The Lurking Fear
|"The Lurking Fear"|
|Author||H. P. Lovecraft|
|Published in||Home Brew|
|Media type||Print (magazine)|
|Publication date||January-April 1923|
I. The Shadow on the Chimney
In 1921, an unnamed reporter and local monster-hunter travels to Tempest Mountain, in the Catskills range, after reports of various attacks by a group of unidentified creatures against the local inhabitants reaches the media. A month before, a massive thunderstorm, even larger than the ones which usually plague the region, had drifted across the mountains, and brought with it destruction. The next morning, many homes were destroyed, seemingly by the storm, but upon closer inspection, the destruction seemed to be left by an enraged beast. The affected area, originally home to only 75 citizens, was completely destroyed, leaving no survivors. Gathering what information he can from the locals, he finds out that most of the legends surround the foreboding Martense mansion, a century-old Dutch homestead, which has been disregarded by the police as it's apparently abandoned. The narrator, bringing with him two companions as his bodyguards, enters the mansion at night, just when another thunderstorm approaches, and takes up residence in the room of Jan Martense, a member of the family believed to have been murdered. The mansion is completely deserted, but the narrator and his friends take precautions and plan several methods of escape, in case they are attacked during the night by whatever force haunts the house. Despite their careful preparation, keeping watch in shifts and sleeping armed, the group eventually drift off to sleep. The narrator wakes up to discover both his companions missing and, in a flash of lightning, witnesses a demonic shadow briefly cast upon the mansion's chimney by a grotesque monster. Neither of his companions are ever seen again.
II. A Passer in the Storm
Traumatized by the disappearance of his two friends, and the disturbing shadow he viewed in the fireplace, the narrator continues his investigation. He befriends another reporter named Arthur Munroe, and tells him of the things he has experienced so far. Munroe agrees to help him, and the two scour across the countryside for any clues to the murderous creature or possible remains of the Martenses. There is no trace of the mysterious family, but they manage to uncover an ancestral diary which once belonged to them. All the while, the narrator has the constant feeling of being watched. However, he and Arthur are trapped by yet another thunderstorm, and seek shelter in an abandoned cabin, where the narrator thinks back of the horrible events back at the mansion. As an unusually large thunderbolt clashes across the sky, Munroe walks over to the window to survey the damage, and the storm soon clears up. However, Munroe doesn't move from the window, and when the narrator tries to rouse him, he finds his face hideously gnawed away by some unseen horror outside.
III. What the Red Glare Meant
The story now skips to several months later, as the narrator returns to Tempest Mountain, determined to solve the mystery once and for all. He never told anyone what happened to Arthur Munroe, having buried his body in the woods and told everyone that he had simply wandered off and disappeared in the wilderness. Now convinced that the horror plaguing the mountain is connected to the Martense family, the narrator believes it to be the ghost of Jan Martense, and has spent the past weeks studying up on the family's history. The mansion was built by Gerrit Martense, a Dutch merchant from New Amsterdam who disliked the British Empire taking over the North American colonies, and constructed the mansion in 1670 in the remote woods to take advantage of its solitude.
There, Martense raised his descendants to loathe both the British and the colonial society as he did. Soon, the isolated and secluded family grew increasingly insular. Most notable about them, aside from their sour and unpleasant behavior, was a hereditary eye-trait, having one blue and one brown iris. With their connection to the outside world all but severed, the family soon grew to intermarrying with the various squatters and servants living around the estate. The resulting offspring would spread out across the valley and eventually became the current population of mountain men, but the core family stuck to their mansion, becoming increasingly clan-like and insular. Jan Martense, struck by an unusual restlessness, had joined the colonial army, and he was the only source of information on the rest of the family that had ever reached the outside world. However, upon returning home six years later, he found himself treated as an outsider, and he made plans to leave, which he told a friend about in letters.
These letters soon stopped however, and when his friend arrived to the mansion in 1763, he was told that Jan had died after getting struck by lightning during one of the mountain's wild thunderstorms. Jan's friend did not believe this, especially due to the Martenses disturbing and cold behavior, and exhumed the grave. Jan's remains made the cause of death all too obvious - his skull had been crushed by a savage blow. Though the Martenses were not convicted of murder due to lack of evidence, this was the last straw, and the family was completely shunned by their neighbors. The Martenses soon disappeared entirely, the only signs of their continued existence being an occasional light seen in the windows of the mansion, which was last seen in 1810. In 1816, a posse searched the mansion, but found no trace of the Martenses, who had seemingly disappeared. The mansion itself was in complete disarray, and had several improvised additions, as it seemed like the family had kept expanding, presumably through inbreeding.
The narrator finds his way to the mansion, and digs up Jan Martense's grave, hoping to find some way of setting his spirit to rest, but instead falls through the ground into a mysterious subterranean burrow. There, he briefly encounters a goblin-like creature lurking in the shadows, which he views through the light of his gas-lamp. A sudden lightning-strike hits the tunnel, allowing the narrator to quickly escape, where he sees a distant red glare. Only days later, does he find out what the glare is - a burning cabin with one of the creatures inside.
