Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lovecraft 101 - The Hound

The Hound
In my tortured ears there sounds unceasingly a nightmare whirring and flapping, and a faint, distant baying as of some gigantic hound.
Many have written that H. P. Lovecraft's The Hound, is a weak and overwritten story. I would strongly disagree. This story is filled with HPL's deluge of atmospheric descriptions and builds to a tense paranoid end. It certainly isn't the greatest of his works, nor one of the most well known, but to me it is a good and important one.
In 1922, Lovecraft and a friend travelled to Brooklyn. There they toured the graveyard of the Dutch Reformed Church. Finding a gravestone dating back to the mid-18th century, Lovecraft broke off a piece of the tomb and took it home with him. According to his letters, this is probably the initial seed that lead to the story of the hound. Lovecraft wrote that he was enamored with the tiny chunk of stone and wondered what dreams would come if he kept it beneath his pillow at night.

The Hound is written as confessional suicide note by the narrator, a grave-robber. It tells of the final exploits in a Dutch graveyard, in which he and his friend uncover the tomb of a fabled ghoul killed by some unknown beast half a millennia before. Inside the tomb they find a clean near perfect skeleton wearing a green amulet. Stealing the amulet, the two men unleash unspeakable evil upon the night as they are hunted down by a shadowy beast.

Working with that central theme, Lovecraft fills every sentence with building dread. His language is over the top, but in a classic style that we have come to know Lovecraft for. This work could be seen as self-parody, pushing the limits of how serious it takes itself, though Lovecraft doesn't use the same wit he has employed in the past for comical tales. He certainly makes references to other works, conjuring up elements of Poe and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. To me, this tale typifies a distinct kind of gothic story. It feels as pulpy as Lovecraft should, and conjures images that would fill the imagination of any Hammer Horror fan.
Though Lovecraft did not like this story, saying it was a "dead dog and a piece of junk", it does have some importance for the greater Lovecraft works. Most importantly, of course, is that this story presents the first explicit mention of the Necronomicon. This ancient tome and it's fictional author have been hinted at in previous works (The Nameless City), but this is the first time it is mentioned by name. This closely ties this story to the more significant works of Lovecraft, but it serves as the literary genesis point of Lovecraft's most influential creations. Elements and themes of Lovecraftian horror stretch through popular media like far reaching tentacles, but none is more prevalent than this fictional text.
Lovecraft's origin of this book is unclear, though it is possible it was inspired by the evil play depicted in Chamber's The King in Yellow. Lovecraft mentioned this work throughout his mythos stories and even quoted from it occasionally. Later we will look at his fictionalized history and background story for the book. Creating a fictional work to then reference in your writing was a rather new idea for the time, and with the dark mystery surrounding it and the later appropriation of the idea by many of HPL's followers, the Necronomicon has gained a bit of a cult following. Some have even tried to argue its legitimacy, though more humorous is the attempts by ivy-league pranksters to sneak a catalogue card for the book into the Yale University Library.
Another connection in this story is the origin of the symbol on the amulet. Once again we get a mention of the region of Leng. Leng was first mentioned in Celephais and will come up again in a number of other stories. It is a commonly mentioned place, but is never mentioned to be in the same place. Each story depicts it in places as far flung as Central Asia to Antarctica. This is probably due to its connection with the Dreamlands, and it is hinted that it might be a hub which connects planes of reality. Or Lovecraft could just be reusing his fun sounding names and not bothering to check back in his own works, remember Lovecraft never really thought of his works as being a single cohesive whole.
It might be a bit overwritten, and a little heavy on the atmospheric language as Lovecraft often does with his gothic pieces. But it is certainly worth checking out. And if you want to read the full story, you can check it out here: HPL's The Hound
Next time: The Lurking Fear

No comments:

Post a Comment