‘The Hound’ by H. P. Lovecraft: Short Story Analysis
This short horror story penned by H.P.Lovecraft, one of the best writers of the ‘fantastic’, is quite similar to the general writings of Edgar Allan Poe. The story is par excellence, teeming with suspense, and with a bit of an indirect moral which makes this story a fantastic read. The main theme, however, of this story is about man’s eternal search for truth and how this search often ends not to the expectation of the seeker.
Dabbling’s with ‘truth’ as we know often leads an inquirer to take up many different fields of study. The two main characters in this story too were in search of the truth. They were as the text states:
‘Wearied with a world where even the joys of romance & adventure soon grow stale.’
They were definitely not of any normal disposition although they were young and full of life. Lovecraft often uses scholarly people as characters in his texts to bring out his thoughts. These characters often are recluses who devote themselves to their study away from the daily happenings of society. St. John and the narrator in this story are also in search of a new field of study to aid them in their quest for the truth. They try every known and possible intellectual movement, but all these fields of study fail to whet their appetite, or its newness or novelty was soon exhausted by them, which led them to look for another and yet another field of theory and research. Ultimately, they somehow get interested in grave robbing, which was the ‘philosophy of the decadents’ and in practice at the time when this short story was penned.
They create a museum of all their grave robbing treasures which they keep away from prying eyes for obvious reasons. They dwell together, alone without servants, in a great stone house near a barren and creepy looking moor. In that mansion of stone, they house all their repellent treasures like mummies, headstones snatched from old churches, skulls of all shapes, heads preserved in various stages of dissolution, grotesque statues, paintings, a portfolio made from tanned human skin containing as the author puts it:
‘Unknown & Unnameable drawings’
Certainly by this description itself, the author of the macabre sets the tone for even more gruesome happenings, using suspense-filled sentences as tools to aid the reader along this path of terror.
The two characters in this short story, namely the author himself and his companion St. John, then go out on a journey to Holland to dig up the grave of a certain ‘ghoul’ who had been lying there for five centuries. The author’s use of the term ‘ghoul’ here gives us an idea of what to expect throughout the remainder of the story. A ghoul as we know is a monster associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh, often classified as undead which signifies ‘the vampire’. Yet the title of the story is ‘The Hound’, and an ardent fan and reader of horror fiction would be aware that the legendary vampire is also able to leave its eternal tomb and change into the form of certain animals, a huge hound being one among them.
The author mentions in this story that the ghoul himself was a grave robber and also a person who had robbed something rather marvelous from an ancient sepulcher. The two characters while digging for the body find around the dead skeleton’s neck an amulet made of green jade which is the stone often used in China. The amulet consisted of the figure of a sphinx with canine features or a dog-like appearance. The author and St. John take away this amulet from its grave, but their lives after this undergo a dramatic change.
It is also well to note that this is the first story of H. P. Lovecraft where the mention is made of the fictional and forbidden book called ‘Necronomicon’ penned as Lovecraft put it, by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. It is in this book that the author and his companion come to know about the strange properties of the amulet which disturbs them quite a bit. Yet they continue to preserve the amulet and even light a scented candle in front of it.
The story then goes on to tell us about how the author and his companion are haunted by the sound of the evil baying of an unusual hound, which they are unable to see. Unlike other vampire stories, Lovecraft has used the invisible to channelize our thoughts towards the most impossible, thus succeeding in getting the reader totally involved in the text. They at first enjoy the idea of being pursued by the evil hound which gives us a morbid glimpse into their most peculiar psychological makeup. Later, however, they are shaken into the belief that the amulet is the cause of all their woes. St. John ultimately becomes the first victim of this ‘hound’. According to the author’s description, St. John was literally torn to ribbons by a carnivorous animal. As the companion lay dying however, he signals the author finally to the actual cause of his sad ending:
‘The amulet – that damned thing’
The author tries at first to ignore the link between all the events from Holland until St. John’s death and tries to get away from the mansion. A circumstance in London, however, makes him realize that what was to become of his companion would be his ultimate doom as well. He tries in vain to save himself by returning the amulet back to its owner in Holland, but to his misery, he is robbed of the amulet by thieves. When he returns to the grave however, he finds the amulet back with its owner who has been somehow nourished in the grave the way a vampire is nourished by drinking blood. The skeleton in the grave now has grown some flesh and is caked with blood. When it gave a deep sardonic bay like a hound, the author runs away from the wretched place like a madman.
It is towards the end of the narrative that we realize that the story was a sort of suicide note of the author who wishes to end his life after the end of this tale. He at the end of the story seems to be plagued by the memory of all that had taken place which had affected him psychologically for the worse.
The underlying ideology in this story is of course the never-ending fight between good and evil, and where must one finally draw the line. To get a little excitement in one’s life, most individuals some way or another delve into the tempting depths of evil just as the author and St. John did, but the climax finally makes the reader realize which is the safer path to choose.
Copyright 2013 Fiza Pathan