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Howard Phillips Lovecraft - The Shunned House (194.0 Kb)

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"The Shunned House" is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft in the horror fiction genre. Written on October 16-19, 1924, it was first published in the October 1937 issue of Weird Tales.The Shunned House of the title is based on an actual house in Providence, Rhode Island, built around 1763 and still standing at 135 Benefit Street Lovecraft was familiar with the house because his aunt, Lillian Clark, lived there in 1919-20 as a companion to Mrs. H. C. Babbit.But it was another house in Elizabeth, New Jersey that actually prov... More >>>
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Category 1:  Horror Tales
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Author:      Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Format:      eBook
"The Shunned House" is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft in the horror fiction genre. Written on October 16-19, 1924, it was first published in the October 1937 issue of Weird Tales.

The Shunned House of the title is based on an actual house in Providence, Rhode Island, built around 1763 and still standing at 135 Benefit Street Lovecraft was familiar with the house because his aunt, Lillian Clark, lived there in 1919-20 as a companion to Mrs. H. C. Babbit.

But it was another house in Elizabeth, New Jersey that actually provoked Lovecraft to write the story. As he wrote in a letter:

On the northeast corner of Bridge Street and Elizabeth Avenue is a terrible old house -- a hellish place where night-black deeds must have been done in the early seventeen-hundreds -- with a blackish unpainted surface, unnaturally steep roof, and an outside flight of stairs leading to the second story, suffocatingly embowered in a tangle of ivy so dense that one cannot but imagine it accursed or corpse-fed. It reminded me of the Babbit House in Benefit Street.... Later its image came up again with renewed vividness, finally causing me to write a new horror story with its scene in Providence and with the Babbit House as its basis.

It is interesting to note that this location is, at least at present, the site of a plaza named in honor of Winfield Scott, who was also the namesake of Lovecraft's own father.

For many years the protagonist and his uncle, Dr. Elihu Whipple, have nurtured a fascination with an old, abandoned house on Benefit Street. Dr. Whipple has made extensive records tracking the mysterious, yet apparently coincidental sickness and death of many who have lived in the house for over one hundred years. They are also puzzled by the strange weeds growing in the yard, as well as the unexplained foul smell and whitish, phosphorescent fungi growing in the cellar.

After the protagonist discovers a strange, yellowish vapour in the basement, which seems to be coupled with a moldy outline of a huddled human form on the floor, he and his uncle decide to spend the night in the house, investigating the possibility of some supernatural force. They set up cots and chairs in the cellar, arm themselves with military flamethrowers, and outfit a modified Crookes tube in the hopes of destroying any supernatural presence they might find.

When Dr. Whipple naps while the protagonist keeps watch, he begins tossing and turning, and finally starts babbling in French until he suddenly awakes. He tells the protagonist he has had strange visions of lying in an open pit, inside a house with constantly shifting features, while faces stared down at him. Many of the faces were those of the Harris family, whose members died in the house.

When the protagonist sleeps, he is awakened by a terrible scream. He sees a revolting yellowish "corpse-light" bubbling up from the floor, which stares at him with many eyes before vanishing in a wisp through the chimney. He finds his uncle transformed into a monster with "blackened, decaying features" and dripping claws. He turns on the Crookes tube, but seeing that it has no effect, escapes the house through the cellar door as his uncle's body dissolves, transforming into a multitude of faces of those who died in the house as it melts. The protagonist returns the next day to find his equipment intact, but no body.

The protagonist hatches a plan. He orders a military gas mask, digging tools, and six carboys of sulfuric acid to be delivered to the cellar door of the shunned house. He digs into the earthen floor of the cellar, turning up fungous yellow ooze, and arranges the barrels of acid around the hole in the belief that he will happen upon some kind of monstrous creature. Eventually, he uncovers a soft, blue-white, translucent tube, bent in half and two feet in diameter at its widest point. He frantically climbs out of the neck-deep hole and dumps in four barrels of acid, realizing that he had found the elbow of a gigantic monster. The protagonist faints after emptying the fourth barrel.

When he awakens, the protagonist empties the two remaining barrels, to no effect, replaces the dirt, and finds that the strange fungus has turned to harmless ash. He mourns his uncle, but is relieved to be sure that the horrible creature is finally dead. The protagonist records that the house has subsequently been rented to another family, and that the house now appears completely normal.

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.