“‘That is good,’ he said. ‘Because if you will permit my brothers and me to call on you at your home on Angell Street, we may be able to convince you that there is life in space – not in the shape of men, but life, and life possessing a far greater intelligence than that of your most intelligent man.‘”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the strange world of The Dark Brotherhood, and where the concept intially seems trite, if you can hang out until the end we get a unique and fun divergence!
The story begins with a strange excerpt which could be part of a police report or part of a newspaper clipping, but Derleth doesn’t tell us which it is. What it does do is give us a sneak peek of what to expect in the coming story…”It is probable that the facts in regard to the mysterious destruction by fire of an abandoned house on a knoll along the shore of the Seekonk in a little habited district between the Washington and Red Bridges will never be known.”
Obviously we’re going to figure it out! There is mention of a Rose Dexter involved with a Arthur Phillips somehow in connection to this fire. Through my previous wanderings I’ve found that Arthur Phillips is a name Derleth uses instead of using Howard’s real name, so immediately I’m ready for two things. I think this story will be slightly meta, like “The Lamp of Alhazred” because Derleth is using the Phillips pseudonym and also that Rose (Rose Dexter? Like Charles Dexter Ward?) will again be the heroine much like Rhoda was in “The Shadow in the Attic.” If you remember from that story, Rhoda set fire to the house and rescued Adam. Let’s see how right I am!
Derleth begins with his best opening yet: “The nocturnal streets of any city along the Eastern Seaboard afford the nightwalker many a glimpse of the strange and terrible, the macabre and outré, for darkness draws from the crevices and crannies, the attic rooms and cellar hideaways of the city those human beings who, for obscure reasons lost in the past, choose to keep the day in their grey niches – the misshapen, the lonely, the sick, the very old, the haunted, and those lost souls who are forever seeking their identities under cover of night, which is beneficent for them as the cold light of day can never be.“
Little do we know that this is what the story is all about…hiding your identity in the shadows of night.
What the narrator is describing is the walks that both he and Rose would go on at night. What makes that night a particularly interesting walk is they came across a stranger:
“He was dressed almost uniformly in sombre black, save for his white shirt and flowing Windsor tie he affected. His clothing was unpressed, as if it had been worn for a long time without having been attended to, but it was not unclean, as far as I could see. His brow was high, almost dome-like; under it his dark eyes looked out hauntingly, and his face narrowed to his small blunt chin. His hair, too, was longer than most men of my generation wore it...”
The man gives his name as Mr. Allan and by his conversation, just a little off. He is terse and pithy. He is intelligent, but emotionally distant. That in and of itself isn’t that bad, but he keeps looking at Rose where the sense is “…his interest was other than amorous.” which is an important distinction to remember later. His interest this night is the cemetery which they show him and then take their leave. It is only when they’re walking away that Rose mentions what she saw as obvious…”‘He looks like Edgar Allan Poe.'”
Ignoring the fact that they’re in Providence and the cemetery they take the impostor to is supposedly Poe’s burial ground (he was interred in Baltimore), we take this as one more of Derleth’s little artistic allowances. It seems rather odd, but nothing beyond that.
The story continues for a while with Arthur meeting up with Mr. Allen night after night, while at the same time across town Rose seems to meet up with him as well. There’s speculation that there are sightings of even more of these men…all looking exactly like Edgar Allan Poe and all going by the name of Mr. Allan. Immediately I was brought back to the Jack Finney classic, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We know Derleth loves his cosmic connection, and we know in that story, pods came down from space and they created exact replicas of people, but with a hive mind instead of their own mind. That classic was published in 1955 so Derleth pulling from that inspiration makes total sense, especially as we move into the next portion of the story.
Arthur is curious and he eventually takes one of the Mr. Allan’s up on their offer (which is the quote to open this essay) and when the two men get to the house they are met with seven Mr. Allans:
“‘Our intention Mr. Phillips,’ explained their spokesman – whom I took to be the gentleman I had encountered on Benefit Street – ‘is to produce for you certain impressions of extra-terrestrial life. All that is necessary for you to do is relax and to be receptive.'”
