As you may be aware from the earlier post on the subject, I have decided to read/review the complete fiction works of H P Lovecraft as my reading/blogging challenge for 2017.
I have decided to do this in the order they appear in the collection I was given, rather than order of publication, or the order they were written. Both of which would I guess be acceptable chronologies, though they are wildly contradictory, as much of Lovecraft’s fiction was published several years after it was written, or after his untimely demise. The chronology is also of little concern as these pieces of fiction while part of an overall canon of work all stands independently of each other.
To give a little structure to these posts, I will include both the dates written and first publication dates of each piece and a little background here or there. Though I will focus on the stories themselves for the most part. Without further waffle then let us move on to doing just that.
Lovecraft wrote ‘the beast in the cave’ when he was only 14, in 1905. It was not published until 1918 when it appeared in an amateur press journal ‘The Vagrant’.
The short story is a simple one, in the context of its synopsis, a man lost deep within a cave complex, his torch extinguishing, believing himself beyond rescue, faces a slow death by starvation alone in the darkness. Until he realises he is not alone, after all, something lurks in the darkness, something hungry.
In many ways, this is a good introduction to Lovecraft’s fiction, not just because it is some of his earliest work, but because it holds within it one of the themes that run through so much of his work. Isolation, within an unforgiving, uncaring cosmos, being alone in the darkness, and the things in that endless night you find yourself hoping will not notice your existence.
Like most Lovecraft, it is written from the point of view of a single voice recounting his tale, and looking inward towards their fears. The man ( he never names himself) fears for his own sanity, in the face of a slow, torturous demise. Indeed fear of mortality, fear of the darkness, and fear of the unknown and the unknowable are central here. The feeling of fear, experienced through the characters emotions, grows steadily as you read the tale. Until the introduction of the beast itself. A dark presence the character encounters, blind as he is in the darkness of the cave. What the beast turns out to be is in many ways an anti-climax, if a predictable one, does not really matter in the context of the story. Indeed the reveal is almost clumsy, a last minute rescue and the light of his rescuer’s torches revealing the beast itself…
but before that reveal the beast could be anything, what matters more is how it makes the main character feel, and what he fears it could be. The end softens the story while resolving it for the reader.
This is very early Lovecraft, still finding his feet with a pen and paper. Unlike modern writers, Lovecraft did not have the luxury of a word processor, revision was a difficult exercise comparatively, and in all likely hood the final draft he wrote as a 14-year-old is what was published in 1918 to a large extent. He was still to develop his soul as a writer. I suspect that if this had been a later work the beast would never have been revealed at all and the tale would have ended a paragraph or so earlier. The real darkness in the tale holds to its course until that point.
As not to set too low a bar so early in all this I give it a miserly 2 out of 6. this is not to imply it’s a bad story, it is simply a little lacking compared to later tales.
You can read ‘the beast In the cave’ yourself for free by downloading it here at Feedbooks