror piled on horror as we began to interpret the architectural remains. The quadruped things – with their occasional recruits from the biped class – had been kept in stone pens, out of which they must have broken in their last delirium of hunger or rat-fear. There had been great herds of them, evidently fattened on the coarse vegetables whose remains could be found as a sort of poisonous ensilage at the bottom of huge stone bins older than Rome – would to heaven I could forget! The purpose of the herds I did not have to ask.
...Norrys, used as he was to the trenches, could not walk straight when he came out of the English building. It was a butcher shop and kitchen...”
Study of the bones reveals the disturbing possibility that “some of the skeleton things must have descended as quadrupeds through the last twenty or more generations”.
Was evolution reversed in this place? Had a once-superior race reverted to the status of cattle?
Delapore and Norrys do not have much time to ponder this question as a dreadful scurrying sound reaches them out of the darkness.
I was prompted to re-read this when I listened to a 1964 recording of the story for the radio series The Black Mass. I thought it an excellent adaptation. If you want to hear it, click the link (left-click for streaming radio or right-cliff to save it to your desktop):
Post by David A. Riley on Nov 20, 2007 12:35:12 GMT
I think one of the most impressive things about this story is how Lovecraft uses the degenerating speech of the protagonist as he regresses to the dim, distant past. Lovecraft is often criticised for lack of characterisation, but his use of speech is frequently one of his strongest devices, and not only in this story.
This morning, I took another look at Stephen Jones' H. P. Lovecraft in Britain. To my surprise, I found that I'm mentioned in the booklet (although he gets my middle initial wrong - it's F, not J). He even describes me as eagle eyed - which was more true than he could have suspected. In those days, I had astonishingly good eyesight. I recall standing at a bus stop with a friend and saying here comes a number... well - I can't recall the route number. My friend couldn't even see the bus!
This morning, I took another look at Stephen Jones' H. P. Lovecraft in Britain. To my surprise, I found that I'm mentioned in the booklet (although he gets my middle initial wrong - it's F, not J). He even describes me as eagle eyed -
Congratulations! I wasn't eagle-eyed enough myself to spot that! des
I found that I'm mentioned in the booklet (although he gets my middle initial wrong - it's F, not J).
I spotted this in the booklet and was thrown off course by the mistaken "J", thinking it was someone else.
I'll amend my copy with pencil and insert the appropriate "F" !
Thank you for amending your copy, Mark. I was definitely the eagle-eyed one. I still have the letters from John Bush. (He wrote to me twice, once to say that they'd ask Arkham House, and a second time to tell me how it should have read.) John Bush was Chairman and Joint Managing Director - I'm amazed that someone so important in the company answered my query.
I would like to know more about how "Lovecraft developed near-perfect structures for the horror story." One type of structure that occurs in more than one story seems to me closely related to the M R Jamesian antiquarian investigation that ends horribly, and is thus not entirely original.
Presumably he charges money for the use of his supposedly "correct" versions. What other point might there be to this activity?
“I had spent years at Brown University, as an undergraduate and graduate student, in examining Lovecraft’s manuscripts and early printed sources – I discovered that the current Arkham House editions contained thousands of textual and typographical errors. I approached Turner at the World Fantasy Convention in New Haven in 1982, suggesting that a new edition of Lovecraft’s fiction be issued with my corrected texts. It took a full year of negotiation to work out the details of this new edition, as I was concerned that I be properly acknowledged for my years of work.”
Interview with Innsmouth Free Press
Mr Joshi’s corrected and re-edited stories are clearly copyrighted. S.T. actually went back to the original handwritten manuscripts and had to do scholarly research and use his own insight on Lovecraft’s own writing style in order to repair “the damage” done by previous editors including August Derleth. This consisted of new work and thus these re-edited stories are copyrighted by Arkham House and the copyrights are current.
Discussion lifted from the Joseph Payne Brennan thread.
S. T. Joshi should of course be paid for his work, and it's up to him to make the best deals. Copyright on the changes he made to Lovecraft's published work is of course a completely different thing; the changes can't be seen as his own, since they, after all, must be supposed to be Lovecraft's texts restored. He was hired by Arkham House, so I assume AH own copyright to the "corrected" versions, but why should they? Why should they have copyright on Lovecraft's work at all? Joshi does get paid for his frequent editorial work. But he is not an artist, that I know of, and certainly no "Lovecraft". And therefore should not have copyright on Lovecraft.
But I am much more interested in what versions you prefer to read? S. T. Joshi's corrected versions, or the original Arkham House texts? It can't be denied that Joshi's work brought improvements, something I learned from the detailed reviews in Crypt of Cthulhu. I have only met one person before who preferred the old versions, but he was really firm on that point. I can't compare them otherwise, since I sold my three original AH collections of Lovecraft's work, published in the mid 1960's; to make clear space on my shelves. Something I sorely regret, much because of their nice printing quality and the cover art by Lee Brown Coye.
Some of you perhaps even read Lovecraft from the original Arkham House book The Outsider and Others?!
After reading those annotated editions of CAS or Howard with their endless lists of corrections - which of course is often just grammatical stuff and no changes in content - I can imagine how much work a corrected Lovecraft might be. There are so many different Lovecraft editions that the average reader cannot say which one is the original one. Even the WT texts were of course edited. And changes might not be fundamental.
If you compare Lovecraft with Howard and how much money was earned with Howard's work by people with no connection to him whatsoever it is okay if Joshi tries to defend his contributions. And if he came to an agreement with Arkham House concerning his contribution, this is okay. Doesn't prevent the next complete Public Domain Lovecraft for 99 cent as a lousy formatted and riddled with typos Ebook edition.
In Howard's case a lot of his material was so thoroughly re-written, all those "posthumously collaborations", that Lovecraft seemingly got they better deal. At least Derleth didn't re-write his actual stories. He only appropiated his concepts and changed them more to his liking.