Monday, July 31, 2023

Pulp Fantasy Library: The Haunter of the Dark

In the last post of this series, I looked at Robert Bloch's "The Shambler from the Stars," both because it's a decent story in its own right and because it was intended by its author as a darkly humorous homage to his friend and mentor, H.P. Lovecraft. HPL was apparently quite taken with the story, so much so, in fact, that he took up the gauntlet thrown by his youthful colleague, producing a sequel of sorts, in which he exacts his literary revenge. Entitled "The Haunter of the Dark," the story would first appear in the December 1936 issue of the Unique Magazine. It would also be his last story to appear in print before his death the following March.

The tale concerns a young writer of weird fiction, Robert Blake, whose name is a none too subtle evocation of Bloch's own. Blake is also intended to be the nameless narrator of "The Shambler from the Stars," a fact Lovecraft makes clear on multiple occasions in his own story. After the unfortunate events of the previous yarn, Blake has returned to Providence, Rhode Island and taken up residence in "the upper floor of a venerable dwelling in a grassy court off College Street." From his window, Blake can see – and becomes fascinated by – "a certain huge, dark church."

It stood out with especial distinctness at certain hours of the day, and at sunset the great tower and tapering steeple loomed blackly against the flaming sky. It seemed to rest on especially high ground; for the grimy facade, and the obliquely seen north side with sloping roof and the tops of great pointed windows, rose boldly above the tangle of surrounding ridgepoles and chimney-pots. Peculiarly grim and austere, it appeared to be built of stone, stained and weathered with the smoke and storms of a century and more. 
Blake's fascination is so strong that he spends much of the winter staring at the church, pondering "the far-off, forbidding structure." 

Since the vast windows were never lighted, he knew that it must be vacant. The longer he watched, the more his imagination worked, till at length he began to fancy curious things. He believed that a vague, singular aura of desolation hovered over the place, so that even the pigeons and swallows shunned its smoky eaves. Around other towers and belfries his glass would reveal great flocks of birds, but here they never rested. At least, that is what he thought and set down in his diary. He pointed the place out to several friends, but none of them had even been on Federal Hill or possessed the faintest notion of what the church was or had been.

In late April, Blake finally decides to pay a visit to the church and sneak inside. He finds it to be "in a state of great decrepitude," with "a touch of the dimly sinister" suffusing the place. He also finds "a rotting desk and ceiling-high shelves of mildewed, disintegrating books" whose abhorrent titles he recognizes like the Necronomicon, Liber Ivonis, Cultes des Goules, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, and more – hardly the kinds of volumes Blake expects to find in a church!

Even more bizarre were the contents of a room located just below the church's steeple. 

The room, about fifteen feet square, was faintly lighted by four lancet windows, one on each side, which were glazed within their screening of decayed louver-boards. These had been further fitted with tight, opaque screens, but the latter were now largely rotted away. In the centre of the dust-laden floor rose a curiously angled stone pillar some four feet in height and two in average diameter, covered on each side with bizarre, crudely incised, and wholly unrecognisable hieroglyphs. On this pillar rested a metal box of peculiarly asymmetrical form; its hinged lid thrown back, and its interior holding what looked beneath the decade-deep dust to be an egg-shaped or irregularly spherical object some four inches through. 

Inside the metal box was a "four-inch seeming sphere" that

turned out to be a nearly black, red-striated polyhedron with many irregular flat surfaces; either a very remarkable crystal of some sort, or an artificial object of carved and highly polished mineral matter. It did not touch the bottom of the box, but was held suspended by means of a metal band around its centre, with seven queerly designed supports extending horizontally to angles of the box’s inner wall near the top. This stone, once exposed, exerted upon Blake an almost alarming fascination. He could scarcely tear his eyes from it, and as he looked at its glistening surfaces he almost fancied it was transparent, with half-formed worlds of wonder within. Into his mind floated pictures of alien orbs with great stone towers, and other orbs with titan mountains and no mark of life, and still remoter spaces where only a stirring in vague blacknesses told of the presence of consciousness and will.

When, at last, Blake succeeds in looking away from the contents of the box, he notices that nearby there lies a "singular mound of dust" that turns out to be a human skeleton, still wearing the shreds of a man's suit and bearing a reporter's badge for the Providence Telegram newspaper. Also present is "a crumbling leather pocketbook" containing some disjointed handwritten notes. The notes suggest that the Starry Wisdom church was engaged in "devil-worship" involving a "box found in Egyptian ruins." The notes further suggest that the box contained "the Shining Trapezohedron" that "shews them heaven & other worlds" and that, through it, "the Haunter of the Dark tells them secrets." This information is enough for Blake, who, after a phantasmagoric reverie, flees the church.

Naturally, this is only the beginning of Robert Blake's investigations. The remainder of the story depicts the consequences of his having discovered the Shining Trapezohedron. "The Haunter of the Dark," though its plot has implications for the wider world, is a much smaller tale than many of Lovecraft's other efforts. The focus remains largely on Blake and what happens to him because of his unbound curiosity about the Starry Wisdom church. Readers looking for anything larger in scope might be disappointed, but I feel its more limited parameters gives the story an almost intimate feel that is often lacking in HPL's earlier stories. Perhaps that's because Lovecraft wrote it as an homage to a correspondent and friend, elevating it, if only a little, above a mere tale of cosmic horror. In any event, "The Haunter of the Dark" is suspenseful and well worth reading.


  1. One of my favorites out of HPL's work. As you said, it's got a certain something special to it. I find I always do my best work when riffing on someone else's idea that particularly inspired me, and it seems to both Lovecraft and Bloch were similar in that regard.

  2. Agreed. One of my favorites as well.

  3. One of my faves, as well. In fact, my favorite HPL pieces are all more intimate ones - The Statement of Randolph Carter being at the top of that list for almost 40 years. Although HPL's larger, sprawling tales expose more of the cosmic horror of his universe, and are rightfully well-regarded, I prefer the ones that are much more closely focused on a single human protagonist, which hint at something much larger going on beyond that character's knowing. That personal aspect, tinged by a touch of dark, cosmic mystery, always thrills me more than tentacle-faced gods rising from the depths of the ocean...