The Perfection of the Hideous

In the car yesterday I listened to two excellent narrations of Lovecraft short stories. And I marvelled upon re-encountering the opening paragraph of “The Picture in the House” from 1919.

Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.

Andrew Leman does a great job with “Picture“, and Bruce Green likewise with “From Beyond“. But there’s one annoying glitch in Green’s otherwise stellar performance. The mad scientist in “From Beyond” is named Crawford Tillinghast. Green consistently pronounces his surname “Tilling-hast”. But this should surely be “Tilling-gast“: cf. Prendergast, ghastly, aghast, Gormenghast.

Thanks to Joel for introducing me to the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast.


  1. #1 Imogen Quest
    May 11, 2011

    There is a lovely audio book of the Iliad– can’t remember the narrator just now, but he’s got the perfect voice for the poem, and it’s a good translation. However, he pronounces “Argive” as “Arjive,” and I absolutely cannot listen to the thing as a result. Sad.

  2. #2 Birger Johansson
    May 11, 2011

    Although Lovecraft in some ways was a bad author, he had a genius for creating atmosphere.
    Fritz Leiber’s “Our Lady of Darkness” succeeded in transporting Lovecraftian horrors from desolate New England moorlands to the bustling city centers -you will never view high-rise buildings or power pylons the same again!

    My own personal favourite for emotional impact is not a written passage, but the film sequence of the derelict alien spaceship in Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, with its uncanny organic-looking interior. And that is before encountering H. R. Giger’s creation. Perfection of the hideous, indeed.

    (An irritating glitch is the description of the planetoid as only 1200 km across -much too little to hang on to any atmosphere. And the quoted rotational period is far too fast. This ruins much of the suspention of dibelief. The incredible speed of growth of you-know-who might be explained by enzymes using quantum tunnelling)

  3. #3 Jonathan Lubin
    May 11, 2011

    Martin, I’m sorry, but Tillinghast is a real name, borne by real people, not one made up by Lovecraft to sound ghastly. It’s as old in Rhode Island as Saltonstall is in Massachusetts, just about as patrician as you can get in New England.
    And they all pronounce it Tilling-hast, which I can attest because for ten years or more, I lived across the street in Providence from Charlie Tillinghast, an elderly gentleman whose grandson of the same name had been a student of mine at Brown. He pronounced it that way, too.

  4. #4 Pierce R. Butler
    May 11, 2011

    Funny how Lovecraft apparently never dared to step south of the Mason-Dixon line…

  5. #5 Lassi Hippeläinen
    May 12, 2011

    In the South there are R’lyeh and the Mountains of Madness…

  6. #6 Paul Winger
    May 12, 2011

    I think you would like the latest official audio book of Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness, narrated by Barry Schwam and produced by Stella James Studios at They are the same people who have taken over the feature film adaptation of the Lovecraft work from del Toro and Cameron. It’s one of Lovecraft’s greatest works, and Barry’s performance is wonferful.

  7. #7 dustbubble
    May 14, 2011

    don’t want to turn this into some sort of dreary pub quiz, but Jonathan up the page is dead right about the pron.=”Tilling-hast”.
    They must have had quite posh accents back then, as it’s “Tillinghurst” on the map, so fairly Old English (-inga + hyrst). It’s in Sussex.

  8. #8 Monado, FCD
    May 25, 2011

    And a hurst is a stand of trees.

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