“Strange High House in the Mist, The“

“Strange High House in the Mist, The“
   Short story (3,800 words); written on November 9, 1926. First published in WT(October 1931); first collected in O;corrected text in D.
   North of Kingsport “the crags climb lofty and curious, terrace on terrace, till the northernmost hangs in the sky like a grey frozen wind-cloud.” On that cliff is an ancient house inhabited by some individual whom none of the townsfolk—not even the Terrible Old Man—has ever seen. One day a tourist, the “philosopher” Thomas Olney, decides to visit that house and its secret inhabitant; for he has always longed for the strange and the wondrous. He arduously scales the cliff, but upon reaching the house finds that there is no door on this side, only “a couple of small lattice windows with dingy bull’s-eye panes leaded in seventeenth-century fashion”; the house’s only door is on the otherside, flush with the sheer cliff. Then Olney hears a soft voice, and a “great black-bearded face” protrudes from a window and invites him in. Olney climbs through the window and has a colloquy with the occupant, listening to “rumours of old times and far places.” Then a knock is heard—at the door that faces the cliff. Eventually the host opens the door, and he and Olney find the room occupied by all manner of wondrous presences—“Trident-bearing Neptune,” “hoary Nodens,” and others—and when Olney returns to Kingsport the next day, the Terrible Old Man vows that the man who went up that cliff is not the same one who came down. No longer does Olney’s soul long for wonder and mystery; instead, he is content to lead his prosy bourgeois life with his wife and children. But people in Kingsport, looking up at the house on the cliff, say that “at evening the little low windows are brighter than formerly.”
   HPL admitted that he had no specific locale in mind when writing this tale: he states that memories of the “titan cliffs of Magnolia” ( SL2.164) in part prompted the setting but that there is no house on the cliff as in the story; a headland near Gloucester called “Mother Ann” ( SL3.433) also inspired the setting. HPL may have had in mind a passage in Dunsany’s Chronicles of Rodriguezabout the home of a wizard on the top of a crag.
   In regard to the strange transformation of Thomas Olney, which is at the heart of the tale, the Terrible Old Man provides a hint: “somewhere under that grey peaked roof, or amidst inconceivable reaches of that sinister white mist, there lingered still the lost spirit of him who was Thomas Olney.” The body has returned to the normal round of things, but the spirit has remained with the occupant of the strange high house in the mist; the encounter with Neptune and Nodens has been an apotheosis, and Olney realizes that it is in this realm of nebulous wonder that he truly belongs. His body is now an empty shell, without soul and without imagination: “His good wife waxes stouter and his children older and prosier and more useful, and he never fails to smile correctly with pride when the occasion calls for it.” This tale could be read as a sort of mirrorimage of “Celephais”: whereas Kuranes had to die in the real world in order for his spirit to attain his fantasy realm, Olney’s body survives intact but his spirit stays behind.
   HPL had submitted the story to WTin July 1927 but it was rejected. In 1929, he let W.Paul Cook have it for the second number of The Recluse(it had even been typeset), but when it became clear in the spring of 1931 that the issue would never appear, HPL resubmitted the story to WT,which accepted it and paid Lovecraft $55.
   See Donald R.Burleson, “Strange High Houses: Lovecraft and Melville,” Crypt No. 80 (Eastertide 1992): 25–26, 29; S.T.Joshi, “Lovecraft and Dunsany’s Chronicles of Rodriguez” Crypt No. 82 (Hallowmas 1992): 3–6; Cecelia Drewer, “Symbolism of Style in ‘The Strange High House in the Mist,’” LSNo. 31 (Fall 1994): 17–21; Nicholaus Clements, “‘The Strange High House in the Mist’: Glowing Eyes and the Prohibition of the Impossible,” LSNo. 40 (Fall 1998): 11–15.

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