World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

The Terrible Old Man

Article Id: WHEBN0000203107
Reproduction Date:

Title: The Terrible Old Man  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Kingsport (Lovecraft), The Strange High House in the Mist, The Dunwich Horror, Tryout, Massachusetts in fiction
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

The Terrible Old Man

"The Terrible Old Man"
Author H. P. Lovecraft
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror
Published in Tryout
Publication type amateur press journal
Publisher Charles W. Smith
Media type Paperback
Publication date July 1921 (July 1921)

"The Terrible Old Man" is a very short short story (less than 1200 words) by H. P. Lovecraft, written on January 28, 1920, and first published in the Tryout, an amateur press publication, in July 1921. It's notable as the first story to make use of Lovecraft's imaginary New England setting, introducing the fictional town of Kingsport.


  • Reaction 1
  • Synopsis 2
  • Characters 3
    • The Terrible Old Man 3.1
  • Other Media 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Lovecraft scholar Peter Cannon dismissively describes the story as "little more than a polemic against the intrusion of people Lovecraft regarded as 'foreigners,' that is, the non-English immigrants who arrived in the nineteenth century as cheap labor to fill the factories of an increasingly industrialized America."[1]


The Terrible Old Man is a strange elderly man "so old that no one can remember when he was young, and so taciturn that few know his real name." He lives alone in an ancient house on Water Street in the town of Kingsport. Even among the locals, few know the details of the Old Man's life, but it is believed that he captained East Indian clipper ships in his youth and had accumulated great riches throughout his life. Those who had visited the property had seen bizarre collections of stones in the front yard and observed the Old Man carrying on conversations with mysterious bottles on his table, which make "certain definite vibrations as if in answer." Most locals take care to avoid the Old Man and his house.

The story focuses on three robbers (Angelo Ricci, Joe Czanek and Manuel Silva), who are "of that new and heterogeneous alien stock which lies outside the charmed circle of New England life and traditions." They take little heed of the locals' cautionary whispers about the Terrible Old Man, but are immediately interested when they learn about his supposed hoard of treasure. They act immediately on their avarice according to their natures, and go to the Old Man's house to commit robbery. Ricci and Silva go inside to "interview" the Old Man about the treasure and its hiding place, while Czanek waits outside in the getaway car. Czanek waits impatiently for a long time. He is startled at one point by an outburst of horrific screaming from the house, but assumes that his colleagues have been too rough with the Old Man during their interrogation. Soon after this, however, the gate of the house opens, revealing not Czanek's colleagues, but the Terrible Old Man, "smiling hideously" at him. For the first time, Czanek takes note of the Old Man's unsettling yellow eyes.

The mutilated bodies of the three robbers are later found by the seaside, "horribly slashed as with many cutlasses, and horribly mangled as by the tread of many cruel boot-heels." The people of Kingsport talk about the discovery, as well as about the abandoned car and the screams heard in the night, but the Terrible Old Man shows no interest in their gossip.


The Terrible Old Man

The Terrible Old Man reappears in the story "The Strange High House in the Mist" in a more benevolent role. He further elaborates on the origin of the Strange High House, mentioning that the house was old when he himself was a child, which given the old man's ambiguous age, could be well over a century.

He has a number of similarities with later characters created by Lovecraft, in particular Joseph Curwen, the villain of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward: Both were improbably old, such that no one remembered when they were young; possessed vaguely defined but powerful abilities oriented around storing the dead in peculiar objects and calling them forth to serve them; and had access to ancient coinage of precious metals (as do the Whateleys in The Dunwich Horror).

Other Media

The Terrible Old Man was released as a short point and click adventure game for Windows and Android in 2015, by Cloak and Dagger Games.


  1. ^ More Annotated Lovecraft, S. T. Joshi and Peter Cannon, p. 2.


  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (1984) [1921]. "The Terrible Old Man". In S. T. Joshi (ed.). The Dunwich Horror and Others (9th corrected printing ed.). Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. Definitive version.  

External links

  • Works related to The Terrible Old Man at Wikisource
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.