“Very Old Folk, The“

“Very Old Folk, The“
   Short story (2,500 words); written on November 3, 1927. First published (in this form) in ScientiSnaps(Summer 1940); corrected text in MW
   In the Roman province of Hispania Citerior (Spain), the proconsul, P.Scribonius Libo, summons a provincial quaestor named L.Caelius Rufus to the small town of Pompelo because of strange rumors in the hills above the town. There, a shadowy group of hill-dwellers, perhaps not fully human, named the Very Old Folk customarily kidnap a few villagers on the day before the Kalends of Maius (May Eve) and the Kalends of November (Halloween). But this year, it is the day before the Kalends of November and no villager has been taken. This very lack of activity is suspicious, and Rufus is concerned that something far graver is afoot. He argues with the military tribune Sextus Asellius and with the legatus Cn. Balbutius, urging that the Roman army take strong action to suppress the Very Old Folk once and for all; after much debate, Rufus wins Libo to his side and prevails. As a cohort of Roman soldiers ascends the hills, the atmosphere becomes increasingly sinister; then some of the horses scream,the stars are blotted out of the night sky, a cold wind sweeps down upon the cohort, and the stoic Libo, facing some nameless horror, intones ponderously: “Malitia vetus—malitia vetus est…venit…tandem venit”(“The old evil—it is the old evil…it comes…it comes at last”). The “story” is in fact an account, in a letter to Donald Wandrei, of a remarkably vivid and longlasting dream that HPL had on Halloween night, inspired by the time of the year and by his reading of James Rhoades’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid(1921). HPL recounted the dream (with slight variations in each account) to at least two other correspondents: Bernard Austin Dwyer (see SL 2.189–97) and Frank Belknap Long. HPL frequently mentioned that he hoped to use the kernel of the dream in a story, but he never did so; in 1929, Long received HPL’s permission to borrow the text of his dream-account for his novel, The Horror from the Hills( WT,January and February–March 1931; Arkham House, 1963), where it comprises the central section of chapter 5. HPL states that the events of the dream “must have been in the late republic”; i.e., prior to the commencement of Augustus’ reign as emperor of Rome (27 B.C.E.).

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