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The Shunned House by H.P. Lovecraft

Daemons and houses a concoction for a tale of terror from thee master Lovecraft.

“We boys used to overrun the place, and I can still recall my youthful terror not only at the morbid strangeness of sinister vegetation, but at the eldritch atmosphere and odour of the dilapidated house, whose unlocked front door was often entered in quest of shudders. The small-paned windows were largely broken, and a nameless air of desolation hung round the precarious panelling, shaky interior shutters, peeling wallpaper, falling plaster, rickety staircases, and such fragments of battered furniture as still remained. The
dust and cobwebs added their touch of the fearful;and brave indeed was the boy who would voluntarily ascend the ladder to the attic, a vast raftered length lighted only by small blinking windows in the gable ends, and filled with a massed wreckage of chests, chairs, and spinning-wheels which infinite years of deposit had shrouded and festooned into monstrous and hellish shapes.”

“He was at once a devil and a multitude, a charnel-house and a pageant. Lit by the mixed and uncertain beams, that gelatinous face assumed a dozen – a score – a hundred- aspects; grinning, as it sank to the
ground on a body that melted like tallow, in the caricatured likeness of legions strange and yet not strange.”

Wikipedia had this on his inspiration in writing this.

The Shunned House of the title is based on an actual house in Providence, Rhode Island, built around 1763 and still standing at 135 Benefit Street; Lovecraft was familiar with the house because his aunt, Lillian Clark, lived there in 1919-20 as a companion to Mrs. H. C. Babbit.

But it was another house in Elizabeth, New Jersey that actually provoked Lovecraft to write the story. As he wrote in a letter:

On the northeast corner of Bridge Street and Elizabeth Avenue is a terrible old house — a hellish place where night-black deeds must have been done in the early seventeen-hundreds — with a blackish unpainted surface, unnaturally steep roof, and an outside flight of stairs leading to the second story, suffocatingly embowered in a tangle of ivy so dense that one cannot but imagine it accursed or corpse-fed. It reminded me of the Babbit House in Benefit Street…. Later its image came up again with renewed vividness, finally causing me to write a new horror story with its scene in Providence and with the Babbit House as its basis.

It is interesting to note that this location is, at least at present, the site of a plaza named in honor of Winfield Scott, who was also the namesake of Lovecraft’s own father.

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 24 January 2012

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