“Tree, The“


“Tree, The“
   Short story (1,640 words); written in the first half of 1920. First published in Tryout(October 1921); rpt. WT(August 1938); first collected in BWS;corrected text in D
   The “Tyrant of Syracuse” proposes a contest between the two great sculptors, Kalos and Musides, to carve a statue of Tyche. The two artists are the closest of friends, but their lives are very different: whereas Musides “revelled by night amidst the urban gaieties of Tegea,” Kalos remains home in quiet contemplation. They begin working on their respective statues, but Kalos gradually takes ill and, despite Musides’ constant nursing, eventually dies. Musides wins the contest by default, but both he and his lovely statue are weirdly destroyed when a strange olive tree growing out of Kalos’ tomb suddenly falls upon Musides’ residence.
   It is evident that Musides, for all his supposed devotion to his friend, has poisoned Kalos and suffers supernatural revenge. HPL says as much in a discussion of the story in In Defence of Dagon( MW 156). Although generally considered a “Dunsanian” tale, the story had been conceived no later than 1918, a year before HPL ever read Dunsany. He outlines the plot in a letter to Alfred Galpin (August 1918), saying that it had by that time been “long conceived but never elaborated into literary form”; he postponed writing the story because he evidently felt that Galpin’s own tale “Marsh-Mad” ( Philosopher,December 1920) had preempted him by utilizing the “living tree” idea.
   This early plot synopsis did not suggest that the tale was set in ancient Greece, as it manifestly is. HPL’s knowledge of Greek history and literature was put to good use. The names of the artists— Kalos (“handsome” or “fair”) and Musides (“son of the Muse[s]”)—are both apt although not actual Greek names. Tyche means “chance” (or sometimes “fate”), and actual cults of Tyche were established in Greece sometime after 371 B.C.E. Other allusions in the story establish that the events must take place in the period 353–344 B.C.E., when Dionysius II was Tyrant of Syracuse.
   See S.T.Joshi, “‘The Tree’ and Ancient History,” Nyctalops 4, No. 1 (April 1991): 68–71.

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