IV. The Horror in the Eyes
Returning to Jan's grave, he finds that the burrow he previously fell into has completely caved-in, and all traces of what he had found there are gone. Instead, he decides to investigate the strange mounds which surround the mansion, and its connection to the creature. While observing from afar, he realizes that the mounds are in fact tunnels made by the creatures, and that the entire hillside along with the mansion must be honeycombed with monstrous passages. Struck by mania, he digs his way into the one of the tunnels through the mansion's cellar, and finds a catacomb-like system of both nests and tunnels. As another thunderstorm approaches, the narrator hides, and sees countless creatures emerge from the ground. The narrator then sees one of the weaker members of the grotesque mob get attacked and eaten by one of its compatriots. He shoots one of the creatures as it straggles behind the rest of the pack, using a clap of thunder to disguise the muzzle blast. Soon, upon closer inspection, he notices the creature's heterochromia and realizes that the deformed, hair-covered creature is in fact a member of the Martense family, who have devolved into hideous ape-like beasts thanks to centuries of isolation and inbreeding. The narrator remembers nothing more, until he wakes up some time later in a nearby village. Thoroughly traumatized by his experiences, the narrator has the mansion, surrounding woods, and hillside destroyed with explosives, but is never able to heal his mind from the horrors that he experienced, always fearing that one of the Martense creatures may have survived.
- The narrator: The unnamed narrator describes himself as "a connoisseur in horrors", one whose "love of the grotesque and the terrible... has made my career a series of quests for strange horrors in literature and in life." He reports that following his encounter with the Martense creatures, "I cannot see a well or a subway entrance without shuddering"—an example of the phobias that often afflict Lovecraft's protagonists as a result of their experiences.
- George Bennett and William Tobey: Described by the narrator as "two faithful and muscular men...long associated with me in my ghastly explorations because of their peculiar fitness."
- Arthur Munroe: A reporter who comes to the village of Lefferts Corners to cover the lurking fear, he is described as "a dark, lean man of about thirty-five, whose education, taste, intelligence, and temperament all seemed to mark him as one not bound to conventional ideas and experiences."
- The name Munroe may derive from Lovecraft's childhood friends, the brothers Chester and Harold Munroe. Harold had gotten back in touch with Lovecraft a little more than a year before "The Lurking Fear" was written, and they had revisited a clubhouse they had constructed together as boys.
- Gerrit Martense: Gerrit Martense is "a wealthy New-Amsterdam merchant who disliked the changing order under British rule". He built the Martense mansion in 1670 "on a remote woodland summit whose untrodden solitude and unusual scenery pleased him." His descendants, who are "reared in hatred of the English civilization, and trained to shun such of the colonists as accepted it," are distinguished by having one brown and one blue eye.
- Martense is an old New Amsterdam name; there is a Martense Street in Flatbush, Brooklyn, near Sonia Greene's apartment where Lovecraft stayed in April 1922.
- Jan Martense: Jan Martense is "the first of Gerrit's descendants to see much of the world"; he joins the colonial army in 1754, after hearing of the Albany Congress, a meeting that attempted to unite the North American colonies. When he returns to the Martense mansion in 1760, he is treated as an outsider by his family; he finds he can no longer "share the peculiarities and prejudices of the Martenses, while the very mountain thunderstorms failed to intoxicate him as they had before." When a friend looks for him in 1763, his relatives say that he had been struck by lightning and killed the previous autumn; when the friend, suspicious, digs up Jan's unmarked grave, he discovers "a skull crushed cruelly as if by savage blows." Though acquitted of his murder, the Martenses are ostracized and the mansion appears to have been abandoned by 1810. Investigators in 1816 found the place more like an animal's den than a stately manor.
- The Jans Martense Schenck house in Flatbush, built 1656, is the oldest surviving house in New York City. Robert Suydam in "The Horror at Red Hook" lives in a "lonely house, set back from Martense Street."
Like "Herbert West–Reanimator", earlier published in Home Brew, "The Lurking Fear" was solicited by editor George Julian Houtain expressly to be published as a serial. Unlike with "Herbert West", however, Houtain ran recaps of the story so far with each installment after the first, relieving Lovecraft of the need for objectionable repetition.
Comparing it to Lovecraft's earlier story in Home Brew, Lin Carter wrote that while "The Lurking Fear" is "a more serious study in traditional horror, it lacks the light, almost joyous touch of 'Herbert West.'" E. F. Bleiler's and Richard Bleiler's book Science-Fiction: The Early Years describes the story as "digressive and clumsily written, perhaps because it was written for serial publication".
- The Lurking Fear, a 2016 comic book adaptation.
- Dark Heritage, a 1989 film adaptation.
- The Lurking Fear, a 1994 film adaptation.
- Bleeders, a 1997 film adaptation.
- The Lurking Fear, a 2019 radio drama adaptation by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society
- Straub, Peter (2005). Lovecraft: Tales. The Library of America. p. 823. ISBN 1-931082-72-3.
- Joshi and Schultz, pp. 160, 175-176.
- Joshi and Schultz, pp. 59, 160.
- Joshi and Schultz, p. 160.
- Carter, pp. 28-29.
- E. F. Bleiler and Richard Bleiler. Science-Fiction: The Early Years. Kent State University Press, 1990. (p.454). ISBN 9780873384162.
- Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos.
- S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia.
- H. P. Lovecraft, "The Lurking Fear", Dagon and Other Macabre Tales.
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