Arthur agrees and they begin a chant which begins to change the reality around him. Suddenly he is viewing an “extra-terrestrial scene” with figures which are, “enormous, iridescent, rugose cones, rising from a base almost ten feet wide to a height of over ten feet...” Ah. I should have guessed. The Great Race of Yith.
We’ve seen them in so many of Derleth’s stories that it shouldn’t surprise me here, but it does. Quite frankly at this point in the story I was pretty disappointed because I was hoping for a new and unique perspective. This feels like Derleth is falling back into his old tricks. This is one of the longer stories thus far from Derleth, and to get this far in and find out that we’re going back over old material, especially with the unique, although rather droll tale he’d been telling thus far, made me put the book down for a while. Was this just going to be another retelling of whom the Yith are? Why layer on Poe?
Despite my disappointment I had to find out, so I picked it back up.
Arthur can’t let what he saw go. It freaked him out and he left, but there was just something a little off about the scene he witnessed, so he decided the next night he would go back and get to the bottom of things. He goes back into the house, careful to be quiet and sneaks upstairs. There he finds some strange “glass encased slab” which he approaches and finds a clone of Poe inside. But that’s not the strange part…there is something else in the case.
“But when at last I looked upon that which lay upon the likeness of Poe, I almost cried out in fearful surprise, for it was, in miniature, a precise reproduction of one of the rugose cones I had seen only last night in the hallucination induced in my home on Angell Street! And the sinuous movement of the tentacles on it’s head – or what I took to be its head – was indisputable evidence that it was alive!”
So between this smaller being in the tube with Poe and the fact that we know these creature speak telepathically, I believe Derleth is actually (again!) changing what we know of as the Cthulhu Mythos and expanding it out into the broader world. What do I mean? This smaller being, with obvious nefarious intentions, sounds to me exactly like an Illithid of Dungeons & Dragons fame. Those creatures first came to light in the role playing modules in the mid to late seventies, which was about ten years after the publication of this story, so Derleth seems to be moving beyond the impassive elder deities and creating these off shoot races which are so much more popular in modern culture. The new description of the smaller body and what it does for the rest of the story matches pretty perfectly with this concept, as well as the idea of the impostors next door we experience in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Arthur flees the scene and finds out that Rose was invited into the house as well. He pleads with her not to go, but she eventually does and Arthur chases after her. He gets there just in time to see something terrible in the glass cases:
“For in the one that lit the room with its violently pulsating and agitated violet radiation lay Rose Dexter, fully clothed, and certainly under hypnosis – and on top of her lay, greatly elongated and with tentacles flailing madly, the rugose cone-like figure I had last seen shrunken on the likeness of Poe. And in the connected case adjacent to it – I can hardly bear to set it down even now – lay, identical in every detail, a perfect duplicate of Rose!”
They are body snatchers! Arthur freaks out and burns the house down, like we saw in that opening report. He grabs Rose and runs to safety…but then in the next few days he begins to worry. Did he save the right Rose? Did he get the pod Rose or the real Rose?
We are left with a News Story to end the tale:
“LOCAL GIRL SLAYS ATTACKER
Rose Dexter…last night fought off and killed a young man she charged with attacking her…Her attacker was identified as an acquaintance, Arthur Phillips...”
And there our story ends.
This was probably the most Lovecraftian ending of any of the Derleth stories and the most like Invasion of the Body Snatchers because the bad guys won. There wasn’t the happier ending that Derleth has been so known for, but rather a unease which permeates the history of the tale.
It also turns out I was wrong on both levels. This story was strictly a male led story unlike “The Shadow in the Attic” and it wasn’t meta at all, but instead much more a product of it’s era and a story to inform the future generations.
Is that what Derleth’s legacy will be? Let’s find out more next week as we gaze on “The Horror From the Middle Span!”
