William Lumley’s The Diary of Alonzo Typer (1938) is essentially a haunted house story. The house serves as a metaphor for a mind succumbing to the temptations of a cosmic evil. The tale does not otherwise make much sense when viewed from the perspective of logic or realism. Much of the plot follows the typical elements of a ‘house dream’: a dreamer—Alonzo Typer—makes a series of explorations into forgotten rooms to find mysterious and vaguely familiar artifacts. His experience is told in a series of diary entries.
Because the story is a collaboration with H.P. Lovecraft, what the dreamer finds are familiar eldritch items like ancient occult texts, keys that open strangely ornate doors, secret passageways, unnerving portraits of evil ancestors, and strange hieroglyphics. He also finds an entity that is also looking for him: “It towers like a colossus, bearing out what is said in the Aklo writings…There is such a feeling of vast size…that I wonder these chambers can contain its bulk—and yet it has no visible bulk.”
S.T. Joshi, in his thoroughly researched biography of H.P. Lovecraft, reports that Lumley, who was an occult enthusiast, actually believed that the Cthulhu mythos was literally true. A devoted fan, Lumley began communicating with the author in the early 1930s. Joshi quotes a letter Lovecraft wrote to August Derleth, in which he describes Lumley as an “amazing freak” who “believes in magic” and is “virtually unable to spell.”
Out of a sort of condescending altruism, Lovecraft assisted Lumley and similar mediocre talents. Referring to Lumley and another senior, Lovecraft wrote: “The good old fellows need a few rays of light in their last years, & anybody would be a damned prig not to let’em have such if possible—” It seems that Lovecraft extensively rewrote Lumley’s original draft, attempting to preserve some of the latter’s ideas. When the story was eventually sold to Weird Tales, Lovecraft allowed Lumley to keep the entire $70.00.
Perhaps this is why there is a sense of fatigue underlying much of The Diary of Alonzo Typer. The first few pages provide a dutiful back story about an ancient house, a degraded local population, and a landscape that exudes timeless evil. The family members depicted in dusty old portraits exhibit subtle physical deformities as a mark of their commerce with the Old Ones. The canon of forbidden books is recited, as are the names of various Mythos members. Readers of H.P. Lovecraft will see many familiar elements of other stories he wrote. The Diary of Alonzo Typer is not much more than a pastiche of scenes and notions from the more competent stories of his mentor.
The original residents of the house are described as ‘squamous’, that is, scaly. Their faces have a slight greenish cast, with a serpentine look to their eyes. There is reference to an ancient, evil city that existed in what is present day China, (“Yian-Ho”), and disturbing Mongolian hieroglyphics. It may be a coincidence, but in the story discussed in the previous post, (Robert E. Howard’s 1931 The Children of the Night, and other tales in that cycle) there is a similar description of a subterranean race in terms of snakes, reptiles, the colors yellow and green, and ‘Chinese’. This seems to be racist motif that appears in several stories, by various horror writers of the time.
The rest of Lumley’s story consists of interminable description of Alonzo Typer’s various explorations of the cellar, attic, hallway and other rooms of this haunted house. He is evidently still writing in his diary as he is dragged down into the cellar by something with large black paws.
The use of a haunted house to symbolize the contents of single mind was discussed in a post last spring. (See Your Head is a Haunted House: Thoughts on Horror,... ). This is what is most interesting about Lumley’s attempt at horror fiction and a relative strength of the story. As Alonzo Typer writes in his diary of his explorations of the house, by degrees he becomes more and more aware of what he has forgotten or misplaced or only dimly understood—about himself.