THE DEEP ONES: "The Rats in the Walls" by H. P. Lovecraft

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THE DEEP ONES: "The Rats in the Walls" by H. P. Lovecraft

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Editat: ag. 1, 2013, 4:10pm

I'll be reading from reliable ol' Black Seas of Infinity. By the way, the Houdini story pictured of the cover of WT up above may well have actually been written by Walter B. Gibson of The Shadow fame, although the first paragraph in the following seems to indicate that it was HPL after all:

Anyone know more details?

ag. 3, 2013, 12:18pm

The Dunwich Horror and Others for me:

> 2

The page you link to says this Houdini story is "Not by Lovecraft" in the TOC listing. I think the first paragraph reference must be to "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs."

Editat: ag. 3, 2013, 2:20pm

>3 paradoxosalpha:

The wording is a little tricky, but they say:

While HPL was also known to have collaborated anonymously with other authors,we have included only stories which are credited to him; the exception being several installments in 1924 recounting supposed adventures of the famous magician and escape artist Harry Houdini. HPL’s private letters confirm that he wrote the tales completely himself...

They are inferring that HPL is the uncredited author of multiple Houdini tales, as confirmed by Grandpa in his correspondence. Houdini actually commissioned HPL (with C.M. Eddy, Jr. ) to ghost-write a book to be called 'The Cancer of Superstition.' Houdini died before it could be finished and the project fell apart.


Maybe HPL means that Houdini wrote the WT stories completely himself? But then why include them in The Weird Writings of H.P. Lovecraft at all? I'll check the Joshi bio later to see if it can shed some more light.

Editat: ag. 3, 2013, 3:57pm

>3 paradoxosalpha:,4

Joshi contends that "The Spirit Fakers of Hermannstadt" was possibly written by Gibson. He goes on to say that Lovecraft believed that Farnsworth Wright ghostwrote the Houdini tales. "Imprisoned with the Pharoahs" excluded, of course. I was thinking that if HPL wrote TSFoH, he would have had two tales in the same issue. I guess this one will forever be by unknown hands.

ag. 4, 2013, 4:34pm

I'll reread it one out of Weird Tales: Seven Decades of Terror. I bought this anthology so I could read the G. G. Pendarves story coming up next.

ag. 4, 2013, 5:58pm

I'll revisiting this one out of The Dunwich Horror and Others.

ag. 4, 2013, 7:16pm

ag. 7, 2013, 7:34am

I think it had been about 30 years since I had last read this one, and the climactic phase of the exploration was something I had entirely forgotten. There were all sorts of odd bits about it. My suspension of disbelief was imperiled by the mad physical anthropology skillz of the expedition: how they could interpret the emotional attitudes of corpses reduced to bones many centuries earlier, and how they could rapidly compare the various grades of remains to the standard of Piltdown Man!

For some reason, I had thought that this was a story without "mythos" allusions in it, so the invocation of Nyarlathotep caught me off-guard. In synchronistic reference to recent posts to the Lovecraftian Donnybrook thread, this brief mention is one that might have inspired Derleth to attribute Nyarlathotep to the element of earth.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cannibals.

Editat: ag. 7, 2013, 5:04pm

This one is often cited by readers as their favorite Lovecraft story, but I just don't see it. There is plenty to admire, though, "mad physical anthropology skillz" (ha!) aside. I really like that Delapore's black cat with the unfortunate name is a featured player, especially knowing HPL's fondness for felines. There are also plenty of prime Lovecraftian signature lines, such as:

Prime attention was paid to the momentous central altar, and within an hour Sir William Brinton had caused it to tilt backward, balanced by some unknown species of counterweight.

Not just "Sir William Brinton had caused it to tilt backward with a counterweight". No - it's "some unknown species of counterweight". This kind of line is what makes HPL such a great writer. Also, it provides a reason why the altar hadn't previously been pried up.

ag. 7, 2013, 9:01am

What were Grandpa's actual cats' names, I wonder?

Editat: ag. 7, 2013, 11:48am

>11 paradoxosalpha:

A very good question!

