Lovecraft Reading Group: "The Rats in the Walls"

j d worthington

Well-Known Member
May 9, 2006
Well, the title that won the most votes in the poll was "The Rats in the Walls"... so, anyone who wants to start the ball rolling... please feel free.......:D
Heh, that's it, J.d, keep us motley and lazy people on the straight and narrow...:D

I haven't got much to do at the moment (Wait...I feel like...there's something...something to do with an exam...?) so I'll probably read it soon and report back, sir!
I've read it and will post my thoughts after I've had time to digest it properly...:D
I'm ready to start the discussion if everyone else is ok with that.
Lovecraft seems to make a speciality of characters that dig for the truth, no matter what the consequences to life, limb or sanity. To what extent does the narrator literally and metaphorically dig for the truth about his ancestry?
Hmmm...I've just read this story, not because of the reading group, but because it happened to come up next in the collection I was reading.

I suppose it was intentional but it seemed that a lot was left unexplained. Either that or perhaps I just need to go back and read it again.

Just what exactly were his decendants actually doing down in that grotto? Demonic swine herders? I don't think I get it. And what were the rats all about? Somekind of divine retribution for the evils perpetrated by his family? To some extent they were real but in other ways, they were not perceived by anyone other than the family and cats (besides the original invasion). What did the canabalism have to do with it?

Like I say, I should probably re-read it, but I feel somewhat bemused (and thoroughly chilled to the bone!)
The way that I read it, his family bred humans for consumption, and so were cannibals, and members of a cult stretching beyond time immemorial. Which, in English and Australian lore, has a specific date: 1066.

The rats were also eating the humans, and, when the herd had been killed, they escaped and ravaged the countryside, as they no longer had any food.

As for the spectral rats, they were ghosts, psychic imprints of a past of ineffable evil. They were also the means whereby de la Poer found the grotto, only to devolve into a semi-human.
There haven't been a lot of comments here, but I'd rather like to hear thoughts on a few things before I post my own. For example:

What are your thoughts on the inclusion of Nyarlathotep toward the end of the story?

What is the meaning of the fact that the passage is chiseled from beneath?

How would you see that relating to some of Lovecraft's other tales, such as "The Temple" or The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (if you've read them)?

Are there any points or questions others would like to raise and talk about?
I never did quite understand the meaning of the fact that the passage was chiseled from beneath. Perhaps I need to re-read the story...
Well, I re-read the story last night.

One thing that I had forgotten about was the rat traps and the way they were triggered by the rats and yet were always empty. To what extent were they real or a part of De La Poer's imagination? Besides De La Poer, the cats were obviously aware of them. But no one else (human) could hear them attall. Also, the presense of the rats was somehow dependant on a descendant of the line being in the building because the cats were fine when he went to London.

However, something else about the rats confuses me. His dreams and sensations were always about the rats descending downards, through the walls of the building, down into the sub-cellars and upon the people therein. But when they are exploring the vaults, they discover the pits in which the rats were kept, fed with the sawed up remains of the sub-humans. De La Poer infers that they must have escaped the pits out of hunger and devoured the people in the grotto once the masters had been killed and the cellars sealed off. Presumably then they escaped through the faults in the ground to the surface to continue their rampage. But this rampage was in an upward direction, contrasting with the downward direction in his dreams and sensations.
My take on that one is that both combine to pull Delapore down into the furthest caverns; it is the confluence of learning about the rats, and also that they symbolize his heredity calling him back down through both the chambers of the Abbey and through the history of his family (and beyond, into the history of the place, and even into prehuman history), pulling him down into those "nethermost caverns", where he is ultimately swallowed by his heredity (and that of the human race -- the beast from which we emerged). That, to me, is one of the things for which Nyarlathotep stands, for example: the "Crawling Chaos" in an earlier piece he wrote (and a title used for this being again in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath) where he was the harbinger of the chaos and decay of the universe itself.

As for the traps... that's an interesting one, and one without (I think) an easy solution. However, my take on it is that this is to indicate that the rats are a very real thing, even if not real "physical" rats... they are the presence of history engulphing him because he has actively sought to revive something dormant -- the traditions and history of his "house" (both literal and figurative). The others, however, do not bear such a close relationship -- their interest is more academic (though Thornton certainly pays a heavy price) and Norrys may be seen to represent the present, that has swept away the De la Poers. In a sense, this makes the entire "presence" of that house vampiric, with a desire to feed on the present -- the living, if you will.

Some of these are just my own take on some of the symbols here; but they are what I make of these aspects....
Hello, folks. This looks fun...and a little scary. I'm not well versed in symbolism or literary criticism, but I am currently enjoying Lovecraft and this thread.

A question I have is about that upward chiseled corridor from the depths of the world. I'm wondering if Nyarlathotep might be a clue. It seems odd to me that he is so specificly mentioned when few others are and there seems to me no real compelling reason to call him out like that. Maybe Nyarlathotep had at some point been contacted by or made contact with an ancestor and a deal 'with the devil' struck? Afterward the passage was carved to allow both parties to interact? This deal might've been detailed in the burned packet at Carfax.

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