If you haven’t read this story, do it now and come back; for here, there be spoilers! The Hound may not be the most discussed of Lovecraft’s works but it really should be. It’s a proper, round the campfire style of gruesome horror that deserves more credit than it receives. It’s a story that is notable for the differences in character and the excellent nature of the final twist, but it’s also a very cheeky display of Lovecraft addressing his critics by turning their criticisms into essential atmospheric build.
The tale follows two collectors of occult artifacts as they dig up a grave in Holland to snatch an ancient amulet, depicting a demonic dog, from a broken, decayed skeleton. After taking the amulet, they’re pursued by the, ‘distant baying of a gigantic hound’, everywhere they go. Their house is overtaken by a series of snarling, scratching, knocking, laughing from a creature that they never see. After one is brutally mauled to death, the remaining graverobber, the narrator of the story, returns back to the grave site to try and bring an end to this torture. Re-opening the grave there is no longer a decayed skeleton, but a blood caked, partially fleshed, fanged, clawed ghoul that turns and screams at him as if the baying of some gigantic hound.
That’s a brilliant twist. The name of the story and the build that we get all the way through lead us into thinking that it’s some kind of demon dog attacking them when it’s really the corpse itself. A great, ‘Oh Henry’, ending the like of which pulp magazines are best known for and it’s the build to that twist that makes this story special.
Lovecraft is criticised for his overuse of adjectives and this story beats them into the ground with purpose. Almost nothing in the gravesite is mentioned without an accompanying description. A pale moon, horrible shadows, grotesque trees, titanic bats, sickening odours, a rotting oblong box, an antique ivied church. He describes the graveyard like this three times in the story with only slight variation; twice on the first gravedigging before finding the body, describing it too of course, and once again on the return to the grave.
This is what makes the reveal of the corpse on the second excursion so impactful, his use of adjectives is there to create a detailed image of what is the same at the graveyard, so that what is different, the corpse, is much more shocking to read. The same thing goes for the description of the noise pursuing them. It’s named over and over as, ‘the baying of some gigantic hound’, to make the reveal that it isn’t actually a dog that much more effective.
He is taking his criticisms of his writing and turning them into the main asset of the story. It’s as if he’s saying, “You think I’m overbearing with my use of adjectives? Let me show you what I can do with overbearing adjectives”, and he flattens them. That’s not the only tongue in cheek aspect of the story however, we also see the joy that Lovecraft has with gore and visceral description.
When writing Herbert West Reanimator, Lovecraft went to a different publication than his usual Weird Tales, he went to Home Brew that was known for encouraging their writers to be as gory as possible. Lovecraft had some fun with that and it makes Reanimator one of his most over the top stories. Three months after finishing that, he wrote The Hound and his taste for gore carries over, especially in laying out the different parts of the cultists collection. Mummified bodies, things made from human skin, human heads at different stages of rot, then we get the ghoul at the end too. It’s a collection that would make the Tam o’ Shanter demons think it was a bit much.
We get this in The Hound because of the different route he went with in terms of characters. We’re not following a scientist or archaeologist that happen upon a great evil, these are grave robbing cultists who do want to find evil and are unprepared for the consequences. That opens us up to the gore and gives the story that campfire style of horror effectively designed to raise hairs.
While it might not be as celebrated as The Call of Cthulu or epic as At The Mountains of Madness, in seven or eight pages, The Hound gives us a lot to look at in terms of Lovecraft’s talent and thought process and it’s one of my favourites. A standout story that gives us all we love about pulp science fiction.
Added bonus note: The Hound is also racism free! Making it enjoyable without eye rolling disappointment. Suitable for campfires, not tiki torches.
Attribution notice: the image used in this article is used under Creative Commens licence. The creator is Emily Stepp: http://emilystepp.deviantart.com/art/The-Hound-294027103