“I never forgot the shadowed house where he lived alone and had someone in – by night – to keep his house for him – the high ceilinged rooms, the attic which no one entered by day and into which no one was permitted, ever, to go with a lamp or light of any kind, the small-paned windows that looked out upon the bushes and trees, the fan-lit doors; it was the kind of house that could not fail to lay its dark magic upon an impressionable young mind, and it did upon mine, filling me with brooding fancies and, sometimes, terrifying dreams, from which I started awake and fled to my mother’s side, and one memorable night lost my way and came upon my great-uncle’s housekeeper, with her strange emotionless, expressionless face – she stared at me and I at her, as across unfathomable gulfs of space, before I turned and sped away, spurred by new fear imposed upon those engendered in dreams.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read with the longest run on sentence quote yet! This week we discover a homage to Derleth’s contemporaries, and a surprising and welcoming new theme as we digest the least Lovecraftian, but probably the creepiest of Derleth’s stories.
The story starts off like so many other’s of Derleth’s, that immediately we’re set up with fatigue. Once again we have a distant uncle who has died and has asked his nephew to come and take care of the estate (the description of the estate is the opening quote of this essay). The first half of the story follows this tried and true arc, but things come off the rails and we get some new trends permeating the text.
It begins in part one of the story, when our narrator moves into the house which has always had a night time maid, but “My great-uncle’s housekeeper had evidently been instructed to continue her duties at least until my occupancy.” The house is Uber clean when our narrator shows up.
Our narrator questions this and goes to the estate lawyer: “If he made arrangements to have it kept clean, there must have been another key.”
All in all the fact that the house is clean is not a big deal, the narrator even suspects that Uriah didn’t tell the housekeeper to stop cleaning so she just kept at it until told otherwise. Setting up an important trend. Adam (the narrator) doesn’t think the woman is smart enough to stop cleaning on her own. Derleth spends so much time on this fact, that we know from the beginning that the housekeeper is going to be a lynchpin to the story.
We also get a divergence from the normal “Shuttered room” trope. The narrator remembers when he was little, his family made a visit to the odd house. He remembers seeing the strange housekeeper which is also in the awesome run on sentence quote at the beginning of this essay, but more importantly he remembers that attic room being off limits to everyone, but now, “There were no other conditions whatsoever, not even a ban on the attic room I had expected to see set down.”
Subverting the theme is one of the biggest reasons why this story works so well. So much in both Lovecraft and Derleth we get the same stories (much, much more so in Derleth) over and over again, so that when we begin the tale, we know pretty much how it’s going to end. These little twists bring about a sorely needed freshness from those other droll tales.
So no ban and it seems like the housekeeper keeps coming to the house. These are the two most important aspects of this story. We’ll see why in a minute.
The story progresses on with the narrator exploring the house and exploring the surrounding town. He tries to get information about why the housekeeper is still coming, or even who she is, but is only met with more questions. No one seems to know who the maid really is. There’s speculation, but there is no name, no description, or even an explanation as to why she comes so late at night.
Then we’re introduced to Rhoda, the narrator’s fiancée. She walks into the house, intending to only stay for the night, but is immediately off put; “‘The whole house disturbs me Adam,’ she said with unaccustomed gravity. ‘Don’t you feel anything wrong?'”
He shrugs it off, thinking that it feels off because his great-uncle had died there and there had been rumors of witchcraft in the past, but he doesn’t feel as though anything were truly wrong. He feels that obviously Rhoda is being sensitive. They have a night together and Rhoda tries to persuade him to leave, but they eventually get ready to go to sleep for the night, and because it’s the fifties and they aren’t married, they head to separate rooms. This is when the story takes a very strange and freaky turn.
“It was sometime after midnight when I was awakened.”
There’s someone in the bed with Adam. He reaches over to feel around in the bed and touches a breast. My first reaction was humor because he seems off put by this and based upon Derleth’s past stories, I anticipated this being Rhoda, possessed, getting into bed with him… but Derleth surprises.
“…the breast I had touched was not Rhoda’s; her breasts were firm, beautifully rounded – and the breast of the woman who lay next to me on my bed was flaccid, large nippled, and old.”
