Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Whisperer in Darkness, Conclusion
“With the memory of the roadside claw-print fresh in my mind, Akeley’s whispered paragraphs had affected me queerly; and the hints of familiarity with this unknown world of fungous life – forbidden Yuggoth – made my flesh creep more than I cared to own. I was tremendously sorry about Akeley’s illness, but had to confess that his hoarse whisper had a hateful as well as pitiful quality. If only he wouldn’t gloat so about Yuggoth and it’s black secrets!”
Welcome back for another Blind Read! This week we conclude our dive into the strangely fungoid world of the Mi-Go and talk about the last half of The Whisperer in Darkness.
So the first half of the story was our narrator gathering information about what happened to Akeley and the strange other-worldly beings who turned out to be harbingers for the remainder of the tale. In this second half we have the narrator’s (Wilmarth) trip to Vermont and the subsequent confrontation with Akeley.
As we begin this second half Lovecraft infuses a strange feeling of a descent by describing the trip from the city to the “more primitive New England.” We get the visuals of the Industrial revolution with “foreigners and factory smoke, billboards and concrete roads” as we descend and “As I did so it seemed to me that I was likewise turning the calendar back a century.“
This is a lengthy (in page number) traverse through the country on our way to find Akeley’s farm and it actually feels as though this is an intended technique. Lovecraft is giving us time, as readers, to transcend the modernity of which the story had been taking place, and supplanting that with this metaphorical descent into the old and unknown. We even get introduced to a new and unnerving character, one Mr. Noyes, a particularly put together but aloof young man with a faint Bostonian accent whom serves as Wilmarth’s driver. If this seems strange to you you’re not alone, our narrator felt it as well, “Remembering what a hermit Akeley had been, I was a trifle surprised at the ready availability of such a friend” (to come down and pick the narrator up and bring him to the farm). There is the mention of Akeley having “a sudden attack of some asthmatic trouble.” which is curious because throughout this tale, even in the quote which opens this essay, we have mention that these creatures are a fungi. Fungus are a spectacular way to develop asthma or allergic reactions and it seems as though Akeley is having those more and more frequently of late. In fact even a few pages later when our narrator finally gets to the farm he tells us “They were the hellish tracks of the living fungi from Yuggoth.“
Noyes tells our narrator that Akeley would love to see him, but he is in a difficult state. His “Asthma” is so bad that he’s incredibly sick and cannot get up. It’s so bad in fact that he must spend his time recovering in the dark heavily blanketed. Yeah…that’s some gnarly Asthma.
The narrator gets to the room and immediately wants to leave…”Perhaps it was a certain odd odour which I thought I noticed – though I well know how common musty odours are in even the best of old farmhouses.“
I highlight this because throughout this series I have notated many times Lovecraft has mentioned the strange odors and they always revolve around these outer gods or their subservients. I’ve always assumed that there was some kind of sulphuric smell, indicating a connection with the Devil or the underground (in fact if memory serves, there was a single mention of this specific olfactory note), but I wonder if all along it was actually the musty, slightly vegetative rottenness of fungi which these characters have been notating as the funk. If these Yoggothians are parallel or even ubiquitous with great gods such as Azathoth (which this tale seems to indicate), then the strange odors which these characters smell in almost every Lovecraft work is fungus.
This makes Lovecraft’s works powerful on so many levels! Even now, modern science is looking for extraterrestrial life, but so far all that we can find which could exist in the chemicals of our galaxy is but single cell organisms and fungus. Lovecraft is contending that these creatures come from Pluto (read Yuggoth), and though we know that planet is covered in ice, it does not preclude the possibility of fungus. The fact that these ancient creatures are fungous made sentient and have been around since the dawn of time is just so intriguing, when you contrast that with the evolution of mankind beside them.
