In 1933, H. P. Lovecraft penned one of his later “Cthulhu Mythos” tales, this one titled “The Thing on the Doorstep.” This short story was published in the January 1937 issue of Weird Tales.
It is well known that Lovecraft rarely created female characters, so “The Thing in the Doorstep” is interesting in that it features the character Asenath Waite Derby, whose ancestors come from none other than the town of Innsmouth. Asenath is the daughter of Ephraim Waite (her mother likely had the Innsmouth “look,” as Lovecraft writes that her face was always covered with a veil) and the wife of poet Edward Derby. Lovecraft describes her as “dark, smallish, and very good looking except for her over-protuberant eyes.”
But Asenath is more than just a pretty face. In previous works, Lovecraft had hinted at black magic. With Asenath, he presents readers with a fully-fledged magician, one with great supernatural powers. For example, she can bring forth great thunderstorms, although this ability is explained away as Asenath being uncannily capable of predicting such storms. She also has the ability to transfer her spirit into another body while transferring that spirit into her body (used with great effect by Lovecraft later in the science fiction short story “The Shadow out of Time”). Her alien-like countenance (she is not all human) and her abilities make Asenath shunned by animals. Indeed, she is able to “make any dog howl by certain motions of her right hand).
Asenath is the only female to attend Miskatonic University, where she studies medieval metaphysics. She has a collection of forbidden books, including the abhorred Necronomicon. It is also hinted that she has three hideous servants, perhaps former residents of Innsmouth.
It is Asenath’s ability to “exchange personality” that is at the core of “The Thing on the Doorstep.” The tale suggest that even Asenath may not be who she claims to be—that in fact she may be possessed by her father or another entity who is now trying to take over the body of Asenath’s paranoid (and probably rightly so) husband. Although she is killed by Derby with a blow to her head with a candlestick, her will is such that she can continue to execute her devious plans while existing in the beyond. It falls upon Derby’s friend Daniel Upton (the story’s narrator) to put an end to the menace by visiting Arkham Sanitarium and shooting Derby in the head (at his request, via a message delivered by a humpbacked dwarf), at last putting an end to the hideous Waite dynasty.