It’s the housekeeper lying naked in the bed next to him. Immediately images of Stanly Kubrick’s version of The Shining flash through my brain and suddenly for the first time in my readings of Derleth, I’m surprised. He’s finally gotten beyond what’s expected, beyond the safe tropes, and into something truly disturbing. And this is just the beginning.
What I expect to be the housekeeper flees the room without confrontation and once Adam gets his wits about him he follows to see just what was going on. When he gets to the hallway “…I heard, drifting down as if from somewhere outside, high up over the house, the wailing and screaming of a woman’s voice, the voice of a woman being punished…”
Could this be Uriah punishing his housekeeper for showing affection, or even desire for Adam? But isn’t Uriah dead?
The next morning Adam and Rhoda meet up for breakfast and it turns out Rhoda saw the housekeeper as well. “‘She seemed to be a young woman – but I had a strange feeling that she wasn’t young at all. Her face was expressionless – fixed. Only her eyes seemed to be alive.'”
Rhoda tries to convince Adam that he should leave with her, but to gain his inheritance all he has to do is stay there for three months. Surly it couldn’t be that bad…could it?
Adam becomes enamored with the idea that the housekeeper stays in the house, so he goes to the only room she could possibly be in…the aforementioned Attic.
When he gets there, the unease in the story increases tenfold… “A single chair stood in the middle of that gabled room, and on it lay a few prosaic objects and one which could not be so described – some woman’s clothing – and a rubber mask – one of that kind which moulds to the features of the wearer.”
This explains why the housekeeper is “expressionless” she’s actually wearing a mask. I was brought back to my formative years when I remember sitting on my parent’s couch with my hands over my face, fingers cracked just enough to see through them, while we watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The author of the book Psycho is based on is Robert Bloch, who was a contemporary of both Lovecraft and Derleth. Obviously Derleth is pulling references from Bloch’s seminal work, but could this be a case of Norman Bates? Is Uriah actually alive, just under the false guise of the housekeeper. Hold tight…it get’s weirder.
Remember the event in the bed from the previous night? It’s the housekeeper, whether Uriah has taken over her mind or not. But where is she? Why are the clothes sitting on a single chair in the attic room? As Adam looks around he finds more:
“I picked up the lamp and held it high. It was then that I saw the shadow, which lay beyond my own, against the wall and sloping ceiling – a monstrous, misshapen, blackened area, as if some vast flame had flared forth and burnt its image into the wood there…it bore a resemblance to a distorted human figure.“
That passage sound remarkably like a radiation shadow, which is a brilliant theme to instill in late sixties fiction, during a growing fear of a nuclear arms race.
Adam turns around and finds on the opposite wall, “an opening no larger than that for a mouse…painted in garish red chalk or oil…(in) a sequence of curious angular lines, which seemed to me completely unlike any geometrical designs with which I was familiar and which were arranged in such a fashion as to make the mousehole seem their precise center.”
Witchcraft. We know from stories such as “Dreams in the Witch House” and “The Music of Erich Zann” that these strange angles are created to make the veil between the worlds of the living and dead…or our dimension and other dimensions…thinner, and more likely able to traverse. With this strange hole in the attic, directly across from the radiation shadow on the opposite wall, we can only assume that some kind of power came through and blasted whomever that was out of this existence.
The story speeds up as Adam researches and tries to figure out what that could possibly be. He finds it in forbidden books Uriah had kept, “I…found myself led from book to book from a discussion of the ‘essence’ or ‘soul’ or ‘lifeforce,’ as it was variously called, through chapters on transmigration and possession, to a dissertation on taking over a new body by driving out the life force within and substituting one’s own essence…“
Ah, we are moving back through the tropes created by Lovecraft which Derleth likes so much! Whether it’s the Yith taking over someone’s body, or it’s Joseph Curwen imposing himself on Charles Dexter Ward, the possession theme stands strong…and it turns out that Adam’s fiancée has a feeling something is wrong. She calls him and again begs him to leave, but now there is a strange reticence to him. He even laughs at her and says “‘I’ve always said women are irrational creatures.'”
