Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lovecraft 101 - The Lurking Fear

The Lurking Fear
A while back we covered the story of Arthur Jermyn, a man horrified by the revelation of his genetic history. This is a theme that would run throughout Lovecraft's work, and we can see a sort of reworking of that premise in the story covered today, The Lurking Fear. This would, of course, be continued to be reworked in the next story we are covering, The Rats in the Walls, all leading up to its best implementation later with The Shadow over Innsmouth (one of my favorites).
A little background on this story first. The Lurking Fear was commissioned by Home Brew magazine, as a four-part serial. After HPL's mixed feelings with the commissioning of Herbert West, editor George Houtain, compromised with Lovecraft over how to present the material. Lovecraft's biggest objection to the serialized format was the need to recap what has happened so far at the beginning of each new chapter. In this case, that was done by Houtain in a brief opener each time so Lovecraft would not have to include it in his story. This story was written in November of 1922, not long after writing The Hound. In August of that same year, Lovecraft began corresponding with a man named ClarkAshton Smith. This name will ring with importance to any readers already familiar with Lovecraftian fiction.

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was an accomplished poet and artist from California. CAS's poems were actually widely published and even at the age of nineteen was being compared to Keats and Shelley. In the summer of '22, HPL had become quite taken with the writing of CAS and began a long correspondence with the poet until the date of his death. It is easy to say that the two were quite taken with each other as HPL got CAS published in Weird Tales, despite their "no poetry" policy, and CAS soon found himself writing fiction, not too dissimilar from HPL's work. CAS would even become more prolific in fiction than Lovecraft as he wrote over one-hundred stories in a span of six years. We will of course talk about CAS much more later, as the two's work begin to influence, and borrow from, one another. However, his relevance to this story is both their meeting and correspondence of the time of writing, but also that when it came time to publish the serial the following year, HPL recommended CAS be hired to illustrate it for the magazine.
These illustrations are growing harder to find as they only saw print in the Home Brew publication and a later reprint in 1977. More interesting, however, is that these illustrations were rather risqué at the time, for CAS's childish habit of over-sexualizing his imagery and adding genitalia-like shapes to inanimate objects. This shows CAS's sensibilities to be far different than those of Lovecraft, who not only shied away from matters of sex, but would almost never depict women in his stories. Some have coupled this, with Lovecraft's often used pairing of men in his stories to hint at a possible homosexual tendency of Lovecraft. But I tend to disagree. I recently read an interesting essay recently about how Lovecraft's distaste for sex, much like his feelings of race, actually helped construct his unique approach to horror.
This idea can be seen in the way Lovecraft approaches the ideas of the cursed lineage. In this story, like others connected to it, Lovecraft focuses on the genealogy, but stays far clear of its implications on reproduction. However, even without discussing it, he is making a comment on the nature of passing down genetic information, which can only be done in one way. This could stem from his dislike of the idea of racial interbreeding, or merely from the upbringing he had and a family history or mental illness and disease.
The Lurking Fear, like Herbert West and other serialized fiction is quite action-packed. The story plays out at a different pace than HPL's atmospheric pieces and ensures a steady dose of intrigue through its short chapters. I quite like this tale, though less so for its end revelation (which I feel is better done here than in Arthur Jermyn, but less so than Rats in the Walls or Innsmouth), and more for its cinematic feel and creepy monsters. Yes, as much as I love exploring the deep literary and psychological implications of Lovecraft's work, I will be honest, I have always been here for the creepy crawlies.
Despite its cinematic feel, The Lurking Fear would go on to inspire a list of movies that failed to capture any of it. From the movie with the same title, to less credited films like Bleeders(1997) or Dark Heritage(1989) [Note: I am not recommending any of these films as they are just damn awful]. But Lovecraft is considered a master of modern horror. Even though much of what we have looked at so far, owes a great deal to previous authors, Lovecraft was still breaking new ground. The more we look at his stories the more we can see his influence on horror fiction forever afterward. Even if it isn't direct adaptations, HPL gave us some of the basic story ideas that would be used and reworked in almost every horror film and novel for the next 80 years.
This is a great little story, a fun tale to read in the dark of a rainy night. If you want to check out the full text you can read it here: HPL's The Lurking Fear
And if you want to read more about how Lovecraft's views on race and reproduction lead to his unique brand of horror, check out this great essay by Bruce Lord, The Genetics of Horror: Sex and Racism in H.P. Lovecraft's Fiction

Next time: The Rats in the Walls (Part 1)

1 comment:

Bryant Burnette said...

It's got some commonalities with "The Beast in the Cave," too. It's easy to imagine Lovecraft sitting around one day, thinking of that story, when all of a sudden "Arthur Jermyn" pops into his head. He thinks, "Hmm...I know a way to improve on both of those ideas..." and gets to writing.

Good story!

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