#1936Club: The Shining Trapezohedron

Illustration by Virgil Finlay for ‘Weird Tales’, 1936

‘The Haunter of the Dark’ (1936)
by H P Lovecraft,
in The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories,
edited by S T Joshi. Penguin Books 1999.

With its suitably macabre title ‘The Haunter of the Dark’ was the last published fiction of H P Lovecraft, who died from intestinal cancer in the year following its appearance. It follows the narrative pattern of much that he wrote in this genre: a student of the occult, inevitably a male, sticks his nose into a place or situation which any sensible person would steer clear of, ignoring all the telltale signs. But then, we wouldn’t have a story if they really were as sensible as the rest of us!

Set in contemporary Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft’s home town, this short fiction conceals beneath its lugubrious exterior a glee that incorporates in-jokes shared with fellow writers and acolytes, along with his individual literary style marked by a superfluity of favourite adjectives and repeated words which conversely risks becoming banal.

But then one doesn’t read collections of Lovecraft stories for its range but for the familiar slow build-up of immanent alien presence and the inevitable demise of the protagonist, or the narrator’s reduction to a gibbering wreck or, at best, transformation to a sadder and wiser man.

Robert Blake is an artist and writer of occult stories; his dwelling off Providence’s College Street gives him a direct view of distant Federal Hill, dominated by the steepled tower of a grimy church. He finds himself somehow drawn towards the decaying abandoned structure despite its forbidding air, finally trekking the two miles to it and making ingress into the tower.

Here he finds the partially dismembered skeleton of an investigative journalist (whose notebook he pockets) and an asymmetric chest; within the latter he glimpses a strangely facetted stone, which turns out to be his fatal mistake because what he observes there will haunt him for the remaining months of his life.

Another aficionado of Lovecraft’s writings — and I counted myself among them fifty years ago — will recognise his trademark literary tics: ancient cults, secret rituals, cryptic texts in strange languages with sinister titles, references to foetid smells, bumps and scrabblings, dark shadows and amorphous entities. ‘The Haunter of the Dark’ has these vague hints in barrowloads along with pepperings of precise details such as dates, distances, locations, periodicals and other local colour.

You know where it ends, as it always does, it’s only becomes a question of variations on the ‘how’. Forget the inconsistencies — such as how a man in the grip of abject terror manages to keep writing in his notebook, or how a third party can build up circumstantial details as though they were themselves a witness — and immerse yourself in the music of a prose composition which obsessively develops the same handful of melodies with hypnotic chords and the imagined shrill of monotonous pipes. But shun the Shining Trapezohedron!


On the spur of the moment I decided to have a go at the 1936 Club cohosted by Kaggsy and Simon for this middle week of April, opting to go with this short story. 

26 thoughts on “#1936Club: The Shining Trapezohedron

  1. ‘But then, we wouldn’t have a story if they really were as sensible as the rest of us!’ — absolutely true that, but it never does really stop us from exclaiming, why on earth are you doing that to the character that is, does it?
    I’m yet to read Lovecraft–must try one of his at Halloween!

    I’m enjoying all the entries I’ve been coming across for the #1936Club–I’m getting very tempted to join in. But just three days to go I see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You could go for something short, Mallika, that was my route into this because I’m already ploughing through Tolkien and a few other long tomes!

      Lack of sense? It’s a trick that filmmakers use now, isn’t it—Don’t go into that dark room! Don’t investigate that strange noise! Don’t unlock that outside door! … and then they inevitably do! Works better on film, though, than on the page, I feel.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooh the Shining Trapezohedron sounds really menacing.. 😜 However much I can outwardly scoff at Lovecraft’s numerous foibles and penchant for purplish prose, I do love his atmospheric stories! Thanks for the reminder, Chris! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  3. One of the things I love about club years is that it’s always the end of someone’s writing career and the beginning of someone else’s – seeing a baton passed, of sorts. So thanks for adding the end of Lovecraft’s to the mix!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, Simon, and thanks to you and Karen for hosting this year’s theme—it gave me a chance to see what short title I had on my shelves to read in the midst of reading a couple of longer pieces!

      Like

  4. We think that one has understand Lovecraft in his time when the occult was ‘in’. It is the atmosphere of his books that matters but nowadays they are utterly out of fashion. In comparison to Poe Lovecraft aged badly.
    Thanks for sharing 🙏 🙏
    All the best
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, a particular mood of occultism was around at that time, very different, for example, to New Age hippie mysticism in the 60s which I was aware of. Crowley, Gurdjieff, Machen, surrealist sensibilities, all that in the mix in those strange years between two global conflicts.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m not entirely sure his atmosphere is “utterly out of fashion”. His influence is obvious in modern works, such as Hellboy (as one of the more blatant), and in more subtle ways (Terry Pratchett’s Mr. Hong on Dagon Street). There’s been an RPG based on his mythos that’s been in print for roughly 40 years, set contemporary to his books. In the 80s, he was referenced in the Ghostbusters cartoon. And Miskatonic University, Innsmouth, & Cthulhu are all over the place at sci-fi, fantasy, and gaming conventions.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Pingback: #1936Club – links round-up – Stuck in a Book

  6. I picked up a Lovecraft anthology edited by Joyce Carol Oates a couple months ago (my third Lovecraft book), but haven’t gotten started. I need to be in the right mindset to tackle Lovecraft (or certain books of his friend, Fritz Leiber). Still, looking forward to it.

    In the meantime, I’m sure we all remember what happened when Mr. Hong opened the Three Joy Luck fish takeaway. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’re of one mind, Brent, the right Lovecraftian frame of mind is required for me too! This selection from S T Joshi, by the way, includes many of the pieces I remember reading eons ago except for the novellas like At the Mountains of Madness, and the the notes are particularly helpful.

      Not tried any Fritz Leiber (yet) nor the particular Pratchett you mention… 😁

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  7. Sounds way too creepy for my liking! Lovecraft – and horror stories (and films) have never appealed to me, Much prefer some cosy murder and mayhem. But your review makes the story seem most intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To be honest (and of course I always am!) Lovecraft doesn’t creep me out the way it did in my teens, and not much even then.

      His is an interesting style — knowing, tongue in cheek, humorous even — but you sort of know that the author is trying hard to exorcise some personal anxieties.

      The occasional phrase is execrable but I do like to savour the effort he put into trying to create a degree of verisimilitude in his heaping up of circumstantial details like dates, places, obscure texts and so on.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. LOL! I’ve only read one Lovecraft, which I enjoyed very much, though I do recognise a number of the tropes you describe in this one. He’s very entertaining, though I suspect might become a little repetetive if too much was read a once. But a great entry into the canon of 1936 which is shaping up to be an impressive year!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Just seeing the tagged posts on the WordPress Reader and on Twitter indicates how popular this year’s offerings have been, so well done to you and Simon! Lovecraft is definitely entertaining but I can only take so much of him in one go. I half thought of rereading a travelogue by Hungarian author Anton Szerb, but it’s not been that long since I first enjoyed it: https://wp.me/s2oNj1-towers

      Liked by 1 person

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