The Lurking Fear

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"The Lurking Fear"
Author H. P. Lovecraft
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror short story
Published in Home Brew
Publication type Periodical
Media type Print (Magazine)
Publication date Jan-Apr, 1923

"The Lurking Fear" is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft in the horror fiction genre. Written in November 1922, it was first published in the January through April 1923 issues of Home Brew.[1]

Origin[edit]

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.

Plot[edit]

I. The Shadow On The Chimney[edit]

In 1921 an unnamed reporter and monster hunter travels to Tempest Mountain in the Catskills after reports of a massive attack of some unidentified being against the local hillside squatters reaches the media. A month before, a massive thunderstorm, even bigger than the ones that usually plague the area, had drifted across the mountains, and brought with it a disaster. The next morning, many homes had been destroyed, seemingly by the storm, but upon closer inspection, the destruction seemed to be by an attacking beast. The affected area, originally home to about 75 people, had been completely massacred, leaving no survivors. Gathering what intel he can from the locals, he finds out that most of the legends surround the foreboding Martense mansion, a century-old Dutch homestead, which had been disregarded by the police as it is apparently abandoned. The narrator, bringing with him two companions as his bodyguards, enter the mansion at night, just as 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 plans several modes 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 seemingly drifts off to sleep. The narrator wakes up to find both his companions missing, and in a flash of lightning sees a demonic shadow cast upon the fireplace chimney from a grotesque monster. Neither of his companions are ever seen again.

II. A Passer In The Storm[edit]

Traumatized by the disappearance of his friends, and by the disturbing shadow he saw in the fireplace, the narrator continues the investigation. He befriends another reporter named Arthur Monroe, and tells him of the things he has experienced so far. Munroe agrees to help him, and the two scour the countryside for any clues to the murderous creature and any remains of the Martenses. There is no trace of the evil family, but they manage to uncover an ancestral diary that had once belonged to them. All the while, the narrator has the constant feeling of being watched. However, they 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 doesnt move from the window, and when the narrator tries to rouse him, he finds him dead, with his face hideously mutilated by some unseen horror outside.

III. What The Red Glare Meant[edit]

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 had been built by Gerrit Martense, a dutch merchant from New Amsterdam who had disliked the British 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 the British and the colonial society as he did, and the isolationist and secluded family soon 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. With their connection to the outside world all but severed, the family soon grew to intermarrying with the various squatters and servants living about the estate. The resulting offspring would spread out across the valley and eventually became its current inhabitants 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 a hated 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 mountains 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, and 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 Martensens grave, hoping to find some way of setting his spirit to rest, but instead falls through the ground into a strange underground burrow. There, he briefly encounters a goblin-like creature in the shadows, which he sees through the light of his electric lamp. A sudden lightning strike hits the tunnel, allowing the narrator to escape, where he sees a distant red glare. Only days later does he find out what the glare is - another beastly horror had fallen into one of the cabins of the squatters, who trapped it inside and burned the cabin along with the monster.

IV. The Horror In The Eyes[edit]

Returning to Jan's grave, he finds that the burrow he fell into has completely caved in, and all traces of what he had found there is gone. Instead, he decides to investigate the strange mounds that 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 and the mansion must be honeycombed with monstrous passages. Struck by mania, he digs his way into the tunnel network through the mansion cellar, and finds a catacomb-like system of nests and tunnels. As another thunderstorm approaches, the narrator hides, and sees countless of the 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, and upon closer inspection, notices the creature's heterochromia and realizes that the deformed, hair-covered creature is in fact a member of the Martense family, who have degenerated into hideous ape-like beasts. 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 and the surrounding woods and hillside destroyed with explosives, but is never able to heal his mind from the horrors that he experienced.

Characters[edit]

The narrator[edit]

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 lurking fear, "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[edit]

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[edit]

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.[2]

Gerrit Martense[edit]

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 civilisation, 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.[3]

Jan Martense[edit]

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.[4]

Robert Suydam in The Horror at Red Hook lives in a "lonely house, set back from Martense Street."

Reaction[edit]

Comparing it to Lovecraft's earlier story in Home Brew, Lin Carter said that while "The Lurking Fear" is "a more serious study in traditional horror, it lacks the light, almost joyous touch of 'Herbert West.'"[5] The book Science-Fiction:The Early Years describes the story as "digressive and clumsily written, perhaps because it was written for serial publication". [6]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Straub, Peter (2005). Lovecraft: Tales. The Library of America. p. 823. ISBN 1-931082-72-3. 
  2. ^ Joshi and Schultz, pp. 160, 175-176.
  3. ^ Joshi and Schultz, pp. 59, 160.
  4. ^ Joshi and Schultz, p. 160.
  5. ^ Carter, pp. 28-29.
  6. ^ E. F. Bleiler and Richard Bleiler. Science-Fiction: The Early Years. Kent State University Press, 1990. (p.454). ISBN 9780873384162.

References[edit]

External links[edit]