Terrible Old Man, The
- 1) In “The Terrible Old Man,” the aged and eccentric former sea captain in Kingsport who is rumored by the townsfolk to be fabulously wealthy. A band of robbers who attempt to despoil the feeble old man of his supposed treasure are mysteriously and viciously despatched. He is also briefly mentioned in “The Strange High House in the Mist.”2) “Terrible Old Man, The“Short story (1,160 words); written on January 28, 1920. First published in the Tryout(July 1921); rpt. WT(August 1926); first collected in O;corrected text in DH.Three thieves—Angelo Ricci, Joe Czanek, and Manuel Silva—plan to rob the home of the Terrible Old Man, who is said to be both fabulously wealthy and very feeble. The Terrible Old Man dwells in Kingsport, a city somewhere in New England. In the “far-off days of his unremembered youth” he was a sea-captain, and seems to have a vast collection of ancient Spanish gold and silver pieces. He has now become very eccentric, appearing to spend hours speaking to an array of bottles in each of which a small piece of lead is suspended from a string. On the night of the planned robbery, Ricci and Silva enter the Terrible Old Man’s house while Czanek waits outside. Screams are heard from the house, but there is no sign of the two robbers. Czanek wonders whether his colleagues were forced to kill the old man and make a laborious search through his house for the treasure. But then the Terrible Old Man appears at the doorway, “leaning quietly on his knotted cane and smiling hideously.” Later three unidentifiable bodies are found washed in by the tide.The tale is reminiscent of many stories in Lord Dunsany’s The Book of Wonder (1912), several of which similarly deal with attempted robberies that usually end badly for the perpetrators. Probably the closest analogy is with “The Probable Adventure of the Three Literary Men.” The three thieves represent the three major non-Anglo-Saxon ethnic groups in Rhode Island (Italian, Polish, and Portuguese).The location of Kingsport is unspecified; only later, in “The Festival” (1923), did HPL identify it with the town of Marblehead and situate it in Massachusetts.See Donald R.Burleson, “‘The Terrible Old Man’: A Deconstruction,” LSNo. 15 (Fall 1987): 65–70; Carl Buchanan, “The Terrible Old Man’: A Myth of the Devouring Father,” LS No. 29 (Fall 1993): 19– 31.
An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz.
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