Read Before Providence #3: Intro to Jack Boggs, Obed Marsh of Innsmouth, and Etienne Roulet of Shunned House

There’s still a week before the August 12 release of Providence #3, so we figured it might be a good time to do some more background (like the earlier post for #2) to prepare readers for the next issue. Below is a spoiler-free explanation of some of the underlying Lovecraft stories that seem like they may well inform Providence #3.

From Providence #2, at the end of the Commonplace Book (P30), Robert Black is recapping the issue’s events and writes “Suydam mentioned the Boggs Gold Refinery in Massachusetts, and I’m serious thinking about handing in my notice at the Herald, giving up on this apartment and just going there.”

Boggs mention in Neonomicon - detail from Pxxx,p2 of Neonomicon No.2 - art by Jacen Burrows
Boggs mention in Neonomicon – detail from P15,p2 of Neonomicon No.2 – art by Jacen Burrows

Boggs was mentioned in Moore and Burrows earlier Neonomicon, where Boggs’ tunnels are shown and Leonard Beeks states “Jack Boggs was who Ech-pi-el [H.P.L. – Lovecraft] based Obed Marsh on” (see Neonomicon #2, P15,p2.) Boggs/Marsh is connected with the Deep Ones – the race of sea-monster-fish-men, one of which appears in Neonomicon #2-4.

The sinister Obed Marsh features prominently in the narrative background of Lovecraft’s short story “The Shadow over Innsmouth” which is probably worth a read (or listen) before Providence #3 comes out. Obed Marsh is a sea captain who takes on a “south sea islands” wife, and makes a pact with the Deep Ones, bringing the Esoteric Order of Dagon to Innsmouth, and receiving from them abundant fishing and gold – the latter of which is smelted at the Marsh Refinery located in a former mill on the lower falls of the fictional Manuxet River, as described in “The Shadow over Innsmouth”:

Things went on that way fer years, an’ Obed got enough o’ that gold-like stuff to make him start the refinery in Waite’s old run-daown fullin’ mill. He didn’t dass sell the pieces like they was, fer folks ud be all the time askin’ questions. All the same his crews ud git a piece an’ dispose of it naow and then, even though they was swore to keep quiet; an’ he let his women-folks wear some o’ the pieces as was more human-like than most.

On Neonomicon #3 P3,p3, the tunnels show a hand-carved “Jack Boggs 1787” so the patriarch Jack Boggs is likely long dead in Providence’s 1919 (as was Obed Marsh in Lovecraft’s 1931 “Innsmouth” story.) It is perhaps more likely that Boggs’/Marsh’s interbred human-Deep-One descendants will be featured in Providence #3.

The regular cover of Providence #3 depicts a New England fishing village, probably the one identified with Lovecraft’s Innsmouth. The Women of HPL variant cover #3 depicts a woman with the fish-frog-like “Innsmouth look.” There are (at least) two possibilities for Providence‘s analog for Innsmouth:

  1. Based on Neonomicon it could be Salem, Massachusetts. Neonomicon locates Boggs’ tunnels (see Neonomicon #2, P15) in present day Salem. In an interview in Bleeding Cool #16, though, Alan Moore mentions that his Neonomicon identification of Innsmouth as Salem was a careless mistake, because Lovecraft identified Arkham as based on Salem.
  2. Based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Innsmouth was based on Newburyport, Massachusetts (though Newburyport is mentioned in “Innsmouth” as a separate place.) As Lovecraft mentioned in his letters:
    I certainly hope you can get to see Newburyport sooner or later, for its antiquity and desolation make it one of the most spectrally fascinating spots I have ever seen. It has started me off on a new story idea–not very novel in relation to other things of mine, but born of the imaginative overtones of such a place.
    – Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft 3.435
    “Innsmouth” is a considerably twisted version of Newburyport, Mass. – SL5.86

