Today I want to talk about one of Lovecraft’s shortest but possibly most effective short stories, The Outsider.
The Outsider is a beautifully written short regarding a chap escaping a castle.
The story is told in first person, which was a means of story telling Lovecraft favoured to an extent. Our narrator talks about his life, focusing on how lonely and isolated he has been and ultimately how unhappy. He has no real memory of other people, or even where he is from originally. He also describes his environment, the dark and rather run-down castle that squats in an endless forest. The narrator has never even seen natural light. All his knowledge from outside world comes from books.
But despite the dark and lonely life the narrator is not completely downtrodden he has a determination to free himself. He climbs the tallest tower of the castle, but the stairs don’t reach the entire way, and so he climbs the walls until he reaches a trapdoor. When he pushes through he realises he is not up high as expected but rather at ground level in another world.
He’s rather chuffed with this.
The narrator is in a churchyard and walks through, passing through countryside until he reaches another castle. A very familiar castle. However, there are people in this castle and desperate for human contact the narrator clambers in a window. The people inside become terrified and flee from him. Though the narrator doesn’t realise its him they are running from and instead becomes afraid himself, what else must be close to him that scared all the people.
He eventually sees himself and he’s not exactly a person, he sounds more like a ghoul. The narrator tries to return to his old castle but finds the way barred. Now he is trapped in this world, still completely alone.
This story is effective for several reasons, it plays on common fears of loneliness and isolation, the feeling of being trapped. Then the hope of escape only to have that hope ripped away and finding yourself in a worse position. It plays on the fear of trying something new only to find it putting you in a worse situation with no way back.
The plot is simply structured, told from the point of view of the narrator, allowing the reader to live in the narrators head, feel what he feels and also, importantly know what he knows and nothing more.
This is of course, a classic horror story harks back to the Gothic genre, with spooky settings in the form of the old castle, themes and bone-chilling characters.