A little extra Info!

Since we will be reading The Rats in the Walls and The Picture in the House I thought I would track down a little bit of information about these two stories in the event that anyone was curious as to what Lovecraft was thinking when he wrote these tales.

The Rats in the Walls – Wrote between August and September of 1923, it was first published in Weird Tales, March 1924. Lovecraft’s first inspiration for writing the story was an incident that involved the cracking of wall-paper late at night in his bedroom. According to Lovecraft he was laying in bed and heard a strange sound as if something was scratching at his wall from the inside. When he investigated the sound he discovered that the aged wallpaper in his room had pealed away from the wall and was the source the sound. While this isn’t all together terrifying it did give him a bit of inspiration for the story. Several other less interesting stories and ideas inspired him to finally write it down and eventually submit it for publication.

Another interesting notion in the story is the name of the main character. The name Delapore or de la Poer is said to be an homage to Edgerr Allen Poe, whose ancestors were reportedly named le Poer. Another clue supporting this thought is the spelling of the name, “dE lA POEr” or “E(dgar) A(llan) Poe(r)”. There may also be a reference to the French word “peur”, meaning fear, which is also evidenced by the “de la”, so that the name can be translated as “of fear” or “from fear”. Thank you Wikipedia for that tidbit of information!

As it will often happen with Lovecraft you will come upon words that are a little outdated, strange or just plain unknown in our modern day to day lives. Don’t let that bother you too much because it is a well known fact that even in his own time many people didn’t use the same vocabulary that Lovecraft did. I imagine that even in the 1920’s people read his stories and asked themselves what the hell “cyclopean” meant! I admit that when I read the story I wasn’t exactly sure what a “Priory” was. I knew that it must be some kind of large house or castle but the name “Priory” wasn’t familiar. As it turns out a “Priory” is (according once again to Wikipedia), “A house of men or women under religious vows headed by a prior or prioress.” So it is similar to a monastery, without monks.

Lastly I would like to note the name of Delapore’s cat “Nigger Man”. It is a well known fact and one that we will discuss from time to time that Lovecraft was a racist. While I’m not excusing him for his personal belief, it is important to remember that Lovecraft lived in a time when strict racial segregation laws were widespread in the United States. Any time you read Lovecraft it is important to remember that he lived in a different time then we do. Race and religion wasn’t as openly tolerated as it is today. However I don’t believe that this “vocabulary” subtracts from the over all story in any way.

The Picture in the House – Written on December 12, 1920, and first published in the July 1919 issue of The National Amateur– which actually was published in the summer of 1921. There are several very important elements introduced in this story that Lovecraft continued using in most of his works.

First and most importantly is the introduction of his imaginary New England countryside that would come to be known as Lovecraft Country. The Miskatonic Valley, Arkham and many other fictional locations make up a backdrop for many of Lovecraft’s later stories but it is in this story that he first makes referance to any of them. As we have discussed in our group, Lovecraft is one of the first writers to create a false geography for his stories to take place in. Prior to his writing many authors would create fictional locations such as houses or towns but very few would use them as a background for more then one of their tales. This is an important inovation in fiction writing and one that is very common today in the works of Steven King and others, however at the time it was a new idea.

Much like the imaginary New England that Lovecraft created he also dreamed up many different books and manuscripts for his writing. The book referred to in the story – Pigafetta’s Regnum Congo – actually exists. According to S. T. Joshi, Lovecraft’s knowledge of the work derives from Thomas Henry Huxley’s Man’s Place in Nature and Other Anthropological Essays. However a number of Lovecraft’s descriptions of the book are incorrect as he never saw the actual book. This again is a common theme that Lovecraft would later master in his writing. Much like Dan Brown of today Lovecraft enjoyed mixing fiction with reality in a way that would leave the reader unsure as to what is true and what was made up. Books like Regnum Congo are real however his other creations such the Necronomicon are completely fabricated. By mixing in his own creations with real literature he was able to add a level of realism to his work.

Lastly Lovecraft changes things up a bit and draws less on stock “Gothic” themes and more on his native region as a source of horror. Again prior to Lovecraft much of what was wrote in the “Horror” genre was very similar. Dark castles, forbidden tombs, evil dungeons and dark stormy nights were common settings for evil. Even writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne who set there stories in more mundane locals used big brooding houses or estates as a backdrop for his horror. Lovecraft took horror out of the castle and put it into a very normal place, a common farm house. Again not really earth shattering these days but at the time this was something new and nearly unheard of. It meant that horror wasn’t easy to spot anymore. It wasn’t just in the big creepy castle on the hill it was hiding in plain site. It could be anywhere at any time, behind any door. Today movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre really play off this idea that behind an unsuspecting farm house door is horror beyond your wildest nightmares.

I hope that everyone enjoys both of this months stories and I look forward to discussing them with the group at our next meeting. Until then… Ia’ Cthulhu!

Published in: Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 at 11:21 AM  Leave a Comment  

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