The Descendant (short story)
|Author||H. P. Lovecraft|
|Genre(s)||Horror short story|
"The Descendant" is a story fragment by American horror fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft, believed to have been written in 1927. It was first published in the journal Leaves in 1938, after Lovecraft's death.
Lovecraft may have been referring to this attempt at a story when he wrote that he was "making a very careful study of London...in order to get background for tales involving richer antiquities than America can furnish."
Lord Northam is a "harmlessly mad" Londoner who "screams when the church bells ring." Once a "scholar and aesthete" who studied at Harrow and Oxford, he has become "thin and grey and wrinkled" before his time and "seeks...not to think" through "books of the tamest and most puerile kind". He only begins to explain the fear he lives under when confronted with a copy of the Necronomicon.
The details of the character evoke two of Lovecraft's favorite British writers: He lives in Gray's Inn, where Arthur Machen lived for many years, and is the "nineteenth Baron of a line whose beginnings went uncomfortably far back into the past", recalling Lord Dunsany, who was the eighteenth baron of a line founded in the 12th century.
Northam's sampling of various worldviews is similar to Randolph Carter's quest for meaning in Lovecraft's "The Silver Key". Northam's description as "a dreamer who found life tame and unsatisfying" also links him to Carter.
Northam is also linked to Lovecraft's "The Nameless City," perhaps even being the main character therein: "He would travel leagues to follow up a furtive village tale of abnormal wonder, and once went into the desert of Araby to seek a Nameless City of faint report, which no man has ever beheld. There rose within him the tantalising faith that somewhere an easy gate existed, which if one found would admit him freely to those outer deeps whose echoes rattled so dimly at the back of his memory."
A 23-year-old "dreamer" whose "love of the bizarre" has been manifest since he was 16, when he learned about the Necronomicon from a bent old bookseller in Chandos Street. He finally buys a copy at an "absurdly slight" price from a "gnarled old Levite" whose bookshop is in "the squalid precincts of Clare Market". He is attracted to the "breath of cosmic wind" he senses around Lord Northam.
Lunaeus Gabinius Capito
The reputed ancestor of the Northam line, he was military tribune in the Third Augustan Legion, which Lovecraft places at Lindum in Roman Britain. (Lovecraft mentions the same Roman unit in "The Rats in the Walls", where it is based in the fictional town of Anchester; the Third Legion was actually based in Damascus.) Gabinius was "summarily expelled from his command for participation in certain rites unconnected with any known religion", rituals he had learned "in a cliffside cavern where strange folk met together and made the Elder Sign in the dark"—remnants of the people who fled an Atlantis-like lost continent and built Stonehenge.
Legend had it that Gabinius "built an impregnable fortress over the forbidden cave", apparently on the Yorkshire coast. (This "ancient hereditary castle" of "reputed Roman origin" with "supposed under crypts, hewn out of the solid crag that frowns on the North Sea" is markedly similar to Exham Priory in Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls".) Gabinius founded "a line which Pict and Saxon, Dane and Norman were powerless to obliterate;" a scion of this line may have been made the first Baron of Northam in the time of Edward III.
- Joshi and Schulz, p. 66.
- "H. P. Lovecraft's 'The Descendant'", The H. P. Lovecraft Archive.
- H. P. Lovecraft, letter to August Derleth, April 15, 1927; cited in Joshi and Schultz, p. 66.
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