Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of The Beginning of Days
“Behind the walls of the Pelóri the Valar established their domain in that region which is called Valinor; and there were their houses, their gardens, and their towers. In that guarded land the Valar gathered great store of light and all the fairest things that were saved from the ruin; and many others yet fairer they made anew, and Valinor became more beautiful even than Middle-earth in the Spring of Arda; and it was blessed, for the Deathless dwelt there, and there naught faded nor withered, neither was there any stain upon flower or leaf in that land, nor any corruption or sickness in anything that lived; for the very stones and waters were hallowed.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we begin our pathway into the Quenta Silmarillion and learn of the beginning of the First Age, while getting some very useful backstory into the elves and man.
In the past few weeks we were introduced to the Valar and their predilections and abilities, which is imperative back story as we jump into the Silmarillion.
The story starts with mention of the First War, and if you remember, we don’t really know anything about it, because we’re getting everything from the Eldar, and the First War was before they came into their own in Arda. What we do know is that Melkor fought the Valar for control of the land, until Tulkas the Strong came down and “Melkor fled before his wrath and his laughter.“
With Melkor gone, at least temporarily, the Valar began to build Arda bringing “order to the seas and the lands and the mountains.” Once Yavanna planted seeds, the Valar realized they needed light to help life flourish, so Aulë “wrought two mighty lamps for the lighting of Middle-earth… One lamp they raised near the north of Middle-earth, and it was named Illuin; and the other was raised in the south, and it was named Ormal.”
The land flourished with the Valar and the light of the lamps, but Melkor had spies among the Maiar, “and because of the light of Illuin they did not perceive the shadow in the north that was cast from afar by Melkor.”
Because they didn’t notice Melkor, he came south and “began the delving and building of a vast fortress, deep under the Earth, beneath dark mountains… That stronghold was named Utumno.” His corruption spread from Utumno “and the Spring of Arda was marred.”
Another war broke out and Melkor “assailed the lights of Illuin and Ormal, and cast down their pillars and broke their lamps.” causing “destroying flame (which was) poured out over Earth,” scarring the land. The Valar were able to stop Melkor after this, but it was too late and “Thus ended the Spring of Arda.“
The Valar decided that there was no appropriate place to live, “Therefore they departed from Middle-earth and went to the land of Aman,” and to protect this land “they raised the Pelóri, the Mountains of Aman, highest upon Earth.” Upon the highest mountain Manwë (the Lord of Air and Winds) build his throne. “Taniquetil the Elves name that holy mountain.” Then we get the quote which opens this essay, and we understand that this land of Aman, had now become Valinor.
It was then, once they made their home in Valinor that Yavanna helped grow (through her song) the “Two Trees of Valinor;” Telperion and Laurelin. Telperion bloomed for six hours then stopped, then Laurelin bloomed for another six hours: “And each day of the Valar in Aman contained twelve hours, and ended with the second mingling of the lights, in which Laurelin was waning and Telperion was waxing.” It was a time of great joy for the Valar, to be free of Melkor and to continue to develop Valninor:
“Thus began the Days of the Bliss of Valinor; and thus began also the count of time.”
What significant about this is the aspect of time. The age of the Children of Ilùvatar was coming and the instance of time was it’s catalyst. The Elves are immortal, they “die not till the world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief.” But men are mortal and they need to have a concept of time to understand what their life capability is. We’ll see more of this later in the essay.
But in this coming of the Children of Ilùvatar, Melkor still dwelt in Middle-earth, which is where the Children took up their home.
The Valar rarely came across Pelóri, but when they did they taught the Elves “the lore of all craftsmen: the weaver, the shaper of wood, and the worker in metals; and the tiller and husbandman also.” But it was the Noldor, the “most skilled of the Elves” whom were “the first to achieve the making of gems; and the fairest of all gems were the Silmarils, and they are lost.” I’m trying to take this one step at a time, but seeing as this history is called “The Silmarillion,” I’m sure they will come into play soon.
The Vanyar Elves were gifted the art of “song and poetry” by Manwë whom was named the “vicegerent of Ilùvatar, King of the world of Valar and Elves and Men, and the chief defense against the evil of Melkor.” he even wields a “scepter of sapphire, which the Noldor wrought for him.”
Then there was also Ulmo of the Oceans and seas. I’m going to give you a long passage and break it down, because to me, this is the most important passage in this chapter:
“In the deep places he gives thought to music great and terrible; and the echo of that music runs through all the veins of the world in sorrow and in joy; for if joyful is the fountain that rises in the sun, its springs are in the wells of sorrow unfathomed at the foundations of the Earth… And thus it was by the power of Ulmo that even under the darkness of Melkor life coursed still through many secret lodes, and the Earth did not die; and to all who were lost in that darkness or wandered far from the light of the Valar the ear of Ulmo was ever open; nor has he forsaken Middle-earth, and whatsoever may since have befallen of ruin or of change he has not ceased to take thought for it, and will not until the end of days.”
