Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, pt 1, The Flight of the Noldoli
“Now tells the tale that as the Solosimpi wept and the Gods scoured all the plain of Valinor or sat despondent neath the ruined Trees a great age passed and it was one of gloom, and during that time the Gnome-folk suffered the very greatest evils and all the unkindliness of the world beset them. For some marched endlessly along that shore until Eldamar was dim and forgotten far behind, and wilder grew the ways and more impassable as it trended to the North, but the fleet coasted beside them not far out to sea and the shore-farers might often see them dimly in the gloom, for they fared but slowly in those sluggish waves (pg 166).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into Tolkien’s storytelling process and understand why he wrote the book and where he wanted it to go.
We left off last week with the Darkening of Valinor and the betrayal of Melkor. As soon as we start this chapter, we find that Tolkien intended this chapter to be part of the events of The Darkening of Valinor. Christopher edited this into a separate chapter because he knew where the narrative would eventually lead.
“There is no break in Lindo’s narrative, which continues on in the same hastily-pencilled form (and near this point passes to another similar notebook, clearly with no break in composition), but I have thought it convenient to introduce a new chapter, or a new ‘Tale’, here, again taking the title from the cover of the book (pg 164).”
Christopher segregated this chapter because, as it’s written, it’s missing some of the weight that goes into the betrayal and exile of the Noldor Elves.
The Book of Lost Tales tells the story of Valinor and the Valar, but the story at the core of The Silmarillion is about the Elves. They were the ones who created humanity and life in the world. Where the Valar did the act of making the world with their song, the Eldar (and later on Humans) created culture and meaning, which gave Middle-earth purpose.
In his development of The Book of Lost Tales (only called this because that’s what Christopher called it), Tolkien wanted to understand what these Angels were like; what their personalities were, how they treated each other, and how they treated the “Children.”
I’m not convinced that these books (The Book of Lost Tales, Vol 1 and 2) were ever meant to see the light of day, especially since Christopher admits that the material comes from notebooks and scrap paper, but what is impressive about them is that we get to see the development of the world from the ground up.
Tolkien was a plotter and wanted his mythology (his fairy tale) to be as complete as possible. So he worked for years (first putting pen to paper during his time in the trenches of the Great War), making sure that this Magnum Opus was precisely how he wanted it.
When it comes to this chapter, Tolkien came to realize that the Noldor was not severe enough. The fact that Melkor stole some gems and then was made to return some of them was not enough. The fact that Melkor killed Fëanor’s father, the first death of an Eldar ever, was not enough. He needed the Eldar to have their arc unique from the Valar and much more interesting than the Valar because stories where gods are the centerpiece just aren’t as interesting. Tolkien himself knew this, and that’s why his two “novels” (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) had simple people as the main protagonists. Life and art are just more enjoyable when you have to overcome obstacles.
So Tolkien took a look at his early flight of the Noldor and made a note:
“At the top of the manuscript page and fairly clearly referring to Fëanor’s words my father wrote: ‘Increase the element of the desire for the Silmarils’. Another note refers to the section of the narrative that begins here and says that it ‘wants a lot of revision: the [?thirst ?lust] for jewels – especially for the sacred Silmarils – wants emphasizing. And the all-important battle of Cópas Alqaluntë where the Gnomes slew the Solosimpi must be inserted (pg 169).'”
Cópas Alqaluntë is the core of why Christopher separated this chapter. The Noldor killing their kin to steal their boats to seek vengeance from Melkor doesn’t hit as hard if it is part of the story of the Darkening of Valinor.
Tolkien needed to create a new chapter and new motivations (which he did in The Silmarillion) to make their actions more impactful. This singular act creates a rift between the Eldar and the Valar, and Fëanor’s never-ending rage drives the narrative for the remainder of the Age.
His firey and charismatic personality gave the Noldori Elves something to rally behind, and the fact that he created the Silmarils himself (and that they held the light of the now-dead Trees of Valinor) raised the stakes much more.
Tolkien turned his thoughts bloody and created a visceral battle where the Noldor turned against their brethren in a brutal and bloody way, which was not present in this earlier version. This act is what damned the Noldor for the rest of time:
“Songs name that dwelling the Tents of Murmuring, for there arose much lamentation and regret, and many blamed Fëanor bitterly, as indeed was just, yet few deserted the host for they suspected that there was no welcome ever again for them back to Valinor – and this some few who sought to return indeed found, though this entereth not into this tale (pg 168).”
Join me next week as we delve into “The Tale of the Sun and the Moon.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, part 1, The Darkening of Valinor
“Now Melko having despoiled the Noldoli and brought sorrow and confusion into the realm of Valinor through less of that hoard than aforetime, having now conceived a darker and deeper plan of aggrandisement; therefore seeing the lust of Ungwë’s eyes he offers her all that hoard, saving only the three Silmarils, if she will abet him in his new design (pg 152).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re going to dive into the philosophy of Tolkien’s world through the events of The Darkening of Valinor.
We’ve discussed it before, but Tolkien relied heavily on his Christian background while creating this mythology. He wanted something new and unique for England, and as we know, mythologies are all origin stories.
The people of Middle-earth (Elves, Men, Dwarves, etc.) are all iterations of our evolution, and it shows from the beginning of The Book of Lost Tales that Tolkien intended for Middle-earth to be a precursor to Earth (he even calls it Eä in the Silmarillion).
Because this is mythology, Tolkien brings his version of the afterlife and the angels he introduces to the world. Melkor, who is Tolkien’s version of Satan, is ostracized for stealing the Eldar gems and Silmarils. Cast out of Heaven as it were:
“Now these great advocates moved the council with their words, so that in the end it is Manwë’s doom that word he sent back to Melko rejecting him and his words and outlawing him and all his followers from Valinor for ever (pg 148).”
But it was still during this period that Melkor was mischievous, but he had not transitioned to evil yet, even after being cast out of Valinor. So instead, he spent his time trying to create chaos using his subversive words:
“In sooth it is a matter for great wonder, the subtle cunning of Melko – for in those wild words who shall say that there lurked not a sting of the minutest truth, nor fail to marvel seeing the very words of Melko pouring from Fëanor his foe, who knew not nor remembered whence was the fountain of these thoughts; yet perchance the [?outmost] origin of these sad things was before Melko himself, and such things must be – and the mystery of the jealousy of Elves and Men is an unsolved riddle, one of the sorrows at the world’s dim roots (pg 151).”
The great deceiver has been created out of jealousy and anger for these beings of Middle-earth, believing that they were given more than their fair share and his own acts were ruined from the beginning of the Music of the Ainur.
But what did the Elves do? Was there anything they received that made anything Melkor did excusable?
“And at the same hour riders were sent to Kôr and to Sirnúmen summoning the Elves, for it was guessed that this matter touched them near (pg 147).”
It was nothing that they did, but the fact that the Valar treated them as equals to the Valar and Melkor’s slights against them weren’t considered pranks he felt they were, so his anger grew.
They were also allowed to be near their loved ones even after death. Elves were given the gift of immortality but can still be killed by disease or blade. But where do their spirits go when they die? Remember that this is a Christian-centric mythology, so Tolkien built an afterlife.
Called Vê after the Valar who created it, the afterlife on Middle-earth is contained within and around Valinor. This early conception (nearly cut entirely from The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings) was that Vê was a separate area of Valinor, slightly above and below it but still present, almost like a spirit world that contained the consciousness of the dead.
This region was all about, and the Eldar cannot commune with their deceased, but they continue to live close to them, and their spirit remains in Valinor.
“Silpion is gleaming in that hour, and ere it wanes the first lament for the dead that was heard in Valinor rises from that rocky vale, for Fëanor laments the death of Bruithwir; and many Gnomes beside find that the spirits of their dead have winged their way to Vê (pg 146).”
Melkor is jealous that the Elves can be so close to their dead ancestors, but he also doesn’t fully comprehend what being dead means because he is a Valar and eternal. He sees these beings going off to a different portion of Valinor and is upset because he thought he found a way to create distress amongst them by killing one of them. He doesn’t realize that he made a fire in the Eldar that would never wane.
“‘Yea, but who shall give us back the joyous heart without which works of lovliness and magic cannot be? – and Bruithwir is dead, and my heart also (pg 149).'”
Melkor schemed and stewed in his frustration and anger, feeling that even with his theft and his killing of Fëanor’s father, the first death of an Eldar (whom Tolkien was still calling Gnomes in this early version), there was nothing he could do to prove his worth, so his worth turned to evil. His music was dissonant and didn’t follow the themes of the other Valar, and he was looked down upon for that and cast aside. He pulled pranks that caused the other Valar to imprison him. All the while, his anger, and distrust grew until he did the ultimate act, which caused his to turn to true evil: He partnered with Ungoliant (the giant spider queen and mother of Shelob) and killed Silpion and Laurelin, the Trees which gave light to Valinor.
“Thus was it that unmarked Melko and the Spider of Night reached the roots of Laurelin, and Melko summoning his godlike might thrust a sword into its beauteous stock, and the firey radiance that spouted forth assuredly had consumed him even as it did his sword, had not Gloomweaver (Ungoliant) cast herself down and lapped it thirstily, plying even her lips to the wound in the tree’s bark and sucking away it’s life and strength (pg 153).”
Melkor had finally become evil. He had turned against the Valar and what brought the world light and gave that power to evil creatures.
The Valar and Eldar cried out against Melkor for being cruel, but the tragedy of Melkor’s story was that he never had a choice.
