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Herbert West – Reanimator (1921-22)
The nameless narrator helps medical student Herbert West in his research concerning the re-animation of recently dead bodies via a specially prepared injection. Initially experimenting on animals, West’s mania soon leads the duo to freshly dug graves. None of the experiments seem to work as intended, a thing West blames on the inadequate degree of freshness. Some of the revived cases are lost or detained in institutes, but their shadow seems never far from the young doctor.
The lengthiest story up to now, Reanimator consists of 6 distinct parts. It was written in a serial format, and thus each section includes a summary of the previous events, which tends to be repetitive if read in one go. It is reminiscent of Frankenstein, in the reanimation aspect if not in modus operandi, as well as in the doctor being haunted by past failures. Other than that here is scientific obsession turned to eleven, coupled with an excellent, unforgettable ending. 3/5
A man meets a mysterious stranger with whom he explores the land of dreams. The two of them travel far beyond sanity’s bounds, while also gradually finding sleep itself a thing inimical. Through drugs they try to induce a constant state of insomnia, turning old before their time.
A short story that starts off as Dreamlands material before turning dark and unusually ambiguous. There is a sense of hubris here, as well as menace and a hint of ancient mysteries, but the sum total doesn’t manage to shine above mediocrity. 2/5
What the Moon Brings (1922)
Wanderings through a watery nightscape under the light of an evil moon.
A prose poem with a few enjoyable scenery descriptions but otherwise uninteresting and somewhat tiring. 1/5
Of a man who, tired and exhausted by the modern world, watches the stars each night from his window, their light his only hope and consolation. And how this light takes him one night into the Dreamlands.
Alas, this is only a fragment of a never-completed novella. Its beginning with the slight tracing of the banality of modern life is marvelous. Other than that the story cannot really be graded.
The Hound (1922)
Striving against the banality of the prosaic world, two friends sink deep into depravity; after exhausting the most decadent strands of art, they delve into grave-robbing. They create an underground chamber and fill it with memorabilia of their excursions. At one point they find themselves in a Dutch graveyard, robbing the tomb of a fellow grave-robber who lived half a millennium ago. They find an amulet which they take back in England. From then on a spectral hound seems to haunt them.
A charming tale of supernatural terror, which, although rather predictable, is more than effective. Lovecraft’s enmity towards the routine of modern world and the quest to escape it through depravity, is by now a well-known plot item. Interestingly, the author wrote the story after he and a friend had visited an old graveyard, taking with them a small piece from a crumbling gravestone. Here is also the first mention of the Necronomicon. 4/5
The Lurking Fear (1922)
Concerning the protagonist’s quest of uncovering the horror that sows fear and death at the Catskills Mountains of New York. The nameless thing’s manifestations happen on lightning-filled nights and they seem to be centered on a decrepit mansion with a long and dark history.
Another episodic story, like Herbert West, this one is thankfully recapped outside the text proper. Two main ideas intertwine here: the Gothic weight of the family past and the fear of the horde (partially as fear for the loss of one’s individuality). In both it resembles its successor, Rats in the Walls. The Lurking Fear tends to drag down in places, though there are magnificent specimens of text like the following one which also inspired Clark Ashton Smith’s illustrations: “Baleful primal trees of unholy size, age, and grotesqueness leered above me like the pillars of some hellish Druidic temple; muffling the thunder, hushing the clawing wind, and admitting but little rain. Beyond the scarred trunks in the background, illumined by faint flashes of filtered lightning, rose the damp ivied stones of the deserted mansion, while somewhat nearer was the abandoned Dutch garden whose walks and beds were polluted by a white, fungous, foetid, overnourished vegetation that never saw full daylight. And nearest of all was the graveyard, where deformed trees tossed insane branches as their roots displaced unhallowed slabs and sucked venom from what lay below. Now and then, beneath the brown pall of leaves that rotted and festered in the antediluvian forest darkness, I could trace the sinister outlines of some of those low mounds which characterised the lightning-pierced region.” 2/5
The Rats in the Walls (1923)
After the death of his son, the protagonist retires to his secluded ancestral home in England. There he is haunted by the spectral sound of rats passing through the walls of the castle, whose roots are slowly revealed to be even deeper than those of the protagonist’s family tree.
A sibling to the Lurking Fear, this story blends Gothicness with the archaic and the collective rodent-body imagery (reminiscent of the wandering nomad hordes that bring down the ghost of sedentary life in their unceasing movement), resulting in an unparalleled masterpiece. The family tree is superimposed on the castle foundation; both function as mirrors for the well of history, as well as the depths of human unconscious. A host of unforgettable imagery, from the throbbing tapestries suggesting the passage of rats to the immense underground caverns filled with the remnants of an incredibly ancient past. 5/5