World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “The Thing on the Doorstep”

The Thing on the Doorstep“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1937.

The Word War One content of this story is exactly the sort you would expect in a story set several years after the war and written by someone with adult memories of the war. The war years are just a casual background detail neither exotic or the focus of the story.

In the first part of the story, the narrator talks of his relationship with the doomed Edward Pickman Derby. The narrator, eight years older than his friend Derby, talks of his life when Derby is 25: “When the war came both health and ingrained timidity kept him at home. I went to Plattsburg for a commission but never got overseas.”

Are You Trained to Defend Your Country?, 1915

Of course, many people were rejected from military service on health grounds. Lovecraft himself tried to enlist, before the U.S. draft went into effect on May 18, 1917, into the Rhode Island National Guard. His mother and a family physician got him discharged on health reasons, not precisely detailed, shortly afterwards.

On a June 22, 1917 to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft said,

I am feeling desolate and lonely indeed as a civilian. Practically all my personal acquaintances are now in some branch of the service, mostly Plattsburg or R.I.N.G. [Rhode Island National Guard]

According to Leslie S. Klinger’s annotation in The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, Camp Plattsburg (aka Camp Plattsburgh) was established in 1914 at Plattsburg, New York. It was part of a general movement to set up military training for volunteers after the Great War broke out .

Are You Trained to Do Your Share?, 1915

The camp opened in the summer of 1915 with 1,200 trainees. At first it was known as the Business Men’s Camp (derogatively known as the Tired Businessmen’s Camp in the press). Some of its first graduates joined the Military Training Camps Association which lobbied Congress for government funding in 1917. After America entered the war, the civilian camp became an officers’ training camp.

Footage exists of the early days of the camp.

According to the figures I’ve seen about 3 million Americans were drafted in World War One. About 2.8 million were sent to France, so Lovecraft’s narrator is in the minority in not being deployed overseas.

World War One Content

  • Living Memory: Yes.
  • On-Stage War: No.
  • Belligerent Area: No.
  • Home Front: Yes.
  • Veteran: No.


More World War One in Fantastic Fiction.

3 thoughts on “World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “The Thing on the Doorstep”

  1. Sean Eaton November 21, 2015 / 3:57 pm

    Interesting background history–there is considerable autobiographical material in “The Thing on the Doorstep”. Joshi felt this was not one of Lovecraft’s better stories, but I think it is an important work, coming relatively late in his career. The “gender-bender” aspects are interesting–was this some comment on his difficult, short-lived marriage?

    • marzaat November 22, 2015 / 3:51 pm

      Thanks for the comment.

      This is an interesting story in that it’s the most domestic of his stories. The foreground focus is on a man trying to save his friend and that friend’s destructive marriage. Investigation of aeon old mysteries and blasphemous books are in the background. There is cosmic horror, though. It’s just hinted at in all those trips and Edward and Asenath go on.

      It had been ten years since I had read this story (the occasion was a discussion of it for the Deep Ones discussion group over at LibraryThing), and this time I was struck by some autobiographical details or, at least, influences directly from Lovecraft’s own life.

      I think one of those most telling comments is the narrator’s early hopes for Edward’s marriage: “Certainly he seemed more normally adult than ever before. Perhaps the marriage was a good thing — might not the change of dependence form a start toward actual neutralization, leading ultimately to responsible independence.”

      That sounds suspiciously what Lovecraft originally hoped would come of his own marriage.

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