Not only is this passage poetic and beautiful, but it also gives form to the philosophy of Middle-earth as the personalities of the Valar form the very fabric of reality. There is and always will be a subset of people whom believe that the ideal of The Lord of the Rings is a power struggle between good and evil. Between happiness and sorrow. Between love and loss.
The end of the books and movies (as Frodo heads to Valinor) there is a certain forlorn sorrow, but infused within that thread is hope, and that’s what strikes me the most in this passage above. There is joyfulness, but that joyfulness is countered by “sorrow unfathomed.” The point is if there were only goodness, there would be no joyfulness. Men and Elves are the Children of Ilùvatar and thus are more open to emotion and feeling. The Valar only have a little bit. So if everything were always joyful, the point of joyfulness disappears because there is no counterpoint. It is only upon feeling sorrow that we understand what Joy truly is.
This sorrow does not mean the terror that Melkor had wrought, or even Sauron in The Lord of the Rings. This is speaking of the normal every day sorrow, and that comes along with the concept of time which the Valar created with the two great trees of Valinor. To burrow this down to brass tacks, it is the sorrow that Men have a finite time on Middle-earth that creates the joyfulness that they flourish off of. What Ulmo does is put the sorrow in “the foundations of earth” meaning both that it was around at earth’s inception, but it’s also deep in a well; deep in the earth; physically and metaphorically tying the song of the sorrow to Middle-earth as a place. Michael Ende used this concept to full effect in his Swamps of Sorrow of The Neverending Story.
But what is the point of having Men and Elves live on Middle-earth? The Elves “shall be fairest of all earthly creatures, and they shall have and shall conceive and bring forth more beauty that all my Children.” So the Elves are there to make Middle-earth a wonderous and beautiful place. But what of Men?
“Therefore he willed the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else; and of their operation everything should be, in form and deed, completed, and the world fulfilled unto the last and smallest.“
For this the Elves fear Men, “for it seems to the Elves that Men resemble Melkor most of all the Ainur, although he has ever feared and hated them, even those that serve him.” The Elves are there for much the same reason the Valar were… to continue to make the world beautiful. Man was there to give direction and purpose. This is a powerful responsibility and it’s why many are corrupted during their journey, but it also gives rise to the joyful sorrow that one feels as they look out across the crashing waves and into the depths of the beautiful Ocean and it’s terrible wine dark composure.
Join me next week as we move onto chapter two and learn more of the Valar Aulë and Yavanna!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; Valaquenta
“Among those of his servants that have names the greatest was that spirit whom the Eldar called Sauron, or Gothaur the Cruel. In his beginning he was of the Maiar of Aulë, and he remained mighty in the lore of that people. In all the deeds of Melkor the Morgoth upon Arda, in his vast works and in the deceits of his cunning, Sauron had a part, and was only less evil than his master in that for long he served another and not himself. But in after years he rose like a shadow of Morgoth and a ghost of his malice, and walked behind him on the same ruinous path down into the Void.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we dive deeper into the world of the Valar to get a better understanding of who those angels are, all the while understanding more and more about Tolkien’s process.
We jump right into the thick of things. Tolkien as I’m sure anyone who is reading this right now knows, was first and foremost a linguist, and famously created the Elvish language on it’s own. Once he had it he wanted to use it so he created a story around it, and thus arose The Lord of the Rings. Knowing this I figured that The Valaquenta was the story of the Valar, because quenta seems to be Tolkien’s etymology for story or history, and so to tell the story of the Valar would be the Valaquenta. Much like the first history in the book The Silmarillion, Ainulindalë, is about the land (dalë) that the Ainur created.
There is quite a bit of re-hashing of Ainulindalë in the Valaquenta as the Ainulindalë was almost a biblical genesis story, the Valaquenta is the story of the Valar; the Ainur who went down to Ëa (the Earth) and lived invisibly amongst the Children of Ilùvatar (namely the Elves and Men). This is much more of a introduction to these Valar whom I’m sure will be more important later. In fact this history even begins with the title “Account of the Valar and Maiar according to the lore of the Eldar.”
The first two paragraphs paraphrase the events in Ainulindalë, but then we get into more of a diversity of the Valar and who they are. We find that “The Lords of the Valar are seven; and the Valier, the Queens of the Valar, are seven also.” We also find that “Melkor is counted no longer among the Valar, and his name is not spoken upon Earth,” despite the fact that Melkor was the strongest of the Ainur. His fall from grace has surrendered his name from the ranks of the Valar. Because of this, Manwë is the next in line.
