Lovecraft Story by Story: “The Transition of Juan Romero”

A marginal entry

I’ve had an on-again-off-again relationship with the stories of H.P. Lovecraft for the last 23 years. I’ll spend a few months reading him regularly, then put him down for years; and I’m generally as likely to re-read a story I already know as to venture into untested waters. So, despite having been a fan for the better part of a quarter of a century, I probably haven’t read more than a couple of dozen of his works.

I’ve decided to correct this. I’m going to start working my way through his stories in the order they were written and reviewing them, at a rate of roughly one per week (though I may slow down a little when I get to longer works – I do intend to keep reading other authors, after all).

You can find a list of previous entries here.

“The Transition of Juan Romero” (1944)

This minor work was never published in Lovecraft’s lifetime, only seeing print 25 years after it was written.  It tells the story of a mining camp where a chasm of immeasurable depth has recently been uncovered.

The narrator and his companion, the titular Juan Romero, are both laborers on the site, and are awakened one night by a storm and the howling of dogs and coyotes, but then hear an unaccountable rumbling, which seems to emanate from the chasm.  And it is this rumbling which leads them to the indescribable horrors expected of a Lovecraft story.

However, “The Transition of Juan Romero” reads less like a Lovecraft story than like a half-hearted imitation of his style, and it is no surprise that the author never sought its publication.  Absent are both the thematic and philosophical explorations that define Lovecraftian fantasy and the rich and florid detail of his trademark style.  Where normally he would withhold concrete description of horrific visions in favor of more impressionistic evocations, here he basically tells the reader nothing at all about what has occurred.  The nature of the horror is not so much unnamable in its grandeur and otherworldliness as it is simply skipped over.

The line which most leapt out at me, I’m afraid, seems remarkable not because it exemplifies what is best about Lovecraft, but because it reads almost like a parody of his usual phraseology:

“The event which I am about to relate was unheralded by long premonitions.”

It’s not an especially long or esoteric sentence by Lovecraft’s standards, but considering that it is expressing nothing more than the absence of atmosphere or tension, its 13 words are really 13 more than were needed.

In the end, “The Transition of Juan Romero” isn’t really a bad piece of writing so much as it is just a pointless one.


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One Comment

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  • J.B.Lee
    6 March 2015 at 10:35 pm - Reply

    I am convinced that Lovecraft himself didn’t have a clue what the narrator saw at the end of “Juan Romero”. He simply thought “he sees something terrible, and that will be sufficient.” Couldn’t have been more wrong. But as you point out, it is really little more than juvenalia.