Early in the mythology of this world, Tolkien tells us that Ilúvatar had a theme and a story for eternity, which the Valar were not privy to. Instead, they thought their music and their acts were meant to create only beauty and love.
Ilúvatar, however, knew that to have true meaning, there must be pain, conflict, and evil. Otherwise, all the world’s good would disappear and become mundane. So Ilúvatar created Melkor, knowing what he was going to become. He made Melkor evil in the world.
Melkor was born to suffer. Melkor was born never to know love. Melkor was created to become a creature that others could be tricked into feeling sorry for, and thus trade the light of the Valar for the Darkness of the Dark Lord.
Join me next week as we cover “The Flight off the Noldoli!”
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Beast in the Cave
“Cautiously advancing, we gave vent to a simultaneous ejaculation of wonderment, for of all the unnatural monsters either of us had in our lifetimes beheld, this was in surpassing degree the strangest.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week, we’ll be diving into some of Lovecraft’s “juvenilia,” as it’s called. This is one of the last stories he wrote as a young man (The Alchemist being the last), before taking a break from writing these types of fictions. He returned to fiction years later and wrote the rest of his better known bibliography
This is a good story with echoes of future works tucked inside of it. Now, where there isn’t much in terms of cosmic horror or a Mythos connection, there is a slight thread (though far fetched) that we’ll be examining in a bit.
The story is a simple one and very straight forward. Lovecraft doesn’t leave much to the imagination, but he does create a great little horror story. The story begins with our narrator taking a tour through some strange caverns. He gets separated from his group and ends up fighting (really just throwing rocks at) some kind of creature that rose up from the depths of the cavern system.
He thinks he kills the creature with the rocks and tries to inspect it. He finds that it’s a white haired ape like creature, but it’s too hard to see because his torch extinguished in the time he wandered, lost. When the tour guide eventually finds him, flashlight en tow, they see that the creature was actually a man, assumed to be down here so long that he has mutated (I wonder if Gollum comes from this story).
It’s fun and short, and what you’d expect from a young man’s fiction. But what if this were the seed for so much more?
So the obvious connection is The Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and his Family, because that is a story of a man intermarrying a Portuguese woman, who eventually turned out to be a Congan Ape Goddess. Arthur Jermyn and his family all had apish aspect because they were offspring of the Ape Goddess. Maybe the beast in the cave was actually a Jermyn?
But then we can go deeper. There are a few mentions of the people of Congo praying to this Ape Goddess “Under the Congan moon”, and inference that potentially the moon could have been where the Ape creatures came from (see What the Moon Brings and The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath). Could this be the mythos connection? Could these creatures have been somehow been connected with the moon-beasts?
Even in stories such as The Doom that Came to Sarnath have this moon connection, where it seems as though something has come down from the moon and taken over, or corrupted life on our planet. This could be the cosmic connection we’re looking for, because the vast majority of Lovecraft’s mythos come from the stars.
Of course, this is a tenuous connection to say the least, but I like to think that Lovecraft’s beginnings could have had this kind of influence, at least subconsciously, over his later work. His vague mythos (which from what I understand, he didn’t want to have much connectivity), may have actually been more connected than we really thought of previously.
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Evil Clergyman
“His build and lower facial features were like any other clergymen I had seen, but he had a vastly higher forehead, and was darker and more intelligent looking – also more subtly and concealedly evil-looking.”
Welcome back to another Blind read! This time we’re reviewing the very short and to the point, “The Evil Clergyman.”
There isn’t a whole lot to this one. It’s pretty straightforward, dealing with our classic un-reliable narrator, with themes of cosmic horror and sanity. This story doesn’t add to the cannon of mythos (unless there is something that I’ve missed, or something that I haven’t read yet), but it’s a fun little off shoot story.
We start off with our narrator looking an attic apartment. The man who is offering the apartment makes illusions to one of the previous tenants, and references what he did. We don’t know what it is, but we can tell that it is severe. It seems as though the narrator is not moving into the apartment, but he is rather there for research into “That abominable society…” whom he was a part of, and stayed there. I half wonder if this is the same he from the story with the name HE. They do have similar descriptions.
The man giving the apartment up (or perhaps the narrator is a working lodger) gives a number of requests: “I hope you wont stay till after dark. And I beg of you to let that thing on the table – the thing that looks like a match-box – alone.”
Whatever the previous tenant did we know it was terrible, and potentially had something to do with the thing that looks like a matchbox…which immediately made me think that the item could have potentially been a talisman with an elder sign on it. As far as I’ve seen so far, Lovecraft doesn’t have any elder signs in his fiction, so they are probably a creation of one of his acolytes, but this could have been the genesis of it.
Our narrator takes a “Flashlight” out. He delineates that this flashlight shines purple, not white light, so immediately we know that he’s either testing something, or hes doing his own nefarious experiments.
There is a familiar vacuum sound, a description that Lovecraft has used frequently to indicate summoning, and before the narrator a newcomer appears. The titular Evil Clergyman gets ready to hang himself and seems to peer into our narrator.
At first I wasn’t sure if this was a dream story, or reality, but as the Clergyman starts to hang himself he looks devilishly at our narrator, and our narrator is overcome with fear. He does the only thing that he can think of …”and drew out the peculiar ray-projector as a weapon of defense.”
This scares the Clergyman and breaks the spell. The man who offered the warnings at the beginning comes back and lets us know “Something very strange and terrible has happened to you, but it didn’t get far enough to hurt your mind and personality.”
We find that this is not the first time this has happened and that others have died in this room by their own hand. The Evil Clergyman was trying to take over our narrators body, and in fact, partially succeeds, “This is what I saw in the glass: A thin, dark man of medium stature attired in the clerical garb of the Anglican church, apparently about thirty, and with rimless, steel-bowed glasses glistening beneath a sallow, olive forehead of abnormal height.”
Our narrator had become the Evil Clergyman.
I read this story as two different meanings. The first is the purely horrific, Lovecraftian story where we have an outside being forcing his way into our world. A Clergyman who vied for more power and ended up being taken over, body and soul, by a malevolent cosmic horror being. It follows that their goal is to take over a new form and enter our world. That makes it a fun little story.
There could be deeper meaning here though. The specific mention of Anglican garb gives me a bit of pause, because of Lovecraft’s notable hatred of religion. I wonder if there is a piece of Lovecraft that said that if you let religion enter you, it would destroy your life. You would become beholden to the religion and lose a sense of your own creativity and end up killing yourself, who you are, and your very soul, by letting the religion take you over.
If this is the case, that means the people in the attic are against religion too, and they worry that in the dark of night, when terrors abound, the narrator (as many in the past have as well) might turn to religion.
There are two instances which could make this reality. The first is the description of the room contains strange geometry, much the same as in The Dreams in the Witch House. This strange geometry is a conduit for connecting one world to another. The second, is the people who stopped the Evil Clergyman in the past were “That abominable society.” Why would an abominable society be trying to stop something evil cross over? Could it be that the abominable society were in fact Cthulhu cultists, or something of that sort and they were trying to stop religion from coming into the world?
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Horror at Red Hook
“But at this time it was all horribly real, and nothing can ever efface the memory of those nighted crypts, those titan arcades, and those half-formed shapes of hell that strode gigantically in silence holding half-eaten things whose still surviving portions screamed for mercy or laughed with madness.”
Wow, what a wild ride this story was. This was probably the scariest and most classic horror of any H.P. Lovecraft that I’ve read up to date.
As the story begins we are introduced to detective Thomas F. Malone who is on extended medical leave for trauma. The first portion of the story describes how he’s living and dealing with this trauma, of which we are still ignorant.
The second portion of the story covers Red Hook. We get a call back to HE, as there is a similar tenement structure our narrator experienced there. This story also takes place in New York, which is absolutely unique for Lovecraft. It does not hold the same atmosphere as much of his work, but from the start of this story the tone has a much darker and sinister feel. The basis in New York gives Lovecraft the ability to explore different themes than the usual fantasy/cosmic horror that he frames in New England.
The third portion of the story is the introduction to Malone’s quarry, Robert Suydam. “Suydam was a lettered recluse of an ancient Dutch family,” and he purchased a space in the run down, twisting alleyways of Red Hook. After a strange trip to Europe, Suydam began to deteriorate. His personal hygiene took a hit, he lost friends, and “When he spoke it was to babble of unlimited powers almost within his grasp, and to repeat with knowing leers such mystical words or names as ‘Sephiroth’, ‘Ashmodai’ and Samael’.” And there it is. We have three demons from the Kabbalah and Christian religions. The text has gone beyond the normal Lovecraft, no longer in the world of the cosmic horror. We are no longer in the dreamlands (though there is a little bit of dream stuff to come), we have now crossed over into religious horror. To me this raised my hackles. I find this subject matter far more terrifying that anything I have yet come by within Lovecraft’s oeuvre.
The fourth section of the story delves into the police work. Trying to uncover just what strange dealings that Suydam has been up to. They raid his home, which is empty, and they come across blasphemous art work and things that Malone simply “did not like”. They also found an inscription:
O friend and companion of night, thou who rejoices in the baying of dogs and spilt blood, who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs, who longest for blood and bringest terror to mortals, Gorgo, Mormo, thousand-faced moon, look favourably on our sacrifices!
