The Very Old Folk: TCL#55

“Malitia vetus—malitia vetus est . . . venit . . . tandem venit . . .”

Or for those of you without a working grasp of Latin…  Or who don’t have google to hand…

“Wickedness of old—it is wickedness of old…happened…happened at last…”

Those are the last words of dying roman officer, as at the end of ‘The Very Old Folk’ a tale by old tentacle hugger that is not particularly inviting to the casual reader. Indeed I would go so far as to say this is a tale for the serious Lovecraft reader only, the type of reader who wants to read everything he ever wrote regardless of if even Lovecraft would want you to do so himself…

Here’s the thing, Lovecraft did not write this story for ‘Wierd tales’ or ‘Amazing Stories’ or even ‘The American Amateur Press’. Indeed he did not write if for publication at all. Instead, this is a story taken from a letter he wrote in 1927to Donald Wandrei and found it’s way into print after Lovecraft’s death because in 1939 the same Donald Wandrei was the co-founder of Arkham House Publishing, which was first set up by Wandrei and August Derleth, with the expressed intention of preserving and publishing Lovecraft’s best work. It was they who came up with the title for the piece and included it in one of there earliest collection of Lovecraft’s stories. Presumably, because they felt a need for ‘new’ material to bulk out the portfolio.

Now the world owes a debt to Arkham House, without them there is a reasonable chance Lovecraft’s stories might have slipped away into obscurity after his death. Certainly, throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s they were the ones keeping Lovecraft’s work and the work of many other writers in print and in the zeitgeist. But they are also responsible for some of the more obscure and often more forgettable pieces of Lovecraft’s Bibliography coming to print in the first place and ‘The Very Old Folk’ falls neatly into that inauspicious band. It is doubtful Lovecraft himself ever intended it for publication or even thought a great deal about the story. Though it’s not terrible by any means and contains hints and snippets of Lovecraft’s broader mythos, it’s also fairly bland and difficult to love. Not least because of all the Romans… more to the point the endless roman names that are scattered throughout the story, which just become a pain to read…

The story itself is the narration of a dream the narrator had, a dream of being a Roman soldier in the north of the Spanish province and the strange goings-on of the hill-folk who live in the mountains. After the hill-folk surprisingly don’t take prisoners for sacrifice on their sabbath, and because the townsfolk are afraid because they didn’t have anyone kidnapped, the Romans mount a punitive expedition into the mountains. Yes, that’s right, because the local hill tribe decide not to kidnap a victim for sacrifice as they were expected to do, they must be hunted down… I know, just go with it will you…. the Romans march up into the hills, and bad things start happening…

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There is nothing wrong with the story, apart from some of the logic within it, but its also just not particularly engaging or all that interesting. There is no resolution, not even a Lovecraft style resolution, just the mildly ominous Latin above followed by a  paragraph of ‘then I woke up’. It’s not Lovecraft his best, it’s not Lovecraft his worst, it’s just Lovecraft playing with ideas and someone publishing his scrawled notes, probably with a little editing along the way.

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Romans go up the hill for spurious reasons, Romans see things that scare the crap out of them, Romans run away…  the end… oh then I woke up…

By this point in Lovecraft’s career, he was not only capable of better, but he was also writing it consistently. If he wrote this with the intent to make something publishable out of it, I doubt somehow this was the story he intended to tell. So read it, don’t read it, forget its existence or try and analyse the hell out of it to find something in there worth the time and effort involved, (trust me many have) But for the most part, there isn’t anything here that the Lovecraftian world could not have lived perfectly well without. It gets a couple of tentacles because I don’t hate it, but at the same time, that’s because it doesn’t hold enough interest to be bothered to have much of an opinion on it at all…

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Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here

This entry was posted in amreading, book reviews, books, cthulhu, dreamlands, goodreads, horror, Lovecraft, mythos, Nyarlathotep, reads, retro book reviews, rites, sci-fi, supernatural and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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