After finishing up Marion Starkey's The Devil in Massachusetts, I've decided to add a little lighter reading to my list. Interspersed with my academic reading will be A Treasury of Modern Fantasy, a collection of the best magazine fantasy short stories up to 1980 compiled and edited by Terry Carr and Martin Harry Greenberg. It should be a nice complement to The Mammoth Book of Fantasy which I read several summers ago. First up on the list of stories is an old favorite by H.P. Lovecraft: The Rats in the Walls.
The Rats in the Walls is one of Lovecraft's best short stories. Lovecraft's normally over-articulate prose is paired down and his mythos is deployed in a careful, subtle manner that avoids any of the usual C'thulhu gooberishness. As always, Lovecraft is careful to link the story back to his beloved New England, but the setting in old England adds a sense of the classically gothic that strengthens the tale's atmosphere. We also get to see Lovecraft deploy his typical tropes of reversion and forbidden knowledge with a deft sense that is often lacking in his more experimental work. What cinches the deal, ultimately, is the pacing. The best Lovecraft tales all feature a sort of creeping dread learned from the progenitor of the art in its short story form, Edgar Allen Poe. Lovecraft is careful to seed The Rats in the Walls with subtle hints of the horror he intends to unveil that slip beneath the first time reader's radar but create a growing sense of unease. The end, when it comes, feels completely natural and completely unexpected bringing about a true sense of horror and revulsion. This isn't a mere one trick horse, either. On a second read, knowing the ending only increases the horror as all the subtle clues Lovecraft has left for the reader stand out in all their ghastly significance against the calm naivete of the narrator.
So there you have it: The Rats in the Walls by H.P. Lovecraft. Next up is a piece by another master fantasist, Abraham Merritt, The Woman of the Wood. I read and enjoyed Merrit's The Moon Pearl several years ago, so I'm looking forward to this next piece. I'll let you know what I think as soon as I finish.