Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Very Old Folk

The Very Old Folk by H.P. Lovecraft. Originally published November, 1927. Approx. 4 pages (2,700 words).

The Very Old Folk has long been one of my favorite Lovecraft stories; not because it in any way deviates from his tried and true playbook (setting, rising action, indescribable horrors from the dark recesses of the universe appear), but because it does so in a well-rendered period setting (Spain under the banner of the Roman Empire), and, with its concise word count, conveys the message without meandering.

I am a bit unclear as to the origins of this story; it apparently was not a magazine story entry. Wikipedia chronicles it as a letter sent to Donald Wandrei, a member of Lovecraft's inner circle (Cthulhu Club?). The letter is addressed  "Dear Melmoth", so, I don't know if that was a nickname for Wandrei, or if this whole this tale was a story written in letter form and mailed to his friend.

Either way, The Very Old Folk centers around the author of said letter relaying to his friend a most vivid dream of his, taking place in Roman times. In this dream, the author finds himself in the body of a Roman quaestor, in what is now modern day Pamplona. This official, named Rufus, finds himself in debate with the Roman officials in the area, regarding mysterious, and quite terrible Sabbath celebrations carried out by the denizens of the surrounding hills. These reclusive people are rarely seen, except in limited trading ventures, and bad news usually follows in their wake. Whenever these dreaded masses occur, townsfolk go missing, and a pervading terror envelopes the land. With the Sabbath approaching, the local officials think the best action is inaction; yet Rufus believes it would be best to quell these masses, seeing the benefit to the current masters of commerce and productivity outweighing the heretical celebrations of the indigenous folk.

The vote goes in favor of taking out the troublemakers, a cohort is dispatched, and what makes this story a Lovecraft tale happens. In my opinion, it is executed in a superb manner.

The Very Old Folk is a tale that I think would work extremely well as a theatrical production; it has some of the best rising tension in a short story that I have read. The climax could be executed perfectly on a stage; the lights going out entirely, all sound stopping, then the ear-splitting screams of the guide and the horses. The shapes forming on the hills, all those things that reach in and strangle your soul.

What also works in this tale is a knowledgeable application of Roman terminologies. Lovecraft writes a believable rendition of the local power structure, and a debate within as it might have occurred in those times.

Highly recommended for a ten minute chiller. Since, like most Lovecraft stories, it is in the public domain, it is available to read for free in many places. I read it here, the background aesthetics worked for me. There is also a decent reading of it on Youtube here.

Final Score:


1 comment:

  1. Totally agree. This is a superb story. I don't understand how Lovecraft could have dreamed in so much detail..