The Alchemist (1916) H.P. Lovecraft – Review

It all begins in plain Lovecraft style with a skittish narrator recalling the horror he witnessed, the horror he survived, strung out in long sentences. Set at a withering French castle blighted with toppled turrets and moss-caked bricks, a man details how his kin’s grandeur was lost at the accursed gesture of a wrothful Alchemist’s […]

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Comic book cover art by Caliber comics 1997.

It all begins in plain Lovecraft style with a skittish narrator recalling the horror he witnessed, the horror he survived, strung out in long sentences. Set at a withering French castle blighted with toppled turrets and moss-caked bricks, a man details how his kin’s grandeur was lost at the accursed gesture of a wrothful Alchemist’s son.

Centuries ago a Wizard (Michael Mauvias) and his son (Charles le Sorcier) are blamed for the disappearance of the Count’s kinfolk, being there were rumors that he once sacrificed his wife in a burning ritual to the Devil. In his rage, the Count stifles the Wizard to death. His servants later find the lost family member safe and unharmed. Upon hearing of his father’s demise, Charles le Sorcier hexes the Count and his entire lineage before escaping into the inky night. From then on, all the males die at the exact age of 32 years old. Every death is inexplicable, and with every death comes the loss of the family’s prestige. Thus hundreds of years later, the old Chateau has decayed into a nearly uninhabitable state. Lovecraft thrives at contriving a vivid canvas for the story, setting up the dire aura to lure the readers in.

Meanwhile, the narrator’s trepidation magnifies as he reaches his early 30s. He spends his time studiously perusing the castle’s library in an effort to reverse the curse. Eventually, his curiosity impels him to wander into the darkest voids and forgotten passages of the ancient estate. Beyond an intersection of cob-webs and beneath a heap of dust, he locates a hidden trapdoor. A wave of toxic fumes greets him along with the hideous visage of an undead stranger. This stranger details the homicidal murders of his lineage through the years, claiming Charles le sorcier had slain them personally by brutal force. The elixir of life Charles’d concocted kept him alive to exact his revenge. Oh, since he’s an Alchemist, of course there’s a hoard of gold in the vault as well. If you haven’t yet guessed it, the undead figure is Charles le Sorcier himself. Lovecraft gets cagey and saves this reveal for the final sentence in a hackneyed ghost story-like climax that came off as lame as “Boo! I’m the Boogeyman.”

Why on earth would a brilliant Alchemist commit these endless murders when he had the resources to prosper? Only the teenage H.P. Lovecraft could explain this absurd inanity. In the name of conceit and horror, this too shall persist.

 

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