That night after getting off the phone, the turning point happens.
“There in the well of glowing darkness behind and a little above me hung the spectral likeness of Great-uncle Uriah Garrison – something as ephemeral as air…”
Adam seems stuck there until the spirit dissipates. He then goes to the study where he sees the Housekeeper cleaning. She turns “and I looked into pools of glowing fire, eyes that were hardly eyes at all but so much more.” He stands there for another moment, lost, until he goes back to the attic and finds that the strange geometric hole in the wall was glowing with blue light, “And the painted lines all around the hole glowed as with a light all their own.”
Soon after Rhoda comes back and knocks on the door, determined to save him and he tells her, “Go away, leave us alone.”
Us? It seems as though the transition has already begun and he is joined in his body with Uriah and the housekeeper. He shuts the door on his fiancée, but she is not to be outdone. Later that night she lights the house on fire, finds a ladder and sets it at the window to Adam’s room and saves him.
There’s a weird dichotomy throughout the story. The word succubus is used a few times throughout, but at the same time Adam is not the hero of the story. There is no hero… in fact there’s a heroine. It’s pretty unheard of in this type of genre fiction at this time (the boys club of cosmic horror) for there to be a female protagonist, but throughout the entire story Rhoda is the one who’s right, Rhoda keeps trying to save Adam who cant save himself, and then at the end, ACTUALLY saves him. So what does that have to do with the Succubus?
The main antagonist in the story is actually the Housekeeper (The Succubus). The strange woman who pulled Uriah’s life force out of him. That’s what keeps her going. We know that’s what happens because we see his spirit, but it was the evil gaze of the housekeeper that pulled Adam away from his own life. He was acting like his normal self until that instance happened. You remember the red herring of the “wails of the woman being punished?” That was probably the housekeeper tormenting Uriah.
The last paragraph begins as such, “Women are fundamentally not rational creatures.” (Yes, he says this again) When I read that line I thought, damn, he’s one sexist dude. Then I thought about it. The main antagonist is a woman. The main heroine is a woman. The man who thinks this sexist thought (Adam), though said through a first person narrative, is taking us back to our first trope we came across in Lovecraft. The unreliable narrator.
Whether Derleth wrote it this way to be subversive, or if he wrote it this way to hide his intentions, this story is about woman empowerment. This is a story where women have power and men have none.
I’m impressed by Derleth for the first time. Now I’m excited to see where he takes us next.
Join me next week as we discover, “The Dark Brotherhood.”
“As a result, I became aware of a vaguely disquieting fact; from time to time, Andrew Potter responded to some stimulus beyond the apprehension of my senses, reacting precisely as if someone had called to him, sitting up, growing alert, and wearing the air of someone listening to sounds beyond my own hearing, in same attitude assumed by animals hearing sounds beyond the pitch levels of the human ear.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the back woods to the town of Witches’ Hollow and fully uncover an interesting cultural diaspora which seems to fuel both Lovecraft’s imagination as well as Derleth’s. This was also (so far at least!) Derleth’s most unique telling while at the same time adding to Lovecraft’s mythos. We’ll discuss this more later, but I have to say that this was the most enjoyable tale from Derleth, despite it’s faults.
The story starts with a unique twist: “District School Number Seven Stood on the very edge of that wild country which lies west of Arkham.” Believe it or not, in this story we’re following a grade school teacher. We find that “The school district has now been consolidated,” which changed the student body and his “charges added up to twenty-seven.” We even hear some familiar names; “There were Allens and Whateleys and Perkinses, Dunlocks and Abbots and Talbots – and there was Andrew Potter.“
The narrator tells us Andrew Potter “was a large boy for his age, very dark of mien, with haunting eyes and a shock of tousled black hair.” and that “he was in the fifth grade, and it did not take long…to discover that he could easily advance into the seventh of eighth...” right before we get the quote which opens this essay.