I had no idea what this meant. Though obviously a atmospheric quote, I believed it had deeper meaning. Lovecraft infuses lots of Greek mythology and heritage within his work. There is a certain amount of admiration he obviously felt for the culture and the artwork. He loves the idea of marble structures and busts and even includes some of that iconography in this story as well. So when I came across this quote, it was no surprise to me that it was about Hecate, the Greek Goddess of the underworld, ghosts, and magic. This story was not going to deal with cosmic horror, it was going to deal with something closer to home. It was about Hell.
The next short section of the story tells of a journey Suydam takes across the sea, where he dies. He instructs that his body be conveyed to the bearer of the note provided.
Then we move into the Horror. Malone goes to Red Hook and investigates, noticing a melee. He goes to allay the fight and finds strange sounds and smells while all the participants of the battle flee. Malone suspects something nefarious behind a large door, so he takes a stool and breaks the door open, “whence poured a howling tumult of ice-cold wind with all the stenches of the bottomless pit, and whence reached a sucking force not of earth or heaven, which, coiling sentiently about the paralysed detective, dragged him through the aperture and down unmeasured spaces filled with whispers and wails, and gusts of mocking laughter.“
Malone is sucked into Hell. He experiences some truly horrific scenes, perfect for any fan of this type of fiction, and much more evocative than anything I’ve experienced from Lovecraft. We see Suydam giving himself over to a demon, finally getting what he was after, and becoming one with hell.
The final section explains how the mysterious group brought Suydam’s body back to that experience and how Malone could hear that same refrain from some “hag” speaking to young children about Hecate. The knowledge of the fate of Suydam and that whatever devious magic caused it is still alive and well in Red Hook is what truly throws Malone over the edge.
When I think of Lovecraft I don’t generally think “disturbing”, but I have to say that this one was up there. That penultimate chapter covering Malone’s experiences in Hell were truly unsettling.
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; Azathoth
“And because mere walls and windows must soon drive to madness a man who dreams and reads much, the dweller in that room used night after night to lean out and peer aloft to glimpse some fragments of things beyond the waking world and the greyness of tall cities.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! We’re going to be tackling a fragment from later in Lovecraft’s career, that gives indication for the expansion of the Dream Lands and his pantheon of gods. This short was thought to be the beginnings of a novel that never truly came to fruition, and instead became what we know as “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”https://seanmmcbride.com/2018/05/11/blind-read-through-h-p-lovecraft-the-dream-quest-of-unknown-kadath-pt-1/ (check out my Blind read of that story here). Azathoth is mentioned in a few other stories as well, but is basically known as the chaos at the center of the universe. A god of gods, something that the narrator of “The Dream Quest” knows that if he views Azathoth straight on, he will lose his sanity. A quavering mass of teeth and eyes and malevolence. He is also known as the Dream God. Some think that Azathoth creates dreams, or at least created the dream lands. He is, however, ignorant of this. Also known as the Blind Ignorant god, Azathoth himself is not actually malevolent in his intentions. He may be a force of chaos, but he is not truly evil. He’s just dreaming and moving through existence, but because he is beyond the understanding of humans, a view of Azathoth means a view of the entirety of the universe, which is too much for a mere moral to withstand. Thus madness.
This short was the first time in the oeuvre of Lovecraft that we get to hear of Azathoth and there is one really interesting mention. Opiates.
Lovecraft was rumored to either use Opium or some such subsidiary, and some say that many of his stories were opium dreams. I prefer to believe that he may have dabbled early on and had some crazy visions. This led him to believe that Opium may be a drug to alter existence. Lovecraft at his core was a terrified man. I don’t believe by the indications of his writing that he would give himself over to an addiction of a drug this powerful; he’d be too scared to lose himself. He was a well known recluse and a well known bigot. These things developed (of course he must have had an early life redolent with them), out of fear of the unknown. If you’re scared of something, you’re going to vilify it, instead of trying to understand it.
I believe this is why he wrote about the subject matter that he did. Writing about fears and horrors was an outlet for him. He was unable to deal with these types of fears in real life, so he fought them in his dreams and with his pen. Fears do not always have to be about monsters.
The loss of innocence was big for him. He believed that the world had moved on, and the drive for the 9 to 5 (or at this time in our history, more like 7-9) took something away from you. Took away part of your soul.
“It is enough to know that he dwelt in a city of high walls where sterile twilight reigned, and that he toiled all day among shadow and turmoil, coming home at evening to a room whose one window opened not on the fields and groves but on a dim court where others windows stared in despair.”
Lovecraft lived in a world of fantasy. As we saw in “He” https://seanmmcbride.com/2020/05/08/blind-read-through-h-p-lovecraft-he/ Lovecraft’s narrator hates New York because it has lost its whimsy. Lost it’s fantasy, and become a “city with high walls where sterile twilight reigned”. Twilight, the mystery and magic of it, is sterile there. He believed that to have emotion, to have a reason, you needed that fantasy, and that’s what he gained from New England. He was scared of the loss of innocence. He was scared of losing his fantasy. His fear of the sterility of life in the city is what drove him to such excess in his fiction.
Many of Lovecraft’s stories are about the search for this lost innocence. The search for this lost magic. What Lovecraft realized from his own isolation, was that the search could be a fine line. The creation of the Outer Gods, was an example of going too far in the wrong direction. As in “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath” the journey is the key. If you become too incessant about uncovering the whole truth, you’ll find that there is horror there. The horror may just be that there is no point. The horror may just be, that if you get to the answer you were desperate for, you find that you are only in a …”dim court where other windows stared in despair.”
They key to avoiding this? Live in your dreams. Live your dreams.
…”and for days not counted in men’s calendars the tides of far spheres bore him gently to join the dreams for which he longed; the dreams that men have lost.”
I’d love to hear what you think!
Join me next week for another Blind Read!
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; He
“For a full three seconds I could glimpse that pandemoniac sight, and in those seconds I saw a vista which will ever afterward torment me in dreams.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! I had to take the series on hiatus for a little while for work reasons, but we’re back and I’m determined to finish with the rest of H.P. Lovecraft!
This is the story He, written in 1925 at the height of his “fame” (it’s in quotation marks because Lovecraft was not popular while he was alive. The majority of his fame came from August Derleth, continuing on his legacy after he died). Despite his vast vistas explored in such stories as At the Mountains of Madness, this, for me, was his most atmospheric piece. It is also his first work in a city that takes place outside of New England.
We follow our intrepid narrator who is excited to go to New York. It is a place he’s heard a lot about and has read about extensively, and he has an expectation in his head. An image of New York of yesteryear. He imagines walking through the boroughs and seeing the history first hand. He wants to be inspired by the muse of New York, by the poetry of the city. When he gets there he is disappointed because the world has moved on. New York is, well, new. Buildings are built up, there is no nostalgia. There is only the bustle of the city, the history is dead and gone.
Our narrator goes into a depression, desperate to leave the city, but decides to take one more excursion. He tries to go as deep into the heart of the city as he can, escaping down alleyways, and travelling through slums. He soon becomes lost and meets up with a strange man. The man takes him even further into the depths of the city and they end up in a room the man (the titular He) leads them to. The man knows what our narrator is looking for. The man becomes the muse.
The room is decorated as an 18th century library, and the man takes our narrator to a window with a yellow curtain (I cant help but think of the short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman The Yellow Wallpaper) . He peels the curtain aside and shows the narrator various vistas. They start off small and verdant field, followed by cities. Our narrator asks the man if he can take him further. The man, properly egged on, uses his magic to take them to a far off place…but something goes wrong. The man takes in too much of the other world energy and it instantly transforms him into a blubbering creature, eventually nothing but a ball with eyes and arms. Our narrator flees, and lives to tell the story.
This is the story of Lovecraft getting the most out of a difficult situation. Lovecraft was a homebody, nearly a hermit. I truly believe that when he went to New York (which I’m sure he did), he had much the same experience. He went for the nostalgia, he went for the muse, he went to write poetry, but instead found a cinderblock and steel city, devoid of the wonder he craved. This story was his effort to extract that wonder. The world had moved on from him and his mythos, so he needed to create a character to bring that back. He wanted a way to bring that wonder back to New York.
But New York had already moved on. The narrator accepted it, as Lovecraft had. So this elegiac tale was about dreams. He dreamed that there was someone strong enough to take him backwards. Take him back through the nostalgia. No one, however is strong enough to take him forward. No one can withstand the steady, unrelenting march of time. not even this incredibly old magician. He too succumbed to time, and was reduced to nothing more than a ball with eyes. Something that had no power, except to watch as the world moved on.
I’d love to hear what you think!
Join me next week as we do a blind read of The Horror At Red Hook!
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; Celephais, and The Silver Key
“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars.” – Walt Whitman
“If youth knew, if age could.” – Sigmund Freud
“Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”
Ah the origin story. The tales where we uncover the history of the characters we follow, and find out what makes them tick; why they are the way they are. Here we have the dreamlands. What brings King Kuranes and Randolph Carter to the dreamlands? What made King Kuranes a king??
Welcome back to another blind read! Sorry for the limited blogs, but I’ve been extremely busy with writing and vacations (hey! Vacations are work too!). To make up for my truancy, I’ll be covering two short stories this week. Celephais and The Silver Key. But first, a brief synopsis:
Celephais: Kuranes creates the city of Celephais while being a child dreamer. Then as he grows old, he goes to the dreamlands and becomes a King over the city that he created (keeping it simple, but this is pretty much it!)
