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Born To Run

Inspired by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Universal Pictures 1931

                “Gabe!  Oh God please get over here!  I don’t know what to do.  It’s horrible!” 

                It was Henry… I hadn’t heard from Henry for quite some time.  We were flat mates back in college; the days of too much drinking and too many drugs.  We’d grown apart over time, not because of any interpersonal issues, just time and space.  He’d become a Chemist and I became a police detective.  My policing skills made it all the more disturbing that he was calling me out of the blue.

                “Henry, slow down.  What’s going on?”  I asked.

                “My lab.  It’s been destroyed and… my assistants… Gabe.  They’re dead!  Someone killed them!”  Henry wailed.

                “Call the police Henry, meaning right now.  As soon as I get off the phone.  I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

                I grabbed my coat and exited my brownstone.  Snow was coming down in droves which always seemed to make it harder to get a cab.  When I finally flagged one down, I got in and the world was drowned out by Bruce Springsteen’s new hit blaring over the radio.

                The cab made its way across town as slow as molasses, belying the song blaring on the radio.  We apparently were not “Born to Run.”

                My hackles rose as soon as we pulled up to Henry’s lab.  The windows were smashed and the snow beneath them was spattered with red spots.  I hoped it wasn’t blood, but as a detective I knew better.

                I tossed the cabbie a tenner and knocked on the door to the lab.  I checked to make sure my pistol was in its holster under my coat and took out my Moleskine.

                The door flew open and Henry stood there looking frantic.  His eyes were sunken and his skin was jaundiced.  He looked like he hadn’t slept for days.  Springsteen echoed behind him in his lab.

                “Gabe!  Thank God!  Get in here!  I don’t know what to do!”

                “Slow it down Henry, tell me what’s going on,” I said entering the lab.  It was a disaster.  Broken glass everywhere.  The ground was littered with viscous liquid, but what was worse was the bodies.  Two people were dead on the ground.  I didn’t even need to inspect them, their terrible wounds told me all I needed to know.

                A woman had her head turned around backwards, her spine creating strange bluish-purple bulges in her neck where the bone was trying to break free. 

                A man was lying in a pool of blood with what looked to be a sword sticking out of his back.  That must have been what created the blood spatter on the snow outside.  I walked to the end of the room to switch off the radio.  I couldn’t focus with that music blaring.

                “They told me that a man named Edward came here looking for me.  Looking for a new formula I’d created,” Henry said.

                “Did they see him?” I started, then looked back at my disheveled friend, “wait, did you say they told you?”

                “Yes!  They told me he came in here and tore the place apart looking for more of my formula and when he couldn’t find it…”  Henry trailed off.

                “Henry,” I said.  “How could they have told you if they were dead when you got there?”

                His face looked surprised for a moment, then it twisted somehow.  His skin rippled, his hair grew, his eye color changed.  He was not the Henry I once knew.

                “Oh you are so smart, Gabe!” His voice was not Henry’s.  This voice was lower, rockier.

                I reached for my pistol but he was faster than light.  He was upon me before I could draw the revolver and his sharp teeth dug into my shoulder.

                I screamed in agony and threw him away from me.

                I managed a glance at him as I fumbled for my Smith and Wesson.  What I saw was not human.  His nails had grown long and sharp and his joints snapped and twisted into something more bestial.  His eyes were bloodshot, matching my blood which covered his mouth and nose.

                “Henry,” I cried, pulling the gun and pointing it.  “What was in that formula?”

                He laughed and sprung.  I do not believe in the supernatural, but I swear he covered the fifteen feet between us with a single bound.  His nails dug at my shoulders and his teeth snapped at my face.  The pistol went off and he squealed like a rat.

                I fell backward when he let go and fired another bullet off after him.  I swear it hit him.  I saw the blood spray off him but he didn’t stop moving.

                The lights suddenly went out, plunging the lab into darkness.  The only light in the room was the dim illumination of the lamp from the street.

                “Henry!”  I cried.  “Henry, I don’t know what you’ve done, but we can reverse this!  Did the formula make you become Edward?”

