"The Thing on the Doorstep" is a short story written by H. P. Lovecraft, part of the Cthulhu Mythos genre of horror fiction. It was written in August 1933, and first published in the January 1937 issue of Weird Tales.
Two novels suggested as inspirations for "The Thing on the Doorstep" are Barry Pain's An Exchange of Souls (1911), about a scientist's invention that allows him to switch personalities with his wife, and H. B. Drake's The Remedy (1925; published in the U.S. as The Shadowy Thing), in which a character with the power of mind-transference comes back from the dead by possessing the body of an injured friend.
The story is divided into 7 chapters:
The protagonist of the story, a poet and husband of Asenath Waite. Lovecraft's depiction of Derby's childhood is considered to be in large part autobiographical:
It is considered unlikely, however, that the typically self-deprecating Lovecraft was thinking of himself when he described Derby as a child prodigy and young literary sensation:
The title of Derby's book suggests that Lovecraft had Clark Ashton Smith in mind, who won acclaim at the age of nineteen when he published a book of poetry called The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912). Another possible model is Alfred Galpin, a friend of Lovecraft's who was eleven years his junior, whom he described as being "immensely my superior" in intellect.
In writing that Derby's "attempts to grow a moustache were discernible only with difficulty", Lovecraft evoked his protégée Frank Belknap Long, whom he frequently teased for same reason.
Like Upton, Pickman and Derby are both old Salem names. There is a suggestion in Lovecraft's fiction that the three families are closely allied; Richard Upton Pickman is the title character of "Pickman's Model", while the Nathaniel Derby Pickman Foundation underwrites the Antarctic expedition in At the Mountains of Madness.
Peter Cannon notes that the protagonist's character drives the plot of "The Thing on the Doorstep" more than in most Lovecraft stories. "Where cosmic forces usually overtake the typical Lovecraft hero such as Peaslee by chance, here Derby has only his own weak personality to blame for his falling victim to his wife's nefarious designs.
The story's narrator and the best friend of its protagonist, Edward Derby. After attending Harvard University and apprenticing with a Boston architect, he sets up his own practice in Arkham. He is married and, at about the age of 28, has a son, Edward Derby Upton.
Upton is an old Salem, Massachusetts name, reflecting the fact that Arkham is largely a fictionalized version of Salem. Lovecraft described Winslow Upton, a Brown University professor, as a "friend of the family".
In Fritz Leiber's story "To Arkham and the Stars" (1966), Upton is credited with designing Miskatonic University's new Administration Building and the Pickman Nuclear Lab, described as "magnificent structures wholly compatible with the old quadrangle." Albert Wilmarth remarks in the story that Upton "has had a distinguished career ever since he was given a clean bill of mental health and discharged with a verdict of 'justified homicide'".
The wife of Edward Derby and the daughter of Ephraim Waite. She is described as "dark, smallish and very good looking except for over-protuberant eyes"--a look common to people from Asenath's hometown of Innsmouth. Combined with the fact that her mother was Ephraim's "unknown wife who always went veiled", there is a strong suggestion that Asenath is a Deep One hybrid of the sort described in Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth".
In the Bible, Asenath is the wife of Joseph and the mother of Ephraim. S. T. Joshi claims that her name translates as "she belongs to her father", and that "in the tale Asenath is literally 'possessed' by her father.
Peter Cannon writes that Asenath Derby makes "The Thing on the Doorstep" "the only Lovecraft story with a strong or important female character"--although the question is complicated by the tale's "gender-swapping situation".
The father of Asenath Waite. He is said "to have been a prodigious magical student in his day", and is described as having a "wolfish, saturnine face" with a "tangle of iron-grey beard." He "died insane" at about the time that Asenath entered the Hall School.
The story makes frequent references to elements from other Lovecraft stories, including places (Arkham, Miskatonic University, Innsmouth, Kingsport), books (the Necronomicon, Book of Eibon, Unaussprechlichen Kulten), and entities (Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath, shoggoths).
Lovecraft returned to the theme of mind-transference in "The Shadow out of Time" (1935).
Peter Cannon wrote two sequels to "The Thing on the Doorstep": “The Revenge of Azathoth” (1994) and “The House of Azathoth” (1996).
According to Peter Cannon, "Most critics agree that 'The Thing on the Doorstep'" ranks among "the poorest of Lovecraft's later tales." He criticizes it for its "obvious and melodramatic plot, punctuated by patches of histrionic monologue", as well as its "rather formulaic" Arkham background.
Lin Carter likewise dismisses the tale as "curiously minor and somehow unsatisfying...a sordid little domestic tragedy...wholly lacking in the sort of cosmic vision that makes Lovecraft's best stories so memorable.
Anne Rice makes a reference to H.P. Lovecraft's The Thing On The Doorstep in the novel, The Tale of the Body Thief. Lestat says that he has read The Thing On The Doorstep that was written by an author of whom he knew about, H.P. Lovecraft.
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