“Manwë is the dearest to Ilùvatar and understands most clearly his purposes. He was appointed to be, in the fullness of time, the first of all Kings; and with Manwë (The Lord of the Breath of Arda) dwells Varda, Lady of the Stars.” The two of them reside in Valinor (the great resting place of the elves, and in general the home of the immortal Valar. Also known as Aman). “Of all the Great Ones who dwell in this world the Elves hold Varda most in reverence and love.”
Next we are introduced to Ulmo who we already know is the Lord of the Seas, but what we find is that “He is alone.” There is no Valier which resides with him, and though “the arising of the King of the sea was terrible,” “Ulmo loves both Elves and Men, and never abandoned them.“
Then there is Aulë who has “lordship… over all the substances of which Arda is made.” Aulë is “a smith and a master of all crafts.” The elves (The Noldor, the second clan of Elves) “learned most of him” which created a larger rift with Melkor, because Aulë was a friend of the Children of Ilùvatar and Melkor wasn’t. Aulë’s spouse is Yavanna who is also known as the Queen of the Earth, or Kementári in the Eldarin tongue.
There is Námo and Irmo, who are bretheren, and known as the masters of spirits; whom are better known by the names of their homes, which are Mandos and Lórien. The two brothers are known as the Fëanturi, which on a quick glace looks to me a lot like Fae, or the magical creatures from a different realm. Kind of makes sense, especially when we get more information about them. Mandos is “the keeper of the Houses of the Dead, and the summoner of the spirits of the slain.” while Lórien is “the master of visions and dreams.” This falls right in line with the style of magic the classic Fae utilize.
Both brothers have spouses who are also involved in these Fae type works. Vairë is Mandos’ wife who “weaves all things that have ever been in Time into her storied webs.” Estë is Lórien’s wife and she is the “healer of hurts and weariness.” But beyond these two, in Lórien there is a mightier Valier than Estë… Nienna. “She is acquainted with grief, and mourns for every wound that Arda has suffered in the marring of Melkor. So great was her sorrow, as the music unfolded, that her song turned to lamentation long before its end, and the sound of mourning was woven into the themes of the world before it began.” I can almost hear “shadows of the past” conducted by Howard Shore as I contemplate what this means. Melkor not only caused strife, but on top of that, grief and sorrow were not known emotions in the Children of Ilùvatar until Nienna felt them and sang them into existence. All because of Melkor’s revolts.
Next we have the great hunter Oromë, who is “a hunter of monsters and fell beasts, and he delights in horses and hounds; and all trees he loves, for which reason he is called Aldaron, and by the Sindar Tauron, the Lord of Forests.” And of course a great hunter must have a great horn, which he calls The Valaróma. Vána, “The Ever-young” is his spouse, and is the Lady of spring.
Then the last of the Valar is Tulkas, the “Greatest in strength and deeds of prowess.” He came to Arda to aid in the battles against Melkor and his spouse is Nessa; fleet of foot and lover of dance.
Next we spend some time covering the the Maiar, whom came with the Valar to Arda, and were servants to the Valar. They were: Ilmarë a handmaiden of Varda, Eönwë whom is the banner-bearer of Manwë, Ossë whom is a vassel of Ulmo and protected the Númenóreans, Uinen who has a delight in violence, Melian who served Vána and Estë, and finally Olórin who learned pity and patience.
But there were other Maiar. Maiar who were drawn to the horrible splendour that was Melkor, and they were corrupted “to his service with lies and treacherous gifts.” These were known as the Valaraukar (a verbal amalgam of Melkor and Valar), “the scourges of fire that in Middle-earth were called Balrogs, demons of terror.”
The last among these Maiar, is obviously the most infamous and we see that in the opening quote of this essay: Sauron, or Gorthaur the Cruel. The Maiar that would later become the scourge of the Third Age and little Hobbits everywhere.
These two histories were obviously notes of a larger narrative in which Tolkien was building. They overlap and expound upon the previous one to show more and more of what the world of Arda really is, but they don’t have a through line or story to grab a hold of. I do, however, get the feeling that all of these names and places are going to be extremely important moving forward as we delve deeper into the lost tales.
So join me next week as we begin our journey into the Quenta Silmarillion!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; Ainulindalë
“For the Children of Ilúvatar were conceived by him alone; and they came with the third theme, and were not in the theme which Ilúvatar propounded at the beginning, and none of the Ainur had part in their making. Therefore when they beheld them, the more did they love him, being things other than themselves, strange and free, wherein they saw the mind of Ilúvatar reflected anew, and learned yet a little more of his wisdom, which otherwise had been hidden even from the Ainur.”
