Raw Feed (2005, 2013): “The Rats in the Walls”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1923.
I noted, when reading the anthology Shadows Over Innsmouth (sequels to Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”) how many British writers fruitfully used their Roman past for horror stories, so I was surprised that Lovecraft, in this 1923 story, used that very setting — in fact, he refers to horrors that are pre-Roman. (If I read this story before, I had completely forgotten it.)
The story also features subterranean horrors which also featured prominently in several of the stories in Shadows Over Innsmouth (as well as several Lovecraft stories — the underground horrors are ghouls in 1926’s “Pickman’s Model” and rats here).
This story shows, already at this point in Lovecraft’s career, the framing device of starting the story in near contemporary times (the given date at the beginning is in 1923) and then relating a scholarly historical account of discovered horrors.
The narrator here is, already, a typical Lovecraftian one: his mind breaks under the horrors of his satisfied curiosity, his skepticism cataclysmically breaking, and discovering the horrible family secret of sinister occult activity (involving cannibalism amongst other things).
The heated prose at the end where the narrator all but says he murdered Captain Norrys and then says the rats did it, reminded me of the deranged protagonist of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” — a story which Lovecraft was certainly familiar with, and I suspect it did influence him.
I also note that World War One shows up — not often mentioned, surprisingly given his age, in Lovecraft’s fiction — with a mention of the narrator’s son who seems to have died after the war but from combat injuries.
On the 2013 reading I noticed this is a story whose power is all from the penultimate paragraph where Delapore devolves psychically, recapitulating the language of his forebears.
I’m suspecting there is something of a horror/weird fiction tradition of stories involving house renovations. I wonder where this story stands in that development.
This story is Gothic in the literary and architectural senses. The original gothic novels of Walpole and Radcliffe centered around mysterious structures which we literally have here. Exaham Priory is architecturally of the Gothic style.
Nahum the farmer in “The Colour Out of Space” might have had more horror happen to his immediate family than Delapore, but the latter, I think, is the supreme example of a Lovecraft character with a continually blighted family line (though I haven’t read the Arthur Jermyn story lately so that may top it).
The bit where Delapore and his savants engage in the examination of skulls on the fly was somewhat unbelievable.
I liked that, where most stories would have had the heroes press on in their excavation, Delapore stops and gets a bunch of scholars before continuing.
And, again, we see the theme of censorship here with the events of the story being suppressed.
And, for some reason, I liked the mention of Harding’s death. (No “return to normalcy” for Delapore though!) It cued up Al Stewart’s song “Warren Harding” song in my brain.
Finally, I thought the idea of a covert cult — not necessarily based in bloodlines — existing inside a family was interesting.