The Outsider (short story)

The Outsider (short story)

Infobox short story |
name = The Outsider
title_orig =
translator =
author = H. P. Lovecraft
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Horror short story
published_in = "Weird Tales"
publication_type = Periodical
publisher =
media_type = Print (Magazine)
pub_date = April 1926
english_pub_date =
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Outsider" is a short story by American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Written between March and August 1921, it was first published in "Weird Tales", April 1926 [cite book | last = Straub | first = Peter | title = Lovecraft: Tales | publisher = The Library of America | date = 2005 | pages = p. 823 | isbn = 1-931082-72-3 ] . It is about a mysterious individual who awakens to find himself completely alone and what happens when he attempts to make contact with others.

"The Outsider" combines fantasy and horror into an atmospheric, surrealistic, and nightmarish tale. It is one of Lovecraft's few tales that uses human emotion as an important part of the story.


In a letter, Lovecraft himself said that, of all his tales, this story most closely resembles the style of his idol Edgar Allan Poe, writing that it "represents my literal though unconscious imitation of Poe at its very height." [S. T. Joshi, explanatory notes to "The Outsider", "The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories".] The opening paragraphs echo those of Poe's "Berenice", while the horror at the party recalls the unmasking scene in "The Masque of the Red Death". [S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, "An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia", p. 199.]

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. [Joshi and Schultz, p. 198.]

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. [Cited in Joshi and Schultz, p. 198.]

Colin Wilson, in "The Strength to Dream" (1961), points to 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. [Cited in Joshi and Schultz, p. 198.]

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." [Joshi and Schultz, p. 199.]


Lovecraft was highly critical of "The Outsider", writing:

:To my mind this tale--written a decade ago--is too glibly "mechanical" in its climactic effect, & almost comic in the bombastic pomposity of the language. As I re-read it, I can hardly understand how I could have let myself be tangled up in such baroque & windy rhetoric as recently as ten years ago. [H. P. Lovecraft, "Selected Letters" Vol. 3, p. 379; cited in Joshi and Schultz, p. 198.]


"The Outsider" is written, like much of Lovecraft's work, in the first person, and details the miserable and apparently lonely life of an individual who appears to have had no contact with anyone else for a great many years. His memory of others is vague, and he cannot seem to recall anything of who he is or any kind of personal history. The character dwells in a vast but incredibly ancient castle, from which he never seems to have ventured. His only knowledge of what lay beyond has come exclusively from books.

The narrator tells of his eventual determination to free himself from what he sees as a prison. He decides to climb the ruined staircase of the high castle tower. At the top of the steps is a grate in the ceiling which he removes and climbs through. Amazingly, he finds himself not at a great height, but at ground level in another world. He wanders through a churchyard and some countryside in this new land until he reaches another castle.

Drawn to a party he can hear within, he steps into the room only to see the entire gathering flee, although he does not understand the source of their horror. Alone once again, he approaches what he thinks is a doorway to another room and catches sight of a hideous, rotting figure. Reflexively throwing out a hand, he touches not the creature, but a mirror, and sees himself as he really appears.

Connections to other Lovecraft stories

* Ghouls make frequent appearances in Lovecraft's work, most notably in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" (1926).
* This story also mentions Nitocris, a legendary queen of Egypt, who makes an appearance in the 1924 Lovecraft and Harry Houdini collaboration "Imprisoned With the Pharaohs".
* In "The Haunter of the Dark", Nephren-Ka is mentioned as the pharaoh who built "a temple with a windowless crypt" to the Shining Trapezohedron, and "did that which caused his name to be stricken from all monuments and records".

In popular culture

*"Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka" (1998) is an album title by death metal band Nile based on a quote from "The Outsider".
*"It Grieves My Heart", a song by Draconian, quotes from "The Outsider".
*"Drained", a song from James LaBrie's "Elements Of Persuasion" album was based around "The Outsider".
*In "To Mars and Providence", the story ends with Lovecraft seeing an elder god across a dining hall, approaching him, and realizing that he is facing a mirror.


*cite book|chapter=The Outsider|first=Howard P.|last=Lovecraft|year=1984|title=The Dunwich Horror and Others|editor=S. T. Joshi (ed.) |edition=9th corrected printing|publisher=Arkham House|location=Sauk City, WI|id=ISBN 0-87054-037-8 Definitive version.
*cite book|last=Lovecraft|first=Howard P.|chapter=The Outsider|origyear=1936|title=The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories|editor=S. T. Joshi (ed.)|year=1999|location=London, UK; New York, NY|publisher=Penguin Books|id=ISBN 0-14-118234-2


External links

* [ "The Outsider" with images, sound effects and music.]
* [ "Existential Sadness in H.P. Lovecraft’s 'The Outsider'" ] by Louise Norlie

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