You ask me to explain why I am afraid of a draught of cool air; why I shiver more than others upon entering a cold room, and seem nauseated and repelled when the chill of evening creeps through the heat of a mild autumn day. There are those who say I respond to cold as others do to a bad odour, and I am the last to deny the impression. What I will do is to relate the most horrible circumstance I ever encountered, and leave it to you to judge whether or not this forms a suitable explanation of my peculiarity.
ORIGINS: Lovecraft wrote “Cool Air” in February 1926 while living alone in New York. By that time, his wife had accepted a position in Cleveland, and Lovecraft, being unemployed and nearly penniless, was forced to vacate their comfortable flat at 259 Parkside Avenue and move into an apartment building at 169 Clinton Street, not far from the slums of Red Hook. During the two years he lived in New York, Lovecraft wrote little, composing “The Shunned House” in 1924, “The Horror at Red Hook,” “He,” and “In the Vault” in the summer of 1925, and “Cool Air” in early 1926.
PUBLICATION HISTORY: Lovecraft submitted the story to Weird Tales, which rejected it in March 1926. The following year he sent “Cool Air” and seven other stories to Tales of Magic and Mystery, which published “Cool Air” in March 1928. If that magazine had been a success, it could have offered Lovecraft and other weird writers a market other than Weird Tales. Unfortunately, Tales of Magic and Mystery was short lived: it published only five issues between 1927 and 1928.
NARRATION: During the nineteenth century, a great many weird writers, including some of Lovecraft’s favorite authors, composed tales in which their protagonists recite their stories to either a friend or an acquaintance, who acts as a proxy for the reader. “The Upper Berth” (1885), which Lovecraft calls F. Marion Crawford’s “weird masterpiece,” begins with a lagging conversation:
Somebody asked for the cigars. We had talked long, and the conversation was beginning to languish; the tobacco smoke had got into the heavy curtains, the wine had got into those brains which were liable to become heavy, and it was already perfectly evident that, unless somebody did something to rouse our oppressed spirits, the meeting would soon come to its natural conclusion, and we, the guests, would speedily go home to bed, and most certainly to sleep. No one had said anything very remarkable; it may be that no one had anything very remarkable to say.
The “story” actually begins when Brisbane informs the circle that he has seen a ghost.
In “Cool Air,” however, Lovecraft’s narrator addresses the reader directly. By doing so, Lovecraft sheds the elaborate framework on display in stories like “The Upper Berth” and establishes a more intimate connection with the reader. Lovecraft was evidently fond of the technique, for it appears elsewhere in his fiction. The narrator of “Dagon” (1917), for instance, begins his tale by claiming that “when you have read these hastily scrawled pages you may guess, though never fully realise, why it is that I must have forgetfulness or death.”