“Festival, The“

   Short story (3,700 words); probably written in October 1923. First published in WT(January 1925); rpt. WT(October 1933): first collected in O;corrected text in D;annotated version in CC. The first-person narrator finds himself in Kingsport, Mass., on the Yuletide “that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind.” He follows a course along the old town that can be traversed to this day. He passes by the old cemetery on the hill, where “black gravestones stuck ghoulishly through the snow like the decayed fingernails of a gigantic corpse,” and makes his way to a house with an overhanging second story and full of antique furnishings. Eventually he is led from the house by its occupants, including a man whose face seems to be a cunningly made waxen mask. He and the other townspeople make their way to a church in the center of town; entering it, they all descend robotically down a “trapdoor of the vaults which yawned loathsomely open just before the pulpit,” where the celebrants worship a sickly green flame next to an oily river and then ride off on the backs of hybrid winged creatures. The narrator resists ascending the creature reserved for him, and in doing so he jostles his companion’s waxen mask; horrified at some nameless sight, he plunges into the river and eventually finds himself in St. Mary’s hospital in Arkham. He asks for a copy of the Necronomiconof Abdul Alhazred, and therein reads a passage that appears to confirm the events he has experienced, specifically in relation to entities that “have learned to walk that ought to crawl.”
   The story is based upon HPL’s several trips to Marblehead, Mass., beginning in December 1922. Of his first trip there HPL later wrote that it was “the most powerful single emotional climax experienced during my nearly forty years of existence. In a flash all the past of New England—all the past of Old England—all the past of Anglo-Saxondom and the Western World—swept over me and identified me with the stupendous totality of all things in such a way as it never did before and never will again. That was the high tide of my life” ( SL3.126–27). The course of the narrator’s journey through the town corresponds to an actual route that leads to the center of Marblehead; the house with the overhanging second story is probably to be identified with an actual house at 1 Mugford Street. The church where the climactic incidents occur has long been thought to be St.
   Michael’s Episcopal Church in Frog Lane, but this identification appears to be incorrect: St. Michael’s has no steeple, and allusions to it in this story and later tales make it clear that it is on a hill and that it is a Congregational church. In all likelihood, HPL was probably referring to one of two nowdestroyed Congregational churches in the city. The old cemetery on the hill is clearly Old Burial Hill, where many ancient graves are to be found.
   In 1933 HPL stated in reference to the tale: “In intimating an alien race I had in mind the survival of some clan of pre-Aryan sorcerers who preserved primitive rites like those of the witch-cult—I had just been reading Miss Murray’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe” ( SL4.297). This controversial work of anthropology by Margaret A.Murray, published in 1921, made the claim (regarded by modern scholars as highly unlikely) that the witch-cult in both Europe and America had its origin in a preAryan race that was driven underground but continued to lurk in the hidden corners of the earth. HPL had just read a similar fictional exposition of the idea in Arthur Machen’s stories of the “Little People” and was accordingly much taken with this conception; he would allude to it in many subsequent references to the Salem witches in his tales, and as late as 1930 he was presenting the theory seriously (see SL3.182–83). The epigraph, from Lactantius, appears to derive from HPL’s ancestral copy of Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana
   See Donovan K.Loucks, “Antique Dreams: Marblehead and Lovecraft’s Kingsport.” LS No. 42 (Summer 2001): 48–55.

An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. .

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