- “Haunter of the Dark, The“
- Short story (9,350 words); written November 5–9, 1935. First published in WT(December 1936); first collected in O; corrected text in DH; annotated version in CC and An2Robert Blake, a young writer of weird fiction, comes to Providence for a period of writing. Looking through his study window down College Hill and across to the far-away and vaguely sinister Italian district known as Federal Hill, Blake becomes fascinated by an abandoned church “in a state of great decrepitude.” Eventually he gains the courage actually to go to the place and enter it, and he finds many anomalous things within. There are strange and forbidden books; there is, in a large square room, an object resting upon a pillar—a metal box containing a curious gem or mineral—that exercises an unholy fascination upon Blake; and there is the decaying skeleton of a newspaper reporter whose notes Blake reads. The notes speak of the ill-regarded Starry Wisdom church, whose congregation gained in numbers throughout the nineteenth century and was suspected of satanic practices of a very bizarre sort, until the city finally shut the church in 1877. The notes also mention a “Shining Trapezohedron” and a “Haunter of the Dark” that cannot exist in light. Blake concludes that the object on the pillar is the Shining Trapezohedron, and in an “access of gnawing, indeterminate panic fear” he closes the lid of the object and flees the place.Later he hears strange stories of some object lumbering within the belfry of the church, stuffing pillows in all the windows so that no light can come in. A tremendous electrical storm on August 8–9 causes a blackout for several hours.A group of superstitious Italians gathers around the church with candles, and they sense an enormous dark object emerging from the belfry. Blake’s diary tells the rest of the tale. He feels that he is somehow losing control of his sense of self (“My name is Blake—Robert Harrison Blake of 620 East Knapp Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin…. I am on this planet”; and still later: “I am it and it is I”); his perspective is all confused; finally he sees some nameless object approaching him. The next morning he is found dead—of electrocution, even though his window was closed and fastened. What, in fact, has happened to Blake? The poignant but seemingly cryptic entry “Roderick Usher” in his diary tells the whole story. Just as in “Supernatural Horror in Literature” HPL analyzed Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” as a tale that “displays an abnormally linked trinity of entities at the end of a long and isolated family history—a brother, his twin sister, and their incredibly ancient house all sharing a single soul and meeting one common dissolution at the same moment,” so in “The Haunter of the Dark” we are to believe that the entity in the church—the Haunter of the Dark, described as an avatar of Nyarlathotep — has possessed Blake’s mind but, at the moment of doing so, is struck by lightning and killed, and Blake dies as well.The story came about almost as a whim. Robert Bloch had written “The Shambler from the Stars” in the spring of 1935, in which a character—never named, but clearly meant to be HPL — is killed. HPL was taken with the story, and when it was published in WT(September 1935), a reader, B.M.Reynolds, praised it and had a suggestion to make: “Contrary to previous criticism, Robert Bloch deserves plenty of praise for The Shambler from the Stars . Now why doesn’t Mr. Lovecraft return the compliment, and dedicate a story to the author?” (WT 36, No. 5 [November 1935]: 652). At the time HPL read this, he had just learned of the acceptances by Astounding Stories of At the Mountains of Madnessand “The Shadow out of Time.” Bolstered by the news, he took up Reynolds’s suggestion, and the resulting story tells of one Robert Blake (a very transparent allusion to Robert Bloch, to whom HPL dedicated the story) who dies a glassy-eyed corpse staring out his study window. Several of the surface details of the plot were taken directly from Hanns Heinz Ewers’s “The Spider,” which HPL read in Dashiell Hammett’s Creeps by Night(1931). This story involves a man who becomes fascinated with a strange woman he sees through his window in a building across from his own, until finally he seems to lose hold of his own personality. The entire story is told in the form of the man’s diary, and at the end he writes: “My name—Richard Bracquemont, Richard Bracquemont, Richard—oh, I can’t get any farther….”Many landmarks described in the story are manifestly based upon actual sites. The view from Blake’s study is a poignant description of what HPL saw from his own study at 66 College Street. The same view can be seen today from such a vantage point as Prospect Terrace on the brow of College Hill. Blake’s address, as given in the story, was Bloch’s actual address in Milwaukee. The church that figures so prominently in the tale was St. John’s Catholic Church on Atwell’s Avenue in Federal Hill (torn down in 1992). This church was situated on a raised plot of ground, as in the story, although there was (at least in recent years) no metal fence around it. It was, in HPL’s day, the principal Catholic church in the area. The description of the interior and belfry of the church is quite accurate. HPL heard that the steeple had been destroyed by lightning in late June of 1935 (he was not there at the time, being in Florida visiting R.H. Barlow); instead of rebuilding the steeple, the church authorities simply put a cap on the brick tower (see HPL to Richard F.Searight, December 24, 1935; Letters to Richard F.Searight [Necronomicon Press, 1992], p. 70).See Steven J.Mariconda, “Some Antecedents of the Shining Trapezohedron,” Etchings and Odysseys No. 3 : 15–20 (rpt. in Mariconda’s On the Emergence of “Cthulhu” and Other Observations [Necronomicon Press, 1995]).
An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz.
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