The Terrible Old Man: The complete Lovecraft#16

Among other things, I am a bit of an aficionado of the ‘Future Shock’. For those that have never heard of them, they are short one-off stories in the British comic 2000AD, generally written by new up and coming writers, and offering their first break into comics. Among these were future luminaries of the craft like Niel Gaiman, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. Often, the strips themselves stay just that, as short one shots. Sometimes though one of these short stories will become a springboard for characters and ideas that morph into long-running stories. Perhaps the finest and most famous example of this is ‘Comic Rocks’:’Terror Tube’ which spawned ‘Nemesis the Warlock’. Despite the actual character Nemesis not actually appearing in the original one-shot, except as the unseen driver of the ‘Blitzspear’. While that was an atypical ‘Future Shock’ as it did not follow the standard formula, it is an excellent example of a bigger story coming out of something small. Of which the same can be said for Lovecraft’s ‘The Terrible Old Man’. A tale which much in the way of the typical 2000AD future shocks follows a simple formula that has been around in short stories forever, be they in a graphic form like a ‘Future Shock’ or the purely written form as Lovecraft’s tale is.

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The ‘Future Shock’ formula is to set the scene, introduce your protagonists and some form of goal, be it survival or stealing or revenge or whatever, then let the scene follow and expected course before a twist in the end. Be that a rampaging horde of star barbarians on an endless crusade to rape, pillage and slaughter their way across the stars, for generation after generation until… The horde attack a peaceful planet, a heavenly place, millennia after they struck out from their barbaric home world. Then after they shatter the world, they discover quite by accident it is their own home world they have destroyed because space, and the universe as a whole, is curved. Travel far enough you always end up back home…

Protagonists, scene, goal, twist….

The protagonists in the horde story realising what they have done, fall back to the only thing they know and set off once more to continue their crusade. In another future

In another future shock, a group of shipwrecks spares fight among themselves for what looks to be the only edible-looking plant (an odd looking turnip) they can find on the barren rock they are marooned upon. They fight and fight, in increasingly vicious ways.  Until they have killed each other off, and the last survivor, bloody and beaten, crawls towards the only food to be found. As he collapses a few feet from the star-turnip, the ground begins to shake, and the star turnip turns out to be a lure like sprouting off a large beast that has laid in wait all along. Who happily says something about food always turning up if you are prepared to wait around long enough…

Protagonists, scene, goal, twist…

The Terrible Old-Man‘ follows the same formula. A gang of housebreakers staking out an old house on the outskirts of a small New-England village. They set a plan to break into the house of an old man, shunned by the other village folk. It seems like easy pickings. There are some weird sounding stories about the old man, but the burglars are ‘of that new and heterogeneous alien stock which lies outside the charmed circle of New England life and traditions.’ They therefore, do not put much stock in the villagers and are a rough lot used to taking care of themselves if the need arises.

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If you detect a little of Lovecraft’s xenophobia in that sentence btw, your not the first to do so. The robbers are named Angelo Ricci, Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva, and clearly new immigrants. One can not help but think that were Lovecraft alive today he would be among the wall border wall building brigade. It is with a mental sigh I note this, as much as I love Providence Rhode Islands most famous literary son’s worlds of fiction, I struggle with his politics at times. Interesting side note, Providence these days is among many other things a large group gay population and was named ‘Best Lesbian Places to Live‘ and had the first openly gay mayor of a state capital. I can’t help wondering what a staunch old Republican like H.P. would have made of that, I suspect he would not have been pleased, but shame on him for that… moving on.

The three robbers plan is for one to wait outside while the other two go in and ‘interview‘ the old man about his treasure. So there we have the setup, xenophobia aside, three thieves set to rob and threaten a helpless old man… Two go in the house and what happens to them in the house happens off stage while the third waits there return with the engine running.

Protagonists, scene, goal…

And then the twist, the old man is not helpless, but a practitioner of the darker arts. He appears, eyes glowing yellow and all hell comes with him. The bodies of his would-be robbers are found the next day, miles away, mutilated and very very dead…

It’s a short story, following the forms of short stories and doing so in almost as few words than I have used to talk about it. It’s not particularly notable for it, or original. Foolish robbers discovering to their cost a mark is not as easy or defenceless as they believe…

What is notable is that like ‘Terror Tube‘ (and the reason I talked about ‘future shocks‘ in the first place) is what comes from it. The small New-England village is called Kingsport and comes back in future stories as a somewhat larger town. It’s visited by Nyarlathotep in ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath‘, Randolph Carter in ‘The Silver Key’, mentioned in Lovecraft’s only full-length novel ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward‘ and four other tales as well. The ‘Terrible Old Man’ himself reappears in ‘The Strange High House in the Mist‘ though he is far more a benevolent figure in that tale. While as a tale itself it is uninspiring, what it helps to inspire is so much more.

I give out tentacles for the stories themselves, however, so it gets only three. It’s a tale for the completest or someone with only a few minutes to pass, but where it leads is far more interesting than where the journey starts.

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Further Lovecraftian witterings 

 

This entry was posted in 2000AD, Lovecraft, retro book reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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