Monday, March 15, 2010


“Old Masson, the caretaker of one of Salem’s oldest and most neglected cemeteries, had a feud with the rats.”

Both under his own name and, later, in collaboration with his wife C.L Moore, Henry Kuttner was one of the finest writers of the pulp age. His work ranged from Howardesque sword and sorcery (Elak of Atlantis) to superbly literate science fiction (Vintage Season, Mimsy Were The Borogroves) and witty fantasy (Housing Problem).

However, early in his (solo) career, Henry Kuttner also produced a number of darkly somber, atmospheric and downright scary tales. The first and, arguably, the finest of these was The Graveyard Rats. First published in Weird Tales in 1936, The Graveyard Rats is an elegant exercise in short story terror, calling to mind the work of such masters of the macabre as Lovecraft and Poe while remaining an original and disturbing piece of work.

Concerning the battle between Salem cemetery caretaker (and oft times grave robber) Masson and the eponymous rats, the story moves effortlessly from man vs animal to something deeper and more sinister to a brutally shocking denouement in little over half a dozen pages.

“It was crawling towards him and in the pale glow of the flashlight the man saw a frightful gargoyle face thrust into his own. It was the passionless, death’s-head skull of a long-dead corpse… it made a faint groaning sound as it crawled towards Masson, stretching its ragged and granulated lips in a grin of dreadful hunger.”

It’s often the way of the world that time and changing tastes in fiction tend to rob older horror tales of their power - relegating what was once cutting-edge to the status of period piece – The Graveyard Rats remains a sharp and grisly piece of macabre fiction.

If you don’t know Henry Kuttner’s work, The Graveyard Rats is the perfect place to start, a minor masterpiece from a writer who’s work (in particular the collaborations with C.L Moore) stands as a shining example of intelligent pulp fiction.

1 comment:

  1. Amen to that, James. I first encountered this story in Ramsey Campbell's anthology 'The Gruesome Book'. It scared the hell out of me then and still does so now.