The Horror at Red Hook
The Horror at Red Hook
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"The scream came from the Suydam stateroom, and the sailor who broke down the door could perhaps have told frightful things if he had not forthwith gone completely mad -- as it is, he shrieked more loudly than the first victims, and thereafter ran simpering about the vessel till caught and put in irons."

Rating: Three shoggoths out of five

Nutshell: A New York City police investigator tries to track down several missing children in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, amidst bizarre behavior by the residents.

Setting: New York City

Commentary: Generally, Lovecraft's New York tales are extremely misanthropic, and this tale is an excellent example of that. His distate for foreigners tends to mar the quality of this particular tale, especially in the culturally-sensitive society of today. Even aside from that, this is far from his best work.

History, Esoterica, and Factoids: "The Horror at Red Hook" was first published in the January 1927 issue of Weird Tales. It was written over the course of two days in 1925.

The epigraph to the tale comes from Arthur Machen's short story, "The Red Hand", which was something of a sequel to The Three Impostors. Machen (British, 1863-1947) was highly regarded by Lovecraft, who felt that "The White People" was the best weird tale ever written, aside from Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows". Lovecraft referenced Machen frequently, even going so far as to place similar scenes in his own tales (see both "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Colour Out of Space").

"The Horror at Red Hook" is set in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, NY, where Lovecraft lived for a brief time at 169 Clinton Street (from 1924 to 1926). Red Hook was settled in 1636 by the Dutch, and it's prime location on the waterfront aided it in becoming one of the busiest shipping centers in the United States in the 19th century. It's consistent influx of trade and foreigners led to it being a rather gritty neighborhood, especially in Lovecraft's time. Lovecraft lived on Clinton Street at the very peak of Prohibition. At the time, New York City housed approximately 32,000 speakeasies, where notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone (1899-1947) had his roots.

Lovecraft was quite a racist, which is evidenced in his less-than-politically-correct descriptions of foreigners in his tales. The tales that he wrote while living in New York are some of the most misanthropic things he has ever written, and "The Horror at Red Hook" is one of the most distasteful to today's socially sensitive readers. It is evident that he did not care much for the diverse culture of New York City, and particularly not that of Red Hook. After the dissolution of his marriage, he quickly moved back to Providence, RI.

Almost all of the locations in "The Horror at Red Hook" refer to very real places that Lovecraft was familiar with:

  • Pascoag and Chepatchet are two quaint towns in the northwestern corner of Rhode Island that Lovecraft had visited in 1923.
  • Dublin University is best known as the Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, which was founded in 1591 by Elizabeth I.
  • Governor's Island is an island nestled between the coast of Red Hook and Ellis Island; it was established as the home of the colonial governor's residence in 1698. It also once housed a now-defunct Coast Guard Base.
  • Borough Hall is probably the closest thing that Brooklyn has to a city hall; it is an impressive building that stands at 209 Joralemon Street.
  • Flatbush is another subsection of Brooklyn, settled in 1652; Lovecraft had lived there at 269 Parkside Avenue with his wife before he separated from her and moved to Red Hook.
  • The "Netherlandish gravestones" refer to the graveyard of the same church that Lovecraft cited as an inspiration for "The Hound", that of the Dutch Reformation Church in Flatbush.
  • Martense Street runs a few blocks south of the University Hospital of Brooklyn, and is southeast of Prospect Park.
  • Ellis Island lies just off the coast of Red Hook, and was the chief immigration port for the United States between 1892 and 1924.
  • Gowanus is yet another neighborhood of Brooklyn, which was once notorious for its transients, rooming houses, general rowdiness, and foul smell (it was heavily polluted).

Thomas Malone in "The Horror at Red Hook" is one of many of Lovecraft's characters who suffers from a phobia. Other phobias include the fear of drafts in "Cool Air" and the fear of subterranean structures in "Pickman's Model".

The German quote, "es lasst sich nicht lesen -- it does not permit itself to be read" appears in the first lines of "The Man of the Crowd" by Edgar Allen Poe (American, 1809-1849).

"Beardsley" refers to illustrator Aubrey Beardsley (English, 1872-1898), a precocious young artist who died at the young age of 25. He created, among other things, the fronticepiece to Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan and the Inmost Light.

Gustave Dore (French, 1832-1883) was a painter and illustrator of some reknown, who illustrated Paradise Lost, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and other such things with his eerie visions. Lovecraft named him as the inspiration for the "night-gaunts" in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.

"Dickensian", of course, refers to Charles Dickens (English, 1812-1870), author of Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectaions. Lovecraft couldn't stand his sentimental style of writing, as evidenced in a 1918 letter: "Chas. Dickens I cannot bear."