                Laugher echoed through the laboratory.  Springsteen came back on the radio. 

                “Henry!  You called for help!  I know you called for me to help you get rid of this Edward.  Come out and let me help you!”  I cried.

                He sprang at me from my flank and I felt nails rake across my back.

                I screamed and fired my pistol again.

                At night, we ride through mansions of glory, in suicide machines…

                “Is there an antidote, Henry?”  I cried into the darkened room.

                …this town rips the bones from your back…

                I heard the laughter of the insane in the room.

                “You really don’t understand, Gabe,” he laughed.

                I could see his eyes reflecting through the darkness.

                …it’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap…

                “The serum wasn’t to help me control the urges.”

                …we gotta get out of here…

                I lost him.  I couldn’t see where he was.  I took a deep breath and braced my pistol in both hands.

                “You see Gabe,” He began before singing along with The Boss “I gotta find out how it feels.  Don’t you want to know how it feels?”

                He was suddenly in front of me and I felt his nails claw into me again.  I shot my gun, but it was errant.  He was gone again before I could respond.

                Laughter echoed in the darkness.

                …Tramps like us, baby we were born to run…

                “Once I took the serum there was no more Henry.  There was only Edward,” his laughter echoed inside my head.  I was suddenly dizzy.  I felt consciousness retreating from me.  I looked down to where he scratched me. There was no scratch.   I saw a syringe sticking out of me.

                …I want to die with you…

                “I didn’t call you here to stop Edward,” His gravelly voice said.

                …on the streets tonight…

                “I called you here to have a partner.”

                I felt intense anger.  I leaned into the hate.  It felt good.

                …Tramps like us, baby we were born to run…


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; Old Bugs

“Bums” during Prohibition

At one time – probably in middle life – he had evidently been grossly fat; but now he was horribly lean, the purple flesh hanging in loose pouches under his bleary eyes and upon his cheeks. Altogether, Old Bugs was not pleasing to look upon.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re digging into the parable of Old Bugs and we’ll talk a little about writing style and contemporaries of Lovecraft.

I started reading this story expecting some kind of dark twist by the end. The title made me pause, because I was worried about some kind of Lovecraftian gross out. I was met with, not a scary tale, but a wonderful parable about the dangers of addiction. Of course this is told through Lovecraft’s lens so it is far more severe than it needs to be, but it’s told to hammer the point across, so take the text with a grain of salt.

Our story begins by describing Sheehan’s Pool Room, “which adorns one of the lesser alleys in the heart of Chicago’s stockyard distcrict, is not a nice place.” Lovecraft describes the air as having “acrid fumes of unnumbered cheap cigars and cigarettes,” which “too seldom know(s) the purifying rays of the sun

Lovecraft says this pool hall is redolent with “the aroma of strong, wicked whiskey...” and we soon find out that the story takes place in 1950…31 years after the story was written.

Lovecraft vaguely describes the 18th amendment (prohibition) as coming from a “benevolent government” so right away we know that, between the story taking place in Chicago notorious for it’s speakeasys, and speaking of prohibition, that Lovecraft expected that doomed amendment to continue on forever. Lovecraft, you see, was a teetotaler and contended that there was evil inherent in alcohol as well as drugs.

The story evolves beyond Sheehan’s to describe the codger “Old Bugs.” Bugs is a sad excuse for a human (In Lovecraft’s opinion). He begs for drink and drugs in Sheehan’s in exchange for doing menial and disgusting labor. He apparently “epitomised the pathetic soecies known as ‘bum’ or the ‘down-and-outer‘.”

No one seems to know where Old Bugs came from but he often started stories of his past, “exploding into sesquipedalian admonitions and strange oaths…” giving indication that Bugs at some point was formally educated, but soon after his verbose tirades, his “alcohol-enfeebled brain would wander from the subject,” and he would return to his menial cleaning task.

The only break was when Bugs would pull out an old picture of a young woman, apparently an old lover, but invariably he would stuff it back into his pocket and get lost into drink.

