The Hound: The Complete Lovecraft #36

From one of the crumbling gravestones–dated 1747–I chipped a small piece to carry away. It lies before me as I write–and ought to suggest some sort of horror story. I must place it beneath my pillow as I sleep…

Just on the off chance, you had any doubts whether Old tentacle hugger was a bit on the odd side, the above quote is not from one of his stories. It is instead drawn from a letter Lovecraft sent to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, after a visit to a Flatbush Reformed Church in Brooklyn NY, which seemed to be mostly spent looking at the gravestones there. This was in 1922, a few weeks before he wrote ‘The Hound’ a story which centres around a bit of gentle grave robbery by two young English men and the horrifying events that their odd passions set in motion. So unless your of a school of thought that believes sleeping on stolen bits of gravestones is normal behaviour, a phrase with the words ‘mad frogs as a box of‘ arranged in a slightly different order springs to mind, Lovecraft’s source of inspiration was a tad odd. If you do think his behaviour was normal then we should probably worry about you, or possibly you just wear a lot of black clothing, listen to ‘The Sisters of Mercy‘ and are into the whole ‘dark’ aesthetic…

Hey now, hey now now, sing this corrosion to me
Hey now, hey now now, sing this corrosion to me
Hey now, hey now now, sing this corrosion to me
Hey now, hey now now, sing

Now, to be clear, I personally wear a lot of black. I grew up on the late 80’s alternative music, dimly lit clubs, lots of hairspray and dark eyeshadow. ‘Floodland’ currently resides in my cars stereo, after I swapped it out for ‘Nymphamine’, so I ain’t judging anyone here… Not even old tentacle hugger himself. That said, I can’t remember ever stealing bits of gravestones to sleep on myself, no matter how much I was searching for inspiration… Lovecraft, however, did and despite that rather eccentric (or just plain creepy) inspiration, ‘The Hound’ is both one of his more idiosyncratic 1920’s tales while also being one that could very easily be set in modern times.

Here then is the thing, the narrator (just for a change he never gives his name), and his best friend, confidant and fellow despoiler ‘St’ John are remarkably easy to relate to for all their strange infatuations. Unlike many of Lovecraft’s characters which seem so firmly rooted in 1920 East Coast middle-class American angst, these two have a far more modern angst about them. They are in love with, or at least fascinated by, the arcane, the mystical and most of all death. Not for these things themselves, you should note, but for the aesthetic of them, in short, for the look of the thing. If Lovecraft were writing this tale now the sub-culture to which they aspire should be obvious. Because, well…

‘And the devil in black dress watches over’
‘My guardian angel walks away’
‘Life is short and love is always over in the morning’
‘Black wind come carry me far away….’

546648b227987cb153cee0dd35acccda--gothic-beauty-gothic-art

The pair have built there own… Ahem… ‘Temple of Love’ for the aesthetics of the night, the dark places, of death and the arcane… in the cellar of an old manor house out on some deserted stretch of moorland. In it, they keep relics and other things they collect. All collected themselves, but only provided the aesthetics were right at the time. If the moon was the right kind of luminous yellow on an autumn night, if the storm clouds were the right kind of ominous, the left hand of a murderer was the left hand of a murderer buried in an unmarked grave at a crossroads, and not just some random left handed murder buried with grace…

Yes, in case you have not guessed where I am going with this. St John and his friend are Goths… Or at least the archetype portrait of goths that we are used to seeing in popular culture. I will just say this before I go any further, however, real goths are happy, well-adjusted people, they laugh at cats on the internet, dance with joyous abandon, and while they may have skull candle holders, ashtrays shaped like bats and love Tim Burton movies, they would happily invite you to take part in their ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ singalongs. While the aesthetics of wearing black lace veils in a churchyard, looking moody in the twilight and pretending to avoid direct sunlight, may appeal to them, they don’t as a rule go around despoiling graves. They are far more likely to want to go round the pub, sit around, and have a bit of a laugh with their friends. We are a happy people and have the best Halloween parties…

Love became the in theme then
Opposing fakers thrice by ten
Don’t perceive his empty plea
That redundant effigy

But back to ‘The Hound’…Everything is going well for St John and his friend until they chose to despoil the wrong grave, in a small cemetery in a Dutch Reform church in Holland. For this is where the pair, having followed clues from an old text, take possession of a strange amulet with a stranger inscription. An inscription they learn after some research is mentioned by a certain mad Arab in a certain infamous book. Indeed, it is the first time this particular tomb is mentioned in Lovecraft’s stories, though not the first time the Mad Arab makes a guest appearance. You would have thought that the amulet been referenced in the ‘Necronomicon’ would be enough of a warning not to play fast an loose with it. Or at least to put the damn thing back where it came from and go join a monastery… But no, our two proto Goths instead put it on a shelf in their basement shine, and light a candle beneath it, because it seemed like a good idea to draw attention to there new possession…

graveyard

From there on in this is predictable fare… A slow descent into fear and madness as strange occurrences begin. Fingers scraping on doors, strange sounds in the night, the howls of some monstrous beastie that seems to follow them. ‘The Hound’ hunting the pair and seeking retribution. St John is eaten alive by the beast, and the narrator endeavours to return the amulet. Guess how well that goes…

Lovecraft was not overly fond of this tale. Indeed he was openly disparaging of it, dismissing it as “a dead dog” and “a piece of junk”. I don’t altogether share his opinion. Sure it has some very obvious tropes. You know where it is going long before it gets there, and it lacks his normal slow brooding build up. There is very little that stands out about it, apart from it been a tale ahead of itself in many ways. As I said, it would be an easy tale to set now with, for all it’s slight ‘Gothexplotationess’ which isn’t a word but should be… But personally, I have always had a certain affection for ‘the Hound’ it is actually one of his more readable stories for anyone who has never read Lovecraft. It is less Lovecrafty that most, but that is not always a bad thing. That said it still only gets four tentacles, eyeshadow black tentacles with opaque contact lenses, but four all the same.

4out 6

If only St John and his friend had chilled out The Cults, ‘Love’ Album for a while rather than dug up the amulet all would have been well…

The fire in your eyes, Keeps me alive
And the fire in your eyes, Keeps me alive
I’m sure in her you’ll find, The sanctuary
I’m sure in her you’ll find, The sanctuary….

Further Lovecraftian witterings 

(Normal service, without random Goth song lyrics will resume next time. And bonus points for anyone who knows them all, as at least one of them is reasonably obscure…)

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4 Responses to The Hound: The Complete Lovecraft #36

  1. planetstef says:

    I also read somewhere that HPL was influenced by Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, and I’ve certainly noticed “footprints of some gigantic hound”…

    Like

    • darrack1 says:

      I’ve read that too in a few places and was tempted to mention it because the wording is very close to Conan Doyle’s, but I have also read its a myth as its one of those connections people have just assumed. Something along the lines of ‘Oh look a gigantic house it must be because he read Sherlock Holmes…’ Which I was guilty of myself, to be honest.
      Decided not to mention it purely because I was having too much fun with Goth lyrics… If only Fields of the Nephilim had done a song called ‘The Hound…’ that would have been good to slip in here…
      Unless old tentacle hugger mentioned being influenced by the Holmes in one of his letters, which I could not find any reference to, then I’m assuming its one of those unconfirmed possibilities of plagiarism we can never be sure of… 🙂

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  2. Pingback: The Lurking Fear: The Complete Lovecraft #37 | The Passing Place

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