Horror Story Review: "He" by H. P. Lovecraft
The unnamed narrator of this little tale begins by saying that coming to New York had been a mistake. He’d been “looking for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfronts to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten.” He found instead, “only a sense of horror and oppression which threated to master, paralyse (sic) and annihilate me.”
The narrator meets the “he” of the title one night as he’s out walking. The old man is slight of form, almost cadaverous. He wears a cloak. He tells the narrator he’s seen him before, noticing him when’s out walking, He guesses he’s like him in things of former times. Would he like to come with him and hear more?
Despite some misgivings, the narrator follows the old man. Neither speaks. The narrator soon loses his way. The description leaves no doubt this is trip to the oldest part of New York, however, finally through a dark courtyard into a house that reeks of mustiness of age. The two sit themselves in a candle-lit library, which, the narrator tells the reader, date from the first quarter of the 18th century.
The “he” of the title the removes his cloak. He is wearing a pony-tail, neck ruffles and knee breeches, silk hoses and buckles shoes.
“You behold, sir,” he says, “a man of very eccentrical habit, for whose costume no apology need be offered.”
He continues, asking to keep his voice down, then telling him how he’s fortunate to have retained the estate of his ancestors, who learned the mystical secrets of time from the Indians. He them gave them poisonous rum in return. He demonstrates these abilities his ancestor learned. What could go wrong?
While this story has been told before, this version is particularly creepy. It short, and the creepiness increases the further the reader goes. This is classic Lovecraft.
Sadly it also reflect his real life unhappiness and the unraveling of his married life. Lovecraft was briefly married to a woman named Sonia Greene. He dislike New York, in no small part because of the immigrant population. This xenophobic attitude appears in Lovecraft’s story, neither the first nor the last time it show’s in writings.
Overall, I liked this little tale, even when I saw what was coming. It’s nice and atmospheric.
Author: H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)
First published: Weird Tales Sept. 1926
©2016 Denise Longrie