Our narrator decides that he needs to go speak to Andrew’s parents and see if he can possibly get them to allow the child to move up in grades because when he speaks to the boy, Andrew tells him “‘What I’m interested in doesn’t matter. It’s what my folks want that counts.”
On the surface level this makes sense and it also brings me to the thematic point I mentioned earlier. Much of Lovecraft and Derleth seem to take place in rural or back woods regions, and because of the poverty level in these areas, there’s quite often an adherence to family and familial ideals over your own best interest. I’ve seen this in real life in the central valley of California, where farming families prefer their children to work with them in the fields picking instead of going to school. If someone from the school gets involved they generally shun that person, because the poverty is so intense that the need for immediate money (picking that day instead of going to school) is more important than some vague promise of a better life in the future… if you don’t work now and spend your time wasting away in a class that doesn’t pertain to your life…then your wasting potential. So this choice both builds the characters and because it’s a horror story, this theme becomes low hanging fruit because all the sudden you can have a family who has nefarious inclinations hiding among the poor.
This also fits in with the theme of the familial bond which occurs so much in Lovecraft’s style of fiction. There are so many stories (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Ancestor, Arthur Jermyn, The Dunwich Horror, et. all) where an ancestor of the folk in the story got into dark magic and caused a ripple that would effect all generations within his lineage. In this story, we have old Wizard Potter (yes really. I don’t think there’s a connection with the notorious Harry, though some of the darker elements of Rowling’s work may have in a slight way been informed by Lovecraft or Derleth, but ultimately this has to be a coincidence) who is considered “a bad lot.” Derleth ties him to evil magic by saying that he was a cousin to Wizard Whateley (who apparently had quite a big family because he’s now connections in multiple Derleth stories with different cousins) of Dunwich, and the two of them “called something down from the sky, and it lived with him until he died.” Except we know now that whatever he called down, lived beyond old Wizard Potter.
When our industrious teacher goes to confront the Potters he finds that they deny him immediately by telling him that young Andrew will be stopping school as soon as the law allows. Then, while they’re standing there being awkward, something strange happens.
“The moment the father stopped talking, there was a singular harmony of attitude – all four of them seemed to be listening to some inner voice...”
This calls back to an earlier Lovecraft story “The Thing on the Doorstep.” In that tale Asenath, the primary antagonist, was able to project herself into other’s bodies, imposing her mind and suppressing theirs. We also have the idea of the Yith from stories such as “The Shadow out of Space” and “The Shadow out of Time” where they would do the same, take over the body of a host. The Potter family seems to have some kind of telepathic bond where they are either listening to each other, or listening to some higher being which is giving them directions. It goes beyond their own kin as well, however, as we find when our narrator speaks to one of his students about them.
“‘You shouldn’t a told Andrew Potter we talked about him,’ he said with a kind of unhappy resignation.
‘I didn’t, Wilbur.’
‘I know I didn’t. So you must have,’ he said. And then, ‘Six of our cows got killed last night, and the shed where they were was crushed down on ’em.’“
The Potter’s have Telepathy and bore into people’s minds. Derleth is striving to make the connection that these Ancient Ones have plans on Earth, but there is some force keeping them out, so they need to use these strange tools and spells and books to help seem into susceptible human brains. The teacher narrator suspects something more than natural (maybe not wholly supernatural) is going on and decides to head to local Miskatonic University to do some research. There he comes across one of these forbidden texts… The Necronomicon. While he’s reading it a Professor of the University notices him and tells him that he knows about the Potters and he knows what to do with them.
This Professor Keane shows the narrator, “...objects of stone, roughly in the shape of five-pointed stars. He put five of them in my hand.”
Then he tells the narrator the crux of the story and all the events run downhill at breakneck pace towards the climax:
“You must keep one of these at least on your person at all times, and you must keep all thought of the stone and what you are about to do out of your mind. These beings have a telepathic sense – an ability to read your thoughts.” and after discussing them for a moment Keane tells our narrator, “These stones are among the thousands bearing the Sea of R’lyeh which closed the prisons of the Ancient Ones. They are the seals of the Elder Gods.”