Welcome back to another Blind read! It’s been a while, but we’ve now completed all of H.P. Lovecraft and here is the first J.R.R. Tolkien! This week we dive into the origins of Middle-Earth as we begin our journey through “The Silmarillion.”
What I didn’t realize getting into this was that “The Silmarillion” is actually only a portion of the whole book. Theres’ this entrance, Ainulindalë, then the Valaquenta, and then it gets into the Quenta Silmarillion which is the bulk of the book. All told this story is, “an account of the Elder Days, or the First Age of the World.” Where The Lord of the Rings takes place at the end of the Third Age, this is the genesis story of how that land came to be.
We begin with “Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilùvatar.” I’m sure more will come clear as we move forward, but Arda is what the Elves call Earth, not Middle-Earth, so at some point in the future there must have been a rift which caused a separate world or just continent to come about. That may be because of the first Dark Lord, Melkor, who’s introduced in this history.
So Ilùvatar created the first beings to inhabit the world and the stars, and these beings were called Ainur, The Holy Ones. They “were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made.”
Ilùvatar “spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad.” If that sounds like a bible verse, it’s intentional. Ilùvatar teaches them three themes of music. Bear in mind that he doesn’t teach them songs, but themes. The important distinction is that Ilùvatar is looking to create more than just the Ainur, he wants to see life expand, so the Ainur in turn use these themes to create Arda. The three themes, sung into verse, created different aspects of the world, and began to shape the history of what was to come. The Ainur were content to build this world, and revel in is splendor… except for one exception… Melkor.
“But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilùvatar; for he sought therin to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself.”
To do so, Melkor “Had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own.”
Melkor began to sing discordantly and outside of the themes Ilùvatar laid our for the Ainur, “until many of the Ainur were dismayed and sang no longer.” Ilùvatar then rose, “and he lifted up his right hand, and behold! a third theme grew amid the confusion, and it was unlike the others.” This third theme was the creation of Ilùvatar’s children… The Elves and the Men.
The music was discordant, with many battling melodies led from Melkor’s tones, until Ilùvatar stood, “and his face was terrible to behold.” This nearly reminds me of the influence of the one ring on Galadriel, to the point that I had to put the book down and contemplate where the power of that One Ring came from… could Ilùvatar be the source?
Ilùvatar shuts the Ainur down and shames Melkor: “And thou, Melkor, shall see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite.”
This is a very Old Testament thing to do. Ilùvatar created the Ainur from his thought and then gave them the themes to create the world. In text this seems to indicate that Ilùvatar wanted them to run with the themes and create the world (Arda) with the essence of the themes, but to create through their own lens. Melkor takes this a step too far, but Ilùvatar seems surprised that Melkor “The mightiest among them (Ainur)” might be able to actually take that step further. Then Ilùvatar tells them that they need to calm down; that they have no free will, because anything that they create with their music, was already foreseen by him. That everything they create is of him. That they cant in fact create anything that isn’t of his mind.
This seems to me the first big lie of Arda. If, indeed, Ilùvatar felt that this was true (the Ainur only being able to create what he could conceive) then why did he stop them? Why did his anger grow so much that he was “terrible to behold?” It’s because he had a specific vision and Melkor was leading a charge to alter that vision.
This strange reaction embarrasses Melkor and shames him, which only builds to bring out the darker side of desire.
Once Ilùvatar creates his Children (the elves and men), he decides he needs a place to house them, so “he chose a place for their habitation in the Depths of Time and in the midst of innumerable stars.” Which he names Ëa and it houses Arda.
The Ainur, once seeing the creation of Ëa, “…bent all their thought and their desire towards that place.” and this is where Melkor really begins his Satanesque fall. The Ainur are basically Angels (we’ll get into that a bit more in a minute) of which Melkor is one, but because of Hubris and desire, he creates a rift in the Ainur. He, much like many of the other Aniur who went to Ëa to assist in creation of that world, went “to go thither and order all things for the good of the Children of Ilùvatar…” but soon realizes that his jealousy and desire for power brought him there instead to “subdue to his will both Elves and Men,” because of “envying the gifts with which Ilùvatar promised to endow them.” A story which echoes the fall of the Lightbringer very closly.
The other Ainur who went to Ëa, were soon to become known as the Valar. There was Ulmo whom turned his thought to water and who “of all most deeply was he instructed by Ilùvatar in music.” It is because of this teaching that “it is said by the Eldar that in the water there lives yet the echo of the music of the Ainur more than in any substance else that is in this Earth.” (also another interesting aside. This is the only time in this history that Tolkien calls Ëa “this” Earth. Meaning that this was meant to be a history of our own world, which could also account for the very Christian backstory). There is Manwë, “the noblest of the Ainur” who was of the airs and the winds. Aulë who “Ilùvatar had given skill and knowledge scarce less than Melkor” took to the “fabric of Earth.”