There is so much of this we could dig into, but I’m going to save that for a later post…anyway, back to the story…
The narrator sits down with Akeley in the dark and they begin to discuss what’s been going on. Akeley jumps right into the hard science:
“Do you know that Einstein is wrong, and that certain objects and forces can move with a velocity greater than that of light? With proper aid I expect to go backward and forward in time, and actually see and feel the earth of remote past and future epochs. You cant imagine the degree to which those beings have carried science. There is nothing they cant do with the mind and body of living organisms. I expect to visit other planets, and even other stars and galaxies. The first trip will be to Yuggoth, the nearest world fully peopled by beings…
Yet I am going there.”
We spend nearly the entire rest of the story going over the logistics of what these outer beings do to gather humans to travel faster than light or time. The problem is our corporeal selves…at least that’s what Akeley was told. They have a specific method of extracting the brain and setting it in a tube. This metal tube is what would make the transition through space and time and thus give the consciousness of an individual being greater knowledge and understanding…all they have to sacrifice is their own body.
Akeley, cloaked in darkness, makes a motion to the tubes in the room and one of them begins to speak to our narrator. The disembodied consciousness describes to Wilmarth of the great expanse which he has seen (the brain in the tube…not Wilmarth) and will soon see again. The knowledge of the larger world and that these fungoid creatures mean us no harm, but that they indeed want to increase our knowledge of the wider world.
They spend the night trying to make our narrator believe that their intentions are honest. That they are not trying to hurt him and all of this begins to make a little sense. The letters from Akeley going from concern, to fear, to understanding, and when you’re reading it (as you can tell from the previous essay I posted last week) you get the distinct feeling that there is something off about the whole scenario. That these creatures are only putting up a front. That Akeley is being tricked and he’s not really going to be able to go off and do these things.
But nothing actually happens. The narrator just goes to sleep and leaves Akeley to converse with the strange brains in the tubes and with Noyes… and when he wakes Akeley is gone. So in the end this doesn’t actually turn out to be a horror story because Akeley gets to go out to the stars and experience the strange like very few humans have ever before.
Let’s back this up shall we?
When the narrator first gets to the farmhouse he notices a strange vibration in the air that immediately makes him feel off, then there was Akeley himself:
“For a moment the closed blinds allowed me to see very little, but then a kind of apologetic hacking or whispering sound drew my attention to a great easy chair in the farther, darker corer of the room. Within it’s shadowy depths I saw the white blur of a man’s face and hands.“
“There was a touch of the pitiful in the limp, lifeless way his leans hands rested in his lap. He had on a loose dressing-gown, and was swathed around the head and high around the neck with a vivid yellow scarf or hood.“
“It was a hard whisper to catch at first, since the grey mustache concealed the moment of his lips, and something in its timbre disturbed me greatly;”
And our narrator was given a coffee: “My first spoonful revealed a faintly unpleasant acrid taste, so that I did not take more.”
The characters also mention the Necronomicon again and again, and as we know from Lovecraft’s previous works this is not a tome of the Other Gods, but instead it’s a tome of necromantic magic that uses (sparsely) the powers of the cosmos.
So then what the devil is going on here? As it turns out the Akeley we meet is not who he says he is. That final letter we get from Akeley is actually not Akeley either, but an impostor and the really terrified letter the narrator received was the last communication Akeley sent before he was taken by these creatures. The form in the shadows…the titular Whisperer…is a creature from beyond, whom is covered up and disguised so that Wilmarth, our narrator, doesn’t notice that it’s not him. The horror doesn’t really come until the last line of the story, when the confusion of the events begins to unfold:
“For the things in the chair, perfect to the last, subtle detail of the microscopic resemblance – or identity – were the face and hands of Henry Wentworth Akeley.“
When we look back at the last phonograph Wilmarth hears, we know that Akeley was taken against his will:
“...brought it on myself…sent back the letters and the record…end on it…taken in…seeing and hearing…damn you…impersonal force, after all…fresh, shiny cylinder…great God…“
Between this recording and the hidden Akeley we know that whomever is at play…possibly the nefarious Nyarlathotep (whose name is uttered in one of the recordings), does not have philanthropy at heart. They are harvesting something. To me, all of these things happening at a farm indicates a brutal and corrupted sense of humor…one that is right at home in Lovecraft.
Join me next week as we seek out the Haunter in the Dark!