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Updated: Jun 1, 2023

The Festival was written in October 1923 and published in the January 1925 issue of Weird Tales, and is considered to be one of the first stories that introduced the Cthulhu mythos. The story was inspired by Lovecraft's first trip to Marblehead, Massachusetts, in December 1922. Lovecraft later called that visit "the most powerful single emotional climax experienced during my nearly forty years of existence."

In a flash all the past of New England—all the past of Old England—all the past of Anglo-Saxondom and the Western World—swept over me and identified me with the stupendous totality of all things in such a way as it never did before and never did again. That was the high tide of my life.

Lovecraft cited a book as another inspiration for the story: In intimating an alien race I had in mind the survival of some clan of pre-Aryan sorcerers who preserved primitive rites like those of the witch-cult--I had just been reading Miss Murray's The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. This is why Lovecraft refers to the narrator's folk as an old people, and...strange, because they had come as dark furtive folk from opiate southern gardens of orchids, and spoken another tongue before they learnt the tongue of the blue-eyed fishers. The idea of pre-Aryan survivals was the basis of Arthur Machen's The Novel of the Black Seal, which Lovecraft had recently read and been much impressed by.

Marblehead would also be the inspiration for Lovecraft's fictional town of Kingsport and this would be the first mythos story to use the witch-haunted location as a setting.

Lovecraft himself did not think much of the story. Even so, Clark Ashton Smith, in a letter to Lovecraft dated October 1933, wrote: "In spite of your disparagement, The Festival holds its place in my affections, and has an imaginative quality that puts it above the new stories in the current W.T."




This is the church that is mentioned in the story. Built in 1714, it is the oldest Anglican church in New England that is still standing at its original site. The church is on a modest hill; for most of the 18th century, it had a steeple. Its crypt, where parishioners were interred, remains. Since Lovecraft visited the church (as evidenced by his signature in the guest register), he may have spoken with the rector and learned such details about the church.

There was an open space around the church; partly a churchyard with spectral shafts, and partly a half-paved square swept nearly bare of snow by the wind, and lined with unwholesomely archaic houses having peaked roofs and overhanging gables. Death-fires danced over the tombs, revealing gruesome vistas, though queerly failing to cast any shadows. Past the churchyard, where there were no houses, I could see over the hill’s summit and watch the glimmer of stars on the harbour, though the town was invisible in the dark. Only once in a while a lanthorn bobbed horribly through serpentine alleys on its way to overtake the throng that was now slipping speechlessly into the church. - HPL ~ The Festival




The narrator's path through Kingsport corresponds to a route to the center of Marblehead; the house with the overhanging second story is probably based on Marblehead's 1 Mugford Street. This particular building was built in 1695 by William Waters.

...I hastened through Back Street to Circle Court, and across the fresh snow on the one full flagstone pavement in the town, to where Green Lane leads off behind the Market House....the seventh house on the left in Green Lane, with an ancient peaked roof and jutting second story, all built before 1650. There were lights inside the house when I came upon it, and I saw from the diamond window-panes that it must have been kept very close to its antique state. The upper part overhung the narrow grass-grown street and nearly met the over-hanging part of the house opposite so that I was almost in a tunnel, with the low stone doorstep wholly free from snow. There was no sidewalk, but many houses had high doors reached by double flights of steps with iron railings. It was an odd scene, and because I was strange to New England I had never known its like before. Though it pleased me, I would have relished it better if there had been footprints in the snow, and people in the streets, and a few windows without drawn curtains. - HPL ~ The Festival




Beside the road at its crest a still higher summit rose, bleak and wind-swept, and I saw that it was a burying-ground where black gravestones stuck ghoulishly through the snow like the decayed fingernails of a gigantic corpse. - HPL ~ The Festival

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