These Valar were named “The powers of the world” and shaped Ëa in Ilùvatar’s ultimate vision, “but Melkor too was there from the first.”
Melkor finally had his fall. He claimed Ëa for his own, “This shall be my own kingdom; and I name it unto myself!” but again he was foiled because Manwë “called unto himself many spirits both greater and less, and they came down into the fields of Arda and aided Manwë.” to drive Melkor away.
There was peace for a time and the Valar, whom were imperceptible to the Eldar (the first of Ilùvatar’s children, the Elves) decided they wanted to walk among them, so they clothed themselves to look like Men and Women, but when Melkor perceived this and “His envy grew then the greater within him; and he also took visible form, but because of his mood and the malice that burned in him that form was dark and terrible.“
Again this follows the idea that these Valar are angels and Melkor is the fallen. They are invisible, except for when they wish to walk amongst the mortals and they can clothe themselves in our skin. They are beholden to Ilùvatar (God) and follow his instructions on creating a world for the Children of God, who are given more than they. But it is the Jealousy of Melkor which is the primary forge to create what the world could be. What’s fascinating in this respect is that Ilùvatar gave Melkor more intelligence and ability than any of the other Ainur, but if what he says is true and nothing can be created without his influence, then Melkor’s fall was known and, “Thus began the first battle of the Valar with Melkor for the dominion of Arda.” Of this battle little is known because the Valar struggled to keep the machinations of the Ainur from the Eldar, but Melkor fought against the Valar, and extended the creation of the world.
The only reason we know the outcome of that battle is because we know the world was created so we know Melkor failed in taking over the land, though the next history in the book is the Valaquenta, which is the account of the Valar from the perception of the Eldar, so I anticipate finding more out about these godlike beings and what they have done on Ëa!
Join me next week as we dive deeper into the history of Middle-Earth as we read through Valaquenta!
H.P. Lovecraft Final Thoughts
“It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.” – H.P. Lovecraft
Welcome back to another Blind Read! Well we’ve officially done it. We’ve read through every H.P. Lovecraft story I could find as well as all the August Derleth stories attributed to Lovecraft. I’ve already covered my final thoughts on August Derleth (which you can find here), so I wont be mentioning his work here, but I intend on covering Lovecraft’s writing style, touching on some of the work and making recommendations.
First and foremost, Lovecraft is a hard nut to crack. If you’re a casual reader his catalogue can be quite daunting. His language is archaic and complex, and his exposition is dense and verbose. I had no idea where to start when I began reading Lovecraft, and I dont think I started in the right place, but I intend on shining a light here in the dark places of Howard Phillips’ mind for the neophyte.
To me, the absolute best place to start to get into Lovecraft is the story “The Festival.” “Some fear had been gathering in me, perhaps because of the strangeness of my heritage, and the bleakness of the evening, and the queerness of the silence in that aged town of curious customs.”
The Festival holds all the elements you want in an introduction to Lovecraft. Ancestral ties, intense and submersed atmosphere, A classic Lovecraftian township, witchcraft, cosmic horror… you name it and this story has it. It follows our classic unreliable narrator as he heads to Kingsport for Yuletide whose, “fathers had called me to the old town...” There he finds himself involved in a nefarious ritual which includes the Necronomicon.
This wasn’t the first story I read of Lovecraft, but it was the turning point for me. Before reading this story I was on the fence, I really wasn’t sure if I liked the writing or not. I was upset because I thought there was going to be far more monsters and aliens and things like that interspersed within the text. What this story made me realize is that Lovecraft is all about the feel. His text is sneaky because as you read it it kind of just glazes over you, but the longer you read, and the longer you sit with the text, the more it sinks in and that familiar anxiety attributed to good horror is subsumed in your conscious. Lovecraft is at his best when he delivers atmosphere, and this story is dripping with it. Not only that, but this is also the most accessible story in terms of readability, which makes it one of the best jumping off points for all things Lovecraft.
If you’re not into the short stories and are looking for a novel, jump right into “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” “He bore the name of Charles Dexter Ward, and was placed under restraint most reluctantly by the grieving father who had watched his aberration grow from a mere eccentricity to a dark mania involving both a possibility of murderous tendencies and a profound and peculiar change in the apparent contents of his mind.” Not only is this novel cleaner and an easier plot line to follow, but it has some spectacular imagery and characterization… something which Lovecraft wasn’t known for.
