“Evil Clergyman, The“
- Letter excerpt (1,720 words); probably written in the fall of 1933. First published (as “The Wicked Clergyman”) in WT(April 1939); first collected in BWS;corrected text in DThe unnamed narrator explains how he is ushered into an attic chamber by a “grave, intelligentlooking man” who tells about someone referred to only as “he,”who used to live in the place. The man sternly adjures the narrator not to stay after dark nor to touch the object on the table, which looks like a matchbox. Then the man leaves the narrator alone. Examining his surroundings, the narrator finds it filled with old books of magic and alchemy. At length, he props the matchbox-like object against a book and shines his flashlight—which emits a peculiar violet light—upon it. The narrator senses another person in the room—a man attired in the “clerical garb of the Anglican church” who appears subtly evil-looking. This person begins throwing the books into the fireplace. Then others in clerical outfits appear; they seem to be passing some judgment upon the evil-looking clergyman. After they depart, the clergyman takes up a coil of rope, mounts a chair, and with a strange look of triumphhangs himself. The narrator then lurches backward down the stairwell. Shortly thereafter a group of people come into the room, including the man who had first led the narrator into the place. He at once realizes that the narrator has fiddled with the box, for the narrator, in outward appearance, now bears the countenance of the clergyman.The “story” is an account of a dream described in a letter to Bernard Austin Dwyer. HPL remarks in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith (October 22, 1933) that “Some months ago I had a dream of an evil clergyman in a garret full of forbidden books” ( SL4.289–90), and it is likely that the dream was recounted to Dwyer at this time or slightly earlier. Some of the imagery and atmosphere are reminiscent of “The Festival,” although the dream takes place in England. Un like “The Thing on the Doorstep” and other tales, this dream-fragment does not involve mindtransference but transference of a very physical sort: because the protagonist unwisely handled the small box that he had specifically been told not to touch, he summoned the “evil clergyman” and somehow effected an exchange of external features with him, while yet retaining his mind and personality. It is difficult to say how HPL would have developed this conventional supernatural scenario.
An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz.
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