This week’s weird fiction selection.
Review: “Witches’ Hollow”, H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, 1962.
This, like other “collaborations” between Lovecraft and Derleth I’ve read, was rather lifeless. Derleth’s usual technique was simply to expand on a story note or fragment of Lovecraft’s. On its first publication in the Derleth edited Dark Mind, Dark Heart, he even puts Lovecraft’s name prominently on the story with his own name asterisked in footnote “Completed by August Derleth”.
These collaborations don’t do a thing for me emotionally, and I find them an exercise in just mentally ticking off boxes to see which of the “gods” invented by Derleth he’s going to add to his version of the “Cthulhu Mythos” — a term he coined. There’s also the usual bland domestication of Lovecraft’s vision with what are, essentially, magical relics.
Here Derleth works in some references to Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” and sets the story around Arkham.
The plot involves the narrator, a teacher at a country school outside of Arkham, encountering a strange pupil, Andrew Potter, who is smart but has no desire to advance to a higher grade. He is left alone and rather feared by the other pupils.
When the narrator asks Andrew if he wants to advance in school, he says the doesn’t require him to go to high school. The narrator then asks to visit Andrew’s parents about this.
During the visit, the narrator finds a farmstead of menace, an obese mother, an older sister, and a father who says no to Andrew attending school beyond the legal requirement.
Troubled by the Mr. Potter’s attitude and troubled by what he saw and sensed at the farm, the narrator goes to visit a newspaper editor, and we get the predictable chain of events.
The editor refers him to Miskatonic University and the Necronomicon. A professor sees him reading it, and the narrator tells him of the tale of Andrew. From there, the professor tells him that a wizard Potter inhabited the farm until he died and the Potters moved to it from Michigan. They were pleasant at first but changed. The next thing you know we have stones bearing the “Seal of R’lyeh” and a plan to solve things by using them as amulets of protection for the narrator and to touch one to Andrew.
When that’s done, the boy goes into a fit, and the narrator takes him to the professor’s house. They then go to the schoolhouse to wait for the inevitable attack by the Potters. The stones of R’lyeh are used against father and sister. However, they don’t have the intended effect. The professor thought the focus of evil, which turns out to be a seeming case of possession, was Mr. Potter. It turns out it’s the mother. The Potter house is sealed off with the stones of R’lyeh and set on fire.
A strange creature is seen leaving the mother’s body, an “amorphous mass . . . tentacled, shimmering, with a cold intelligence and a physical coldness”. Her body shrinks, but she lives, and a black bolt of smoke shoots from the house into the sky in a way reminiscent of the climax of Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”.
There’s no reason you should read this one.