Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Horror at Red Hook

Novelette by H.P. Lovecraft

Detective Malone was caught in a building collapse and now screams and runs at the sight of tall buildings. The story is about how Malone developed his phobia. He is apparently "sensitive" to magic and mysterious happenings, sort of a prohibition era Agent Mulder. He, like Lovecraft, is big believer in the theories from The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, and believes that there remains one big cult among all the foreigners in New York.

Malone was assigned to investigate the smuggling of illegal Kurdish immigrants into Red Hook, and later he investigates an epidemic of child kidnappings. Both cases lead to Robert Suydam and the weird rituals he and his immigrant friends participate in. It's actually a fairly creepy story with some weird twists, but the cultish phrases and whatnot all come verbatim from the Encyclopedia Britannica, which is less exciting than Lovecraft's usual occult flavor. The conclusion is the other disappointment, and on reflection, the entire story makes zero sense.

The incident on the boat seems unlikely, and a terrible way to orchestrate things, relying on a lot of stupidity and perfect coordination which could have been much more easily accomplished in Suydam's house or something. The thing with the pedestal makes no damn sense at all, nor does Suydam's last-minute change-of-heart. And the whole concept of Lilith and a demon-marriage just isn't that scary. And it's surprising coming from an atheist like Lovecraft. Touches like the children who burn up in sunlight, pregnant kidnapped women, Suydam's magical rejuvenation, and the building collapses just seem tacked on, irrelevant, and built up as a lot more significant than they should be given the lack of discussion or development.

Even for Lovecraft, the story is long and rambling (as he points out himself in a letter) and the language is even more overwrought than usual. It's also pretty racist and xenophobic. I could go on complaining for longer, but the point is that this isn't a very good story.

Still, I like it more than a lot of people do. It certainly isn't the worst of Lovecraft, and I feel "The Horror at Red Hook" is underrated in the sense that it is a bad story with some merit, rather than having nothing to offer at all. I don't feel that racism is the entire point and the concept of a secret cult in the city with underground boat passages for smuggling and secret movement is a fun concept with room for horror, if not terribly original. I guess the main redeeming quality is in the description. I find the scene with the claw marks on the boat pretty scary (even if it doesn't make much sense), and the concept and descriptions of the caverns and underground waterways is pretty nice. So it is maybe worth reading if you like Lovecraft a lot, but certainly one of his worse pieces. "The Rats in the Walls" has some nice cavern description, and is a hell of a lot cooler and more original.

2.5 out of 5 immigrant children were recovered in the police raid.

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