I’ve embarked on another modern English adaptation of an HP Lovecraft story, this time “The Shunned House” (the original is available for free from Project Gutenberg). The story, published after Lovecraft’s untimely death in 1937, is Lovecraft’s take on the classic theme of the haunted house.
An interesting question: Where does HP Lovecraft fit in to Stephan King’s attempt to define the archetypes of horror in his excellent non-fiction book “Danse Macabre“? I’ll briefly recap them and then give my opinion.
The zombie is the archetypical monster that embodies the fear of being dead. King’s example is the monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. His own Pet Sematary , in which a dead child is reanimated with horrific results, is another good example.
The vampire embodies our fear of our own sexual and hedonistic natures, and their propensity for putting us in danger if not kept under control. The Shunned House hints that a vampire is behind the deaths in the place, and retains a vampiric element to the end, but I wouldn’t consider it a vampire story.
The werewolf embodies our fear of our animal nature, the id, and of our own ability to commit horrific acts. The Shunned House hints that a werewolf is behind the deaths in the place when the narrator relates the history of Jaques Roulet, ancestor of the family who first lived on the site.
Ghosts embody our fear of the dead themselves. The Shunned House gives plenty of hints that the evil that lurks within it is ghostly, but in the end, I’d once more say it isn’t. While the shunned house is very much Lovecraft’s haunted house story, it remains Lovecraft, and thus falls into a subgenre not included in King’s taxonomy of horror.
Lovecraft’s brand of horror has been called cosmic horror, and this is an apt description. His stories embody the fear of the unknown. The same angst can be found in King’s “The Mist“, and in Dan Simmon’s disturbing story “Metastasis“. The Shunned House toys with other subgenres, but in the end, comes home to cosmic horror.