The Shadow Over Innsmouth ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Shadow Over Innsmouth ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

H. P. Lovecraft, the foremost American horror writer of the twentieth century, lived from 1890 to 1937. His imaginative novels and short stories are the stuff of which nightmares are made. This “Belle Epoque Original” contains the short novel (or extremely long short story) The Shadow Over Innsmouth, plus three (long) short stories: “In the Witch’s House,” “The Lurking Fear” and “The Rats in the Walls.”

Innsmouth of The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a coastal town in Massachusetts unlike any other. Once a thriving fishing community, it is now a hellish nightmare. The buildings are falling down because they are so old and untended. Most of the people (the ones with any sense) have left. A black reef offshore about one mile has been a curse to the town. The reef is inhabited by frog-fish creatures that come ashore whenever they want. I’m not sure what the frog-fish creatures do to the people of Innsmouth, but whatever it is, it isn’t pretty. (I think they mate with them to make more frog-fish creatures like themselves.)

The unnamed narrator telling the story is touring the region to study the architecture and comes across Innsmouth by chance. Innsmouth isn’t really where he intended to go, but it’s where he ends up on his way to some other place. He becomes more interested in the history and appearance of the town than is good for him and does some investigating (some would call it snooping), incurring the displeasure of the locals. He ends up having to stay the night in Innsmouth, in a creepy hotel; it’s not the kind of home-away-from-home experience he hopes to repeat any time soon. The frog-fish people are after him all night long, to do him great bodily harm. He never sees them up close, but that somehow makes them scarier.

In the short story, “In the Witch’s House,” a young student is staying in a house (because the rent is cheap) where a legendary witch once lived. He is a studying ancient folklore, travel to another dimension, and ancient mathematical secrets that have long since been forgotten by man. He is influenced by the long-ago witch that once occupied the space he now occupies. He becomes slowly unhinged. Is what is happening really happening or is it only happening in his mind?

“The Lurking Fear” is about the Martense family, a New England family that has cut itself off from the world and lives in a “haunted house” on a remote hill that is affected by violent thunder storms. With inbreeding, the family “degenerates,” into a path of reverse evolution. (Each family member has one blue eye and one brown eye.) When a kind of grotesque, mole-like creature is found living in the ground underneath the house, investigators deduce that this is what the Martense family members have become.

In “The Rats in the Walls” a man owns an ancient “priory” in England that goes back to medieval times. He makes a lot of repairs to the structure and makes it his home until he discovers there is a terrible problem with rats living, not only in the walls, but in the vast underpinnings of the priory. The rats living there are especially hungry and aggressive. It’s probably not a good idea to make them a part of your life.

The life and work of H. P. Lovecraft are frequently compared to that of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). They both wrote on disturbing subjects, they were both New Englanders, they both had verbose writing styles, and they both died in their forties. During their lifetimes they were under-appreciated and under-recognized but achieved well-deserved literary immorality in death.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

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