I found that this paragraph works really well at building suspense and making me want to fly to the reveal, which turns out to be the underground grotto:

A few steps more, and our breaths were literally snatched from us by what we saw; so literally that Thornton, the psychic investigator, actually fainted in the arms of the dazed man who stood behind him. Norrys, his plump face utterly white and flabby, simply cried out inarticulately; whilst I think that what I did was to gasp or hiss, and cover my eyes. The man behind me—the only one of the party older than I—croaked the hackneyed “My God!” in the most cracked voice I ever heard. Of seven cultivated men, only Sir William Brinton retained his composure; a thing more to his credit because he led the party and must have seen the sight first.

The phrase, "-croaked the hackneyed “My God!” in the most cracked voice I ever heard" even acknowledges and defuses the potential for comedy in the seemingly overblown reactions in this scene. Nicely done.

ag. 7, 2013, 11:19am

I liked that "A few steps more..." paragraph also. I think I read it two or three times on this pass.

Something like 40% of the story is all in the last two paragraphs. The penultimate paragraph is really delightful, the way it shoots through disorientation to atavism, including regression through four or five languages. And then, of course, the final one discloses our narrator's madhouse circumstance, with his transparent denial of his own crime. Yeah, de la Pore, it was the rats, right.

The last paragraph's denouement (if it can be called that) is actually pretty unpredictable, in my opinion. Lovecraft cleverly sets up the reader at the story's outset by reporting the dynamiting of the priory by "workmen," as though he might himself have commissioned it in response to the horrible things he found there.

Editat: ag. 7, 2013, 2:26pm

>13 paradoxosalpha:

Yep - even the very last sentence is a gem. I can almost hear Dwight Frye uttering it in his unique Renfield-cadence: "The rats! The rats in the walls!"

Note that Delapore's faithful cat is suddenly attacking him after the act of cannibalism, once the madness has overtaken him. It would seem that at this point, the transformation is complete and he has become one with... the "rats". I wonder if owner and cat were happily reunited once he left the nuthouse...

ag. 7, 2013, 2:16pm

11 > If memory serves, HPL (or his family?) had a cat with the same unfortunate name. (This may or may not be mentioned on the Joshi-annotated Penguin, which I don't have at hand.)

Editat: ag. 7, 2013, 2:47pm

> 10: some unknown species of counterweight - This kind of line is what makes HPL such a great writer.

Really? That's exactly the kind of thing that occasionally puts me off. What on earth is "an unknown species of counterweight" supposed to mean? Okay, so maybe somehow the mechanism operating it may not have been detected before. That would be possible. But it's also something different. A counterweight is a counterweight! There is only one "species": the one that balances weight.

P.s.: Late to the party - I'm reading it from The Annotated Lovecraft, and just for fun I'm reading the pastiche in Scream for Jeeves alongside it.

Editat: ag. 7, 2013, 2:50pm

>16 Nicole_VanK:

Well, it's the object, but it's not. It would seem to be a counterweight, but the fact that it is an unknown species implies that it might be something else altogether. Delapore really has selected only the very best people for his crew! HPL here typically avoids the mundane path and provides an intriguing possibility for the reader.


Using "unknown species" in this instance might even imply a kind of Gigerian biomechanics at work. Of course, HPL was a huge influence on Giger in many ways.

Editat: ag. 7, 2013, 3:15pm

I suppose "The Rats in the Walls" is popular partly because it’s easy to anthologise - it’s fairly short and self-contained, it doesn’t refer to the larger Cthulhu Mythos (the stray reference to Nyarlathotep aside), and it’s familiarly structured alone the lines of one of Poe’s monologue/confession style stories. That’s not to rubbish it in any way; I think it’s a fine story.

It’s also one of those stories that invite the armchair psychiatrist to exercise his skills - Lovecraft’s pride in his family’s English roots and his fears of a hereditary “taint” running side by side (I haven’t read a full-length biography of HPL, so I’m not sure if he knew that his father’s dementia and death were due to syphilis).

Structurally, it’s a slow burn with a hectic, but not a rushed, denouement. I noticed two things here - firstly the trademark HPL “cosmicism” comes in with the size of the underground cavern, and the regression through past lives that the narrator undergoes (at least, I assume that’s what it is). Secondly, there’s more than a hint of normal human feeling of a sort that’s often absent from HPL’s work, in the narrator’s outburst about his son’s death.

