Saturday, September 10, 2016

Alone in the Castle

Tales of H.P. Lovecraft"The Outsider" from
Tales of H.P. Lovecraft 
by H.P. Lovecraft

"Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness." 
 -  H. P. Lovecraft

In this volume Joyce Carol Oates has selected some of the best tales of the master of the macabre, H. P. Lovecraft. 
The introductory tale, "The Outsider", is written in a first-person narrative style, and details the miserable and apparently lonely life of an individual, who appears to have never contacted with another individual. The story begins, with the narrator explaining his origins. His memory of others is vague, and he cannot seem to recall any details of his personal history, including who he is or where he is originally from. The narrator tells of his environment: a dark, decaying castle amid an "endless forest" of high, unlit trees. He has never seen natural light, nor another human being, and he has never ventured from the prison-like home he now inhabits. The only knowledge the narrator has of the outside world, is from his reading of the "antique books" that line the walls of his castle.

The narrator tells of his eventual determination to free himself, from what he views as a prison-like existence. He eventually decides to climb the ruined staircase of the high castle tower which appears to be his only hope for an escape. At the place where the stairs diminish into crumbled ruins, the narrator begins a long, slow climb up the tower wall, until he comes upon a trapdoor in the ceiling, which he pushes up and climbs through. Amazingly, he finds himself not at the great height he anticipated, but at ground level in another world. With the sight of the full moon before him, he proclaims, "There came to me the purest ecstasy I have ever known."(p 3) Overcome with the emotion he feels in beholding what—until now—he had only read about, the narrator takes in his new surroundings. He realizes that he is in an old churchyard, and he wanders out into the countryside before eventually coming upon another castle.

Upon visiting the castle, which he finds "maddeningly familiar," the narrator sees a gathering of people at a party within. Longing for some type of human contact, he climbs through a window into the room. Upon his entering, the people inside become terrified. They scream and collectively flee from the room, many stumbling blindly with their hands held over their eyes toward the walls in search of an exit. The narrator attempts to discover the source of their terror and in doing so the short story culminates with a shocking revelation.
This short beginning to the collection of works by Lovecraft is reminiscent of Poe at his best with its atmosphere of death and decrepitude; the feeling of isolation and desire for discovery; and the not-unexpected yet still horrifying revelation that ends the tale.

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1 comment:

Brian Joseph said...

I love Lovecraft. This is one of his many memorable and haunting tales.

I agree with your impressions of his writing, In this story and in many others I get such a sense of dread. Unlike more optimistic writers of speculative fiction, the desire for discovery often ends very badly in his stories.