The Silver Key: Randolph Carter used to dream all the time as a child. He would travel constantly, but as the story begins Carter is 30 and has been unable to get to the dreams that he once had. That is until he meets a man at Miskatonic University (there is a brief description of the events of “The Statement of Randolph Carter” [ Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Statement of Randolph Carter ]) which opens his eyes to the world that he once knew. He starts to dream again and has a dream about his grandfather who tells him to go back to his childhood home, and look for a box in the attic. He goes and finds a box with arabesque designs. When he opens it he finds a parchment with symbols reminiscent to what he saw in the Necronomicon, and inside of the parchment is the eponymous key. His dreams become more vivid and more reminiscent to what they once were. He goes to the place of his childhood, and there he goes into a crevice, holding the key. He then enters a dream state. The story ends how Carter, beginning at the age of ten, when he found the crevice, knew glimpses of the future that he could not possibly know. We also find that a narrator has been telling us this story, a narrator who is a king of a city that he hopes to see Carter in one day.
So there you have it! The origin stories of Kuranes and Carter! Celephais seems more like a fragment from “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”, than an actual story, just a little more illumination of Kuranes, whereas The Silver Key seems much more like a full story, not to mention, it looks like it’s continued on in the next story of the book “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, even though that’s a collaboration.
There are some major links between these two stories, that both seem to link with Lovecraft’s personal life and ideals, and to the evolving dreamlands. Take youth for example. There is a romanticizing of what it means to be young in both of these stories. The innocence, the ignorance. It reminds me of all those horror stories back in the eighties (yes I know they continue on now, but that’s because it’s a trope. I would be interested in researching this and finding out where it actually stems from), where the child could see or interact with the supernatural element, but the parent could not. Seemingly because of the lost innocence, and lost open mindedness. The stories deal with this in two different ways:
Celephais is a lamentation of the innocence. Kuranes moves forward with his life, but regrets his decisions, and thus in “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” he reverts Celephais to a version of Cornwall, so that he may re-live his past experiences.
The Silver Key is an effort to spurn the vagaries of everyday life and get back the mystical nature of youth. In fact Carter actually goes back in time and becomes himself as a 10 year old, to re-establish those experiences and memories.
This seems allegorical to Lovecraft himself (There is even a portion of “The Silver Key” where the narrator tells us that writing helps get back the mystery, through opening of one’s mind). Both of these stories show that at some point, there was belief in wonder, belief in the mystical, that came from Lovecraft’s youth. But then, like with many of us, life happens. You grow up. You have responsibilities that take away time and energy from the mysteries of life, making it easy to become bitter, hardened, or ignorant of the fantasy that can be apparent in life. I really felt as though Lovecraft was saying in these two stories that writing saved his life. He was getting bogged down with the stresses of everyday life, bills, housing, love and intimacy, but when he was able to sneak away into the worlds that he created he no longer feared about these mundane issues. He freed his mind in his fantastic worlds, just like Kuranes and Carter did in their dreaming.
Another interesting factor is drugs. There is a finite stigma against all drugs, but there is a certain amount of research that proves that in controlled environments that drugs can be helpful. For example LSD, and marijuana (or Hashish in Kuranes’ case). In modern medicine, these drugs are used as a better alternative for treating things like PTSD and anxiety disorders, and at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, they would be far more prevalent if Big Pharma didn’t get their hands into government pockets and stymie their progression. In Lovecraft there is countless mentions of drugs helping dreamers get back to their “dream state”, of characters opening their eyes to the actual world that is around them, instead of believing and trusting in the veil. I think this subject is probably better suited for an entire post later on, but I think it very worth noting here, because of the content of these stories and the stigma of drugs. Is it considered juvenile? Irresponsible, to take these drugs to try and open up your consciousness? Is it ignoring your responsibilities or reverting, to try and recover youth? Or is there in fact a veil, that needs to be punctured, and we must attempt this in any way possible?
What do you think?
Join me next time for a blind read of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”!
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, conclusion
“If you say int he first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off…” – Anton Chekhov
“But oh God, under the weight of life, things seem brighter on the other side. No way out of here…” – Dave Matthews Band “Big Eyed Fish”
“Just as anyone who listens to the muse will hear, you can write out of your own intention or out of inspiration. There is such a thing. It comes up and talks. And those who have heard deeply the rhythms and hymns of the gods, can recite those hymns in such a way that the gods will be attracted.” – Joseph Campbell “The Hero’s Journey”
In literature when we go on a journey with a character, there is always a mental journey as well as a physical journey. Why is our hero, our hero? Why is it he/she that has been chosen to do this task? If they chose it, then why? These are the questions asked from any good protagonist on a hero’s journey, so what did Randolph Carter learn?
Welcome back to another Blind Read! We’ll be talking about the epic conclusion of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, and some theories that i have from reading it. Again these are all my own theories, but feel free to give me some of your own!
The last time we saw Carter her was at the gates of Sarkomand and the great abyss. He finds some Ghouls who are trapped by the same evil merchants and helps them escape. Then calls upon the remainder of the ghouls to fight against these horrible minions. With the help of Nodens he gains the help of the night-gaunts. With these night-gaunts (whom “even the Great Ones fear”) and the Ghouls, they have an epic battle against the Shantak birds and moon-beasts and the fish like creatures (of which one can only assume are off shoots of Dagon). Once they win the fight, mainly because of the vastly superior night-gaunts, they all go back to Sarkomand and the ghouls go back down to the abyss and Carter, again with the help of the night-gaunts, flies to Kadath.
Upon reaching Kadath he finds that the castle is empty, all except for a Pharaoh like man, who gives him directions to the sunset city, and tells Carter that he must get the Great Ones (Earth’s Gods) back to their homes on Kadath. He tells Carter that they got the glimpse of the Sunset City from him, for it is a recreation of New England, Boston and Providence specifically, and the earth gods loved it so much that they went there.
Carter leaves, flying out on a Shantak, but realizes that he has been tricked. The Pharaoh like man was actually Nyarlathotep and he is having the Shantak take Carter to the center of the universe and the seat of Azathoth to be devoured (I think this means both physical and mental). Carter realizes the ploy, and leaps from the Shantak, and creates a kick, to bring him out of the dream. He finds himself back in Boston, and revels in his sunset city.
In a brief epilogue, Nyarlathotep is bitter that Carter escaped, but he has been able to bring the Great Ones back to Kadath and mocks them as they brood.
This is without a doubt the most uplifting story that I’ve read by Lovecraft, and that has me wondering. I understand that this story was published posthumously by August Derleth, and where I’ve not seen information to state that Lovecraft didn’t finish this story, it does seem, from the battle scene on, like a different type of story. I wonder if Derleth took over this story and finished it, to have the dreamlands be a thing. But I digress.
I have three main points for the end of this story and they all revolve around the quote’s up at the top of the page. The first is Chekhov.
There are many call backs throughout this story. We have Pickman coming back at the end. We have the slant-eyed merchant continuing to re-emerge as a sinister being (no doubt spurned on by Nyarlathotep). Finally, we have the duplication of New England as the sunset city, in the same way that King Kuranes created Cornwall to be the place of his dreamland life. This was the foreshadowing of where Lovecraft was going to take the story. Kuranes goes to great lengths to describe how he created the land that he wanted, and that he had been chasing for all these years, while he’s speaking with Carter. Then when we go back to the beginning of the story:
“…and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory…”
Lovecraft is saying right here that what he is chasing after is a memory. it wasn’t until the end that I remembered that line, and the whole story was brought full circle. That cyclical journey.
If we continue in that line it brings me to my next point.
“…the pain of lost things and the maddening need to place again what once had been an awesome and momentous place.”
He is both trying to remember what the sunset city was in his dreams, but he is also trying to reconcile the memory of New England with what it is now. His memories were what built the sunset city, and it’s wonderful and glorious vision.
The way that Carter views his current situation is that New England is run down, and the city of his dreams is so beautiful that he wants to go there. “Oh god, under the weight of life, things seem so much brighter on the other side.” He thinks that by going to the sunset city he will find heaven, or at least some version of it that he can live in, in the dreamlands. This is merely a projection however, because the reality is that the sunset city is his own creation, just like King Kuranes created Cornwall. He is searching for an idyllic memory, when what he is truly looking for is right outside of his bedroom when he wakes up.
That’s the major irony of the story, because things aren’t better on the other side. They are only better once you come to realize that the world is what you make of it, and when Carter wakes, he realizes that he is in his Sunset City finally, and the journey to Kadath, while spectacular, was unnecessary.
The last point is one that is very interesting to me, particularly when it comes to the cannon of Gods. The Great Old ones are the “Earth Gods” as Nyarlathotep calls them. Carter has nearly transcended the gods, and has completed his mythological journey (quest), by creating something that the Great Ones want to experience. At the end of the story, the Great Ones actually go to the Sunset City in the dreamlands. They see all the glory that it beholds.
The dreamlands are of neither time, nor of space. We see that because of the things that the dreamers can do, create cities and such. Stay with me now, because I’m going to get a little crazy.
So back to Carters journey for a second. The Great Ones are the Gods of Earth and everything on Earth has to do with them, not directly, but in the Lovecraftian world, we developed from these moon creatures. So when Carter created the Sunset City based upon New England, there was a link between the Great Ones and the vision of the city. They saw something in it that called back to the time that they were here, and that was the point of his journey. To bring solace to the Great Ones, to lure them back into complacency and slumber, because they could experience the world, without having to come to our world.
