The Horror at Red Hook
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Created: February 2017
| Updated: February 2017
The Horror At Red Hook
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"The Horror at Red Hook" is a short story written by H. P. Lovecraft. Written on August 1–2, 1925, it was first published in the January 1927 issue of Weird Tales.
Lovecraft referred to the area's immigrant population by referring to Red Hook as "a maze of hybrid squalor". He spelled out his inspiration for "The Horror at Red Hook" in a letter written to fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith:
Lovecraft had moved to New York to marry Sonia Greene a year earlier, in 1924; his initial infatuation with New York soon soured (an experience fictionalized in his short story "He"), in large part due to Lovecraft's xenophobic attitudes. "Whenever we found ourselves in the racially mixed crowds which characterize New York, Howard would become livid with rage," Greene later wrote. "He seemed almost to lose his mind."
The story was also inspired by the apartment that Lovecraft lived in, which is actually located on Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights, rather than Red Hook. In 2008, children's book marketer Nellie Kurtzman, the daughter of cartoonist and Mad magazine founder Harvey Kurtzman, heard of the apartment from a friend, saying, "A friend of mine lives on the top floor of this building, and I remember her saying, 'There's this huge apartment in our building where the people seem to have disappeared.'" When Kurtzman and several friends inspected the ground-floor, two-bedroom apartment, it had been left unlocked by the tenants who left mysteriously, without notice. They held a seance, during which they used a Ouija board. Kurtzman, who has a penchant for the unusual that she inherited from her father, moved into the apartment that April with a roommate, after which she experienced unexplained noises, objects moving or disappearing inexplicably and unusual dreams.
Much of the magical background to the story was lifted from the articles on "Magic" and "Demonology" in the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, written by anthropologist E. B. Tylor.Daniel Harms and John Wisdom Gonce note the spell Lovecraft quotes and describes as a "demon evocation", was actually an incantation used for treasure hunting. The use of the Yezidi as devil-worshipping villains seems to have been inspired by E. Hoffmann Price's "The Stranger from Kurdistan".
The story begins with Detective Malone describing an on-duty incident at Red Hook, Brooklyn, that gave him a phobia of large buildings. Back-tracking to where it all began, Red Hook is described in detail, with its gangs and crime, and suggesting at an occult underbelly.
The "case of Robert Suydam" is then told to be the driving force behind Malone's federally ordered involvement at Red Hook. Suydam's demeanor changes suddenly. Known as a shabby recluse, he is seen around town looking younger and more radiant. News arrives of his engagement to a well-to-do woman, while at the same time, there is an increase in local kidnappings. A police raid, involving Malone, uncovers nothing useful from Suydam's Red Hook flat save a few strange inscriptions.
After Suydam's wedding, he and his bride leave on a ship. A scream is heard and when the crew enter Suydam's stateroom, they find him and his wife dead, with claw-marks on his wife's body. Malone enters Suydam's flat to see what he can find. In the basement, he comes across a door that breaks open and sucks him inside, revealing a hellish landscape. Malone is found in the basement of Suydam's flat, which has caved in inexplicably above him, killing everyone else inside. The tunnels and chambers uncovered in the raids are filled in and cemented, though as Malone recounts, Red Hook never changes.
Connections to other Cthulhu Mythos tales
Although Margaret Murray's The Witch-Cult in Western Europe is featured in "The Horror at Red Hook" it is not generally considered to be part of the Cthulhu Mythos, lacking many of the elements that characterize it, such as totally alien cults, forbidden tomes (other then The Witch-Cult in Western Europe), unknown gods and a sense of true "outsideness", all the cults and magic in the book having decidedly real world origins. However Alan Moore used references to "The Horror at Red Hook" for his decidedly Cthulhu Mythos graphic novel and short story "The Courtyard". Lovecraft also recycled the dental identification for the remains of the protagonist for the ending of "The Thing on the Doorstep".
Robert Suydam lives in a "lonely house, set back from Martense Street". The Martense Family are the subterranean cannibals in "The Lurking Fear".
Martense Street is not a fictional locale; it is one block North of Church Avenue. The Dutch Reformed Church in which Suydam was married is on the corner of Church and Flatbush Avenues.