Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Strange High House in the Mist

"In the morning mist comes up from the sea by the cliffs beyond Kingsport. White and feathery it comes from the deep to its brothers the clouds, full of dreams and dank pastures and caves of leviathan."

By 1926, H.P. Lovecraft had all but abandoned the writing of fantasy tales inspired by the works of Lord Dunsany for his tales of cosmic horror, the better known Chthulhu mythos stories. And yet on November 9th, 1926, Lovecraft penned one of his most haunting and poetic stories, The Strange High House in the Mist.
The small, coastal New England town of Kingsport is backed by high cliffs. One soaring, unclimbable cliff is the focus of the tale. It is so high and so sheer that they fear it because "it is so near the sky." However, despite this, there is an ancient house on the top of the cliff and "at evening men see lights in the small-paned windows."
No one in the memory of the town has ever gone to this house, and the residents of Kingsport think that's best, but a newcomer, a philosopher named Thomas Olney, becomes fascinated by the house and decides to see if he can reach it from the landward side. he travels many miles inland and then crosses woods and fields, climbing ever upward. Finally he must make his way into a deep chasm and back up the other side before finding himself at the rear of the house.
Approaching the structure he learns that the front door is flush with the edge of the cliff and there's no way to reach it. he is almost relieved but then a window opens and the houses inhabitant invites him inside.
The most amazing thing about this story is the language. People often talk of the clunkiness of Lovecraft's prose, but there's no sign of that here. The writing is elegant and poetic and it draws the reader in and carries him along on strange tides.
And even though this is not a horror tale, there is one chilling moment when the gray sea mists have closed about the house and something come knocking at the front door where nothing could possibly stand and knock. Whatever it is, the young man with ancient eyes who lives in the house fears it and he motions Olney to silence. While they wait, the thing leaves the door and tries every window before going away. Gooseflesh abounded during my reading of this part.
Anyway, if your knowledge of Lovecraft is limited to Cthulhu and the gang, seek out his fantasy tales, The Cats of Ulthar, The White Ship, The Doom that Came to Sarnath, and of course, The Strange High House in the Mist.

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