“The Outsider”

Raw Feed (2005, 2016): “The Outsider“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1921.Dunwich Horror and Others 

This is one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated story — if for no other reasons than its short length makes it one of Lovecraft’s most easily anthologized works and because of the strong temptation to see, in the solitude and naïvete and hideous and scholarly pursuits (the narrator improbably teaches himself how to read and speak — a literary tradition going back to at least Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan) of its narrator, a mirror of the odd-looking young Lovecraft bereft of a father who died mad in an asylum and a mother who thought him ugly and left him to his books and his homemade altars.

This 1921 story finds Lovecraft working in a European mode because, in terms of architecture (castles) and setting.

Specifically, there are elements of Edgar Allan Poe here. The end of Poe’s “William Wilson” also features a shock ending of self-revelation via a mirror. The isolated childhood brings to mind Poe’s “Berenice” with the narrator who grow up in the “mansion of my fathers”. Poe scholar Stephen Peithman has suggested the tone of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” influenced the tone of this story. All quite probable since Lovecraft later dismissed this story as his imitation of Poe.   

I find it interesting that ghouls are again at the center here (the narrator turns out to be one) as with Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model” five years later.

The narrator says he’s going to hang out beneath the Great Pyramid which reminded me of Lovecraft’s other Egyptian-tinged effort: “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” which he ghostwrote with Harry Houdini.

I find it interesting that Lovecraft opens the story with a quote from John Keats though it doesn’t have all that much to do with the story.  The 31-year old Lovecraft was still operating under the influence of the past.

Over two nights of tired re-reading of this story in 2016, I noticed two additional things.

First, I am still uncertain about the landscape descriptions of the trees and the buildings since the story seems to imply the character has not been above ground before, but there is also the suggestion he has.

Second, Lovecraft foreshadows the ending by noting that no mirrors exist where the narrator grows up.

Third, Lovecraft early on was an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan, and the notion of the narrator teaching himself to read and existing in a world without mirrors again strikes me as owing something to Tarzan.


More reviews of Lovecraft related material on indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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