Lovecraft referred to the area's immigrant population by referring to Red Hook as "a maze of hybrid squalor". He spelled out his inspiration for "The Horror at Red Hook" in a letter written to fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith:
|“||The idea that black magic exists in secret today, or that hellish antique rites still exist in obscurity, is one that I have used and shall use again. When you see my new tale "The Horror at Red Hook", you will see what use I make of the idea in connexion with the gangs of young loafers & herds of evil-looking foreigners that one sees everywhere in New York.||„|
|~ HPL , Selected Letters 2.197|
Lovecraft had moved to New York to marry Sonia Greene a year earlier, in 1924; his initial infatuation with New York soon soured (an experience fictionalized in his short story "He"), in large part due to Lovecraft's xenophobic attitudes. "Whenever we found ourselves in the racially mixed crowds which characterize New York, Howard would become livid with rage," Greene later wrote. "He seemed almost to lose his mind."
The story was also inspired by the apartment that Lovecraft lived in, which is actually located on Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights, rather than Red Hook. In 2008, children's book marketer Nellie Kurtzman, the daughter of cartoonist and Mad magazine founder Harvey Kurtzman, heard of the apartment from a friend, saying, "A friend of mine lives on the top floor of this building, and I remember her saying, 'There's this huge apartment in our building where the people seem to have disappeared.'" When Kurtzman and several friends inspected the ground-floor, two-bedroom apartment, it had been left unlocked by the tenants who left mysteriously, without notice. They held a seance, during which they used a Ouija board. Kurtzman, who has a penchant for the unusual that she inherited from her father, moved into the apartment that April with a roommate, after which she experienced unexplained noises, objects moving or disappearing inexplicably and unusual dreams.
Much of the magical background to the story was lifted from the articles on "Magic" and "Demonology" in the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, written by anthropologist E. B. Tylor. Daniel Harms and John Wisdom Gonce note the spell Lovecraft quotes and describes as a "demon evocation", was actually an incantation used for treasure hunting. The use of the Yezidi as devil-worshipping villains seems to have been inspired by E. Hoffmann Price's "The Stranger from Kurdistan".
The survival of a prehistoric cult based on "witchcraft" is a direct inheritance from the fictional works of Arthur Machen and the scholarly works of Margret Murray, most significantly her central tome The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921).
The story begins with Detective Malone describing an on-duty incident at Red Hook, Brooklyn, that gave him a phobia of large buildings. Back-tracking to where it all began, Red Hook is described in detail, with its gangs and crime, and suggesting at an occult underbelly.
The "case of Robert Suydam" is then told to be the driving force behind Malone's federally ordered involvement at Red Hook. Suydam's demeanor changes suddenly. Known as a shabby recluse, he is seen around town looking younger and more radiant. News arrives of his engagement to a well-to-do woman, while at the same time, there is an increase in local kidnappings. A police raid, involving Malone, uncovers nothing useful from Suydam's Red Hook flat save a few strange inscriptions.
After Suydam's wedding, he and his bride leave on a ship. A scream is heard and when the crew enter Suydam's stateroom, they find him and his wife dead, with claw-marks on his wife's body. Malone enters Suydam's flat to see what he can find. In the basement, he comes across a door that breaks open and sucks him inside, revealing a hellish landscape. Malone is found in the basement of Suydam's flat, which has caved in inexplicably above him, killing everyone else inside. The tunnels and chambers uncovered in the raids are filled in and cemented, though as Malone recounts, Red Hook never changes.
Thomas F. Malone is an Irish-born New York police detective, "detailed to the Butler Street station in Brooklyn" before going on indefinite medical leave. A "Dublin University man born in a Georgian villa near Phoenix Park," he is said to have "the Celt's far vision of weird and hidden things, but the logician's quick eye for the outwardly unconvincing.... In youth he had felt the hidden beauty and ecstasy of things, and had been a poet; but poverty and sorrow and exile had turned his gaze in darker directions, and he had thrilled at the imputations of evil in the world around." This morbid streak is offset by a "keen logic and a deep sense of humour". He is 42 at the time of "The Horror at Red Hook".
Robert Suydam is "a lettered recluse of ancient Dutch family, possessed originally of barely independent means, and inhabiting the spacious but ill-preserved mansion which his grandfather had built in Flatbush." Seen by most as "a queer, corpulent old fellow whose unkempt white hair, stubbly beard, shiny black clothes, and gold-headed cane earned him an amused glance", Malone knew of him as "a really profound authority on mediaeval superstition." On account of "certain odd changes in his speech and habits; wild references to impending wonders, and unaccountable hauntings of disreputable Brooklyn neighbourhoods," his relatives tried unsuccessfully to have him declared insane. He is about 60 in the time frame of the story.
Lovecraft said of "The Horror at Red Hook" that the tale was "rather long and rambling, and I don't think it is very good". (HPL: Selected Letters 2.188) Notably it is also one of the few of his tales set almost completely in an urban settings.
- Margaret Murray's The Witch-Cult in Western Europe is a grimoire.
- Red Hook is home to other cults in the future. (EXP: "The Courtyard")
- Dental identification for the remains of someone is used again. (HPL: "The Thing on the Doorstep")
- Robert Suydam lives in a "lonely house, set back from Martense Street". The Martense Family are the subterranean cannibals. (HPL: "The Lurking Fear") Martense Street is not a fictional locale; it is one block North of Church Avenue. The Dutch Reformed Church in which Suydam was married is on the corner of Church and Flatbush Avenues.
- Entities at Lilith's rites
- Naked and phosphorecent Lilith
- Satan praised by his Babylonish court
- Hecate praised by Incubi and Succubae
- The Magna Mater (HPL: "The Rats in the Walls") praised by beheaded calf foetuses
- Aegipans and misshapen fauns
- Satyr and aegipan
- Twisted toad and shapeless elemental
- Dog-faced howler and silent strutter in darkness
- Dionisiac fury
- Gorgo, Mormo, thousand-faced moon were worshipped
- Four mothers with disturbingly strange infants
- Sephiroth, Ashmodai and Samaël were mentionned by Suydam.
- Suydam's monstrous cat
- Lovecraft’s Fiction at hplovecraft.com
- "The Horror at Red Hook" at hplovecraft.com
- Getlen, Larry (August 14, 2008). "GHOST STORY". New York Post.
- Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, p. 45.
- Daniel Harms, John Wisdom Gonce Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind Lovecraft's Legend. Weiser Books, 2003 ISBN 1578632692 (p.95).
- S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, p. 115.