“To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,
for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
must give us pause.” – Hamlet Act III Scene 1
Aye, there’s the rub. What dreams come from death, but who’s death are we talking about? What brings about these dreams? and do the dreams have a steak in reality?
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This time we’re diving into a new level of Lovecraftian fiction. Welcome to the Dreamlands. I’ve been excited to look into this a little more (in fact I even mentioned it in a previous Blind Read), because we have already begun to tackle some of the Cannon of the Mythos, so beyond Lovecraft’s weird fiction, he has the Cthulhu mythos and the Dreamland stories.
The story follows along our protagonist, Walter Gilman, who is a student of Miskatonic University in Arkham, Mass. Gilman is interested in weird science, so much so that he studies the Necronomicon in the library of Miskatonic U and familiarizes himself with the lore behind it.
But that isn’t quite enough for him. He finds a local house that was known as a residence of a Witch by the name of Old Keziah and her pet Brown Jenkin (a strange animal like furball, with a humanistic face that looks strangely like Old Keziah, and also has anthropomorphic features).
He finds that he has strange dreams in this house. He goes into strange realities and sees Old Keziah and brown Jenkin nearly every time, but he also sees strange things like spheres and polyhedrons of light, which lead him around.
He eventually comes to the realization that there are odd angles in the house. Walls tilted at incomprehensible angles that twist the mind, and whenever something strange happens it comes from those angles.
The dreams continue to get stranger, and things follow him back into the real life. He wakes and finds his feet are muddy after dreaming about walking in a muddy field. He wakes and finds his ankle has dried blood on it, after he is bitten by Brown Jenkin in the dream. He assumes that a rat bit him, but can find no blood in the room at all.
He begins to wonder about his somnambulism, and borrows flour from his landlord and places it around his room and outside of it, to try and see his footsteps and figure out what he gets up to in his sleep walking fits, but when he wakes nothing is disturbed.
The dreams continue to darken as they get closer to May Eve.
“May Eve was Walpurgis night, when hell’s blackest evil roamed the earth and all the slaves of Satan gathered for nameless rites and deeds.”
Around this time and around Hallows eve children from the poorer neighborhoods seemed to disappear. They are well known in Arkham as dark days, and as the day nears the dreams get even stranger.
Gilman sees a “black man” in his dreams, who holds out a book to him and Old Keziah wants him to sign it and gain a new name (hers was Nahab). The story centers around this strange ritual of Walpurgis night and this strange “black man”.
A local child goes missing, which happens nearly every Walpurgis night, and in his dreams, Gilman sees Old Keziah holding a knife up, with the “black man” watching in the distance. She is obviously making a sacrifice of the child and attempting to drain it’s blood into a strange metal bowl with bunch of unrecognizable symbols.
There is much confusion, and Gilman finds himself struggling with Keziah. He for some reason wonders if he actually signed the book that the “black man” held. The book of Azathoth.
Gilman succeeds in stopping Keziah and strangles her with the cross that a fellow tenant gave him.
But Gilman never wakes. The same tenant hears him screaming and goes to him. Under the blanket there is a bunch of blood coming up, and eventually a creature looking like Brown Jenkin pops out from underneath the covers, but it has a strange resemblance to Gilman in the face, and it has hands instead of claws. The creature runs to the corner, where the inverted angles appear and disappears into the wall.
The landlord evacuates the house, and there is a fire. In the wreckage they find bones from across the ages. Old Keziah had been up to her terribleness for years.
This is without a doubt my favorite of anything I’ve read by Lovecraft thus far. Terrifying and, just perfectly Lovecraft.
Lovecraft immediately puts you on edge with his mention of odd angles. What he does so well is bring the supernatural into our world so succinctly. There are alternate dimensions, but the fact that thee is a scientific way to get to those alternate dimensions…or to bring those dimensions to us, is utterly, and fantastically terrifying. In addition to that, the fact that one can indeed think of those angles and gain access to those dimensions is spectacular.
Which brings me (surreptitiously I know, but bear with me) to my next point. Walpurgis night is a brilliant temporal setting. The names of the people involved in the story are mainly Polish and Czech names, and Saint Walpurga is a Catholic saint who is known to have driven witches out of many Germanic provinces. So by making this about Walpurgis night, Lovecraft is basically retelling the story of Walpurga through his own lens. Gilman, ostensibly drives the witchcraft out of Arkham by destroying Old Keziah, and limiting the connection with our world to that of the Elder Gods.
