Posted in Short Stories

H. P. Lovecraft: The Rats in the Walls

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 50

It should be mentioned that before leaving the sub-cellar we had vainly tried to move the central altar which we now recognised as the gate to a new pit of nameless fear. What secret would open the gate, wiser men that we would have to find.

I’ve finally read a work by H. P. Lovecraft and “The Rats in the Walls” certainly lives up to what I have imagined his writing to be. I think I can say that this is the scariest story I’ve ever read. There are at least a few aspects of this story that one might say are typical for a horror story or at least the ones I’ve read. Lovecraft, though, apparently can take these situations, up the ante and make them even scarier.

An old estate is refurbished for our narrator and along with it come numerous legends of ancient rites and rituals, strange stories of strange characters, odd symbols, cats and, of course, rats – in the walls.

The narrator is an American gentlemen descended from British nobility. As strange things happen in his house, his mental state begins to spiral out of control as the physical story spirals down underneath his house. The discovery of ancient activities taboo in his current world take hold of him and contrast nicely – well, maybe not nicely, more like terrifyingly – with his gentlemanly status asking that question many horror stories ask. What kind of evil might lurk inside us? Like I’ve said, Lovecraft just asks the question with a little more gusto than usual. And actually gives an answer nobody wants to acknowledge.

The narrator’s cat has a racial slur as its name. It’s kind of a clue early on – intentional or unintentional – that, yes, all kinds of evil can lurk inside people.

This is the final story for me in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Five of Spades for Week 50 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. Other favorites from this anthology include: “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, “My Son the Murderer” by Bernard Malamud, “The School” by Donald Barthelme.

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