Short Story Review: "The Tree" by H.P. Lovecraft
A traveler to Mount Maenlus in Arcadia notices an olive grove and a ruined villa with a large tomb. Among the olive grove is a particularly large, misshapen olive tree with roots growing into the tomb. It looks almost like man, or perhaps a man’s body distorted in death. The locals give it a wide berth, assuming it has some association with the dreaded Pan or one of his associates. But an old beekeeper tells the traveler a different story.
Many years before, there were two friends who were both gifted sculptors, Kalos and Musides. There was not the least bit of rivalry between them, but they were different in lifestyle. After work, Musides like to go drinking. Kalos stayed home, but sought solitude, away from even the slaves in the olive grove. Gossip had it that he conversed with spirits of the grove.
The Tyrant of Syracuse sent to Kalos and Musides, offering a prize to whichever one constructs the better statue of Tyché. Normally, in a competition those competing would do so in secret. The Tyrant wants Kalos and Musides to watch each other work in hopes of reinforcing and improving each’s efforts.
In explicably, Kalos takes sick. Grief-stricken, Musides stays home to take care of him, not even letting the slaves near him. As he’s dying, Kalos asks Musides to plant an olive tree over him, but not to bother with a tomb…
This is a story of revenge, but it’s quite subtle. I had to read it twice before I caught what was going on. It’s quite sad, actually. Lovecraft uses his archaic English to tell the story but that doesn’t seem too out of place in a story that seems old and is about even older happenings. Like a lot of Lovecraft, this is not for everyone, but it is a nice little tale about revenge.
Title: “The Tree” written in 1920, first published in The Tryout , 7, No. 7 (October 1921)
Author: H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)
©2015 Denise Longrie