The Outsider: The Complete Lovecraft#30

Every writer will on occasion be influenced in style and subject by those whose writing he admires. That’s why they are called influences after all. Sometimes this is deliberate, sometimes not so much, and on occasion sometimes the writer doesn’t realise they have been influenced at all until they read the story sometime later. With that in mind, this is what Lovecraft himself said of ‘The Outsider’  in a letter a few years after he originally wrote this macabre and visceral little tale…

  “It represents my literal though unconscious imitation of Poe at its very height.”

So when I say this story reminded me of Poe, in much the same way ‘The Music of Erich Zann‘ did, I’m in good company drawing that comparison. Certainly in style, and more than a little in content old Edgar looms large, but it also harkens back to earlier gothic fiction, most noticeably for me Mary Shelley’s grand opus, which undoubtedly had influenced Poe. All the resonances of Frankensteins monster are here, along with the trappings. A dark crumbling castle, long abandoned and rotting, the loneliness and longing of the protagonist devoid of companionship, the isolation and despair, and in the climax of the story and its poignant moment of self-awareness.

The tales protagonist, in Lovecraft’s favourite first-person narrative, knows nothing of his own history. His first memories are of being alone, wandering the halls of the half-ruined darkness enshrouded castle. A castle with no reflective surfaces, all mirrors long destroyed, and the ever-present darkness shrouding others. He reads old books in the library by the light of spluttering candles and explores the endless dusty corridors and wonders who he is, and from whence he came. He could almost imagine himself a ghost, or some other long-dead remnant of this forgotten place. All he knows of the world beyond the castle walls he learnt from books. While he seeks a way to pass beyond the barriers of the forest and the castle walls, long years pass. Longing for companionship in a well of loneliness, dwelling in the decaying darkness among the shadows, the rats and the ruins. A lost soul embodied in its own futility.

You could only get more gothic than this if you overlayed a ‘Sisters Of Mercy’ soundtrack and got Peter Cushing to read it to you in a dark velvet smoking jacket, while Peter Lorie served you with red wine in crystal goblets…

And, the gothic themes continue throughout. When he finally leaves the castle, the protagonist stumbles upon another castle, one strangely familiar to him, yet one full of life. A great party in full swing, all light and life and joy. The positive to his homes negative. But when he enters the castle his progression through the party is reminiscent to deaths walk through ‘The Masque of the Red Death’… All who see him flee before him, fear and loathing upon their faces. Then there is the final scene, the moment of reveal, which is Frankenstein and the pond…

Just to be certain of the tales Gothic pretensions Lovecraft opens the tale with an epigram is from Mary Shelley’s contemporary, and close friend of her husband, Keats’ the romantic poet ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’.

That night the Baron dreamt of many a woe;
And all his warrior-guests, with shade and form
Of witch, and demon, and large coffin-worm,
Were long be-nightmared.

Turn up ‘Temple of Love’ and dig out the eyeliner…

I like a good gothic tale, and Lovecraft does just that in ‘The Outsider‘. Its heritage is obvious, but it is none the worse for that. Beyond itself, there is little to link this with other Lovecraftian ushering, the briefest of connections to the last tale he ever wrote ‘The Haunter of the Dark‘ that sits at the very end of the story like an odd little addition to give it some link to other tales. Though unless he came back from the dead, a ghoulish visage of himself, to add that little amendment after his death, then I suspect the ending is just a final little twist. The Ghoul fleeing to Egypt to live among the dead.

It is a shame though, think of it, zombie Lovecraft returns to edit his tales… He could finish ‘Azeroth’…  He could read this blog… Ermm… Oh hell…  Just to be on the safe side, I will give this a nice solid four tentacles… Just in case that shambling figure coming up behind me has been reading my thoughts on ‘Celephais and wants a quiet word…

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As a final aside to this one here is the complete synopsis of the tale in a quirky comic form just because it made me smile when I stumbled over it…

LovecraftComic outsider

Patrick Dean, the artist who created the comic, has more of these and lots of other fun stuff on his website, so if you enjoyed that pop along….  (his Nyarlathotep is genius…)

Further Lovecraftian witterings 


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This entry was posted in cthulhu, horror, mythos, Nyarlathotep, reads, retro book reviews, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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