The tragedy of the journey is that he ultimately fails. That is where the menace and horror of the story come in. Nyarlathotep tricks Carter, and instead of making sure that the Great Ones know about the city, he is taken elsewhere, and Nyarlathotep can collect the Great Ones and take them back to Kadath, where they don’t want to be. Nyarlathotep wants the Great Ones to long for Earth, he wants them to come to earth a sew destruction (just because of their nature, not because of malice). So he brings them away from their reverie in experiencing what the Earth is like, just having a small taste, and then brings them back to the cold wastes of Kadath, and taunting them, on their loss…until they get frustrated enough to escape and head back to New England.
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, Pt. 3
Dark tales told in a circle, with the only illumination coming from the campfire. The master storyteller, eliciting the terror from their subjects as they tell their story. Cadence and timing is paramount to the proper telling, and this story teller has it down to a science.
Welcome back to another Blind read! This time we delve deeper into the Dream Quest of Randolph Carter, and we get some new illumination on the cannon of gods prevalent in the world. But first, a recap…
We last left off when Carter got to Celephais, and we pick up this week with the introduction of King Kuranes. He is the king of Celephais and has died in real life, thus becoming a permanent denizen of the Dreamlands. King Kuranes has made Celephais look like Cornwall, because he had a longing for being in a land of his childhood. They speak for a while about the dreamlands in general, and Kuranes tries to talk Carter out of going on his trek to Kadath, but Carter is set in his path and he joins another ship, to head out to the plateau of Leng to find Kadath.
On this ship they find their way to Inquanok, a city made out of Onyx. The sailors tell Carter that the city was made from a number of quarries, where they mined the Onyx, but there is one Quarry farther on, that no one goes to any more, that quarry has larger and unknown quantities of Onyx. It is here that Carter wants to go because he has heard that the great city of Kadath is built of Onyx, much like Inquanok. There is temple to the Elder Ones here in Inquanok, and it is overseen by a “High Priest, with inner secrets”.
Carter continues on and goes to an old sea tavern, where he finds, again, the slant-eyed merchant. Who seems to have followed him on his journey.
The next day Carter purchases a yak to travel to the unknown quarry to find answers and hopefully get closer to Kadath. He is sure that he is very close, because of the Onyx connection.
He travels through the quarries, and eventually the yak gets spooked and runs away, and finally the Slant Eyed Merchant finds him and captures him with aid of the horrible Shantaks.
I have to say, I love getting a little more knowledge about the gods of Lovecraft. I know that this one was published after Lovecraft died and I wonder how much of the influence of this story comes from August Derleth. But I digress.
The most interesting thing I have come to realize about Lovecraft is his style of writing. I have always had a bit of trouble getting into his verbose style, but what i have come to realize is that Lovecraft is best read as though he were storyteller around a campfire. The tone and inflection are the same, and if you read anything, especially “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”, in this way, the story comes through so much more vividly and beautifully. Every author has their own voice, and once you have come to realize that voice the experience of reading that author becomes that much greater, and though I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all the Lovecraft I have, up to now, I know that with this understanding, I will absolutely love everything else! I just wish I hadn’t gotten through more than half of his works before coming to this realization!
Ok, back to the story…The first notable mention is the delving in to dream. King Kuranes is the ruler of Celephais, and he is dead in the waking world. It is not made clear in the story as to whether he died in the dream world or in the waking world, but he still has the power to change the landscape and make it that of the Cornwall of his childhood. There are a few interesting ti bits in this that we can examine. The first is that King Kuranes is a friend of Carters, even back in the waking world. Carter is an experienced dreamer, that we know from the description at the beginning of this story, and he has known Kuranes mainly through dream, but Carter has known him in the waking world. In fact “who in Carter’s latter dreams had reigned alternatively in the rose-crystal Palace of Seventy Delights at Celephais and in the turreted cloud-castle of sky-floating Serannian.” So the question is, how can Kuranes still be a living monarch in the dreamlands when his body is dead in the waking world. Did he die while dreaming? Is this why he can stay here? Are the dreamlands some sort of afterlife that we come to when we die? Or are only experienced dreamers able to come to the dreamlands after they die, their dreams tying them to the dreamlands?
I tend to cater more towards the latter, because the image of the “rose-crystal Palace of Seventy-Delights”, elicits an image of the 72 virgins from the Quran. We as humans tend to think of the afterlife as a reward for a life well lived here on earth. If the dreamlands are a vision of this afterlife, where you have alternative versions of heaven, hell and purgatory, then this could be an example. Kuranes is able to actually change the landscape and create the Cornish fields of his childhood after all. This seems as though this is his afterlife, based upon the life he lived in Cornwall as a child. I hope to have a better sense of what the dreamlands actually are once we get a little farther into the story.
Next set of business is the clarification to the cannon of gods. This is what I’ve been waiting for, for so long! While Carter is speaking to Kuranes, they discuss the danger of his quest, and Kuranes tells him what little he knows, as a way of warning Carter away from the quest. We find out that there are three different types of gods…Other Gods, Elder Ones and Great Ones. The whole point of this quest is to find the Great Ones, to find more information about that sun kissed city, but Kuranes warns him because, he says, the Other Gods had ways of protecting the Great Ones from “impertinent curiosity”. He made it sound as though the Other Gods would gather the Elder Ones, The truly malignant forces in the universe, to avert this curiosity. These Elder Ones were such as Azathoth and Nyarlathotep. We are as of yet unclear as to who the Great Ones are, and we know that the Other Gods (from both this story and the short story “The Other Gods) guard the outer Hells and barren space, “…especially where form does not exist…”. In fact when reading the short story “The Other Gods”, when Barzai the (not so) wise climbs Hatheg-Kla to do the same thing that Carter is trying to do here, (seek out the Great Ones), the Other Gods, do something horrible and Barzai is seen no more. The Other Gods guarded the Great Ones from “impertinent curiosity”.
The question is why is it so important for the Other Gods to protect the Great Ones, that they would pull in the malignant Elder Ones?
Hopefully we will gain an answer at the conclusion of this story!
Ok, one last little anecdotal note, which shows how pervasive Lovecraft is in our culture. The slant-eyed merchant is known to deal with a “High-priest, not to be described, which wears a yellow silken mask over it’s face and dwells all alone in a prehistoric stone monastery.” This seems to me to be the basis for the “King In Yellow”. which is a play in a book by Robert Chambers. The play is said to induce madness and despair for all who read it. Could it be that there is a correlation between worlds? Is the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, connected to the slant-eyed merchant in some way? Could that be where he got his information to write the Necronomicon?
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, pt 2
Worlds converge and lands that were once thought to be unique are connected by the dream.
Welcome back to another blind read! It’s been a little while, and I apologize for the silence, but it’s been a really busy month! And that’s a good busy, because it’s been all surrounding writing.
Like I mentioned in the last edition of the Blind read, I’m taking a different tact for this story. There is a bit of fluidity in the story, however there is far more to analyze than there has been in previous stories. That being said lets get back into a little bit of a recap. I’ve read nearly half of the story of Randolph Carter journeying through the Dreamlands in his search for Kadath.
The last we saw Carter, he was just escaping the turbaned men, who were trying to take him in the Abyss to Nyarlathotep. The Cats of Ulthar helped him escape, and he boards another ship and sails away to Oriab. He travels across the land and finds a carving of the gods he is trying to find, and is surprised that they look much like the sailors in Celephais. He vows to head to Celephais, when he is captured by winged horrors called Night-Gaunts. The Night-Gaunts take him to the underworld, supposedly to die. There, in the underworld, he finds a former friend, Richard Pickman, who has become a Ghoul. Pickman and his Ghoul friends help Carter avoid the Ghasts (horrible creatures of the underworld), and ascend the staircase to get back to the Enchanted Wood, a higher level of the dreamlands. He then heads off to find Celephais.
There are a few concepts that I’d like to cover here that I find particularly prescient.
The first is completely meta, and touched upon a little in the last Blind Read ( https://seanmmcbride.com/2018/05/11/blind-read-through-h-p-lovecraft-the-dream-quest-of-unknown-kadath-pt-1/ ), but this is a story (which was published posthumously, so it may have never been intended for publication) where Lovecraft brings together many different stories he previously created. This is the story which establishes the dreamlands as we now know them. Despite what I’ve heard that Lovecraft wasn’t looking for cohesion or a “mythos” (forgive me, I forget where I read this, but I’ll do a little research and edit in the link if I find it), this book seems to disavow that concept. It seems as though Carter was to become his hero of dreams. The interesting part of this is that the dreamlands and the mythos are considered to be two separate collections, but it seems as though they are irrevocably intertwined. We have Nyarlathotep as a central being of insidiousness, and Azathoth as the ruler of all creation and destruction. These Outer Gods have a direct link through the dreamlands, where despite Nyarlathotep heading to earth in the story of his own name, it seems like the easiest way to contact these gods is through the dreamlands. On top of that We have the concept of the story itself. Carter is striving to find the gods, specifically by travelling through the dreamlands. This is a blind read, and I’m only about half way through the story, but that seems almost like incontrovertible evidence to me.
Speaking of gods, there is a mention of a new one, I had never heard from before, which I’m pretty sure comes from Celtic mythology. Carter is taken by Night-Gaunts to the underworld to be left to die. The way the text is written it seems as though the underworld is a deeper level of the dreamlands, but more on that presently.