Told in altering perspective form, this novel gets to the core of Lovecraftian horror without being overt, nor necessarily Cosmic, but with a grand backstory which brings historical witchcraft from Salem into Lovecraft’s own mythology. In case you hadn’t realized, witchcraft is at the core of Lovecraft’s fiction. Derleth made his fiction famous for the mythos, but even with those Cosmic deities, witchcraft was the unifying base. Characters over and over again utilize witchcraft as a means to an end, which more often than not ends up reversing course on them, just like you saw in the quote above. Many of these characters, including the titular Ward, use witchcraft in the guise of what they like to call “antiquarianism” where they study old books and genealogies, but it all comes down to a few books which ends up overpowering the narrator.
“The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” follows in this tradition, but there are enough pages for Lovecraft to build some really incredible atmosphere. We go through two chapters of introductions and then Lovecraft takes his time building tension and dread until we get to the ultimate conclusion. It’s a wonderful novel and a very good introduction to longform Lovecraft.
Don’t expect campfire tales when you read these stories. Don’t expect to be scared out of your gourd. There’s not much in these tales that will scare you while you’re reading them. Lovecraft’s genius is his precision. Every word chosen means something. Every reference is purposeful. Even the length of a story has meaning. These are the types of stories which dig into your subconscious and stick with you far longer than you’d anticipate. These are the types of stories which so surreptitiously describe a surface that all the sudden I developed trypophobia. These are the types of stories that make you second guess the glance that stranger gave you. They aren’t going to jump off the page and yelp with fright, but like all great horror does, they settle down into your mind like a parasite and feed on deep rooted fears you didn’t even know you had…but somehow Howard Phillips Lovecraft did.
There are many other tales I cut from this list, but some amazing notables are, “Dreams in the Witch House,” “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Music of Erich Zann,” “Pickman’s Model,” and the ultimate horror short story which delivers the most visceral and terrifying text… “The Rats in the Walls.”
Pick up these stories and take them slow. Analyze the text and let the master take you for a ride!
Join me next week as we take a brand new journey, and begin with The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien!
I would like to thank everyone who has joined the conversation and read along with me over these past few years. I used this convention as an excuse to read through H.P. Lovecraft’s tales, and as most times you take on a long project, it changes you through the process. This series of essays has made me a better writer and reader (you can tell by reading the first few of this series), but it has also tempered my angst over other’s opinions. I never experienced any kind of negativity I would expect through a Social Media (though there were absolutely differing opinions!) endeavor like this. That’s the main reason I want to keep going and move onto another Author whom people have trouble getting into past a few of his stories. Let’s continue the conversation and continue the positivity, and continue the opposing views.
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft / August Derleth; The Lurker at the Threshold, Conclusion
“After a long enough time to allow for the assimilating of this rapidly narrated series of curious facts, I asked, ‘Conceding that the data in these rare books does offer the solution of the events which have taken place in this corner of the State during the past two hundred years and more, what then, in your opinion, is it – which particular manifestation, that is – that lurks at the threshold, which is presumably the opening in the roof of that stone tower?”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we not only conclude this novel, but bring our August Derleth journey to an end as well. Derleth has brought clarity to the mystery of Lovecraft, but whether that’s a good thing or not I’ll leave that up to you to decide!
We jump into the final section of the novel leaving the mystery open as to what happened to Stephen Bates. Instead there is a jump in narrative to the perspective of Winfield Phillips who was the understudy of Dr. Seneca Lapham of Miskatonic University. We find that at the urging of Dr. Harper, apparently “late of the library staff,” Stephen Bates delivered a manuscript to Dr. Lapham and “urged Dr. Lapham to read it at once.”
The stupidity which runs rampant in this story apparently effected the previously forward thinking Bates as well, because in an effort to ameliorate his cousin he decides to perform a task asked of him by Dewart and the ersatz companion Misquamicus. They ask him to move the strange stone with the strange markings, of which Dewart previously removed from the peak of the tower, only because “…it seemed that neither he nor the Indian nor the two of them together could manage that marked stone which my cousin had dislodged from the roof of the tower.” So, naturally, Stephen does it and removes the very last vestige of protection from the area by removing the Elder Sign.
They speak for a while, and Dr. Lapham shows him a Bas-relief with a cephalopod looking creature with long tentacles, to which Bates replies “‘It looks like the things that flew about near the tower – that might have made the clawprints – but it’s also like the thing to which my cousin was talking.“
Dr. Lapham nods and shakes his hand and Bates takes his leave. The majority of the remainder of the book is a rumination on the mythos and clarification of what the mythos is. It seems obvious to me at this point (without reading the correspondence between Lovecraft and Derleth) that this novel has a direct point, beyond just being a fun horror story. This last chapter, alongside events which happened earlier in the tale, feel like Derleth sat around and decided that Lovecraft’s Yog-Sothothery was just too complicated. It was too vague for the modern reader. Derleth took it upon himself to clarify the mythos and put the various gods into specific categories because, in general, that’s how humans work…we need to put things in buckets. Lovecraft’s insidious horror was so pervasive because of how vague it was. Lovecraft relied on the brief description and let your mind do the rest of the work. This tactic ends up making for more difficult reading, but then your mind takes over and rather than letting the imagery go, it builds upon it and seethes into your unconscious. It’s like watching the original “The Haunting” movie from the sixties and then watching the 1999 remake. It’s what you don’t see that scares you. The moment you put a face to something you are suddenly able to identify it and the point of Lovecraftian horror is removed. Derleth, in trying to make the mythos more accessible, has ostensibly removed the fear from the god like characters and made them anthropomorphic. They are no longer apathetic, but now nefarious.
