Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bad Dog II

For whom would you feel more sympathy?

A.  A couple of decadent, psychotic, Necronomicon-reading grave robbers?
B.  The 500 year old spirit of a ghoul who wants his stolen amulet returned to him?

I lean towards ‘B’.  I cannot think of more unattractive human characters than the ones in Lovecraft’s short story, The Hound, (1924).  The two men, one of them inexplicably named St. John, do not work, have unlimited time and money, and are motivated chiefly by boredom and a hunger for morbid thrills.  (Later, they are motivated by a fear of being shredded to bits.)  They are indistinguishable from each other. Fortunately, St. John winds up “an inert mass of mangled flesh” midway through the tale, reducing the potential for confusion.

Evidently they live on a planet where there are almost no other human beings.  The tedium of their lives is relieved only by periodic grave robberies—all over the world—with which they supply their secret museum with gruesome specimens.  Lovecraft gleefully inventories some of the contents of this museum, ratcheting up the yuck-factor of the story.  The author also incessantly repeats lists of Halloween paraphernalia—full moon, grotesque trees, lots of bats, gravestones, an occasional vulture, a wolf howling in the distance—to set the tone.  This is tiresome after the first repetition.

An excavation of a grave in Rotterdam nets them a jade amulet, depicting a crouching hound with wings.  What a find!  Regrettably, the model for the jade figurine, and its implacable owner, is much larger and fiercer and angry.   The boys return to England, but soon begin to experience sights and sounds of being stalked by…well what could it possibly be?

The narrator's friend is soon predictably mauled and shredded on his way home from the train station.  This is an oblique reference to the 1911 story by M.R. James, Casting the Runes, which was later made into the classic horror film, Night of the Demon, (1957).  The monster in the James’ story and the movie is very similar to Lovecraft’s Hound and Lovecraft was an admirer of the British author.

The narrator returns to Holland in hopes of returning the amulet and avoiding a fate similar to his friend’s.  Comic relief of a sort is provided at one point when thieves break into the narrator’s hotel room and make off with the little figure.  They are swiftly and gruesomely dispatched, not having abided the 7.5th Commandment, which is “Thou shalt not steal what is already stolen.”  At the end of the story the narrator awaits a terrible end, having verified that the contents of the grave in Rotterdam and the monster now stalking him are one and the same.

This is not one of Lovecraft’s better stories.  It reads as if portions of it were still a rough draft, lacking important detail or adequate transitions between scenes.  Neither the characters nor their chief occupation are believable.  Their fate is predictable very early in the story, as is the appearance of the monster.   

All of Lovecraft’s stories appear to form an organic whole, with connections and echoes of other stories always present.  For example, the character of St. John dominates and leads the narrator in The Hound, just as Harley Warren does with the narrator in The Statement of Randolph Carter.  There are references to the Necronomicon, Abdul Alhazred, and the plateau of Leng.  The Hound also shares similarities with Lovecraft’s other stories that feature ghouls, though this monster has more canine features.

This story has a graphic treatment in volume 2 of The Lovecraft Anthology, published by SelfMadeHero.  All of the grizzly details are included.   

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