Robert Harrison Blake
In Lovecraft's tale, Robert Blake is a young author and painter from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He comes to Providence, Rhode Island and moves into an apartment on College Street. While there, he completes five short stories: "The Burrower Beneath", "The Feaster from the Stars", "In the Vale of Pnath", "Shaggai", and "The Stairs in the Crypt". He becomes obsessed with a deserted church on Federal Hill across the street from his residence. He later learns of a cult that was once active there, the Church of Starry Wisdom. His investigation of this cult inevitably leads to his death.
Lovecraft based Robert Blake on one of his correspondents, the teenage Robert Bloch who had just begun his career as a writer of horror and science fiction. In the story, Lovecraft even had Blake residing at Bloch's real-life address at the time: 620 E. Knapp Street, Milwaukee.
The development of the Robert Blake character has a notable backstory. The character first appeared as the unnamed narrator of Bloch's "The Shambler from the Stars" (1935). Before he wrote the tale, Bloch thought it would be amusing to kill off a character based on Lovecraft. Lovecraft consented to the idea and gave his permission in the form of a satirical letter, signed by Lovecraft himself and "attested" by several of his creations: Abdul Alhazred, Gespard du Nord, Frederich von Juntz, and the "Tcho-Tcho Lama of Leng" (possibly referring to the High Priest Not to Be Described). The body of the letter appears as follows:
This is to certify that Robert Bloch, Esq., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A.—reincarnation of Meinheer Ludvig Prinn, author of De Vermis Mysteriis—is fully authorised to portray, murder, annihilate, disintegrate, transfigure, metamorphose, or otherwise manhandle the undersigned in the tale entitled The Shambler from the Stars.
In Bloch's story, the Lovecraft-based character becomes the ill-fated victim of an invisible, vampiric monster summoned from the depths of outer space. Lovecraft was delighted by the story and returned the favor by killing off Robert Bloch, aka Robert Blake, in "The Haunter of the Dark". Years later, Bloch wrote a sequel to "The Haunter of the Dark" entitled "The Shadow from the Steeple" (1950) in which Robert Blake's death is investigated by his friend Edmund Fiske.
Robert M. Price believes that Robert Blake is not merely a counterpart to Robert Bloch, but is actually a combination of three different people: Bloch, Lovecraft himself, and Clark Ashton Smith. As one example, Price notes that the dwelling that Blake occupies in Providence parallels Lovecraft's own apartment. Furthermore, Blake, like Smith, is a skilled painter and produces bizarre "studies of nameless, unhuman monsters, and profoundly alien, non-terrestrial landscapes." Lovecraft sometimes mentioned Smith's art in his own stories whenever he wanted to feature a weird setting or the reproduction of one. In the "The Haunter of the Dark", however, Price believes that Lovecraft took the notion one step further and depicted Smith himself as one of the three aspects of Robert Blake.
The five short story titles
Other mythos authors have attempted to supply text for Blake's fictional titles, perhaps writing them as Blake himself might have. Robert M. Price argues that at least three of these titles have already been written. First, "The Feaster from the Stars" is obviously a parallel to Bloch's "The Shambler from the Stars" (a title Lovecraft suggested to Bloch). Second, "The Stairs in the Crypt" appears to be a cross between two of Bloch's short stories: "The Grinning Ghoul" and "The Secret in the Crypt". Lastly, "The Burrower Beneath" is similar to "The Blasphemy Beneath", an early story that Bloch sent to Lovecraft for review.
Price believes that Blake's "In the Vale of Pnath" is another name for Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926), since in the story Randolph Carter is carried to the Underworld and soon realizes that he is "in the vale of Pnath".
"Shaggai" may parallel Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness" (1931). Since in "The Haunter of the Dark" Lovecraft says that Shaggai lies beyond Yuggoth, he is adding yet another planet to the solar system, essentially a new version of Yuggoth. Since Lovecraft often repackaged his mythos creations in the revision stories he wrote for other authors, Price believes that "Shaggai" is the kind of story that Lovecraft would have ghostwritten if "Robert Blake" had been his client.
- Robert Bloch (1917–1994) is best known as the author of the novel Psycho, on which the Alfred Hitchcock film is based.
- Pearsall, "Blake, Robert Harrison", The Lovecraft Lexicon, p. 87.
- Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, pp. 116–7.
- Carter, p. 120.
- Carter, p. 123.
- Lovecraft, "The Haunter of the Dark", The Dunwich Horror and Others, p. 94.
- Price, "The Works of Robert Blake", Crypt of Cthulhu #80, p. 30.
- Price, "About 'The Burrower Beneath'", The Book of Eibon, p. 191.
- For Ramsey Campbell's take on Shaggai, see Insect from Shaggai.
- Price, "The Works of Robert Blake", p. 31.
- Lovecraft, Howard P. "The Haunter of the Dark (1936)" in The Dunwich Horror and Others, S. T. Joshi (ed.), Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1984. ISBN 0-87054-037-8. Definitive version.
- Carter, Lin. Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1972.
- Pearsall, Anthony B. The Lovecraft Lexicon (1st ed.), Tempe, AZ: New Falcon Pub., 2005. ISBN 1-56184-129-3.
- Price, Robert M. "About 'The Burrower Beneath'", The Book of Eibon (1st ed.), Chaosium, Inc., 2002. ISBN 1-56882-129-8.
- Price, Robert M. (Eastertide 1992). "The Works of Robert Blake". Crypt of Cthulhu #80: A Post-structuralist Thriller and Theological Journal 11 (2). Check date values in:
|date=(help) Robert M. Price (ed.), West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press.
- Works related to The Haunter of the Dark at Wikisource