Sunday, March 2, 2014

Henry Kuttner's "Graveyard Rats" and "Home is the Hunter"

I’ve had mixed experiences with Henry Kuttner and his close collaborator and wife, C. L. Moore. I didn't think the novels The Dark World or Earth’s Last Citadel were very good at all. Over the years I have read many of Kuttner’s short stories, and stories he wrote in collaboration with Moore, and they have run the gamut from very good, like the famous “Mimsy Were the Borogroves,” to some quite weak ones, with lots of mediocre ones in between.

On twitter I learned about SFFaudio’s page of PDFs of public domain SF stories. Today I decided to read the two Kuttner stories there, “The Graveyard Rats,” which I have read before, and “Home is the Hunter,” which was new to me.

“The Graveyard Rats”

The PDF at the SFFaudio web page is a scan of the original magazine appearance of “The Graveyard Rats” in Weird Tales in 1936.  I love the title page illustrations, and it is fun to see the silly intro to the story provided by the magazine’s editors.

“The Graveyard Rats” is a straightforward, traditional horror story, but its rapid pace, feverish tone, and striking, vivid images render it a masterpiece of weird terror.  The corrupt caretaker of a Massachusetts cemetery is up to his customary grave robbing when he finds that oversized rats have stolen the corpse he hoped to loot.  He pursues the rats underground, and finds himself in a battle for his life against the rodents and the eldritch intelligence that is directing them! 

A horror classic I enjoyed reading this second time.

"Home is the Hunter"

In its 1953 Galaxy appearance, “Home is the Hunter” is attributed to Moore and Kuttner. (I am told that in Ahead of Time it is credited solely to Kuttner.) I can’t say I am crazy about the Galaxy illustration or the editor’s intro.

The story, however, is really good. Kuttner (and Moore?) economically and cunningly describe an insane future New York in which machines provide all food and shelter needs, and so the population has embraced a perverse decadence. The city is dominated socially by aristocrats called Hunters who eschew all pleasure (they don’t even have sex with the women in their harems!) in order to stay in tip top shape. The Hunters need to be at the peak of physical and mental condition because they all are obsessed with status, and status is earned by meeting each other in life or death combat in the hunting ground of Central Park!

Presumably this is a commentary on the psychologically counterproductive middle-class striving that is so prevalent in a center of business, academia and the arts like New York. (We all know someone who works so hard he has no time to enjoy the fruits of his labors or relationships with his family, don’t we?) It is implied that the low status "Populi" enjoy life more than the Hunters, who lead lives of fear and danger and don't enjoy love or sex, or even tasty food.  But "Home is the Hunter" it is also a visceral adventure and psychological horror story, and very entertaining.


These two very good stories make me think I should seek out Kuttner stories I have yet to read, and maybe reread some of the ones I have read and don’t remember very well.

Classic SF fans should definitely check out the long list of stories available in PDF form at SFFaudio.  I'm particularly enjoying seeing the illustrations stories I've already read were graced (or saddled) with when they first appeared.


  1. Have you read the Kuttner/Moore novella Vintage Season? It made the Locus all-time list. I haven't read it, but I have it in an anthology somewhere, and I'm curious whether it's a good starting point to Kuttner/Moore's work.

  2. I haven't read that, though I see it is widely anthologized. I may read it soon; I think one of those anthologies is at a library close by.

  3. First and foremost, thank you for the link to the PDF page of public domain SF stories. Wow, what a resource!

    Kuttner and Moore also published under the pseudonym Lewis Padgett, under which they published one of my favorite classic SF stories, "Mimsy Were the Borogoves"--oft referred to as one of the great golden age stories and also made into an insufficiently intelligent movie, "The Last Mimsy."

    From the setup of "Home is the Hunter," I have to wonder if Kuttner and Moor were aware of Cordwainer Smith and visa versa.

    1. Do you have any other favorite Kuttner and/or Moore stories? For each surprisingly good story, like Vintage Season or "Mimsy Were the Borogroves" or the two I talk about in this post, I encounter a surprisingly weak one, like Well of the Worlds or all those comedy stories about a drunk inventor and his annoying robot.