Being prohibition, alcohol was illegal and thus Sheehan’s was stuck in a back alley away from prying eyes. To get new business the “pool hall” employed “runners” to garner new clients. One day a runner brought in young Alfred Trever to the hall; “a rich and high-spirited youth who would ‘go the limit’ in anything he undertook.‘”

He was a college boy who at Lawrence just joined the “mock-fraternity” of…wait for it…”Tappa Tappa Keg.” One can feel both sarcasm and the disdain for the drink dripping off the page.

Young Galpin had a young fiancé and a very rigid mother who rails against alcohol. These feelings in Galpin’s mother come from her own fiancé before Galpin’s father. Apparently he was a brilliant young man who was about to take up a professorship at Lawrence, before “Evil habits, dating from a first drink taken years before in woodland seclusion, made themselves manifest in the young professor; and only by a hurried resignation did he escape a nasty persecution for injury to the habits and morals of the pupils under his charge.

Old Bugs overhears this tale and watches on in silence, cleaning vomit and filth from the bar.

Young Trevor, excited to jump into an unknown arena, orders a whiskey and is about to drink it. Old Bugs meanwhile has pulled out the picture of the young lady. He approaches Trevor and states:

Do not do this thing. I was like you once, and I did it. now I am like – this.

Bugs persists and Sheehan goes to remove him. A scuffle breaks out and Bugs was heard yelling “He shall not drink! He shall not drink!”

They eventually get Bugs out of the bar…excuse me, “pool hall” and Trevor sits down to grab his drink again when he notices the picture Old Bugs’ fawns over on the bar. He is surprised because, “Over the library mantel in his home hung the exact replica of that picture, and all his life he had known and loved the original.

For the gentle and noble features were those of his own mother.”

Wow what a parable!

I actually found out after reading the story that Lovecraft wrote the tale for a young friend Alfred Galpin, who wanted to get drink before Prohibition started. Lovecraft sent young Galpin the story along with a letter. The letter was asked to be read after the story, and in the letter is said “Now will you be good?

It’s nice to see more of a human side of Lovecraft, even if he is a little spastic in his affections. Alfred was the name of the youth in the story, Galpin was Old Bugs original name and even Elanor Wing, who was Bug’s love interest and Alfred’s mother, was a friend of Lovecraft in real life. This was a pointed story to get Alfred Galpin (his friend) not to drink, because obviously if he had one sip then obviously he would devolve into an old bum begging for drink in a tavern. Incidentally that’s why this is the only Lovecraft story (of which I’ve read at least) which takes place that far in the future. It’s written that way to make Galpin understand that if he gets lost in the drink then what he has to look forward to is a life as Old Bugs.

Being this close to the holidays, there is no doubt an echo of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with the look into the future and what it could hold if the current path isn’t altered. I would contend however that there is a stronger resemblance to a contemporary across the United States in San Francisco…Ambrose Bierce.

Twilight Zone adaptation of “The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

This is exactly a tale that Bierce would tell and it’s told in much the same manner and dialect. Granted Bierce came before Lovecraft (and to tell the truth I haven’t actually heard Lovecraft referencing Bierce), but the tonality is the same. When you take a story like “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” which was made into a Twilight Zone episode of the same name, you can almost feel a visceral sensation of morality streaming through the text.

Lovecraft inspired short stories

Then when you layer on newer writers of Lovecraftian fictions like Brian Lumley, you can see some of the same moral tones which blend in between Bierce and Lovecraft. Specifically in stories like “Fruiting Bodies” or “The Levee.”

Beyond morality, there is also the twist ending which Bierce was famous for (and sometimes forced through…painfully). Lovecraft tacks on this style of twist ending with some of his short stories very well, but the vast majority are trundling towards an inevitable ending. This story, though obvious, was specifically meant to have a shock ending to elicit a response from his friend, and by extension the audience, which was a divergence from Bierce. Bierce was looking for the shock, for the unexpected. He contended that he was the best writer to ever live because of this, and where he was absolutely a staple of American literature, by no means was he the best and his usage of these kind of tricks may have carried on beyond him, but for writers like Lovecraft, they give a basis of what to do and what not to do when building these kind of stories. Yes the ending was there for a bit of shock value, but the story was also written to be an anvil over the readers head. This story is not subtle in it’s moral, and thus we already know what the ending is going to be when we get there. This makes the shock ending more palatable because the reader can recognize it as a device that’s used sort of tongue in cheek instead of as a desire to shock.

