Bloodcurdling Tales: In the Vault

in-the-vault

A pedestrian, commercial work, written for a contest, “In the Vault” is also one of H.P. Lovecraft’s meanest. Written in the same two month period of time as the vehemently racist “The Horror at Red Hook” and “He,” it also turns Lovecraft’s attention away from the urbanity of those tales or the Gothic countrysides of “The Rats in the Walls” (and “The Outsider,” which was written first, but published after “In the Vault”) to small towns. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t have kind words: the story centers on a cretinous undertaker, facing supernatural comeuppance for playing favorites with which corpses he treats respectably. Lovecraft describes the man as “primitive,” capable only of making caskets which are less flimsy and shoddy (and even then only if he sets his mind to it), and mocks “the conventional association of the homely and the wholesome” as “absurd..” The ending itself is similar to many others in the author’s oeuvre–revealing the context of the maddening supernatural occurrence in italics, punctuated by an exclamation point, a device which can come across histrionic and hackish, even in more demanding fare like “The Outsider.” The application of this trope for “In the Vault” isn’t the QED of a horror-as-philosophy, the way it is elsewhere, merely spelling out the point of a much more simplistic pulp yarn. Its inclusion a spit showing Lovecraft’s contempt, suggesting an audience made entirely of absurd, primitive, rustic folk like his undertaker. Misanthropy laid bare.

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