‘Just what it was that I feared or loathed, I could by no means define; but something in the whole atmosphere seemed redolent of unhallowed age, of unpleasant crudeness, and of secrets which should be forgotten’
Horror themed stories always seem more frightening when the situation or locations are more relatable to the person who is reading them. Basing these haunting stories in the deep oceans and vastness of space is great for giving you that sense of hopelessness and inferiority to greater and unknown powers, but sometimes it’s the stories with the more humble locations that you continue to ponder long after finishing.
In ‘The Picture in the House’, H.P. Lovecraft locates the story within an old house, a classic location that never ceases in its abilities to produce a sense of uneasiness in the reader, because realistically speaking we are far more likely to end up alone in an old house than reach the far depths of our oceans or the void world of space.
Our narrator approaches a house he initially believes to be abandoned due to its apparent neglect. He enters the home after no answer is received from knocking on the door; looking around he learns that the home is still inhabited; he finds a book of interest titled Regnum Congo amongst the possessions, a book that exists in the real world by Filippo Pigafetta, and describes the early expeditions in the Congo region. A "loathsome old, white-bearded, and ragged man," appears from upstairs and welcomes the narrator, who questions the old man about the book which they discuss.
Throughout the story there seems to be three main characters that could jump forward and become the primary origin of fear at any point. It’s written as though you are aware that a surprise twist is about to happen, yet you don’t know from what direction. The old man, the Regnum Congo and the house itself all seem very significant which leaves you unsure throughout. I think uncertainty is important in a horror themed tale, once you are aware of what monster is chasing you then you can use logical reason to come up with a less unsettling explanation. How can you explain something you don’t know? It remains a mystery. The story works well in placing such everyday items in front of you so that you feel uneasy trying to ration how they could become frightening.
In the end you realize that the twist has nothing to do with the book other than a drop of blood lands on it to herald in the paragraphs revealing the twist ending. The old man is revealed to be some form of sadist as far as I can tell, blood seeps through the ceiling from the floor above where the man was ‘sleeping’ earlier and drips, making the narrator aware of his circumstance. He closes his eyes ‘A moment later came the titanic thunderbolt of thunderbolts; blasting that accursed house of unutterable secrets and bringing the oblivion which alone saved my mind’.
Much like Ed Gain, the old man just seems to enjoy living out in the middle of nowhere, slaying those that are unfortunate enough to stumble upon his hidden abode, and that’s fine, sometimes it’s the monsters within us that are most frightening.