Thu
Dec 17 2009 2:00pm

12 Days of Lovecraft: “The Haunter of the Dark”

So I was going to peek beyond the wall of sleep today, but, having peeked behind it, there’s not much of a story there: inbred hick appears to be possessed by a creature who soars in realms of light and fights an elusive enemy whilst the hillbilly sleeps, and our narrator just happens to have a telepathy machine handy that allows him to meet this creature. And that’s about it. Not particularly interesting and definitely not scary or horrifying.

So if we’re not peering beyond the wall of sleep, let’s look over in the corner at “The Haunter of the Dark.”

The Story

A writer in Providence (wonder if he resembles anyone we know?) named Robert Blake apparently can’t keep his eye on the sparrow (note to readers under forty years old:  that’s a Baretta joke) (and yes, I know, if you have to explain the joke, you probably shouldn’t make it) and stares at this church steeple across town and becomes obsessed with it. He ventures across town and, after some difficulty, finds the disused church and decides to break in despite the warning of the superstitious Italians who live nearby.

He finds books full of dark and forbidden knowledge, like the good ol’ Necronomicon, as well as a glowing trapezoid. Apparently Blake lets something loose in his blundering around, because after he leaves, a new fear grows in the neighborhood and in Blake’s febrile brain. He’s let loose something from beyond time and space that prefers to hide in the darkness. Fortunately, though, after the sun goes down, the neighborhood is lit by streetlights. But what would happen if the power went out? Something horrible would get out and take over Blake’s brain, causing him to gibber in his journal, that’s what.

What’s Awesome:

Pretty much everything. Another of the lesser-known (at least by me) stories that proves to be a win for H.P. Because who’s not afraid of the dark? And who’s not curious? Blake’s initial obsession with the steeple is credible, the disused church full of creepy junk is spooky, and the real horror of this story is not that Blake has unleashed something awful—it’s that he loses himself. His last journal entry is full of desperate assertions of his identity but it’s clear that the Robert Blake part of his mind is losing out to whatever is winging its way across Providence.

What’s Horrible:

Not much! I suppose the view of the superstitious Italians isn’t all that great, but their superstition is proven correct, and they briefly keep the horror at bay with their love of candles. (?)

In our next installment, we’ll visit “The Shadow out of Time”!


Illustration by Scott Altmann.

Seamus Cooper is the author of The Mall of Cthulhu (Night Shade Books, 2009). He sleeps with a Cthulhu night light to keep darkness-dwelling things from beyond at bay.

This article is part of December Belongs To Cthulhu: ‹ previous | index | next ›
13 comments
Andrew Foss
1. alfoss1540
One of my absolute favorites. Scared me so bad, I had to immediately reread it.

I had been reading one of the anthologies written by HP groupies when I started reading this. In style and substance it was so far above the others that it reminded me why I was reading HP.

Scarey castle images were some of the best.
jon meltzer
2. jmeltzer
This story was written in response to a Robert Bloch story, in which Bloch gruesomely dismembered a character based on H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft is continuing the joke here.

I think this was the last solo story Lovecraft wrote.
Clifton Royston
3. CliftonR
Trivia bit: this is probably familiar to most HPL buffs, but the "Robert Blake" in the story is a friendly dig at fledgling horror writer Robert Bloch (later the author of Psycho.)

He and HPL's other friends and correspondents made a game of killing off characters based on each other, so of course there's a Bloch mythos story where a character modeled on Lovecraft gets killed off nastily by Something Horrible from beyond.
Clifton Royston
4. CliftonR
... and I see that jmeltzer just beat me to it... Curses!
Ross Smith
5. Ross Smith
The exchange of stories began with Robert Bloch's "The Shambler from the Stars"; after Lovecraft wrote his story, Bloch completed the trilogy with "The Shadow from the Steeple". It was all done in good fun; before he wrote it, Bloch took the precaution of getting permission from Lovecraft:

"This is to certify that Robert Bloch, Esq., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A. - reincarnation of Meinheer Ludvig Prinn, author of De Vermis Mysteriis - is fully authorised to portray, murder, annihilate, disintegrate, transfigure, metamorphose, or otherwise manhandle the undersigned in the tale entitled 'The Shambler from the Stars'."

Besides Lovecraft's signature, the certificate also bore the signatures of four witnesses: Abdul Alhazred, Gespard du Nord, Frederich von Juntz, and the Tcho-Tcho Lama of Leng (all characters from Lovecraft's stories).

And if you'll excuse a moment of nitpicking, it was a trapezohedron Blake found, not a trapezoid. (For the gamers among us: a trapezohedron is the shape of a d10.)
Chris Meadows
6. Robotech_Master
I sure hope someone will review the Lovecraftian rock opera, Payne's Gray's "Kadath Decoded", for Lovecraft month.
Ross Smith
7. Mouldy Squid
@ Robotech_Master

Where could I get my tentacles on that rock opera?
Seamus Cooper
8. Seamuscooper
First of all, send me some MP3s of the Lovecraftian Rock Opera, and I will review that sucker in a heartbeat. Or in the time it takes me to flap my membranous wings. Beneath the gibbous sky.

Secondly, thanks for the info about Robert Bloch. That's cool. I declared my laziness and refusal to do research at the beginning of this venture, and the nice denizens of tor.com consistently chime in with bits of background that enhance my appreciation of the stories. So thanks @CliftonR, @Ross Smith, and @jmeltzer.

Finally, folks complain when I'm too negative about the Lovecraft stories, but I get a lot more comments when I dis uncle Howard than when I praise him.

I always find it way easier to write snarky criticism than sincere praise. I wonder if it's easier and more entertaining to read as well....
Ross Smith
9. NormanM
Well, the criticism gives us something to defend, as opposed to saying "Here, here! Well said! Bravo, good chap!" It's a hard balance to strike, admittedly.

That said, I've appreciated the last couple of reviews. They've highlighted some good stories and given plenty of insight into what you look for in a horror story. I think when you get to the end of the Lovecraft reviews you should offer up a summary of what you see working in Lovecraft and what you see failing. Plenty to argue about there!
Chris Meadows
10. Robotech_Master
Seamus: I'm putting them in my Dropbox account. Please contact me via email to top-level domain "org" domain "eyrie", username "robotech" with your email address so I can share the folder with you when it's up.

Mouldy Squid, that goes for you too. The album is long out-of-print and impossible to find anymore, so I don't feel bad about making the offer.
Helen Peters
11. Helen
So not fair, you've just made my reading list longer. And when I 'discover' a 'new' author I just have to read all their books.
Ross Smith
12. TobyDoggle
Second time in this series I've seen "gibbous" misused. First time I though it was a knowing joke. It does not relate to the sky but the moon; just before, or just past, full.
Ross Smith
13. sushifer
here's where you can get that "rockopera" Kadath Decoded by Payne's Gray: locoporos@aol.com

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