The Beast in the Cave:
A Lovecraftian Conan Doyle Tale

by Peter Cannon

To start, there’s the documentary format. The opening sentence of “The Terror of Blue John Gap” frames the narrative as the letter of a dead man, “found among the papers of Dr. James Hardcastle.” Likewise, Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” one of his most celebrated stories, is subtitled “(Found Among the Papers of the Late Francis Wayland Thurston, of Boston).” Specific dates and carefully detailed settings lend verisimilitude in both tales. In his isolation and doubts about his sanity, Hardcastle fits the mold of the doomed Lovecraftian hero.

Page 4 includes an ominous clue to the nature of the monster, the tufts of sheep’s wool found outside the cavern, one of which is bloody. The sores on the anemic cows in Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” similarly hint at the nature of that story’s horror. Later in the same paragraph appear words and phrases — fetid … nameless thing … lurking — evocative of Lovecraft’s prose. The preceding mention of “the old Roman arch” calls to mind the ancient Roman foundation of Exham Priory in Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls.” A few pages later, Hardcastle remarks, “My own nostrils were filled by a low fetid odour, mephitic and abominable.” Again, the language is strikingly Lovecraftian, and one of the characteristics of the Dunwich Horror is its “indescribable stench.”

As for the bear-like monster, “something utterly unearthly and dreadful,” its kind, Hardcastle speculates, evolved underground for “countless aeons.” Lovecraft used the idea of prehistoric non-human races in a several tales, notably the ghostwritten “The Mound,” about a subterranean alien civilization in the American Southwest.

Finally, Armitage, the young man who befriends Hardcastle early on, coincidentally shares the name of one of the three Miskatonic University professors who slay the Dunwich Horror.


Peter Cannon is the author of Pulptime, a short novel in which Sherlock Holmes enlists the aid of H.P. Lovecraft and his friends on a case that has taken the detective to New York City; Scream for Jeeves, a collection of three parodies that mix Lovecraftian horror and Wodehousian humor with a dash of Conan Doyle; “The Adventure of the Noble Husband,” a short pastiche in which Conan Doyle’s first wife seeks the help of Sherlock Holmes because she suspects her husband has been unfaithful; and “‘You Have Been in Providence, I Perceive,’” an essay on Conan Doyle’s influence on Lovecraft.