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Howard Phillips Lovecraft - The Rats in the Walls (144.0 Kb)

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"The Rats in the Walls" is a short story written by H. P. Lovecraft. Written August-September 1923, it was first published in Weird Tales, March 1924."The Rats in the Walls" is narrated by the scion of the Delapore family, who has moved from Massachusetts to his ancestral estate in England, known as Exham Priory. On several occasions, the protagonist and his cats, specifically his favorite cat, "Nigger-man", hear the eponymous sounds of rats scurrying behind the walls. Upon investigating further, he finds that his family mai... More >>>
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Category 1:  Horror Tales
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Author:      Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Format:      eBook
"The Rats in the Walls" is a short story written by H. P. Lovecraft. Written August-September 1923, it was first published in Weird Tales, March 1924.

"The Rats in the Walls" is narrated by the scion of the Delapore family, who has moved from Massachusetts to his ancestral estate in England, known as Exham Priory. On several occasions, the protagonist and his cats, specifically his favorite cat, "Nigger-man", hear the eponymous sounds of rats scurrying behind the walls. Upon investigating further, he finds that his family maintained an underground city for centuries and that the inhabitants of the city fed on human flesh, even going so far as to raise generations of human cattle, who eventually began to de-evolve due to their sub-human living conditions. (Another possibility is that Lovecraft is providing a suggestion of the fate of early pre-human Homininae species following the rise of Homo sapiens). In the end, the protagonist, unknowingly maddened by the revelations of his family's past and driven by the stronger force of his own heritage, attacks one of his friends in the dark of the cavernous city and begins eating him. He is subsequently subdued and locked in a mental institution. Soon after, Exham Priory is destroyed. The protagonist of the story maintains his innocence, proclaiming that it was the rats, the rats in the walls, who ate the man. The rats still persist, however, as he continues to be plagued by the sounds and sights of rats in the walls of his cell.

Long after writing "The Rats in the Walls", Lovecraft wrote that the story was "suggested by a very commonplace incident -- the cracking of wall-paper late at night, and the chain of imaginings resulting from it." Another entry in Lovecraft's commonplace book also seems to provide a plot germ for the story: "Horrible secret in crypt of ancient castle--discovered by dweller."

The idea of a character reverting to ancestral speech may have come from Irvin S. Cobb's story "The Unbroken Chain", published in the September 1923 issue of Cosmopolitan. The story depicts a Frenchman with a small percentage of African descent shouting out "Niama tumba!" when struck by a train -- the same words spoken by a distant African ancestor attacked by a rhinoceros.

Critic Steven J. Mariconda points to Sabine Baring-Gould's Curious Myths of the Middle Ages (1862-68) as a source for Lovecraft's story. The description of the cavern under the priory has many similarities to Baring-Gould's account of St. Patrick's Purgatory, a legendary Irish holy site, and the story of the priory's rats sweeping across the landscape may have been inspired by the book's retelling of the legend of Bishop Hatto, who was devoured by rats after he set fire to starving peasants during a famine. See the story of the Mouse Tower of Bingen.

The Gaelic quoted at the end of the story is borrowed from Fiona Macleod's "The Sin-Eater" Macleod included a footnote that translated the passage as: "God against thee and in thy face... and may a death of woe be yours.... Evil and sorrow to thee and thine!" Lovecraft wrote to Frank Belknap Long, "[T]he only objection to the phrase is that it's Gaelic instead of Cymric as the south-of-England locale demands. But as with anthropology -- details don't count. Nobody will ever stop to note the difference." Robert E. Howard, however, wrote a letter in 1930 to Weird Tales suggesting that the language choice reflected "Lluyd's theory as to the settling of Britain by the Celts" -- a note that, passed on to Lovecraft, initiated their voluminous correspondence.

About Author:

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890 - March 15, 1937) was an American author of horror, fantasy, and science fiction, known then simply as weird fiction.

HP Lovecraft was one of the early exponents of horror fantasy, best known for the series of works known collectively as the Cthulhu Mythos. He peppered his books with references to an occult work called The Necronomicon, and, as his fame grew, he was besieged by readers asking where they could find a copy of it. But the truth was that Lovecraft had invented the book and its title. He wrote in a letter of 1937: 'The name Necronomicon (necros, corpse; nomos, law; eikon, image = An Image of the Law of the Dead) occurred to me in the course of a dream, although the etymology is perfectly sound.' So the title came before everything else, and substituted, perfectly reasonably, for the work itself.

This is a game that many writers have played, and the history of literature is full of references to books that don't, in fact, exist. Margaret Atwood, AS Byatt, Dorothy L Sayers, Frank Herbert, Martin Amis, Arthur Conan Doyle and many, many others have all joined in. Some of my favourite fictional titles are from Kurt Vonnegut, who, as Kilgore Trout, writes non-existent works such as The Barring-Gaffner of Bagnialto, or This Year's Masterpiece, which are usually accompanied by helpful plot summaries. Perhaps the most notorious fictional-book-inventors have been writers such as Umberto Eco and Jorge Luis Borges; naturally enough, since their writing often draws attention to literature as itself an artefact.

With the Necronomicon there was a difference, however. Other writers began to treat it as if it really did exist, quoting from the nonexistent work and even composing large sections of it; several Necronomicons were in fact later published, by hoaxers including L. Sprague De Camp and Colin Wilson.

Lovecraft's major inspiration and invention was cosmic horror, the idea that life is incomprehensible to human minds and that the universe is fundamentally alien. Those who genuinely reason, like his protagonists, gamble with sanity. Lovecraft has developed a cult following for his Cthulhu Mythos, a series of loosely interconnected fiction featuring a pantheon of human-nullifying entities, as well as the Necronomicon, a fictional grimoire of magical rites and forbidden lore. His works were deeply pessimistic and cynical, challenging the values of the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Christian humanism. Lovecraft's protagonists usually achieve the mirror-opposite of traditional gnosis and mysticism by momentarily glimpsing the horror of ultimate reality.

Although Lovecraft's readership was limited during his life, his reputation has grown over the decades, and he is now commonly regarded as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century, who together with Edgar Allan Poe has exerted "an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction". Stephen King has called Lovecraft "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.