“Pickman’s Model” is “The Outsider” who heard “The Call of Cthulhu” – stories by H.P. Lovecraft

Pickman’s Model” is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories. I first read it as a teenager, which is the very best time to read anything scary, in my humble opinion. Even though the first-person narration is what makes this story so immediate, I kept wishing that Lovecraft had written it in third-person instead, just so I could hear the other half of the discussion. More than the other stories we had to read, this one felt like I was listening to just one side of a crazy person’s conversation, and it was a little maddening. But maybe that was his intention…?

Anyway, the narrator knows an artist – Richard Upton Pickman — so talented, but at the same time, so subversive that people who once embraced him are now terrified to be in the same room with him. Except for our storyteller, who is kind of a belligerent jerk.

I loved the setting and the gradual, but not too gradual, build-up of terror in this story. I could actually “see” the cramped, jammed, dirty, ancient streets and alleys and houses Lovecraft describes as the narrator accompanies Pickman to the artist’s other studio – the one where he paints all those awful, awful pictures. Pictures that are so lifelike it’s scary!

The little prologue to this story in my book says that Lovecraft had an actual house in the oldest part of the city— the North End of Boston – in mind when he wrote this story. Meaning that he’d actually been in that old house with the dark basement, and that it had a huge well dug in the floor with a wooden cover over it. *shudder*

The next story, “The Outsider” was written in 1921 (five years before he wrote “Pickman’s Model”), and it kind of shows. The narrator in this one is lost, lonesome and sad. For the first few pages, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, and it was a little hard to care about this character because of that. However, Lovecraft’s description of the narrator’s break for freedom was terrific. He climbs above the trees only to end up at ground level, in a cemetery. Oops. The cat’s out of the bag now.

Still, I felt bad for the guy. This afterlife, while lacking all the reported horrors of hell, is also lacking any of the supposed delights of heaven. It’s just a kind of … existence. However, despite that crappy party he crashed, the narrator’s story ends with him actually enjoying his newfound freedom in some faux-literary-Egyptian-name-dropping purgatory. Yes, the ending was a little obvious, but these were different times, so I’m gonna give HPL a pass.

Finally, the great, the immortalThe Call of Cthulhu” – meh.

Although this story is the start of the great, so-called “Cthulhu Mythos” (pause as fan-boys everywhere genuflect at the mention of his name), it should have been so much better. The premise was good – artists everywhere having strange dreams during the same span of time; the equally strange death of the narrator’s relative, who happened to be a professor of ancient languages; a bizarre journal left behind by said relative, full of “disjointed jottings, ramblings and [newspaper] cuttings”, along with a clay bas-relief featuring “a pulpy tentacled head” on a “grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings” (357).

Throw me the keys – I’m going to gas up the Mystery Machine now.

Yes, there is so much in this story that should have been great. Instead, Lovecraft goes on and on until only the heartiest of readers are still conscious at the end to appreciate his genius.

Nevertheless, you absolutely MUST read “The Call of Cthulhu” if you want to be a horror writer, or even just a well-read horror fan. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. They just are.

Lovecraft, H. P. The Complete Fiction. Barnes and Noble, 2008. Print.

6 thoughts on ““Pickman’s Model” is “The Outsider” who heard “The Call of Cthulhu” – stories by H.P. Lovecraft”

  1. Yes… you must read Call of Cthulhu. The Old Ones demand it. Revel in its… its… self righteousness? I guess I’m not very deep or very smart, because I don’t see what the fascination with it is. It’s just so unsatisfying. I don’t know. It was the first Lovecraft story I’ve ever read. I know, I suck. But! But Pickman’s Model totally redeemed it for me. It was such a great little short story.

    Wasn’t a fan of The Outsider, but I didn’t hate it, either.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can understand the lack of enthusiasm for “The Call of Cthulhu”. It’s a long read in a format that isn’t used much anymore. It reminds me of the tediousness of reading Stoker’s “Dracula” with all the letters as the structure. At the same time, the brilliant imaginative mythos is undeniable. Cthulhu has become ingrained in pop culture; they even have plushies of the monster (and yes, I so want one). I think part of the issue is that modern readers expect so much from that story as Cthulhu is a widely popular monster. We expect the story to be written in a more modern structure that is quicker. For the time Lovecraft wrote it, I bet the story blew people’s minds. For me, the fact that Lovecraft dances around information that is all from other sources helps to create that huge feel of a big secret Cthulhu cult, but I’m a big fan of his work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree, he could have done so much more with Cthulhu. It was a good build up. A cool mystery but by the end, even Scooby and Shaggy would have been bored.

    I loved, I mean I LOVED The Outsider, I wish I could marry it. Lol. I hurt so much for the narrator the entire way through this dismal tale. So many feels.

    As I read your take on Pickman’s Model, I decided I might go re-read it. I did really like it until the end. I’m a “show-me” gal. I wanted to see that damn demon thing. But I didn’t see the narrator the way you did. Was he a jerk? Maybe he WAS Pickman. Maybe this was a retake on the Jekyll/Hyde story? OMG I think I just solved a century old mystery! Call me Velma–the smart one. haha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Velma, you’re right. Lovecraft could have done MORE with Cthulhu and he kind of does — it just takes him several stories to do it. Of course, by the time he’d finished creating his great “Mythos” everyone but the SERIOUS fanboys were asleep and drooling.


  4. Okay, I hate Call of .. Big C but I will defend it here, (partly to disagree with Gwen. It’s a compulsion). I think before H.P. Lovecraft there was no concept of some other big evil thing besides the Christian Devil which is a very rational type monster. To have something as huge and unknowable as the Big C. revolutionized horror. The idea of Big C. was so new and crazy that it must have been shocking the first time the audiences read it. I remember when I first encountered Big C. It was actually in an anthology of Lovecraftian stories, and I was floored by the idea of something that drove you mad just trying to see it, trying to understand the size and origin and intention of it. Then I went to the source and tried to read actuall Lovecraft… and then I went back to reading re-writings of Lovecraft.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an interesting idea, L.J. — that Cthulhu floored people because he was a big, unknowable “evil” to kind of balance out the big, unknowable “good”. I also loved the idea of something so freaking badass it could drive you mad if you saw it. I remember being in a Call of Cthulhu game run by a GM whose idea of game play was to kill off his PCs every time they lost a “sanity” roll. Great premise, but alas, a short game.


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