The Outsider (fiction)

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Summary

'The Outsider' written by H.P. Lovecraft, completed in 1921, about a mysterious man who has been living alone in what he describes as a castle for as long as he can remember; eventually, he decides to break free of his solitude, in search of human contact and light.


Comments / Trivia

  • "The Outsider" was first published in Weird Tales magazine in April 1926. It remains as one of Lovecraft's most commonly reprinted works and is also one of the most popular stories ever to be published in Weird Tales.
  • The story's epigram is from John Keats' tragic 1819 poem "The Eve of St. Agnes", describing a dark and troubled night of revelry in which a young woman performs a solitary ritual said to reveal to her the form of her true love, a member of a rival family who, unbeknownst to her, has at the same time bribed his way into the family castle to look up on his true love - the same young woman - as she sleeps.
  • Lovecraft felt he was unconsciously imitating the work of Edgar Allan Poe in writing the story, and acknowledges that this story strongly resembles that author's work, writing that it "represents my literal though unconscious imitation of Poe at its very height." The opening paragraphs echo those of Poe's "Berenice (fiction)", while the horror at the party recalls the unmasking scene in "The Masque of the Red Death (fiction)". The story may also have been inspired in part by Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Fragments from the Journal of a Solitary Man", in which a man dreams that he is walking down Broadway in a burial shroud, only understanding the shocked reaction of passersby when he sees his reflection in a shop window. Another suggested literary model is Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein (1818), in which the creature causes a shock when he enters a cottage: "I had hardly placed my foot within the door before the children shrieked, and one of the women fainted." The monster later looks in a pool of water and sees his reflection for the first time. Colin Wilson has also suggested Oscar Wilde's short story "The Birthday of the Infanta", in which a misshapen dwarf is horrified to see his reflection for the first time.
  • Some critics have suggested that "The Outsider" is autobiographical, and that Lovecraft was talking about his own life when he wrote, "I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men." An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia finds this analysis to be exaggerated, but suggests that the story "may possibly be indicative of HPL's own self-image, particularly the image of one who always thought himself ugly and whose mother told at least one individual about her son's 'hideous' face."


Spoilers

Synopsis

 Spoiler Section (Highlight to Read)

In the famous plot twist of the story, The Outsider climbs the tallest "tower" of his "castle" and emerges from a crypt into a surface world cemetery, where a revelry is being held, and, following the sounds, the Outsider is drawn into the celebration, which stops in horrified silence at his presence... the Outsider beholds a nightmarish, ghoulish figure looking out at him from a sheet of cold, hard glass, and realizes that it is his own reflection in a mirror, and that he has no place in a world of warmth and light and mirth... unable to return to the strange underworld from which he had journeyed, the Outsider instead embraces his status as an outsider, joining the ranks of the solitary ghouls of the night wind.


Associated Mythos Elements


Keeper Comments, Heresies and Controversies

  • The direct association of The Outsider, his barely-seen caretaker with Ghouls might be considered shaky, and it's not even clear that the Ghouls that The Outsider joins in riding on the night winds are the same as Lovecraft's other Ghouls. Still, it is a tempting association to make.
  • The story hints at a number of strange locations, characters, and events in what appears to be an undeveloped Weird Egypt.
  • For the purposes of this wiki, the Outsider's subterranean home is unofficially placed on the Other Side and/or the Hollow Earth.


See Also

External Links

Link to outside reviews or helpful pages.