In April 1939, H.P. Lovecraft’s short story titled “The Evil Clergyman” was published in Weird Tales. What is interesting about this publication is that the piece was not initially intended as a short story. Rather, “The Evil Clergyman” was an excerpt from one of Lovecraft’s letters to his friend Bernard Austin Dwyer. The story was also published after Lovecraft had passed on.
In this letter, Lovecraft recounted a dream to Dwyer. The excerpt does have a dream-like quality to it, but no doubt Lovecraft polished the dream story into something more readable, hence the final excerpt to Dwyer.
The short story chronicles a narrator’s exploration of an ancient house in which the previous owner succumbed to a violent death. As the narrator explores the attic, which is filled with theological and classical tomes, he discovers what appears to be a flashlight. Mixing horror with science fiction, Lovecraft then describes a strange change in atmosphere once the narrator turns on a flashlight and places the light on a strange object—this object is supposedly made of particles that spark like a vacuum tube when exposed to light.
Much like the short story “From Beyond,” the narrator realizes that he is no longer alone. A stranger dressed in clerical garb specifically from the Anglican Church begins to destroy all the books in the room. Soon, other men join the room and attempt to stop the first man. Perhaps realizing that they are too late, the latter men flee the room. The evil clergyman then reaches for a rope to hang himself, but the narrator intervenes. The two struggle, with the narrator shining the flashlight at the clergyman, causing him to fall down an open stairwell.
When the narrator checks the bottom of the stairwell, he finds no body. Before he can process what has just happened, three men holding lanterns approach the narrator. One of the men leads the narrator to a mirror. Instead of his own reflection, the narrator realizes that he is now the evil clergyman!
Lovecraft described the evil clergyman as follows: “The newcomer was a thin, dark man of medium height attired in the clerical garb of the Anglican Church. He was apparently about thirty years old, with a sallow, olive complexion and fairly good features, but an abnormally high forehead. His black hair was well cut and neatly brushed, and he was clean-shaven though blue-chinned with a heavy growth of beard. He wore rimless spectacles with steel bows. His build and lower facial features were like other clergymen I had seen, but he had a vastly higher forehead, and was darker and more intelligent-looking- also more subtly and concealedly evil-looking.”
In 2012, a short film adaptation of The Evil Clergyman was released. This film was previously thought lost and was part of an anthology titled Pulsepounders. This movie stars Jeffry Combs and Barbra Crampton (Reanimator and From Beyond), David Gale (Reanimator), and David Warner.