This new god’s name is Nodens, who in Celtic mythology is known as a Pan (the Roman god of mischief, amongst other things), and Nodens controls the Night-Gaunts. So here we have another god who is trying to stop Carter, or at least delay him from reaching Kadath to ask the gods about the golden city. If Pan is truly the inspiration for Nodens, then we know that he has more fun in playing with emotions, than with dealing in absolutes, like death. So Nodens has his servants the Night-Gaunts kidnap Carter and try to deliver him to the despair of the underworld and revel in his misery.
This now brings us to the final point. This portion of the story is a metaphor for depression.
The Night-Gaunts are a black winged, slightly humanoid creature, who does no harm, but delivers Carter to the underworld. Much like the demons and devils from medieval art are portrayed. These devils that speak half-truths into the subjects ears and put them on a downward spiral. In the dreamlands, the Night-Gaunts are much the same, but have a more active role in actually taking Carter to the underworld. He is not hurt, in fact he is gently placed and left alone to wallow in his despair. He is left to die, but he is in no way injured. He is just in the underworld.
Carter just never let go of his hope and his drive to find the golden city of his dreams. He then soon sees what happens when one does give up hope. He meets Richard Pickman, a former friend from Boston, who was a very talented painter. Pickman has become a Ghoul. A horrible former joke of the person he once was. Luckily Pickman retains enough of his former self to understand that Carter was once a friend and rallies the other Ghouls to help him escape the underworld. To escape the depression of what the underworld represents. It is already too late for Pickman, he cannot leave the underworld, and returns to his life of horrors once Carter is safely out.
This section is the first truly horrifying section of the story, because previously Carter is merely travelling. Now he had made a descent. He is taken deeper into the dreamlands, where he has trouble seeing the light, he has trouble seeing the point of his quest. So the deeper into the dreamlands you get, the depression takes over your mind, and derails you. Much like the afterlife dreams in Richard Matheson’s “What Dreams May Come”. Were these Ghouls sent here because of what they did in their lives? Is this their hell?
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, Pt. 1
At which point the inception was implanted in his mind. What was the truth? What was reality and what was dream? Was there any truth to what he had experienced, or was the implantation of the concept there to set the pace? Curiosity killed the cat (with the exception of the cats of Ulthar).
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This time we’re diving into the Dreamlands, a place where I’ve been interested in for quite some time, and dying to dive into. But low and behold! We’ve already read many stories that take place in the Dreamlands and were just unaware that that’s what they were!
This story, much like “At the Mountains of Madness”, seem to be a world building exercise for Lovecraft. This is a bit of a departure from the weird stories that I’ve been devouring. This one is more of an adventure, that incorporated elements of some of the other stories. Because of this correlation, it shines some new light on those other stories and what their meanings might have really been. I’ll get more into that in other posts, however, because that would be a post in and of itself. Here I’d like to talk a little about the story and the concept of Inception.
So we start the story with Randolph Carter, after just hearing his statement in the previous Blind Read. Here we find that Carter is a experienced “dreamer”, and through this lucid dreaming, has the ability to travel throughout the Dreamlands.
The story starts with our intrepid traveler dreaming about a beautiful sunset city:
“Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it. All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between delicate trees and blossom-laden urns and ivory statues in gleaming rows…and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory, the pain of lost things and the maddening need to place again what once had been an awesome and momentous place.”
OK, lets start with how many times Carter was able to see the fabled city. Three is an interesting choice, not only for the religious implications, but also in western Occultism (though I wonder how much of Western Occultism actually stems from Lovecraft). Knowing a little bit of Lovecraft’s religious views, however I proscribe that there are a few different things going on here. The first is that 3 is a prime number, whose only factors are one and itself. Once Carter viewed the city three times, he was unable to view it any more. Could this have something to do with the exclusivity of the city and that there are 3 levels of the Dreamlands? Could he have only viewed the city once (the first factor), but because there are three different layers of the Dreamlands, he was able to view it three times? One for each layer?
While you chew on that, thee is also an Odd number, truly the first Odd number. Where number 1 can be mixed into other equations, the number 3 throws a wrench into things. So this could be that Lovecraft is trying to make us feel on edge, through a subsumed psychosomatic response? Just like we talked about in the Blind Read of “At the Mountains of Madness” ( https://seanmmcbride.com/2018/03/23/blind-read-through-h-p-lovecraft-at-the-mountains-of-madness-conclusion/ ) Lovecraft uses Trypophobia (or the fear of small holes, as in a honeycomb) through his description of architecture. Something that nature made, that was not quite natural. Also his use of odd angles in “The Dreams in the Witch House”. He uses these slightly off themes to set the pace for the story.
Then we see some of the grand architecture through his description of the city. This hearkens back to stories like “The Tree”( Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Tree ), where we get some grand beauty, with a yearning to be where it is so pristine and wonderful. Doubtless this is what Carter feels. He has a desire to reach this city, but there is something ominous about it. Just like there was in “The Tree”. It is off limits, unattainable, and in fact the visions were stripped from him, and every person he asks tells him to drop it. That the pursuit of the city is not one he should continue. Could this all be a ruse set about by Nyarlathotep to enslave Carter?
This brings me to my final point in the inception (see what I did there?) of the “Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” Blind Read. The last time we saw Carter he passed out as his friend was killed by some horrible monstrosity in a tomb. Could this have been the Inception of the Dream for Carter? Could whatever creature that was down in that tomb, have imprinted the idea of the Golden City into Carter’s mind? Could they have knowledge that Carter is an experienced Dreamer that is capable of actually getting to Kadath? We are told that only three travelers had gone to the outer reaches, and only one came back sane. Could this be a implanted call from the messenger god Nyarlathotep? Is that why the call is so strong that Carter can’t stop his search, even though he is told to stop at every turn, and nearly dies in his dreams many times?
What do YOU think?
Join me next week as we talk about world building and how other short stories are in connection through the Dreamlands
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Dreams in the Witch House
“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?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Shunned House
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?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; At The Mountains of Madness; Conclusion
“At the time, his shrieks were confined to the repetition of a single, mad word of all too obvious source: “Tekeli-li Tekeli-li”
A single enigmatic word that has such a huge meaning.
I had originally meant to only read two chapters and separate this blog into two different sections, but I just couldn’t stop reading, and there are so many ideas bouncing around that I decided to codify them all into this single blog.
Spoilers ahead, so if you don’t want to read them stop here.
We follow our narrator and Danforth out of the horrible city built by the Shoggoth for the Great Old Ones, and when they make it out they find the lost dog and the young Missing Gedney.
They catch a strange stench and they find a cave down to what the narrator calls the abyss. They follow it down and they find some strange blind albino penguins, and continue past them…until they find some more of the specimens that Lake found, these ones alive. Terrified they run, and they can tell that something large and terrible is following after them. They turn and see that they are being chased by a Shoggoth. Danforth ostensibly goes mad, but they eventually get out.
There are a few points I want to focus on here:
- The Poe connection
- The Blind Albino penguins and evolution
- Anthropomorphism of Star Spawn
- Physiognomy (or lack there of) of the Shoggoth
First lets talk the Poe connection. Tekeli-li is taken from The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, which Poe references when the narrator hears the cry echo in the abyss.
1.First and foremost, We know that Poe had a large influence on Lovecraft in general, but what is interesting about this is how the entire novella of At the Mountains of Madness is modeled after this story. Poe set out to write a “realistic” story about a sea voyage gone wrong. Poe being Poe, some really crazy things happen. We have Lovecraft here, who is writing the story from the perspective of a scientific expedition. Everything is very logical and adhering to the scientific method throughout, until the end which takes a creepy turn…the same way Poe did in Pym. On top of that, Poe wrote about a connection with the theory of the Hollow Earth. Basically the theory that the earth is hollow and there are vast spaces and potentially civilizations in the middle of the earth. Sound familiar? In Lovecraft’s story we actually see one of these massive civilizations, and it goes way farther than that when the narrator and Danforth go into what is called the abyss. Oh did I mention that both stories take place in Antarctica?
2.Next we have the blind albino penguins. When I started reading this section I wondered what the point was. Why involve these creatures? Was it just a creepy factor to try and scare? A large creature comes out of the cave! Oh…wait…its a blind penguin. It seemed almost laughable at first. Then the more I thought about it the more brilliant it seemed. These penguins were the foreshadowing of something horrible coming. They have lived here for centuries, and down here in the abyss. That accounts for the fact that they are albino, for they very rarely see the sun. Why are they so large? The Shoggoth are huge, so if the penguins never evolved they would just get crushed (which they do anyway when a Shoggoth was incensed). Ok so we can intuit why the penguins are large and albino, but why blind? Is it just because they live in the caves? That could be, but they would probably just have evolved to be able to see in the dark. I think there is a much more sinister reason. We’ll discuss this in the last section.
3.Next Trypophobia, otherwise known as the fear of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps, or honeycomb holes. Lovecraft describes the architecture and the creation of the tunnels to be honeycombed, and he’s doing this for a multitude of reasons. The first is that he wants to give a little preamble to what the Shoggoth are. What kind of nightmare creatures create that type of pattern on purpose? Why is that the aesthetic that they want to look at? Which leads into the second reason, it gives the reader unease. This strange, abnormal pattern leaves many people on edge, and I would purport that Lovecraft suffered from trypophobia as well, which is why he was inclined to include it. The last is that it solidifies these creatures as being cosmic, or otherworldly. That is the kind of shape that one would not want around, but it may be something that makes the Great Old Ones long for home. Yet another reason to instill madness.
