Saturday, August 26, 2006

Favorite Short Stories: The Lonesome Place by August Derleth

"The Lonesome Place" is a classic horror short story that's always stayed with me. It's about fear breeding fear essentially, and it really leaves the horror to your imagination.

It's from the pen of August Derleth, who's a recognizable name to most serious horror fans but may not be to casual readers of today. If you have not read him, catch up.

He became the custodian of the Cthulhu Mythos after H.P. Lovecraft's death and carried it on, founding Arkham House. He also penned stories about Solar Pons, a Sherlock Holmes-like detective. Then there are also Sac Prairie tales of the Midwest and much more.

I read "The Lonesome Place" first in the great horror collection I've mentioned before "Horror Times Ten." It originally appeared in a1948 issue of the pulp magazine Famous Fantastic Mysteries.

Once upon a time, I read a story from Horror Times Ten every Sunday afternoon, or from the collection Gooseflesh I bought along with it. Guess that went on for 20 weeks at most but it seems like a whole chunk of my early teen years.

Reading for a lonely October
"The Lonesome Place" is chilling even for afternoon reading, but it's perfect for any midnight and perhaps well suited for a chilly autumn night -- the kind of night describe in the story or at least that I think of when I read it.

It's set sometime in the early mid-20th century, when kids might still be sent to a corner grocery for a loaf of bread after dark and where monsters of supernatual origin fueled fears more than say John Mark Karr.

The first-person narrator's opening line explains:

"You who sit in your houses of nights, you who sit in the theaters, you who are gay at dances and parties--all you who are enclosed by four wall--you have no conception of what goes on outside in the dark. In the lonesome places."

There's one spooky spot by a grain elevator that all the kids have to pass, and everyone is convinced a monster lives there.

Derleth takes us running and terrified past that spot in the narrative, then recounts the later discussions amid friends about the thing that lives there.

Everyone adds a layer, a tail, scales and more.

And I won't say where it goes from there. I'll just say again it's, to me, one of the perfect chiller stories that focuses on the power of imagination.

I'm almost certain it was floating around somewhere in the back of Stephen King's mind or in his subconscious when he conceived It.

Seek it out if you like stories that make you shudder.

Further reading
August Derleth autobiography

August Derleth bibliography


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Charles Gramlich said...

Derleth was a pretty decent writer. I remember fondly his story about "whipporwills," the bird. I can't quite remember the title but I have a collection by him at home with it in. He could evoke a pretty good eerie feeling.

Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

I was surfing the net looking for Derleth's The Lonesome Place, and was directed to your blog.

Your words matched my memory of my response to that story read a long time ago. I am drawn to it again.

I think that Derleth has received little credit of late; a generation raised on Chaosium fare tend to have little appreciation for the man who helped preserve Lovecraft through the fifties and sixties for a generation of new readers.

But, even though this gift to readers would have sufficed, Derleth also gave us a subtle body of work. Some of his stories are the usual pulp fare, but from my memory, some of them shine as gems. "The Lonesome Place" is for me the brightest, or perhaps the darkest, of those jewels.


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