The town Innsmouth is described the story’s narrator as

From the tangle of chimney-pots scarcely a wisp of smoke came, and the three tall steeples loomed stark and unpainted against the seaward horizon. One of them was crumbling down at the top, and in that and another there were only black gaping holes where clock-dials should have been. The vast huddle of sagging gambrel roofs and peaked gables conveyed with offensive clearness the idea of wormy decay […] many roofs had wholly caved in. There were some large square Georgian houses, too, with hipped roofs, cupolas, and railed “widow’s walks”. These were mostly well back from the water, and one or two seemed to be in moderately sound condition.
The decay was worst close to the waterfront, though in its very midst I could spy the white belfry of a fairly well-preserved brick structure which looked like a small factory. The harbour, long clogged with sand, was enclosed by an ancient stone breakwater; on which I could begin to discern the minute forms of a few seated fishermen, and at whose end were what looked like the foundations of a bygone lighthouse. A sandy tongue had formed inside this barrier, and upon it I saw a few decrepit cabins, moored dories, and scattered lobster-pots. The only deep water seemed to be where the river poured out past the belfried structure and turned southward to join the ocean at the breakwater’s end.
Here and there the ruins of wharves jutted out from the shore to end in indeterminate rottenness, those farthest south seeming the most decayed. And far out at sea, despite a high tide, I glimpsed a long, black line scarcely rising above the water yet carrying a suggestion of odd latent malignancy. This, I knew, must be Devil Reef.

Devil Reef figures prominently as the site of Innsmouth’s hideous legends, a place frequented by the Deep Ones.

The other thread that seems prominent for future issues of Providence comes from H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Shunned House.” Based around the New England Vampire Panic, a 1598 French werewolf legend from Rev. Sabine Baring Gould‘s 1865 study of werewolf folklore The Book of Were-Wolves, and an actual old house in Providence, RI. Weaving these elements together, Lovecraft traces the illness and doom that comes to a family that lives in a house with a weird history, tracing back to a probable warlock named Etienne Roulet – and to the monstrous thing growing in the cellar that has been feeding off of the house’s occupants.

In Providence #2 (P12,p1) Suydam mentions Etienne Roulet, from “The Shunned House,” as the person who brought Providence‘s analog for Lovecraft’s Necronomicon to New England. Later, in Suydam’s pamphlet (P33-40), it is clarified at length that in Roulet brought the English publication of Hali’s Booke of the Wisdom of the Stars from France to Rhode Island in 1686, and was part of the founding of a magical society there, tying together Roulet with two of Lovecraft’s other sorcerers: Joseph Curwen from The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and Keziah Mason from “The Dreams in the Witch House.” The last page of Providence #2 trails off on the address of the titular Shunned House, still standing at 135 Benefit Street in Providence, RI.

Providence #3, Portrait cover, by Jacen Burrows
Providence #3, Portrait cover, by Jacen Burrows

Marblehead, MA was also the inspiration for Lovecraft’s fictional town of Kingsport, which is the setting of several tales, notably “The Terrible Old Man” – which seems to be a particular inspiration for the Portrait variant cover for Providence #3. In that story, a group of would-be thieves break into the house of an ancient sorcerer…and are never heard from again. While the man on the cover does not perfectly match Lovecraft’s description of the terrible old man (what had “long white hair and beard”), but he does resemble an aged version of Etienne Roulet from the pamphlet in the back of Providence #2 – and the tiny bottles on the cover match those that the terrible old man had:

These folk say that on a table in a bare room on the ground floor are many peculiar bottles, in each a small piece of lead suspended pendulum-wise from a string. And they say that the Terrible Old Man talks to these bottles, addressing them by such names as Jack, Scar-Face, Long Tom, Spanish Joe, Peters, and Mate Ellis, and that whenever he speaks to a bottle the little lead pendulum within makes certain definite vibrations as if in answer.

Looking forward to #3 coming out and seeing which threads emerge!

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2 thoughts on “Read Before Providence #3: Intro to Jack Boggs, Obed Marsh of Innsmouth, and Etienne Roulet of Shunned House

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