The Croquet Player (1937)

The Croquet Player (1937)
H.G. Wells
Bison Books

Echoing H.P. Lovecraft's interest in "ancestral dread," this story concerns a doctor (and his psychiatrist) who have come to believe that a small village in England, Cainmarsh, is under some form of curse. Also like Lovecraft, Wells ties this sense of dread to anthropological excavation--making the recently unearthed skull of a cave man a focus of ongoing contemplation and horror. The psychiatrist explains his theory to the book's eponymous narrator:

'A century or so ago,' he said, 'men lived in the present far more than they do now. Their past went back four or five thousand years, their future hardly went as far; they lived for now. And what they called the eternities. They knew nothing of the remote real past. They cared nothing for the real future. That'--and he nodded at the cave-man's skull, 'just wasn't there. All that was buried and forgotten and out of life. We lived in a magic sphere and we felt taken care of and safe. And now in the last century or so, we have broken that. We have poked into the past, unearthing age after age and we peer more and more forward into the future. And that's what's the matter with us.'
"'In the marsh?' said I.
"'Everywhere. Your vicar and priest know that by instinct though they don't know how to express it--or anyhow they don't express it as you and I do. Sometimes it's nearer the surface in the marsh--but its everywhere. We have broken the frame of the present, and the past, the long black past of fear and hate that our grandfathers never knew of, never suspected, is pouring back upon us. And the future opens like a gulf to swallow us up. The animal fears again and the animal rages again and the old faiths no longer restrain it. The cave-man, the ancestral ape, the ancestral brute have returned. So it is. I can assure you I am talking realities to you. It is going on now everywhere. You have been in the marsh. You have felt them in the marsh, but I tell you these resurrected savageries are breathing now and thrusting everywhere. The world is full of menace--not only here.' He stopped short and his spectacles flashed as he looked at me and then stared again out of the window. 

Of general interest to anyone with a modernity fetish.

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