“Lurking Fear, The“

“Lurking Fear, The“
   Short story (8,170 words); written in mid- to late November 1922. First published in Home Brew (January, February, March, and April 1923); rpt. WT (June 1928); first collected in O;corrected text in D.
   In the first episode, the narrator is searching for the unknown entity that had wreaked havoc among the squatters of the Catskills near the Martense mansion. He is convinced that the haunted mansion must be the locus of the horror, and he takes two colleagues, George Bennett and William Tobey, with him to the place one night. They all sleep in the same bed in one room of the mansion, having provided exits either through the door of the room or the window. Although one of the three is to stay awake while the others rest, a strange drowsiness affects all three. The narrator wakes and finds that the thing has snatched both Bennett and Tobey, who were sleeping on either side of him. Why was he spared?
   The second episode finds the narrator coming upon another associate, Arthur Munroe, to assist him in his endeavors. They know that the lurking fear customarily roams abroad during thunderstorms, and during one such storm they stop in a hamlet to wait it out. Munroe, who has been looking out the window, seems anomalously fascinated by something outside and does not respond to a summons. When the narrator shakes his shoulder, he finds that “Arthur Munroe was dead. And on what remained of his chewed and gouged head there was no longer a face.”
   In the third episode the narrator realizes that he must explore the history of the mansion to come to terms with its lurking horror. The mansion had been built in 1670 by Gerrit Martense, a wealthy Dutchman who hated the English; his descendants similarly shunned the people around them and took to intermarrying with the “numerous menial class about the estate.” One descendant, Jan Martense, seeks to escape this unhealthy reclusiveness and is killed for his pains. The episode ends with a cataclysmic sight of a “nameless thing” in a subterranean tunnel he stumbles upon as he digs in Jan Martense’s grave.
   In the final episode the truth is finally learned: there is not one monster but a whole legion of them. The entire mountain is honeycombed with underground passageways housing loathsome creatures, half apes and half moles. They are the “ultimate product of mammalian degeneration; the frightful outcome of isolated spawning, multiplication, and cannibal nutrition above and below the ground; the embodiment of all the snarling chaos and grinning fear that lurk behind life.” In other words, they are the degenerate descendants of the house of Martense. The story was, like “Herbert West—Reanimator,” commissioned for Home Brewby George Julian Houtain; but in this case, Houtain provided synopses of the previous segments at the head of the final three episodes, so that HPL need not summarize them in the text itself. At HPL’s request, Clark Ashton Smith was commissioned to illustrate the text. Smith had a bit of fun by drawing trees and vegetation obviously in the shape of genitalia, but he may not have been paid for his work. (The Home Brewtext was reprinted in facsimile by Necronomicon Press in 1977.)
   The tale continues the theme of hereditary degeneration found in “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” and continuing through “The Rats in the Walls” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth”; indeed, “The Lurking Fear” could be thought of as a trial run for “The Shadow over Innsmouth.”
   There are some minor autobiographical touches in the story. Arthur Munroe’s name is probably borrowed from HPL’s boyhood friends, the Munroe brothers. The name Jan Martense may have been taken from the Jan Martense Schenck house (1656) in Flatbush, the oldest existing house in New York City. HPL did not see this house during either of his 1922 New York visits and may not, in fact, have learned of it until after writing “The Lurking Fear”; there is, however, a Martense Street very near Sonia Greene’s apartment at 259 Parkside Avenue in Brooklyn, and this may be the origin of the name.
   See Bennett Lovett-Graff, “Lovecraft: Reproduction and Its Discontents,” Paradoxa1, No. 3 (1995): 325–41.

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