MPorcius enjoys and comments on an R.E. Howard horror story new to me, “The Dwellers Under the Tomb”. It’s found to be both complex in plotting and also a little hokey. But fun, and as MPorcius observes it offers several Lovecraftian riffs…
This is a fun story … we see such common Lovecraftian elements as a recovered diary that explains … plans and explorations. Also wall paintings that provide insight on the history…
Lauric Guillaud (in the book The Barbaric Triumph) adds that it is set in “Dagoth Hills” cemetery, in a nod to Lovecraft, and his description further suggests it has a great many Lovecraftian elements and approaches. But stops short of actually naming Lovecraft’s creations. It thus doesn’t feature in collections of Howard’s mythos stories such as Robert M. Price’s Nameless Cults.
The R’lyeh Tribune also noted the strong Lovecraftian approaches and themes. Adding that the tale is “consistent with Howard’s evolving theory of human devolution” and suggesting its use of the wall paintings was a response to reading Lovecraft’s then unpublished and rejected “At the Mountains of Madness” (early 1931). Very interesting.
A little research then finds S.T. Joshi suggesting, looking at the story’s approach and tone, that it was written for a particular market — one of the throwaway… “‘weird menace’ horror pulps such as Terror Tales”. It was presumably found too complex in plot for their readers, and was thus sent over to Weird Tales. There it was rejected in early summer 1932, as the magazine wobbled in the deepening Great Depression. The tale only saw print in 1976 in Lost Fantasies #4. After that it was picked up by the popular Howard paperback collection Black Canaan in 1978. In the early 1990s it was adapted by Roy Thomas for comics in the b&w Savage Sword of Conan #224, and judging by the cover he gave it a Conan retrofit and a vaguely Aliens-like monster makeover.
The R.E. Howard Foundation Newsletter has more recently published a facsimile of one of the two extant drafts, Draft A.
Is there an audio version? Yes, at YouTube. A fine reading in 50 minutes, as “The Dwellers Under The Tomb”.
Greg Staples illustration for the tale, in a Del Ray collection of Howard’s horror tales.
Sadly on hearing the story turns out to be not so fine. The main problem is the very hokey and incredibly creaky dialogue between the two nondescript investigators, although the reader of the audio version does his best with it. Then there’s the ‘lookalike brothers’ sub-plot, which is both too convoluted and too throwaway once the monsters appear. The best part is the final third in the tunnels, and the Lovecraft-infused momentary glimpses of the monsters as the tale’s climax begins to reveal their nature. It reminds me a bit of “The Tomb” and “The Rats in the Walls” as well as “Mountains”, and if you wanted a story in which Howard might be seen as poking a little fun at Lovecraft then this could be the one. Although it feels like the intention was not to poke fun but to have fun, by throwing some Lovecraftian ideas into a quick mish-mash of a pulp story. One intended for a cheap-thrills market, where Lovecraft would probably not see it if published.