Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Tree
I finished this story and my first response was…What was that? This story is from his Dunsanian period, which I assumed to mean part of a otherworldly mien. This extremely innocuous, and seemingly disparate narrative focuses on two artists who are commissioned to create a marble sculpture of Tyche, the Grecian Goddess who governed prosperity and fortune of a city. One of the sculptors, Kalos, dies and asks to be buried with two olive branches by his head. The other sculptor, Musides, is his best friend and complies. Musides continues working on the sculpture, and eventually finishes as a tree grows from the grave site of Kalos. The tree looks like a man. When the Grecians come to get the sculpture and give accolades to Musides, they find the house destroyed, the tree’s roots grown into the house and no sign of the sculpture or Musides. The narrator tells us that in the boughs of the olive grove one can still hear whispers that say “I know, I know.”
That’s the story. In it’s entirety. It took me about an hour of rumination to come up with what it truly means.
In the first paragraph the narrator tells us that the grove is thought of as belonging to Pan, the Greek god of mischief. Which would make sense since strange happenings go on there. Then at the end of the paragraph, he tells us that he hears a different story. This is where the Dunsany influence comes in, and why the story is truly Lovecraftian.
Kalos is said to speak to the creatures of the forest, in his Olive grove, and when he dies he asks for two olive branches to be put by his head. Lovecraft was atheistic, but religion seeped into his writings because he thought that was the ultimate horror. So the two olive branches indicate knowledge of the Gods and creation of a church. The creation of the Church was the tree that looked like a man, and the olive branches next to his head meant that Kalos was given the knowledge of the Gods as the branches grew through his head. However it was thought that the god of the grove was Pan, but we are told that was not correct. Kalos was given sight of the Great Old Ones.
Musides goes to finish his creation there, but in reality he comes to the realization of Kalos, because of the whispering of the tree. The Great Old Ones are upset with his creation of a “graven image of another deity” in Tyche, so they destroy the house.
The whispering of “I know, I know” is not a comfort of one spirit of a friend to another, as I originally thought (I mean come on, this is Lovecraft, after all), but of knowledge. Kalos is whispering to the world of the horrible knowledge of the Elder Gods he gained by communion in the olive grove. The tree is Kalos ascended with that knowledge and he whispers in torment in his jail that is a tree in the shape of a man.
“I know, I know”