"Miss Murray's Witch-Cult in Western Europe" refers to the work of anthropolgist Margaret Murray. In 1921, she published he first book, Witch Cult in Western Europe, in which she claimed that ancient pre-Aryan race had been driven underground centuries before, but still thrived in America and Europe. Her interpretation of history was based primarily on conjecture, and many of her theories are not provable. She even went so far to propose that fairies were an actual subculture of human being. Despite the book's inaccuracies and wild conjectures, it remains today as the basis for Neopaganism.

"Turanian-Asiatic magic" refers to the area of Turan, which is a desert region in Turkistan. Turan turns up both in Arthur Machen's work ("The Turanians" in Oranments in Jade) and in Robert E. Howard's work (the Conan the Barbarian tales).

The Kabbalah is a system of Jewish theosophy that concerns a exceptionally interesting method of interpreting the scripture, involving a numeric cipher. Given the religous nature of the Kabbalah, it is difficult to find practical, basic information about it. Darren Aronofsky's film Pi (which I personally contend is the most Lovecraftian movie ever made, besides being a great film in general) contains a very basic, if somewhat incorrect, introduction into how the Kabbalah works into number theory. Basically, each of the 40 Hebrew letters are assigned a number and are used to find number patterns in the Scriptures (if you watch Pi, though, keep in mind that since there is no such thing as zero in the Hebrew numbering system, it would be impossible to generate a 216-digit number from 216 Hebrew letters).

The "Faustus legend" is a 16th century fable about Dr. Johann Faust, who sold his soul to the devil for youth, power, and knowledge. Elizabethan playwright Christoper Marlowe (English, 1564-1593) adapted Faust onto the stage, as did literary behemouth Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German, 1749-1832). Later, the story of Dr. Faustus inspired composers (Schubert, Schumann, Berlioz, Mahler, Gounod, et al.) and novelist Thomas Mann (German, 1875-1955).

Sephiroth, Ashmodai, and Samael are all Jewish entities. Sephiroth is, in the Kabbalah, the a set of attributes through which the infinite begins to relate to the finite. Ashmodai is another form of the name Asmodeus, is an evil spirit. Samael is the incarnation of Leviathan, the seducer of Eve.

Nestorian Christianity refers to the Nestorian Church, which is a community in Iran, Iraq, and India. It is sometimes called the Assyrian Church, as it represents the ancient church of Persia. The Nestorian Church believe that there were two separate persons in Christ, one divine, and one human. The members praise Nestorius (d. circa 451) as a saint and reject the ecumenical councils after the second. Nestorians believe that calling the Virgin Mary the Mother of God is heresy, though otherwise she is highly regarded in their faith.

Shamanism in Tibet (or Thibet, as Lovecraft spells it) is part of oldest religeon practiced in Asia. Elements of shamanism can be seen in some of the practices of Tibeten Buddhism. It generally values the balanced relationship between humanity and nature, and espouses methods of personal and tribal healing through the special skills of a charismatic individual (the shaman).

Yezidis are the people of Yazd in central Iran. It was long a production center for textiles and glass, and is home to several centuries worth of rich history and architecture.

The Brooklyn Eagle was a real newspaper. It was published from 1841 to 1955. In the year 1900, it had a circulation of 50,000 (while Brooklyn only housed 1.1 million people).

It is unclear where the name Gorgo came from, though it is possible that it is a veriation on the Greek Gorgons, three female creatures with snakes for hair, who were so ugly that their glare would turn any man to stone. The first two Gorgons, Stheno and Euryale, were born as Gorgans and were immortal. Medusa was born as a girl so lovely that she was able to seduce the god Poseidon in one of Athena's temples. That, of course, made Athena very jealous, so she turned Medusa into the third Gorgon. The Greek hero Perseus later slayed Medusa.

Mormo is another figure in Greek mythology. This creature was a ghoul that served Hecate and scared young children into behaving by biting and crippling them.

The long Greek incantation translates (according to Lovecraft) to something like, "O Lord God Deliverer; Lord-Messenger of Hosts: Thou-art-a-mighty god-forever; Magically fourfold assemblage; And annointed one, together and in succession!" Lovecraft wrote a lengthy explanation of the origins of the translation in an undated letter. He had little knowledge of Greek and it is believed that he merely copied the whole incantation out of an article on magic in the Encyclopedia Britannica (9th edition).

Chaldean Christianity is a branch of the Nestorian Church that reunited with the Roman Church. The Chaldean Church was established in 1551 after dissidents established their own church under Yohanna Sulaga.

Lilith is a Hebrew entity, not of Chaldean origins as Lovecraft asserts. The idea of Lilith has evolved through the ages: apparently, she was merely a night-entity that represented the evil side of femininity, who seduced and killed men, and slaughtered children. In the Middle Ages, Lilith became a night demon said to be Adam's first wife. She deserted him without partaking of the Tree of Knowlege and struck out on her own on the shores of the Red Sea.

