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The Unnameable (1923)
Two friends (one of them presumably Randolph Carter) sit in an old graveyard, in the shadow of an abandoned mansion, and talk about the value of the wondrous and the uncanny in literature. To drive his point, one of them narrates a family tale which, as night falls, proves to take on a life of its own.
The second appearance of Randolph Carter is a little pleasant story which oozes with uncanny heraldry: the tree which has been intertwined with the grave; the gap in the gravestone; the menacing old house. It is also a nice short disclosure of Lovecraft’s ideas about art (influenced by ARthur Machen), which will be given further ground on later stories. Do note that it has been turned into a short film. 3/5
The Festival (1923)
The protagonist reaches the town of Kingston under a family obligation concerning the Yuletide celebrations. Along with a host of hooded figures he ends up into the depths of the church crypts where he watches part of the aforementioned rites. He dares not proceed to the inner mysteries, and the next morning ends up in the hospital, the Kingston of day seemingly different from that of previous night.
A dark wintry story with a highly satisfactory nocturnal depiction of the imaginary town of Kingston. Almost from the beginning it feels otherworldly, and after the family manor it becomes positively uncanny. Each of the locales are captured masterfully, form the mansion to the catacomb passages. Alas, the hero is (unsurprisingly) proven to be a timid and close-minded person. A Lovecraftian Christmas story? 4/5
Under the Pyramids/Imprisoned with the Pharaohs (1924)
Harry Houdini visits Egypt for holidays and meets with a strange local guide. He finds himself in unearthed places below the pyramids, and crawling through unfathomable depths he discovers a truth about the great Sphinx.
This was ordered by Weird Tales and was initially published under the name of Houdini, as a sort of fantastical memoir. Lovecraft did a good job here: despite its length the story flows seamlessly. On the first part there is an evoking depiction of Egypt as imagined by the average Westerner of the early 20th century (thus an extravagance of Arabic imagery). On the second half the narration turns into a claustrophobic crawl through subterranean landscapes, climaxing into an unexpected and memorable ending of almost mythological quality. 3/5
The Shunned House (1924)
The attention of the protagonist is drawn by a house that has been empty for more than 50 years due to the wasting influence it seems to have on every inhabitant (who is weakened and killed as if by disease). Along with his uncle’s help the hero unfurls the house’s history and finally tries to destroy the centuries-old presence that lies in the cellar.
The Shunned House is Lovecraft’s take on vampires, a satisfyingly good attempt. This is one of these stories that include a wealth of lore; a large part of it is devoted to the house’s history, as well as that of the founder family. The text runs along the setting’s roots, coming to the surface at the final part which is highly atmospheric and eerie, despite the single drawback of the story: the semi-scientific explanation (and the accompanying apparatus) Lovecraft tries to give to the vampire legend. 4/5
The Horror at Red Hook (1925)
The story of how detective Malone ended up highly traumatized after participating in an infamous police raid at New York’s Red Hook district. The raid was the culmination of many months of investigation into a rich old man, Robert Suydam, who owned some buildings in Red Hook, dabbled in the occult, and was socializing with many of the immigrants dwelling in the district. After the destruction of a couple of buildings and a multitude of corpses (the body of Suydam among them), the detective retreats to a reclusive village to nurse his wounds.
Infamous for its blatant xenophobia, the Horror at Red Hook is an interesting story if one can put aside its (not so trivial) racist elements. The protagonist, Malone, is a likable specimen of the paranormal detective, the occult is ever-present throughout the pages while always retaining its mystery (maybe the story’s greatest strength), the final scenes beneath Red Hook are mesmerizing, and the following verse (which Lovecraft picked off Encyclopaedia Britannica) unforgettable: “O friend and companion of night, thou who rejoicest in the baying of dogs and spilt blood, who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs, who longest for blood and bringest terror to mortals, Gorgo, Mormo, thousand-faced moon, look favourably on our sacrifices!” 3/5
[As a side-note, 2016’s The Ballad of Black Tom is basically a novel-sized retelling of the story from a different point of view (a black man of Harlem), alas with a much more blatant writing and a view towards later developments in the Mythos; still an interesting read.]
Recently arrived in New York, the protagonist is quickly disillusioned with it. To catch a glimpse of the old city ambiance, he begins taking nocturnal walks. In one of these he meets a strange middle-aged man who leads him to an extremely old neighborhood. They enter a house and look through a window which reveals strange vistas.
With a touch of urbanomancy and flaneurism, the first main part of this story is quite elegant and interesting, offering glimpses to what Lovecraft himself was expecting from New York when he moved there (the protagonist mirrors his feelings and reaction). The second part, in front of the window, is mediocre. 2/5
In the Vault (1925)
The tale of a gravedigger who managed to lock himself in the cemetery’s receiving tomb along with eight full coffins, and how he had to pile the dead-bearing boxes on top of each other to reach the only unblocked exit.
A claustrophobic piece of horror writing with nice atmosphere and a predictable twist. Nothing spectacular but enjoyable nevertheless. 3/5