“Crouch End” by Stephen King – a rare visit to England and the world of H.P. Lovecraft

“Crouch End” is a bizarre tale where Stephen King’s London is almost as alien as the Cthulhu Mythos universe that sometimes breaks through to it.

The story is set around a distraught American woman entering a police station in North London and describing how she came to be separated from her husband, who is now missing.

The story is told in a convoluted way. Rather than giving an as-it-happens account of the couple’s misadventure, King delivers the tale as a recounting to a couple of PCs in the local Police Station. I could see that this strengthened the setting and allowed both a local and an outsider perspective but it seemed to me to be a little clumsy, making the story feel as it started more than once.

The parts of the story where Stephen King describes the way the couple slowly slip from the real London into a London owned by the Great Old Ones is nicely done, with strong visuals that create a growing sense of unease. The odd horror of something too alien for the mind to grasp and remain whole is fed by keeping the Cthulu themselves almost entirely out of sight, except for one sighting that sounds, in the retelling, like an hallucination.

“Crouch End” was originally written for the 1980 anthology “New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos“, so King’s use of the Lovecraft mythos is a given. What I don’t understand is why he set the story in London. Lovecraft was American. There’s no English legacy attached to the Cthulu Mythos, so why London? And if London, why Crouch End, an unremarkable suburb of North London that’s too small even to be a Borough?

I lived in London in 1980 but I don’t recognise the place that King is describing. The dialogue works reasonably well but the details of daily life don’t quite fit. The cab driver seems improbable both in dress and behaviour and the police station and the police officers see to come from the TV version of 1950’s England.

Crouch End

Then there’s the strange Druid link. I can’t find any link between Crouch End and the Druids. King refers to “Crouch End Towen”, a name the locals recognise and fear. One of the police officers explains that:

“in the old Druid lingo, a touen or towen was a place of ritual sacrifice — where they abstracted your liver and lights”.

I can’t find the any links to towen or touen and the Druids.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if “Crouch End” is a piece of “how much of this can I get them to swallow” humour.

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