4.The anthropomorphism of the Star Spawn in the bas-reliefs. The Shoggoth make these statues almost in a recognizable theme. Except why is that? The Great Old Ones created the Shoggoth on our world. Whenever something is created, the idea of how it looks is relegated to the mind of the creator. Thus when things are created they are generally created in the image of the creator. The Shoggoths are no different. At the end of the story, Danforth, who read The Necronomicon to completion, mentions Yog-Sothoth. Now this is the first mention of this name in any story I have thus read, but just before he mentions this name (which I know is some sort of god in the Lovecraftian pantheon) he mentions proto-Shoggoth. This makes me believe that Yog-Sothoth actually created the Shoggoth in it’s image. Switching to the Shoggoth themselves, they lived as servants for many years, until they finally rose up against the Great Old Ones. As they lived as servants the Shoggoth watched the evolution of the planet, and how the creatures of the land actually became human from primordial ooze. I propose that this is why the Shoggoth rose up, they saw how humanity grew and took out on their own, and they saw what they could be, instead of servants. They thus created the images on the massive underground city based around their uprising. That’s why such an alien culture was legible and understandable from a couple of scientists.
5.Shoggoths are these horrible creatures. What Lovecraft does so well is that he never actually describes the creatures. He mentions that the star spawn have tentacle mouths, and that the Shoggoth have many eyes and are spherical but that’s really it. One of the most interesting descriptions came when the two are running away from their Shoggoth pursuer. Danforth has started to go mad, and is mentioning subway stations. The narrator finally understands and says that the reason is, the Shoggoth looked like a passing train. The shoggoth looked like a blur of steel and windows. The thing that sticks the most here is the world blur. Despite the fact that the Shoggoth wasn’t moving particullarly fast (they were able to out run it), it still looked like a blur. Was this because it was so hideous that our minds couldn’t comprehend it? Or is it because their features move so quickly that they are completely amorphous? This is the true Lovecraft horror. This is why Lovecraft works so well. You have these creatures that if they are described, then we can begin to understand them. When you keep it a mystery, and our minds have trouble categorizing things then unease bleeds in and the horror begins.
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; At the Mountains of Madness, pt 4
Talk about a revelation! Chapter 7 of this story gives so much of what I was looking for! It’s like a primer for Lovecraft.
Our brave explorers continue on their trek through the ancient cosmic city and through the frescoes and sculptures they tell a story of the Great Old Ones who once lived in the city. I will eventually have to go back and read through this chapter because there was so much here to consume.
First off, lets talk Shoggoth. I had thought that this was an actual god, or species of god, or something along those lines. What we find here is that the Shoggoths are actually creations of the Great Old Ones. They were “protoplasmic masses” that were brought together by the Great Old Ones to have slave labor. They were used to create the amazing city that the narrator and Danforth are exploring. The Shoggoths eventually rise up against the Great Old Ones, but were eventually put back down.
We also see a little about Cthulhu and it’s minions. They come down from the cosmos and attack the Great Old Ones. The narrator mentions these creatures as the humanoid Cthulhu spawn. There was a great war, and eventually peace broke out and the Cthulhu spawn was given the land, and the Great Old Ones and the Shoggoth took to the Ocean floor. That is until the Pacific waters rose and the great cities of the Cthulhu spawn were swallowed by the sea. From what I’ve gathered from other stories, the great city R’lyeh, where “all the cosmic octopi” lived is also the prison of Cthulhu itself (from info from the Shadow over Innsmouth). So here we have the origin (at least origin from our worldly perspective) of Cthulhu.
Then, much later, after the war with the Cthulhu spawn and the uprising of the Shoggoth, there came the Mi-go, partially fungoid, partially crustacean creatures. They also came down from the cosmos, and it seems as though they defeated the Great Old Ones, because the Great Old Ones tried to flee, but found that after so long, they could not leave the earth’s atmosphere. They thus fled to all portions of the world.
What is significant to this, is that now we have an understanding of the Great Old One’s reach and some of their capabilities. We also have now two different races besides these creatures, the Cthulhu spawn, and the Mi-go.
The Cthulhu spawn seems to be in the pacific ocean, with their few cities, including the fantastic R’lyeh. So the stories containing them, have to be in the south towards the Antarctic.
Then we have the Mi-go, who began in the Antarctic, but are known in the Himalayas, so they must have migrated during the ice age. Since the only information we have about them is that they flourish in cold environs, we must guess that any mention of the Mi-go to be surrounded by sub-zero temperatures. I imagine this information will be important for investigation later.
SO ultimately, we have people being born from the Great Old Ones. It is implied that our race may have started in this Antarctic city that the expedition has found. However we still have those transformation ideas. Transforming into a fish person. Transforming into an Ape. And transforming into a beast.
Since the Great Old Ones have relegated themselves to the Depths, then it is apparent that they have a direct correlation to the Fish transformation. As of right now I would argue that they also have the Ape transformation under their wing as well. I’m not sure where the beast transformation comes from.
Also we know that Cthulhu is empirically, NOT a Great Old One. This was something I was hazy on. Though I’m assuming that Dagon is one of the children, or lesser Great Old Ones, I have not gotten a name for any others as of yet.
Loving the story thus far, and can’t wait to see if there is any more Mythos in here.
Is there anything I missed?
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; At the Mountains of Madness, pt.3
Continuing the journey into the mountains of madness (chapters five and six). Our narrator and his cohort Danforth head out over the mountains to search out the mysteries of this strange antarctic world. There are sprawling descriptions of the landscape as they fly over it, but they eventually turn the corner and come across a terrible “Cyclopean city”. In this meaning that it is a huge city, all made from stones laid together, not using mortar. This adds to the mystery of the strange civilization, now abandoned. They eventually land down where they can and head into this strange and massive city.
They take samples of the stones, showing that the city is incredibly old, older than any known civilization. Older than the dinosaurs even. This is an interesting perspective for a geologist like our narrator is. If we take out all the horror aspect of this notion, it means an incredible find. Somehow there was a civilization of intelligent creatures, long before we have known to be evolved from apes.
This brings up an interesting notion of transformation to me. There have been many stories where the people in the stories have transformed into fish people, and ape people. A strange juxtaposition. As a writer, Lovecraft is probably trying to find transformative creatures that are terrifying, but if this is indeed the case why not transform people into crabs or some such? Or even Octopus people to give the tentacle nightmares of Cthulhu?
I think there is something deeper that Lovecraft is going for, which is coming to light through the reading of this story. People are descendants from apes, and even farther back, all life has developed from one celled organisms that transformed into amphibious creatures. Is Lovecraft saying with this story that we are all descendant from the Old Ones? Or is it that the Old Ones are transforming people back to the known quantity of what they knew when they had prevalence on our world?
If it’s the latter than there are potentially two different influences. Which of these beings were around during the time we were amphibious and which of them were around when we were Apes?
This story seems to be about the “Great Old Ones” (of which I’m sure will come to light the farther I get in the story, though there is already mention of them), and this was their city before us. Thus the Great Old Ones are beings like Dagon, and Cthulhu, because they are sea dwelling and such.
The strange thing is, this city is huge, but most of the rooms are small. Which means that despite the fact that the narrator talks about how the Great Old Ones came from the stars and the moon, there were other beings here as well. The beings that would house the 30 by 30 rooms that were no larger than 20 feet (Lovecraft goes into specific detail describing the layout of the city)…beings our size. Is it possible that in that ancient civilization there were mortal beings from another planet? Is the end game of this story to presuppose how Human’s came to be on the planet?
I’m over half way through the story with six chapters left, which means three more blogs (unless I get crazy into it and ignore work for a while). I’m excited to see if any of these theories come to light.
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; At the Mountains of Madness, pt. 2
This is the first of the novellas by Lovecraft, that I’ve gone into. The organization and tentative handling of the pacing is an interesting elongation of what the short stories experience. This blind read recap comes from chapters 3 and 4, which basically covers the insinuation of something happening.
The crew goes to the destroyed encampment of Lake and they find that it has been completely devastated. It seems like it may have been from a weather event, but things are stranger than they seem. Plus there is a missing expedition member, Gedney, and a missing dog as well. Everyone else was killed, some in what looked like weather, though the circumstances are suspect, but there are some far greater horrors in store.
Many of the expedition members and dogs, were cut up with strange and horrible precision. Doctor precision.
The group makes a search for Gedney, and fly over the strange igneous rock, which doesn’t seem quite normal. In fact Lovecraft describes them as being like paintings of Nicholas Roerich. There is a strange feeling in the air.
Danforth and our narrator eventually go out over these peaks, frequently referred to as Mountains of Madness, and they come upon an “elder and utterly alien earth”.
To the best of my knowledge, these are the first real cliffhanger endings. Every chapter so far has left the reader with something to chew on, and come back to. This type of cliffhanger chapter end, has come into more prominence in writers like Dan Brown and James Patterson, and it’s interesting to see Lovecraft developing something like a 1930’s movie ending. It almost seems like when Flash Gordon is in the car and goes over the cliff, just to find next week, that he jumped out of the car at the last second. Lovecraft is just using his weird horror to elicit those feelings. Truly a master of atmosphere.
The chapters at times feel a bit plodding, but they slowly develop into one serious and terrifying event to end them. It almost feels like each chapter is a book to itself, and the whole novella is part of a series.