What Derleth does in this last portion which I did find fascinating was tying together our history through anthropology with these Elder Gods. He speaks of mysterious things like “The strange sculptures and carvings of Easter Island and Peru.” and mythological creatures such as Wendigo. We even get one of the first “almost” scientific references to ghost hunting…a precursor to books and movies such as “Hell House;” “I…will propound a theory of psychic residue, but I think it is far more than that – far, far more…” except Lapham is saying that this residue is from the outsiders, not ghosts.
To work out what their next steps are the two men then spend pages and pages of text clarifying and demystifying the mythology. We find that the Great Old Ones, “had some correspondence to the elements – as of earth, water, air, fire-” and had followers who effected certain ‘openings’ through which the Great Old Ones and their extra-terrestrial minions might enter.” who are these Great Old Ones? To Derleth, they are:
“The first among them is Cthulhu, who lies supposedly “dead but dreaming” in the unknown sunken city of R’lyeh, which some writers have thought to be in Atlantis, some in Mu, and some few in the sea not far off the coast of Massachusetts. Second among them is Hastur, sometimes called Him Who Is Not To Be Named and Hastur the Unspeakable, who supposedly resides in Hali in the Hyades. Third is Shub-Niggurath, a horrible travesty on a god or goddess of fertility. Next comes one who is described as the ‘Messenger of the Gods”-Nyarlathotep – and particularly of the most powerful extension of the Great Old Ones, the noxious Yog-Sothoth, who shares the dominion of Azathoth, the blind and idiot chaos at the centre of infinity.”
The two men then tell us, “...that without Alijah Billington was engaged in some kind of nefarious practice which may or may not have been akin to sorcery.” as they correlate what the Necronomicon says and tie it together with the history. So apparently I was wrong about Alijah not being involved, but what’s interesting is that he was the one who sealed everything up. One has to wonder if this were not just another case of an ancestor possessing his offspring for a longer life, like we’ve seen so many times before in both Lovecraft and Derleth, and when Alijah realized what was happening, he sealed off the tower with the help of the Elder sign and fled the country.
Winfield and Lapham speak of the “rules” and how they’ve all been broken.
- “The water ceased to flow of itself“
- “Dewart molested this (the stone block with the elder sign) in precisely the way Alijah hoped it would not be disturbed.
- “Finally, the entreaty to which reference is made in order to effect the primary stage of contact with the forces beyond the threshold.”
Each and every one, with the help of Stephen Bates being stupid, has been effected and Richard, in the body of Dewart, is ready to bring forth his outsider.
In an effort to tie everything together they speak about the window: “I suggest the window is not a window at all, but a lens or prism or mirror reflecting vision from another dimension or dimensions – in short, from time or space.” and it was only when looking through this window and getting a strange vision that Dewart “felt the compulsion to dislodge the block set into the roof.”
They even get into what these outsiders are. If I’m being honest this was the story I was looking for the entire time I read Lovecraft and I’m only getting it now, here at the end of all things. We get the history of the war between the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones and the distinction between them (I’ll put this passage in the post script), but now that I’m reading it in this context I’m a little let down, which I find curious.
I love playing board and role playing games, and have played Call of Cthulhu many times. Every time there’s a scene almost exactly like this last chapter, where the atmosphere is stuffy but cozy, as your characters uncover eldritch truths in hidden rooms or libraries. Obviously Chaosium, the company who created the games, took quite a bit of narrative out of Derleth. But there’s something missing. The depth and visceral emotional realness that is Lovecraft is missing, and that makes this feel like watching “The Librarian” instead of watching “Indiana Jones,” both you have to suspend disbelief, but somehow through character and setting and plot, Indiana just feels that much more realistic and relatable. But I digress…
Dr. Lapham tells us the way the Elder Gods were able to defeat and lock away the Great Old Ones was by the use of the Elder Sign (See? Elder Gods used their sign, which was powerful enough to lock up these alien Titans) which turns out to be “‘Armor against witches and daemons, against the Deep Ones, the Dholes, the Voormis, the Tcho-Tcho, the Abominable Mi-Go, the Shoggoths, the Ghasts, the Valusians and all such peoples and beings who serve the Great Old Ones and their spawn…carven out of grey stone from ancient Mnar…‘”
Armed with this knowledge they decide to go out and confront Richard Billington and his assistant Quamicus. They get out to the stone tower and find Billington in Dewarts body up on the tower doing the incantation to bring forth the Lurker at the Threshold:
“Iä! Iä!N’ghaa, n’n’ghai-ghai! Iä! Iä! N’ghai, n-yah, n-yah, shoggog, phthaghn! Iä! Iä! N’ghai, y-nyah, y-nyah! N’ghaa, n’n’ghai, waf’l pthaghn – Yog-Sothoth! Yog-Sothoth...”