Ok so beyond the fact that he directly contradicts Lovecraft here (R’lyeh is the city where Cthulhu sleeps, not a sea) he is single handedly building the legacy of what would hold Lovecraft’s mythos forever entombed in popular culture. He is creating the basis for the gaming community.
If you’ve ever played the board game “Manisions of Madness” or one of the bevy of video games, or even the role playing game “The Call of Cthulhu” you’ve seen all of these elements. The librarian, or professor, who surreptitiously knows more than they should and helps the investigator. The Elder Signs which the narrator uses to hold the Ancient Ones in place, the action packed rollercoaster ending after a slow burn build to find the truth. These are what made Lovecraft truly popular in the last four decades and what continues to build his legacy. Derleth lays the basis for all that gaming culture right here in this story published in 1962.
It also deepens what he would come to call “The Cthulhu Mythos.” These Elder Signs were extremely sparingly used in Lovecraft (I think only twice mentioned) and in Lovecraft their usage wasn’t specifically spelled out as they are here. This is probably the best thing Derleth has done to the legacy of Lovecraft (because in the preceding stories there hasn’t been much), because we have quite a bit of evidence of what these powerful deities are, but before this, there have been no tools in which to battle them. By telling us that these Elder Signs were what was used to imprison them, we now have an inkling that there can be a chance to beat them.
The rest of the story unfolds as you would expect. The narrator builds a wall in his mind, striving to keep it blank so the Potter’s wont know what he’s planning, then tracks them all down and places the stones on them one by one, shunning the outsider whom was “called down from the sky.“
The story, unlike any by Lovecraft, ends with a super happy ending, where the Potter family is returned their humanity and they all remain whole after they move away from the little village of Witches’ Hollow. The narrator decides he wants to forget, or at least not look any further into the mysteries which seemed to surround that family there in that backwoods burg.
It’s a completely different feel from Lovecraft, but it’s fun and adventurous and totally worth the read.
Can Derleth keep it up? Can we move beyond that poor rehashing of Lovecraft’s tales and get into more adventurous stories like this one?
Join me to fid out next week as we try out “The Shadow in the Attic!”
“Dr. Gilman kept his own council, but the two who had brought him whispered into one ear after another a singular tale, telling how they had found in the house a great moisture, a wetness clinging to the walls, to the doorknob, even to the bed to which they had lowered Enoch Conger only a short while before hastening for the doctor – and on the floor a line of wet footprints made by feet with webbed toes – a trail that led out of the house and down to the edge of the sea, and all along the way the imprints were deep, as if something heavy had been carried from the house, something as heavy as Enoch.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re treading familiar “waters” as we get a quaint little story, which potentially created echoes throughout literary history.
The Fisherman of Falcon Point is pretty much exactly what you would think it is. It’s a story about a fisherman in the little burg of Falcon Point which is just down the coast from the infamous Innsmouth.
The story begins as a fairy tale: “Along the Massachusetts coats where he lived many things are whispered about Enoch Conger-” Enoch is the main character (I hesitate to say protagonist) of the story, and in this first line we immediately get the understanding that something strange is going on with him; he’s become a legend people tell, but Derleth does a good job in the opening of not indicating if he survived or otherwise, thus increasing our curiosity as a reader. He even goes one step further later down the page: “There he lived until he was seen no more, for none can say he died.”
Our narrator tells us “He was a powerful man, broad in the shoulders, barrel-chested, with long, muscular arms.” Also “…that he talked with the gulls and terns, with the wind and the pounding sea, and with others that could not be seen and were heard only in strange tones like the muted sounds made by great batrachian beasts unknown in the bogs and marshes of the mainland.”
Conger was a loner, a taciturn man who we’re made to believe speaks to animals because he’s so solitary. He only interacts with humans when he heads to the bar after coming in from a fishing excursion; it’s when he’s fishing in the sea just off the coast of Falcon Point and Innsmouth in which he communes with the fishes. Better than sleeping with the fishes I guess!