It is also interesting to see the narrator be an archaeologist, because the utterly alien horrors that are inherent to Lovecraft are coming from a place of empirical thought, which gives the horror a little more credence when it happens.
I’m going to read through two more chapters on Friday which will take me over halfway through the novella, so if you want to join me feel free!
Also a great way to get through this if you’re new to Lovecraft is to listen to Will Hart’s podcast of it:
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; At The Mountains of Madness pt 1
Welcome back to another blind read. I’m tearing into “At The Mountains of Madness”, and have come across some interesting pieces that hook into the mythos, but there is one lingering question that I have as I get farther and farther into the cannon. How strictly are the stories connected to the Dreamlands, and what are in the mythos, and what are just weird tales? Thus far I have not come across anything that might be considered connected to the Dreamlands, except maybe “The White Ship”. I have one very obvious story that is coming up with “The Dream-Quest of unknown Kadath”, and one of the mythos with “Call of Cthulhu”. I am really going to enjoy reading some Derleth, to try and get a better understanding of how these are both connected and separated once I have finished the Blind Reads (as I understand that August Derleth is the one who truly created what is now considered the cannon).
This story surrounds the Miskatonic expedition, as it searches an unknown mountain range in Antarctica. There are some fun call backs so far with the ship called Arkham and our narrator mentioning that The Necronomicon is in the library of Miskatonic University.
Basically the first two sections of the story revolve around the findings of the mountains, and then within the mountains of some strange fossils. The fossils seem to come from 600 million years ago, but they are far more advanced than your average trilobite. They seem to be amphibious (another call back?) with gills, but they also have wings with strange striations.
The crew gets called up to the mountain range, with it’s strange rock striations and strange petroglyphs in areas so deep that they have to be hundreds of millions of years old.
If it weren’t for the tone of the novella, and the consistent call backs to how the fossils look like something described in The Necronomicon, this could just be a scientific journal about the findings of a paleontologist expedition.
There is also an interesting call back when Lake, one of the crew, calls the specimens they find “The Elder Ones”, based upon descriptions in The Necronomicon. There is great, hit you over the head with a hammer foreshadowing here.
But there is also great writing that brings you back for more. I’ll leave you with this example: “No wonder Gedney ran back to the camp shouting, and no wonder everyone else dropped work and rushed headlong through the biting cold to where the tall derrick marked a new-found gateway to secrets of inner earth and vanished aeons.”
What do you think?
I’ll be back next week for the next section of “At The Mountains of Madness”.
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Shadow over Innsmouth, conclusion
Wow, so much in such a short chapter. There is more in these last few pages than there had been in the previous 60, and truly, the majority of interest comes from the last two paragraphs of the story.
The narrator wakes from his faint, and headed back home. He continues on his investigation of his lineage when he finds that some of the story of old Obed Marsh, was actually his ancestors. The daughter who was married off to an Arkham man, was actually our Narrator’s great-Grandmother. He sees pictures and sees the “Innsmouth look”. He even finds out that an Uncle that he had committed suicide when he found out the truth. Our narrator buys a gun, thinking, that maybe he will do the same thing, but his heart isn’t in it. There is a strange draw back to the Innsmouth. Back to the Sea.
So earlier in the story, they were not trying to chase him. They did not tell him to go to the Gilman to trap him, they were bringing in one of their own.
The interesting point for the lore comes in the second to last paragraph. It is here that I have seen the first mention of Cthulhu being a “Deep One”, and that has to mean that Dagon is related in some way to Cthulhu. The narrator mentions that “the Deep Ones could never be destroyed, even through the palaeogean magic of the forgotten Old ones might sometimes check them.” So the Deep Ones are evil in some way, because another “forgotten power” is checking them.
In addition to this we have the first sight (through the narrators eyes) of a Shoggoth. I had previously thought these were a god in and of themselves, but the way they are described here, I think they are just a creature, as the narrator saw “a Shoggoth”. This probably has something to do with the third contract of the Order of Dagon, because the narrator says he saw the Shoggoth in a dream, then when he woke from the dream screaming, he had all of a sudden acquired the “Innsmouth Look”.
So there is transformation which can occur. There is also a distinct lineage connection, but I have to believe that there is still the ability for the transformation if there is no heritage of the Deep Ones. I’m sure more clarification will occur the more I read on, but that’s what my hypothesis is now.
And then there is the Shoggoth. From what I know of in the past, this is a creature that has many eyes and mouths (akin to a gibbering mouther in Dungeons and Dragons land), but apparently it also has some power. It seems to have transformed the narrator, both in body and in mind, as he had lost knowledge that he could not have gain otherwise. Either the Shoggoth is the method of transmutation, or it is the harbinger, just solidifying the knowledge that has already been transferred, by some ancient magic.
What do you think?
In any case, I cant wait to read on! I will be moving on to “At the Mountains of Madness” by Del Rey next. I will break the story up into approximately 25 page chunks so we can analyze each section, if you are reading along.
Join me tomorrow for the first 25!
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Shadow over Innsmouth pt. 4
We have now reached the denouement. The background of the story has lead our narrator to try and flee that horrible mind-bending mess that is Innsmouth.
When the chapter opens our narrator has decided to get out of dodge, and goes to get to the bus, only to be told by the odd bus driver, that despite travelling to Innsmouth without issue, there is suddenly a engine problem and the narrator will have to wait the night. Joe Sargent (the bus driver) tells our narrator to go to the Gilman to wait the night. He even tells our narrator that he will get a great room rate. They only charged him a dollar.
He waits the night away in his room and makes sure to lock and barricade the door. He even looks for an escape route, just because he is scared. Then late in the night there is a shuffling at the door, and someone knocks with increasing frequency when he doesn’t answer.
Our narrator gets scared and tries to flee through the hotel. There is a fairly large chase sequence which is a little jumbled (Lovecraft is a master of tone and atmosphere, not action), but the narrator flees out the window and through the streets to get out of Innsmouth.
He faints when he sees a large contingent of fish creatures gather in town, creatures nearly too abhorrent to describe.
There are a few interesting visuals in this portion of the book. The first is after he flees the Gilman, he tries to stay to the shadows, but he has to cross a street that has direct view of the waters, and he sees two different things of note. The first is a strange light, emanating from out over the sea of a color he cant quite pinpoint. And there is a churning of creatures coming to Innsmouth from the craggy rock that old Captain Obed frequented. This image of the churning waters with “bobbing heads and flailing arms” that “were alien and aberrant” in a way he could not conceive. This immediately brings about images of Cthulhu and the multi-tentacled beard. Though these are smaller creatures, and probably more related to Dagon.
The unholy light however, of a hue unknown. The moon is full and bright throughout the story, could it be the moon’s call? The moon has called creatures in previous stories, could this be the call, and answer that we have seen in previous stories?
Beyond that there is one more aspect of the story which is really provocative. There seem to be three different creatures in Innsmouth. We have creatures that are simian based, which we have seen in many different stories , we have fish creatures which walk beside the simian creatures, and then we have something dog like, or what I like to establish as “beasts”. The beasts are called from the moon in every other story, with the exception of “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” and there there are fish creatures which are called by the moon.
Are the beasts and the simian creatures (think “Arthur Jermyn” and “The Outsider”) the same thing? Could Innsmouth be Sarnath in this age?
With the completion of chapter V of this story (which will probably be tomorrow) I have now read through two Del Rey Lovecraft books, and will get started into the third. I would like to begin to get a timeline, or at least get to understanding the mythos and how they are connected on my own (and with the help of you all) without doing any research and see how my theories stack up.
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Shadow over Innsmouth, pt 3
The ravings of an old madman fill our minds through the next chapter of this story. Our narrator gets some bootleg alcohol and gets the elderly Zodak Allen to follow him to a spot by the sea where they can talk out of prying eyes. Zodak confirms a number of suspisions that I had previously while reading through, however he expounds more than expected and we are posed with more questions than he ended up answering.
Zodak tells of how Captain Obed brought the people of the Order of Dagon to the mainland, because he wanted to promote a healthy community. The mills were dying out and the fish were getting fewer and fewer, but he remembered an island where the people had abundance.
The people of this Island mated with fish people. Then twice a year they would sacrifice their young to Dagon in the sea, and they never ran out of fish. The offspring that came from the human fish relations, started out as human, then began to transform as they got older, to the point of transitioning completely and leaving land and heading for the sea. If we are to believe Zodak completely, then my previous theory is (mostly) out the window.
The interesting part of Zodak monologue to me, is the three Oaths of Dagon. We never find out what these are, but we know that the many people in town took the first two (which had something to do with not telling anyone outside the cult of the cult inter-workings). Zodak was wholly against taking the third Oath, which seems to me an Oath of body, soul and spirit. This could be how, beyond interbreeding, the entire town of Innsmouth has begun to transform. That third Oath, could be inviting the change into you.
We do know that the previous two oaths did give Zodak some knowledge however. He knows of Shoggoth. The mentions Cthulhu R’lyeh, which I’m pretty sure is the sunken city which is Cthulhu’s prison. What is interesting about this is that Cthulhu is imprisoned under the water and Dagon is a god of the water. Which means there is a definite connection there, and there is a connection with the Order of Dagon, because Zodak obviously learned this through his Oaths.
So now we have three deities in the mythos, concretely linked. Shoggoth, Cthulhu, and Dagon. Let’s see where this story leads us…
What do you think?
Join me next week for the last two chapters of The Shadow over Innsmouth.
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