Literature / The Rats In The Walls

A rare H.P. Lovecraft story that does not contain any overt supernatural elements, other than the mention of ancient worship and the imaginings of an increasingly unreliable narrator. After his son dies from injuries sustained during the Great War a man leaves New England, with his nine cats, to purchase and restore his ancestors' hereditary lands. Helped by a friend of his son's, who just happens to be the nephew of the man currently in possession of the land, he discovers generations of mistrust and suspicion aided by local traditions of horrible, nasty deeds attributed to the land and his ancestors specifically. Then the cats start acting weird, the narrator starts having troubling dreams and the newly renovated ancestral home may be overrun by an army of nocturnal rats. And things just go downhill from there...

The complete story can be read online here.

Warning: Spoilers Below

Tropes in this work include:

  • Author Avatar: Like Lovecraft himself our narrator is a cat lover and, after his move to England, a budding historian - albeit mostly just of his own family line.
    My household consisted of seven servants and nine cats, of which latter species I am particularly fond.
  • Bowdlerize: The cat named Niggerman in Lovecraft's original version is usually given different names in later printings.
  • Cannibal Larder: Basically the entire hollowed out limestone cavern found underneath the Exham Priory but also specifically the ancient English building Capt Norrys inspects and presumably many more.
  • Defector from Decadence: The narrators ancestor, who killed his entire degenerate family when he discovered the truth of their evil, and fled to America. The people of the surrounding area considered him something of a hero and didn't even try to stop his escape.
    • A nobleman who had married into the family ended up killing his wife when he discovered some gruesome secret about her. When he explained his motives to the local priest (we're never told exactly what they were), he immediately absolved him of his crime and told him he had committed no sin.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: It's more or less left up to the reader whether the narrator was driven mad by what he found or the madness was inherit in his blood and only needed a slight push to go spiraling out of control.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The hideous truth behind all the horrible legends surrounding the Exham Priory and its inhabitants.
  • In the Blood: Implied, it seems that the De La Poers have a hereditary predilection towards madness and evil, even the single surviving branch had a few black sheep, despite its progenitor being a significantly nicer person than his ancestors.
  • Older Than They Think: In universe, the Exham Priory itself - the visible parts are old enough (ranging from gothic, roman, druidic and possibly even native cymric) but then they get down into the cavern and the further they move the older the remains, both structural and skeletal, become. The exact age of the underground ruins are never totally established, since they only explore a small fraction.
  • People Farms: One of the investigators the author brought with him states that, based on the skeletons they find, the poor unfortunates kept down below had been so interbred they had devolved to walking on all fours.
    The skulls denoted nothing short of utter idiocy, cretinism, or primitive semi-apedom.
  • Purple Prose: Not as bad as some of Lovecraft's works but still definitely there.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Technically a family with a dark secret - It is implied that throughout its history any family member let in on the secret that didn't react well or any member who simply didn't 'fit in' was gotten rid of.
  • What Could Have Been: As noted in the description this story holds hints of supernatural but nothing concrete ever appears despite all the foreshadowing - Sir William notes as they're descending the stairs that the passage was chiseled from below and we never find out how far the cavern descends...
    We shall never know what sightless Stygian worlds yawn beyond the little distance we went, for it was decided that such secrets are not good for mankind.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Goes for all the evil De La Poers, but one particular family member mentioned in passing was treated as a virtual boogeyman by the children of the town.
  • You Dirty Rat: Played with, the rats aren't actually evil themselves, but the heralds of something much darker. They're still treated as dangerous and monstrous, especially since its all but stated that they had devoured the human "cattle" kept in the underground city after the De La Poers were wiped out.