> 17 "Delapore really has selected only the very best people for his crew" - and I think it's characteristic of HPL's sometimes awkward writing style that he refers to them as "savants" - not once, in a slightly humourous or self-deprecating way (as I think almost any other writer would have done), but dead straight, "this is the correct name for these clever men and I'm going to keep using it without apology or embarrassment." I think the clearest example of this awkwardness is that moment in "The Call of Cthulhu" where he takes pains to set out how questions are raised and answered (re. the 1908 American Archaeological Society meeting).

Edited to add a word.

ag. 7, 2013, 3:09pm

> 18

Yeah, the Poe models loom huge here -- probably more than in any other HPL story I can think of.

ag. 7, 2013, 3:13pm

> 15

The delightful card game Cthulhu Gloom launders the name of its feline character to "Tigger-Man."

ag. 8, 2013, 2:12pm

A few observations.

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.

>18 housefulofpaper: Yes, the sound of the rats is like the beating heart in Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", but Lovecraft's "Cool Air" is probably most the most straightforward Poe imitation.

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).

Like others, 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 "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.

Editat: ag. 8, 2013, 5:17pm

> 18, 21
Yes the Poe is strong in this one. I thought it echoed "The Fall of the House of Usher" most strongly, although having used the house destroyed by a storm device in "The Picture in the House", we get the intentional demolishing of Exim Priory.

> 21
In addition to Nahum, I thought of Peaslee losing his family in "The Shadow Out of Time". These touches of personalizing the loss add nice bit of sadness to go along with the horror and makes Delapore's breakdown, with it's "He lived, but my boy died!", more powerful.

ag. 19, 2013, 10:24am

>16 Nicole_VanK:

No worries, Matthijs - I'm here really late! :D

Sorry if it seems like I've fallen off the face of the earth WT-wise, friends - as I was telling our fearless leader Kenton, it has just been crazy busy at my work lately.

The primary (and, I admit, rather selfish) reason I nominated this story in the first place is that I had always considered it to be my favorite HPL story, but I hadn't read it in a while and I wanted to see how it held up to Deep Ones-level scrutiny. The answer (for me, anyway) was "pretty damn well". The expostion and rising action of the tale are handled with a leisurely self-assurance that we seldom see in Lovecraft's other early fiction, and those last two paragraphs... well, let's just say that, in spite of the fact that I was sitting outside reading the story on a pleasant August afternoon, I literally had goosebumps all over when I was finished reading them. Surely this is as harrowing a depiction of a descent into madness as anything Poe ever wrote.

ag. 20, 2013, 8:00am

And if the unutterably strange laws of something we might call physics have allowed HPL to continue to exist somewhere, somewhen... well, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HOWARD!!!

feb. 1, 2014, 6:17pm

Just noticed that "The Rats in the Walls" was selected by Joyce Carol Oates for inclusion in 2013"s The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. I'm not totally surprised, given Oates's own gothic leanings and affinity for HPL, but it's still really nice to see. In her introduction to the story, she writes,"Lovecraft is credited with the fusion of the gothic tale and what would come to be defined as "science fiction" - a particular sort of dark fantasy tale that advances with unnerving psychological precision, a slow gathering of terrific forces that culminate, like the story included here, "The Rats in the Walls", in a revelation that is both personal and cultural".

She goes on to say, "Like his unhappy predecessor Poe, Lovecraft led a life marked by deep childhood traumas and scars, of which he could not speak directly but could express, indirectly, obsessively and passionately, through the bizarre metaphors of his voluminous fiction and nonfiction.

Keep in mind that this collection is not genre specific; it's simply "American Short Stories". Good for you, Grandpa!

Editat: feb. 1, 2020, 7:23am

As mentioned in two other HPL threads, this story can now be ticked off of my TBR list. Still to go, Whisperer in the Dark, etc. This makes eleven so my progress is slower than I'd hoped, but tortoise worthy. The full collection is still fairly daunting, so I have to move with the mood of the moment and bide my time. This was not a top five favourite but I'm still glad I read it. The comments are vast and valid.

Without a doubt, I preferred the setting to the plot or the characters. I liked the family taint theme, the lingering questions, the military son praised and mourned, but the priority of place for me held the story together. These are the images I remember, long after character names have faded. I need a 'geography' listing for these stories, to keep them straight, because that brands them more than the title even. Yep, strange beast am I. And no, travel books don't do it for me, as many have suggested. It seems to be what my imagination prefers to retain.