Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Shunned House ... by Charles M. Skinner?

Perhaps. When Lovecraft was in New York, he spent a considerable time researching folklore - an interest of his and his family for years. he certainly knew of Skinner

Today we will look at one portion of The Shunned House and see how Lovecraft cribbed some notes from Skinner's book.

Compare first the extract from Skinner, my emphasis in bold.

"A vampire is a dead man who walks about seeking for those whose blood he can suck, for only by supplying new life to its cold limbs can he keep the privilege of moving about the earth. He fights his way from his coffin, and those who meet his gray and stiffened shape, with fishy eyes and blackened mouth, lurking by open windows, biding his time to steal in and drink up a human life, fly from him in terror and disgust. In northern Rhode Island those who die of consumption are believed to be victims of vampires who work by charm, draining the blood by slow draughts as they lie in their graves. To lay this monster he must be taken up and burned; at least, his heart must be; and he must be disinterred in the daytime when he is asleep and unaware. If he died with blood in his heart he has this power of nightly resurrection. As late as 1892 the ceremony of heart-burning was performed at Exeter, Rhode Island, to save the family of a dead woman that was threatened with the same disease that removed her, namely, consumption." [*]

Now compare Lovecraft's paragraph from The Shunned House my emphasis in bold.

"Mercy should have known better than to hire anyone from the Nooseneck Hill country, for that remote bit of backwoods was then, as now, a seat of the most uncomfortable superstitions. As lately as 1892 an Exeter community exhumed a dead body and ceremoniously burnt its heart in order to prevent certain alleged visitations injurious to the public health and peace, and one may imagine the point of view of the same section in 1768."

Rarely is HPL so bold as to copy nearly verbatim. However, Lovecraft was a recycler of text and had a vivid memory. As the opportunities arise, I'll show passages of The Alchemist cribbed from Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, and A. Gordon Pym.

Sometimes it is nearly impossible to see where he gets an idea or passage, so these infrequent glimpses of where he is apparent, give us great insight into how Lovecraft composed his stories.

Tomorrow, we will find out about "Mercy" and Lovecraft's further use of Skinner's text.

* Charles M. Skinner, Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete, The Hudson and Its Hill, 1896.

1 comment:

Michelle Souliere said...

Chris- This is very interesting! Especially in light of some very similar practices in Maine, termed in the records as "medical cannibalism".

Vampirism is not mentioned, but this is very specifically the eating of the heart of a consumption victim. Hmm....

See more here, from a post back in November on Strange Maine.


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