“Horror at Red Hook, The“

“Horror at Red Hook, The“
   Short story (8,400 words); written on August 1–2, 1925. First published in WT(January 1927); first collected in BWS;corrected text in D;annotated version in An2
   Thomas Malone, an Irish police detective working from the Borough Hall station in Brooklyn (near the racially heterogeneous slum known as Red Hook), becomes interested in the case of Robert Suydam, a wealthy man of ancient Dutch ancestry who lives in Flatbush. Suydam first attracts notice by “loitering on the benches around Borough Hall in conversation with groups of swarthy, evil-looking strangers.” He realizes that his clandestine activities must be masked by a facade of propriety; he foils the attempts of relatives to deem him legally incompetent by ceasing to be seen with the foreigners and marries Cornelia Gerritsen, “a young woman of excellent position” whose wedding attracts “a solid page from the Social Register.” The wedding celebration held aboard a steamer at the Cunard Pier ends in horror as the couple is found horribly murdered and completely bloodless. Incredibly, officials follow the instructions written on a sheet of paper, signed by Suydam, and turn his body over to a suspicious group of men headed by “an Arab with a hatefully negroid mouth.” The scene shifts to a dilapidated church in Red Hook that has been turned into a dance-hall, in the basement of which loathsome monstrosities perform horrible rites to Lilith. Suydam’s corpse, miraculously revivified, resists being sacrificed to Lilith and somehow manages to overturn the pedestal on which she rests (with the result that the corpse sends “its noisome bulk floundering to the floor in a state of jellyish dissolution”), thereby somehow ending the horror. All this time detective Malone merely watches from a convenient vantage point, although the sight so traumatizes him that he must spend many months recuperating in a small village in Rhode Island. HPL notes in a letter to Frank Belknap Long that the story “deals with hideous cult-practices behind the gangs of noisy young loafers whose essential mystery has impressed me so much. The tale is rather long and rambling, and I don’t think it is very good; but it represents at least an attempt to extract horror from an atmosphere to which you deny any qualities save vulgar commonplaceness” ( SL2.20). HPL records in his 1925 diary that he visited Red Hook on March 8, 1925. Sonia H.Greene in her memoir claims to supply the inspiration for the tale: “It was on an evening while he, and I think Morton, Sam Loveman and Rheinhart Kleiner were dining in a restaurant somewhere in Columbia Heights that a few rough, rowdyish men entered. He was so annoyed by their churlish behavior that out of this circumstance he wove ‘The Horror at Red Hook’” ( The Private Life of H.P.Lovecraft[Necronomicon Press, 1992], p. 12). Whether it was any single incident, or the cumulative effect of HPL’s New York experience, that led to the writing of the story remains in doubt. There is much local color in the story, derived from HPL’s growing familiarity with Brooklyn. The dance-hall church is very likely modeled on a church (now destroyed) near the waterfront in Red Hook. This church was, evidently, actually once used as a dance hall. Suydam’s residence is said to be in Martense Street (very close to 259 Parkside) and near the Dutch Reformed Church (on which “The Hound” was based); probably no specific house is intended, and there does not seem to be any on Martense Street that might correspond to it.
   Another piquant reference, not relating to topography, is to the fact that some of the evil denizens of Red Hook are of a Mongoloid stock originating in Kurdistan—“and Malone could not help recalling that Kurdistan is the land of the Yezidis, last survivors of the Persian devil-worshippers.” This appears to be a borrowing from E.Hoffmann Price’s fine tale “The Stranger from Kurdistan,” published in WT (July 1925), where mention is made of the devil-worshipping Yezidis. HPL would, however, not become personally acquainted with Price for another seven years.
   Much of the magical mumbo-jumbo in the story was copied directly from the articles on “Magic” and “Demonology” (both by E.B.Tylor, celebrated author of the landmark anthropological work, Primitive Culture[1871]) from the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica,which HPL owned. Specifically, these borrowings involve the Latin quotation from the medieval writer Antoine Delrio (or Del Rio), An sint unquam daemones incubi et succubae, et an ex tali congressu proles nasci queat?(“Have there ever been demons, incubi, and succubi, and from such a union can offspring be born?”) from the entry on “Demonology”; and, from the entry on “Magic,” the invocation uttered at the beginning and end of the story (“O friend and companion of night…”) and the strange Graeco-Hebraic incantation that Malone finds on the wall of the dance-hall church. In a later letter (see “The Incantation from Red Hook,” in The Occult Lovecraft [1975]) HPL attempts to supply a translation of the formula, but commits several errors in the process (the encyclopedia entry provided no translation). The character of Malone may also have something to do with the genesis—or, rather, the particular form—of the story. Sometime before writing “The Horror at Red Hook” HPL had submitted “The Shunned House” to Detective Tales,the magazine that had been founded together with WTand of which Edwin Baird was the editor. But Baird rejected the story. HPL seems to have sought to make “The Horror at Red Hook” a kind of detective story by including the figure of a police detective, even though the actual narrative is supernatural. In early August 1925, HPL planned to send “The Horror at Red Hook” to Detective Tales(HPL to Lillian D.Clark, August 8, 1925; ms., JHL); whether he did so is unclear, but if so, the tale was rejected. HPL later remarked that the story was consciously written with WTin mind (HPL to August Derleth, November 26, 1926; ms., SHSW).
   See Robert M.Price, “The Humor at Red Hook,” Crypt No. 28 (Yuletide 1984): 6–9.

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