Review and Summary of "The Beast in the Cave" by H.P. Lovecraft

While H.P. Lovecraft is one of the reigning, though deceased, kings of horror, there were definitely trends in his work that bordered on repetition. You can chalk this up to him being one of the universe creators of horror.  You would frequently see cities of a time long past or glimpses of other worlds. There was something, to use one of his favorite words, phantasmagorical about his work. As much as I love these stories from Lovecraft, I enjoy "The Beast in the Cave" all the more for its break from this trend. Do not worry. You will still recognize his handiwork, but you may find it hard to believe that this short story was written in 1905. Lovecraft was only 14 at the time.

[Spoilers ahead]

The entirety of "The Beast in the Cave" takes place in Kentucky in the company of the nameless narrator. He is stumbling through Mammoth Cave with a dying torch after having lost his tour group. You learn that he has been lost for many hours and considers his plight terminal. This deep in the caves, even a guide would have a difficult time finding a way out. This setting is perfect for a story wrought with cloying claustrophobia.

As you may have guessed, our narrator soon encounters a beast. Well, he hears what he thinks is a beast. It is walking on all fours and padding along behind the lost tourist. We join the narrator in his head while he ponders what could possibly be this deep into the caves and how being lost from the light may have affected any creature so beset by tragedy. Soon, our hero loses his light and finds himself cornered. The creature comes ever closer as the man reaches for a rock, throws it and incapacitates his tormenter.

Surely, that is a creepy enough story, but not for a teenaged H.P. Lovecraft. The guide, after noticing one of his charges went missing, goes searching for the narrator. They meet just after the confrontation with the so-called beast. As the guide sheds a light on the thing, which they can tell is expiring by its breathing, the two men realize with horror that what was chasing the lost tourist was his fate were he to have remained too long in the cave. It was a beast all right, but a beast that was once human and had changed with the lightless ecosystem of Mammoth Cave.

If you are just starting off with Lovecraft, this is as good a place as any. The story is just a few pages, is not as wordy as some of the adult Lovecraft's stories and does not fail to chill.

Shelly Barclay

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