There are a few gods mentioned in the story. There is much mention of Azathoth, who “rules from the bed of chaos”. There is Nyarlathotep, who we know has been to our plane, and lead people out of Egypt to supplicate themselves to his will (could there be an actual connection? Nyarlathotep is just a mention in this story, but does he have a reason why he can come to our world? is he a master of the angles?). Then there is Shub-Niggurath “The goat with a thousand young”.
We know that the book is Azathoth’s who is the master of chaos. Could Shub-Niggurath be Azathoth’s concubine? Is that where the thousand young came from? Then if we correlate to Christianity with the connection with Walpurgis night, we see the connection with Satan being sometimes correlated to a goat. Thus we have hell being another dimension led by Azathoth and Shub-Niggurath, with Nyarlathotep potentially being the “black man” trying to get Gilman to sign Azathoth’s book and “getting a new name”.
So Gilman actually did sign the book, and that’s why he had his transformation into a creature somewhat like Brown Jenkin, but, because he killed the only other human (old Keziah), and the Witch House was destroyed, there is a loss of connection with that hellish world.
Which brings us back to angles. In our culture good is the default. We have a thought that to be bad, or to do evil things means that you are off, that your brain does something different that other people’s brains. Lovecraft gives a reason here.
If you have the ability to see in different angles then you have access to hell. This is how you can have someone, who is structurally the same as every other human being, but their ability to see a way into another dimension, without the need of a loadstone (like the Witch House and it’s odd angles), is what leads them to evil deeds.
What do you think?
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This time we’re delving into a wonderfully classic haunted house story, with a Lovecraftian twist.
This is the story of the Shunned House, and Lovecraft finds yet another way to tell a story in a unique way. We know of the narrator’s experience there. Lovecraft tells that up front. A young man who is scared terribly by something that he cannot explain.
Then we delve into the history of the house, to try to garner a better explanation of what actually happened there. The reasoning jumps around from spirits, to demons, to vampires, to werewolves. Each person who had some kind of supernatural experience in the Shunned House have experienced something different.
The story gives some wonderfully Gothic imagery. I had a vivid image of Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher” in both visceral description, as well as tonality. We find a house with a history and delve into something altogether different than we possibly expected. Poe’s story is a Gothic tragedy, but Lovecraft’s is wonderfully cosmic.
Then the story evolves. It becomes much more like Richard Matheson’s “Hell House”, where we have a scientific study, instead of a supernatural study (Hell House is one of the singularly most terrifying stories I’ve ever read, just so you know).
“We were not, as I have said, in any sense childishly superstitious, but scientific study and reflection had taught us that the known universe of three dimensions embraces the merest fraction of the whole cosmos of substance and energy.” pp 128 “At The Mountains of Madness” Dey Rey 1982.
There is so much going on in this sentence. First, we know that the narrator and his uncle are not walking into anything with a superstitious bend. They intend on using facts to find the truth of the mystery of the Shunned House. However, they recognize that science has it’s limitations and the answer that they are looking for could potentially be beyond the walls of our known dimensional world.
Then we get down into the house and discover that the story has evolved again. Now we come to the realization that we are in a Lovecraftian cosmic horror. The narrator talks about the “fungus ridden earth” and how there is a green and yellow phosphorescent glow. Thus far in my blind reads I have found that this is the most consistently mentioned precursor to a cosmic horror. This green and yellow light shows that a cosmic creature is around. Immediately it becomes less about a ghost story, and into a completely different area.
Then we come upon the most horrible section (or should I say beautifully horrible?) of any Lovecraft story I have read thus far. The phosphorescent pile is actually part of a creature that is sucking the life force out of the humans it comes into contact with. This is the reasoning for the vampire and werewolf descriptions. The creature is taking on horrible visages of other creatures to both feed and to incapacitate its victims. It was suddenly at this point that I realized this could very well be Stephen King’s inspiration for “IT”. A cosmic alien who shows people what they fear and eats their life force.
This is without a doubt one of my favorite stories I’ve read thus far. I think only “In the Walls of Eryx” comes close to this one. It’s a bit longer than most of the stories, but it’s succinct, and it changes what you think it’ll be multiple times throughout the exposition. I think if I were to recommend any one story to someone looking to get into Lovecraft I would tell them to start on this story.
What do you think?