“The Undying Thing”

This week’s bit of weird fiction was one of H. P. Lovecraft’s favorites.

Review: “The Undying Thing”, Barry Pain, 1901.

I’m not sure why Lovecraft liked this story (and he didn’t mention it in his Supernatural Horror in Literature).

It’s an odd story in its combination of reticence and predictability. No, the word “werewolf” is never mentioned though you will find the story in theme anthologies devoted to that creature. There is no gore. Yet, it doesn’t take all that long to figure out what the strange offspring of Sir Edric, five generations back, was.

The story is told in three parts (but four sections).

The first is grim and dour. The elder Sir Edric laments his considered neglect of his first wife killing her and sending their child far away. But he loves his second wife as she lies deathly sick and in labor. He’s been a bad man, but he’s prepared to live a righteous life if his wife is allowed to live. She doesn’t, but he does keep his promise of repentance. But there is still that bundle that he and the family doctor took from his wife’s bedroom and into the woods.

The story then jumps ahead, to four more generations of Edrics, with local John Marsh, an old man who cages drinks in the pub in exchange for stories of all the things he’s seen and heard in his years. That includes the history of the Edrics, the curse said to be upon them, the mysterious thing haunting the woods of Hal’s Planting and its recent problems with ground subsidence, and the current Edric.

Pain was a noted humorist in his time, but there’s not much funny in this story, but the current Edric is depicted as a charming and good man loved by all except Marsh who hates all Edrics due to an encounter with the previous Sir Edric. The current Edric has returned from out of town to fix up the ancestral home and move in after his marriage.

Then things hurtle towards the preordained end of the Edrics and, perhaps, a comeuppance for the uncharitable Marsh. There’s also a bit of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” at the end too.

Is the story a classic? I don’t think so, but it’s interesting in the style of its telling and its flourishes on a familiar story. On the other hand, maybe I’m just ignorant of how innovative, in its day, it was in its combination of family curse and lycanthropy. (The lycanthropy is, incidentally, explained in a very medieval way.)

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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