The use of the phrase "cosmic sin" is very interesting to see in Lovecraft, as he seems to have thrown it in for the sake of a nod to Arthur Machen (who was of an orthodox fiber) rather than as a indicator of his own beliefs. Indeed, Lovecraft was not religeous at all. In a 1932 letter, he remarks, "The whole idea of 'sin', with its overtones of unholy fascination, is in 1932 simply a curiosity of intellectual history."

In midieval European folklore, an incubus is an entity that seduces women while they sleep; conversely, a succubus is a female entity that seduces sleeping men.

Hecate was a Greek goddess of the cross-roads. She is normally represented with three faces, representing the three ages of womanhood: maiden, mother, and crone. Later in history, her image evolved into a goddess of the underworld and of magic.

The Magna Mater is an aspect of Cybele, the fertility goddess of Phrygia. The cult surrounding Cybele existed from around 6000 years ago up to the early days of Christianity. Around 200 BC, the holy black rock of Cybele was moved from Pessinos to Rome, where the cult came to know its heyday. Primarily, Cybele's followers were women, but the priests of the cult were men who castrated themselves before her image. Only women and the eunnuch priests were allowed to attend the major holiday celebrations. The cult of the Magna Mater also shows up in "The Rats in the Walls".

Moloch was the Old Testament deity of the Ammonites and the Israelites. He was worshipped through the sacrifice of children via fire. Moloch was mantioned in Milton's Paradise Lost as a "..horrid king, besmeared with blood/Of human sacrifice, and parents' tears..." It is suggested by some rabbinic writers that the diety was worshipped in the form of a hollow brass ox, which children were placed into as the idol was heated from below.

Ashtaroth is a plural form of the Hebrew name Ashtoreth, the name of a Canaanite fertility goddess. She was consort to Baal, the chief diety of Canaan. In Greek, her name is Astarte.

"Walpurgis-riot" refers to Walpurgisnacht, otherwise known as May Eve or Beltane. The day is one of the four Witches Sabbaths. It is mentioned repeatedly in Lovecraft's writing. See "The Dunwich Horror" for more information.

A satyr is a Greek entity that was idle, lecherous, and fond of revelry. They are creatures with men's torsos and the legs of goats.

"Aegipan" apparently refers to Aigipan, the Greek entity represented as half-goat and half-fish. He was honored by the god Zeus by being placed upon the stars as the constellation Capricorn.

A lemur is a small, aboreal, noctournal mammal of the family Lemuridae. They are currently only found on Madagascar and the Comoro Islands. There are only 10 species extant today. Lemurs are closely related to monkeys, and sport opposable thumbs and toes.

Tartarus was the lowest region of Hades, the Greek underworld. It was reserved for the especially wicked.

The quote from "old Delrio" comes from Disquisitionum Magicarum Libri Sex (Six Books of Disquisitions on Magic) (1603) by Jesuit scholar Martin Anton Del Rio (Spanish, 1551-1608). The encyclopedic book discussed magic and witchcraft, and gave instructions to judges for conducting witchcraft trials. The excerpt translates to "Have there ever been demons, incubi, or succubae, and from such a union can offspring be born?" Lovecraft found the excerpt in the Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th edition.

The philosopher Democritus (Greek, 460-370 BCE) was the first person ever to postulate that all matter was built up of discrete building blocks such as atoms, as opposed to everything being infinitely divisible. According to legend, the well of Democritus was bottomless. Poe also cites the well of Democritus in "A Descent into the Maelstrom".

Availability: "The Horror at Red Hook" can be found both in More Annotated Lovecraft (S.T. Joshi and Peter Cannon, eds.) and in The Road to Madness. More Annotated Lovecraft provides full footnotes, but The Road to Madness contains more stories.

Weird Tales, January 1927

Cover art for the January 1927 issue of Weird Tales, in which "The Horror at Red Hook" first appeared.

Borough Hall
209 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY

Construction completed in 1848
Calvin Pollard, architect

Dutch Reformed Church of Flatbush
890 Flatbush Avenue
Brooklyn, New York, USA

Constructed 1796

Illustration from Le Morte Darthur, 1893-94

Aubrey Beardsley (English, 1872-1898)

Illustration for Dante Alighieri's Inferno
Gustave Dore (French, 1832-1883)

Jami Mosque
Yazd, Iran
Rebuilt 1324-1365

Medusa head frieze, 2nd century AD
Temple of Apollo at Didyma, Turkey

Statue of Cybele (Magna Mater)
Roman, circa 150 AD
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA

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