So this is the third Lovecraft story we’ve read for class and I will say it’s been my favorite so far. I suspect it has to do with the story being more about the characters than the setting.
We’ve ascertained that Lovecraft was a master of the “setting as character” skill. And while I have great respect for that, I find stories of that nature don’t hold my attention for very long. I have the same issue reading Tolkien, another master of this. When the story was about the characters (Fellowship of the Ring), I went along just fine. But in the later books, so much time was spent on the setting, I just put the books down. My own interest seems to always lie in the characters and their journey.
“The Thing on the Doorstep” is much more character-oriented than either “The Music of Erich Zann” or “Pickman’s Model.” Another story told in first person. Lovecraft seems fond of telling a story from a bystander’s point of view. Granted, in this case, the narrator has a direct hand in the end of the story, however, most of the frightening build-up of the story is left untold because we only get glimpses of it through a third person’s eyes.
This is an interesting way to build tension, I think. In life, it’s often what we don’t know which scares us the most. When we don’t know how badly we did on a test, we imagine failing the entire class. When we don’t know the details of an accident a loved one has been in, we think of the worst possible scenario. when we’re waiting for medical test results, we imagine the worst outcome. When we don’t know what to expect, we get anxious and freaked out.
Sometimes leaving the horrible thing to the imagination is the best way to completely squick the reader. The more I read of Lovecraft, the more I think that was his kink. Because he chooses not to write from the point of view of the character who is being haunted/hunted/corrupted, but rather a bystander, many details of the possibly horrific things done are lost, because this bystander isn’t on the inside. And so the reader begins imagining all these horrific things.
Our instructor recently engaged us in a discussion of our own fears and how we translate that into our stories in order to help engage our readers. I think this is what Lovecraft is doing. He is engaging the reader in the story – actually, he’s enlisting the reader to help tell the story. When the reader is left to imagine the horrors that Lovecraft leaves out, he’s going to imagine things that are much more personal to him than Lovecraft could ever have imagined. And using a bystander as the narrator is the perfect way to achieve it, I think. This is pretty brilliant.
As far as the story itself, I really enjoyed it so much more than the previous two. I did have an issue with all of the telling. I’d guess that 60% or more was simply told. I suspect that if the scenes were shown instead, we’d have a novella instead of a short story. But I still felt compelled to continue reading. I would have liked to have seen more detail at the end, though.
Overall, I did enjoy the story and I’m looking forward to reading more Lovecraft to see what other similarities and differences become apparent.