Finally we have our Big Bad! Yog-Sothoth! The creature so pervasive on our world in Lovecraft’s opinion that he called his mythos Yog -Sothothery! This is a pretty brilliant move by Derleth to have the Lurker at the Threshold be Yog-Sothoth because that’s the diety who is closest to our world. Not floating through the ether like Azathoth, not dead and dreaming under the sea like Cthulhu, or Dagon. Not lost to space and time like Nyarlathotep (though I really want to see something with him in it! I have “Khai of Khem” by Brian Lumley another Lovecraftian antecedent, in hopes that it’s about Nyarlathotep!). This whole novel, less so the short stories I read first, seem to be a nod towards Lovecraft and a hope to bring his strange and wonderful mind to the masses, and he proves it here by bringing forward Yog-Sothoth. Or does he?
Dewart trails off at the end of the incantation because Dr. Lapham brings out a firearm, and in the most anti-climactic ending, merely shoots the man. But then! Quamicus gets up onto the tower and continues the spell! We might finally see a Great Old One…nope Lapham shoots Quamicus too, and thus ends our tale.
At least that’s how I thought it was going to end. Derleth slaps on one final paragraph right there at the end…it’s a vision of what Winfield, our narrator, thinks he sees:
“great globes of light massing towards the opening, and not alone among these, but the breaking apart of the nearest globes, and the protoplasmic flesh that flowed blackly outward to join together and form that eldritch, hideous horror from outer space, that spawn of the blankness of primal time, that tentacled amorphous monster which was the lurker at the threshold, whose mask was a congeries of iridescent globes, the noxious Yog-Sothoth, who froths as primal slime in nuclear chaos forever beyond the nethermost outposts of space and time!“
So we may not have gotten a good look at any of the Great old Ones, but we got some great insight into what they and who they are. The story itself as a total for the novel isn’t very complete, but it was interesting to see things from different characters perspectives.
The novel itself is a bit bland, and difficult to get through, not for the same reasons that Lovecraft is hard to get through, but because Derleth has a penchant for meandering. It does feel like this was the appropriate send off to this/these author/authors, because, like I said earlier, we finally got what we were initially intending on getting when I started this project those four plus years ago. A understanding about the difference between The Great Old Ones and the Elder Gods.
Is this something that’s interested you? Do you want to read Lovecraft, but are daunted by his complexity? Join me next week as we review favorite stories and final thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft!
As promised, here is the passage about the conflict between the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones…
“Ubbo-Sathla is that unforgotten source whence came those daring to oppose the Elder Gods who ruled from Betelgueze; the Great Old Ones who fought against the Elder Gods; and these Old Ones were instructed by Azathoth, who is the blind, idiot god, and by Yog-Sothoth, who is the All-in-One and One-in-All, and upon whom are no strictures of time and space, and whose aspects on earth are ‘Umr At-Tawil and the Ancient Ones. The Great Old Ones dream forever of that coming time when they shall once more rule Earth and all the Universe of which it is part…Great Cthulhu shall rise from R’lyeh; Hastur, who is Him Who Is Not To Be Named, shall come again from the dark star near Aldebaran in the Hyades; Nyarlathotep shall howl forever in darkness where he abideth; Shub-Niggurath, who is the Black Goat With a Thousand Young, shall spawn and spawn again, and shall have dominion over all wood nymphs, satyrs, leprechauns, and the Little People; Lloigor, Zhar, and Ithaqua shall ride the spaces among the stars and shall ennoble those who are their followers, who are the Tcho-Tcho; Cthugha shall encompass his dominion from Fomalhaut; Tsathoggua shall come from N’kai…They wait forever at the Gates, for the time draws near, the hour is soon at hand, while the Elder Gods sleep, dreaming, unknowing there are those who know the spells put upon the Great Old Ones by the Elder Gods, and shall learn how to break them, as already they can command the followers waiting beyond the doors from Outside.”
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