What’s important about the introduction of the story is the tone and method of telling the tale. Derleth usually takes a bit of a closer 3rd person perspective in his writing, giving us a glimpse into what the character themselves are thinking. This story moves back to a more 3rd omniscient perspective, with slightly more whimsical language. The effect is that instead of this story feeling like a driving short horror, it reads more like a mythology/world building story. It truly feels like you’re sitting around the campfire while Derleth tells you this fantastical tale…
Which is important because the story threads the line based upon what we guess about the area and the established mythology of the area. You never feel as though Conger is in mortal peril, but you know something very strange is about to happen to him.
In fact the tone and style of this story remind me so much of a more recent literary horror novel, “The Fisherman” by John Langan. You can ignore what seems to be the connection between these tales, because what it really is, is the fantastic mythology based around location. “The Fisherman” is highly recommended if you’ve not partaken, but it proves that though Lovecraft created this world, none of his writing had this tone or whimsy. This is purely Derleth creating a legacy.
Anyway back to the story. Conger spends much of his time in his favorite spot fishing, until that spot finally dries up, so he decides to venture out further… out towards Devils Reef in the sea beyond Innsmouth. Once there he “cast his net, and brought up many fishes – and something more-“
That something more is never described, but it spooks Conger enough to immediately leave. He heads back to his favorite bar where he tells his fishy tales, and the aged fishermen there think he’s seen a mermaid. “She was not a mermaid.” Conger responds, but is only met with derision.
“They laughed at him and made many a jest, but he heard them not.” But still he was spooked. He stayed away from Devil’s Reef for years and eventually, “…one night the word was brought to Innsmouth that Enoch Conger had been greviously hurt at his lonley occupation...” where two local fisherman took him back to his home and left him there to find the doctor.
We get the opening quote of this essay next as Enoch is carried away. At this point, based upon what we know about Enoch we can assume one of two things. He either had DNA from Innsmouth in his blood somewhere along the lines because of his penchant to speaking to animals, especially amphibians, or he was in some way marked by the cult of Dagon to be taken.
Years later “the venerable old Jedidiah Harper, patriarch of the coastal fishermen,” swore that he saw a school of fishlike people swimming alongside his boat. The had the look of half amphibian and half man, “they had seemed to be singing a chant to Dagon, a chant of praise, and among them, he swore, he had seen Enoch Conger…“
This raises a dark and fascinating point in which Derleth is playing at. I mentioned back in the Blind Read for “The Shadow out of Space” that Derleth seemed to be playing with body horror, or the idea that someone could be altered physically as well as mentally because of an outside force. In that story it was an Elder Sign on a person. Here we actually have Conger transitioning from a human into a Deep One and it seems as though he was marked early on. Namely his penchant for speaking to animals and then his catching a Deep One in a net. It’s possible that original Deep One he caught did something to him which started the transition, and it was only years later that he began his transformation, but I rather think it was the “injury” he sustained when found by those two fisherman. I think he was more than likely altered in some way, by his own volition or not, and that event caused the transition. He wasn’t actually injured. He was forced to change by some ritual.
We’ve talked about it before: rituals are a cornerstone with the Lovecraft mythos. Much of what goes on in Lovecraft’s original work is actually called (by his own verbiage) witch craft. That hasn’t happened very much so far in Derleth’s tales, but with this story, we may just be turning a corner.
Join me next week as we explore “Witch’s Hollow.”
As an aside, the first few stories in Derleth’s collection had Saurian, or Reptilian creatures who prayed to Dagon. The last few all had Batrachian, or amphibian creatures. Both of these are a bit of a divergence, from the fish men that were the Deep Ones in Lovecraft, but Derleth’s Amphibious creatures are a much closer distinction than the reptilian. I wonder if we’ll ever get a reason for this in the text, though I tend to believe there wont be. It may just be Derleth’s poetic license that he felt he could do whatever he wanted with the legacy, or it’s possible that he didn’t truly understand his friend’s writing before he started himself. In any case, I’m excited to see where we go next!