"The Festival" is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft. Written in 1923 and published by Weird Tales in 1925, it tells the story of an unnamed narrator who travels to the New England town of Kingport, where his ancestors had lived. It was by their wishes that the family line must keep the town's centennial Yuletide festival alive, and it now falls upon our unfortunate protagonist to take part in this mysterious event.
The story is noteworthy among Lovecraft's work for featuring the Necronomicon in a greater capacity than usual, to the point of concluding with a passage from the fictional book.
Tropes present in this story:
- Animalistic Abomination: We're never told what the monsters do look like, but we're given enough creatures that they vaguely resemble that we can infer they're beastly creatures.
- Burn the Witch!: It's suggested that the unburned corpse of a wizard (or, presumably, a witch) can give rise to a walking humanoid mass of worms which collectively become host to the dead spellcaster's mind when they consume its rotting flesh. Why it's necessary to burn such people alive is not explained, however.
- Christmas Episode: Could be seen as one for the Cthulhu Mythos as a whole. Granted, most normal Christmas tropes are either heavily downplayed or nonexistent, as this particular Yuletide festival comes with its own ancient traditions that have little resemblance to the holidays as we now know them. One of the earliest lines in the story is "It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind."
- Dissimile: Played for horror with the description — or rather, anti-description — of the winged monsters.They were not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor vampire bats, nor decomposed human beings; but something I cannot and must not recall.
- A Fête Worse than Death: The eponymous winter solstice rite beneath the town of Kingsport. The town is made up of monstrous creatures posing as human who, yearly, go beneath the earth to engage in various unspeakable rites. However, it is never made clear whether or not the protagonist was dreaming.
- Fire Keeps It Dead: An appropriate quote is cited.Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes.
- Giant Flyer: The cultists summon bizarre winged beasts that they mount and ride off on into the night.
- Latex Perfection: Well, almost. The narrator doesn't notice anything amiss when he is first greeted by the old man who goes on to serve as his guide for the night, but slowly finds himself unnerved by what the inexplicable Uncanny Valley nature of the man's face. He comes to suspect that the man is actually wearing a mask of some sort, and towards the end of the story the mask starts to come off. The narrator doesn't stick around long enough to see what the man's actual face looks like.
- Religion of Evil: The festival is celebrated by members of an unidentified cult, complete with the classic and now somewhat cliched black robes.
- Vanishing Village: Of a sort. When the protagonist first arrives in Kingport, it's a crumbling and spooky ghost town. When he awakes the morning after the festival, he finds that it is now a normal-looking, contemporary village that bears little to no resemblance to the hellish place he was in the night before.
- The Worm That Walks: The Trope Namer, with the masked old man and the story's final lines having inspired Dungeons & Dragons's use of the concept. It's rather ambiguous as to whether this is the case within the story, though, as the true nature of either is left very uncertain. It could just as easily refer to a maggot-infested corpse, or a single huge worm.For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.