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Blogging With HPL: The Mystery of the Grave-Yard (1898)

Oh! Terrors!

This was not the easiest story to follow, although, on the plus side, it does represent a development in complexity from our previous offerings. S.T. Joshi basically summarizes this as a miniature dime novel tale, and I agree. My encapsulation of the story below attempts to reduce Joshi's to an even smaller whole:

At his own funeral, a man named Joseph Burns requests that the rector of his small town, Dobson, drop a ball onto a marked spot on his tomb. Doing this, the rector disappears. Another man, Bell, goes to Dobson's daughter's house and claims he can bring Dobson back for 10,000 pounds. The daughter summons our protagonist, King John, who arrives improbably quickly to find that Bell has defenestrated himself, escaping onto a train to the nearest large city. King John responds by offering a nearby black hackman (the first person of color to be featured in any of Lovecraft's work to this date?), and gets to the city just in time to arrest Bell and thwart his further escape. At the trial, it is revealed that Dobson fell down a trapdoor when he dropped the ball in the tomb, and stayed in an apartment down there till he effected his own escape with a wax impression of a key. Bell is imprisoned, the daughter marries King John, all is well, etc, etc.

Yes, it's true - this is a clone of a dime novel. We have a lot of new genre motifs pointing to this: the heretofore unseen narrative switching, the sudden mention of marriage and a love interest where before, Lovecraft used no female characters outside of mothers or babies, and the sensational stretching of practicality where before Lovecraft's interest lay in the practical consequences of fanciful things (ex. the little glass bottle scolding the sailors, or John Lees' sister dying for his sense of curiosity). It's obvious that Lovecraft got these story elements from copying and developing on pulps of the day, as opposed to necessarily arriving at these genre sensibilities himself. This is a problem that would plague Lovecraft throughout his career: his simultaneous recognition of the pulps as a hindrance to stylistic development, and his enjoyment of them for pure reading pleasure. The following points to this end may be of use for further analysis of Lovecraft's work:

  1. First and most obviously, this is the first story that makes it clear how useful it is to scan Lovecraft's further work for contemporaneous pulp influences of the time.
  2. In spite of himself, and in spite of his own disdain for crappy pulp writing (more on that in future installments, trust me), Lovecraft let some of the whizz-bang genre features seep into his work, either from a need to sell work to make a dime or sheer accident. While pieces like "The Horror At Red Hook" or "The Dreams In The Witch-House" are the most potent examples of this, we even see it in less 'pulpy' works of his, such as "Herbert West - Reanimator" and its... everything. (That might not have been the best example, bear with me.) Some of Lovecraft's more unusual narrative choices in otherwise less-pulpy works, such as, arguably, the nested narration in "The Call of Cthulhu", or the (irritating) habit of writing out the sounds of characters' accents during monologues, can be explained through Lovecraft's falling back on pulp tropes due to how instrumental they were in his early creative life.

  3. One of the sources that informed how Lovecraft began to portray women and people of color in his work is pulp fiction of the era.
  4. I speak delicately here, because clearly it wasn't the only thing that informed his beliefs by a long shot. However, one of the main sources of how Lovecraft just began to portray minorities of various types in his work was their portrayal in pulps of the time. I draw this conclusion predominantly from this, a dime-novel copy, being the first story of young Lovecraft's to have ever used either a love interest or a person of color in any regard. In this specific context, the love interest is even more jarring (client of the protagonist solving a mystery - you can almost hear the noir music overlaid upon his words as he descrcibes the despair of the town of Mainville...) Anyway. It's clear that the first major informant Lovecraft's narrative treatment of minorities in his fiction was the dime-novels he read. This is interesting to watch develop: arguably, some of Lovecraft's most overtly racist stories ("Red Hook", "Reanimator") were also some of the pulpiest. Ahead in our readings, I will try and analyze "Facts Concerning The Late Arthur Jermyn And His Family" in this context, to see how pulpy it is.

Well, that's all I've got for this one. Next up is 1902's "The Mysterious Ship", where we set sail to No-Man's-Land in Antarctica. As always, if you have questions or comments, drop me a line at

Keep it weird,