Snowy wrote: ↑
Thu Oct 24, 2019 4:37 pm
First off, I believe this is the story that first introduces "Lovecraft Country"
It is indeed. Just as The Call of Cthulhu
really introduces the Mythos at large (if you don't count the earlier tales which mention Alhazred and the Necronomicon), The Picture in the House
, small and localised as it is, introduces us to the Miskatonic Valley area: a region of New England which Lovecraft made up as a locale for many of his later horror tales, which merges so realistically and seamlessly with actual locations it seems surprising it's not on any real world map.
Snowy wrote:I had hoped we were going to avoid any racism, but that was brutally dashed (they made the black people white, gad how terrible, rocked me to my very core...)
I wasn't sure when the sarcasm here began and when it ended?
The Africans being depicted as white is due to the fact that Theodor de Bry, the 16th century illustrator to Pigafetta's African travel journal, Regnum Congo
, had never actually traveled to Africa and didn't know what actual Africans looked like.
The infamous twelfth plate -- THE PICTURE (in the house) -- is this one here:
The human body being chopped up in the background is the linchpin of the story.
Here's a bit of information I dug up on the subject:
De Bry’s copperplate engravings were the first comprehensive collection of images depicting the overseas world. As such, they fed a public hungry for images of exotic lands and peoples. De Bry himself had never travelled overseas, so his naturalistic illustrations were often far from accurate. Many of the figures have decidedly European appearances, and cultural artifacts are often invented and combined in fanciful ways. Nevertheless, because they were high-quality illustrations that could be easily reproduced, as they were up through the eighteenth century, they played a very important role in shaping Germans’ and Europeans’ perceptions of distant lands. Indeed, they were far more important than the texts they illustrated.
But this isn't a story about white African cannibals. It is really a story about Lovecraft's ideas concerning the Puritan mindset of rural New England, and what it might be capable of doing when combined with certain conditions. He wrote much on the subject, but here's an excerpt from Lovecraft's famous essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature
(well-worth a read) on the subject:
H.P. Lovecraft wrote:America, besides inheriting the usual dark folklore of Europe, had an additional fund of weird associations to draw upon; so that spectral legends had already been recognised as fruitful subject-matter for literature. Charles Brockden Brown had achieved phenomenal fame with his Radcliffian romances, and Washington Irving’s lighter treatment of eerie themes had quickly become classic. This additional fund proceeded, as Paul Elmer More has pointed out, from the keen spiritual and theological interests of the first colonists, plus the strange and forbidding nature of the scene into which they were plunged. The vast and gloomy virgin forests in whose perpetual twilight all terrors might well lurk; the hordes of coppery Indians whose strange, saturnine visages and violent customs hinted strongly at traces of infernal origin; the free rein given under the influence of Puritan theocracy to all manner of notions respecting man’s relation to the stern and vengeful God of the Calvinists, and to the sulphureous Adversary of that God, about whom so much was thundered in the pulpits each Sunday; and the morbid introspection developed by an isolated backwoods life devoid of normal amusements and of the recreational mood, harassed by commands for theological self-examination, keyed to unnatural emotional repression, and forming above all a mere grim struggle for survival—all these things conspired to produce an environment in which the black whisperings of sinister grandams were heard far beyond the chimney corner, and in which tales of witchcraft and unbelievable secret monstrosities lingered long after the dread days of the Salem nightmare.
He repeats the above sentiment in the story:
H.P. Lovecraft wrote:Seized with a gloomy and fanatical belief which exiled them from their kind, their ancestors sought the wilderness for freedom. There the scions of a conquering race indeed flourished free from the restrictions of their fellows, but cowered in an appalling slavery to the dismal phantasms of their own minds. Divorced from the enlightenment of civilisation, the strength of these Puritans turned into singular channels; and in their isolation, morbid self-repression, and struggle for life with relentless Nature, there came to them dark furtive traits from the prehistoric depths of their cold Northern heritage. By necessity practical and by philosophy stern, these folk were not beautiful in their sins. Erring as all mortals must, they were forced by their rigid code to seek concealment above all else; so that they came to use less and less taste in what they concealed.
The real horror of this story is that a modern-day descendant of the Puritans, cut off from civilization through the cultural traditions of his forefathers, has got hold of an image of cannibals in Africa from an old book -- cannibals who look like him
-- and he has, through staring at this picture, and unfettered by the chains of civilization, become just like them. The picture has become a reality, but not where you'd expect it to happen -- not in far-away Africa -- but right here where Lovecraft's readers live. A historical oddity has become a horrible reality. In Lovecraft's own words:
H.P. Lovecraft wrote:...the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.
1. I assumed that the missing district schoolmaster and Parson Clark, who the cannibal mentions as either having disappeared or mysteriously died, have both fallen victim to his hunger.
2. At first I wasn't sure if the protagonist survived the lightning bolt at the end. He says:
A moment later came the titanic thunderbolt of thunderbolts; blasting that accursed house of unutterable secrets and bringing the oblivion which alone saved my mind.
I thought the "oblivion" he referred to meant his own death. But then when I re-read it, I caught this line, which precedes the final one in the text, but clearly takes place afterwards:
I was presently to open my eyes on a smoky solitude of blackened ruins.
3. The fact that the house and its occupant were all destroyed, yet the narrator survives, in a storm which took place out of season, seemed to me -- just like the ending of The Haunter of the Dark
-- almost like an act of divine judgement to prevent an evil from emerging from its place of solitude. You'll recall that the lightning bolt that destroys The Haunter (and Robert Blake with it) moments after it escapes from the church tower, does so at the very second the Italian immigrants offer up a prayer. Similarly, this horror, though much more mundane, is obliterated by lightning, just as it threatens to "consume" (perhaps literally) our narrator.
Lovecraft was a staunch atheist, but there is an interesting image used here which smacks of divine wrath (or perhaps just a convenient way to end a story).
4. I bet you thought this tale had no Dutchmen in it, right?
WRONG! Theodor de Bry, the illustraor who created The Picture (in the house), was Dutch. Now you know the answer to what the real horror of this tale is!
P.S. I don't think there's a shred of evidence the narrator is Randolph Carter.