Join me next week as we tackle “A Reminiscence of Dr. Johnson!”


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Terrible Old Man

Little things make considerable excitement in little towns, which is the reason that Kingsport people talked all that spring and summer about three unidentifiable bodies, horribly slashed as with many cutlasses, and horribly mangled as by the tread of many cruel boot-heels, which the tide washed in.

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re talking about “The Terrible Old Man”, a wonderful short story, but seemingly short on depth. I chose this one because I wanted a bit of a reprieve from the magnitude of Call of Cthulhu and I wanted to get some of these shorter stories out of the way. My intention is to finish on the last longer pieces “The Shadow out of Time” and “The Whisperer in the Darkness.”

This short story feels a bit more like an introduction to Kingsport, one of Lovecraft’s infamous coastal cities, than a fully thought out story; a kind of a character study if you will. We revisit Kingsport a few more times, and we even get to meet up with the Terrible Old Man again in another story, but more on that later.

The tale begins with three immigrant men, one of Italian descent, one of Portuguese, and one of Polish, who decide to call on the Terrible Old Man. Quickly we are told, “This old man dwells all alone in a very ancient house on Water Street near the sea, and is reputed to be both exceedingly rich and exceedingly feeble…

So why do these three men want to visit with him? Because thier “…profession was nothing less dignified than robbery.” It makes sense that they’d go after what they thought, being new to Kingsport, would be easy pickings.

It’s believed that the Terrible Old Man was “...a captain of East India clipper ships...” and through his captaincy developed a “...fortune of indefinite magnitude…” which he houses on his property. Property which is neglected with “gnarled trees” and “…a strange collection of large stones, oddly grouped and painted so that they resemble the idols in some obscure Eastern Temple.”

Now it may be that I’m fresh off of “The Call of Cthulhu” but the reference to “idols in some Eastern Temple” peaked my spidey senses. This is not the exact description of the Cthulhu idols, but this story was written years before the development and cohesion of his mythos, so I contend that these rocks and idols were one of two things: a construct to Dagon, or a tribute to Cthulhu. Dagon, however has taken up residence in a different town, which we come to understand in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” so if the Terrible Old Man wanted to worship Dagon, he would have gone the few miles down the road to Innsmouth, because well, Dagon lives there.

Not to mention the fact that R’lyeh is sunken in the Pacific somewhere and if the Terrible Old Man was part of the East India Company then it’s more than likely that at some point in his career he came across remnants of a cult which held the Cthulhu idols themselves. I’d contend the reason for the vague description is because Lovecraft himself hadn’t solidified what Cthulhu looked like and only attributed him to “some Eastern Temple.

Kingsport is also the absolute best Lovecraft location to read about around Halloween time (Which I can attest to because that’s when I read this one!). The imagery is spectacular and the atmosphere elicits those classic spooky New England vibes. Take “The Festival” for example. The description of the ramshackle houses, strange noises that literally go bump in the night, and odd chanting coming from unknown location; the strange architecture, and the meandering streets.

In the Terrible Old Man, as the three thieves approach the house, Lovecraft describes it preeminently as a haunted house: it’s decrepit, the trees are gnarled, and there are rocks set about in ritual fashion amongst the rotten overgrowth in which strange idols sit about. “This collection frightens away most of the small boys...” and also, “there are other things which frighten the older and more curious folk who sometimes steal up to the house to peer in through the dusty panes…on a table in a bare room on the ground floor there are many peculiar bottles, in each a small piece of lead suspended pendulum-wise from a string.

Here we have a reminiscence to another story. In “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” Curwen would take the essence of people from their graves which he called their “saltes” and he would use them to raise these people from the dead. The Terrible Old Man talks to these bottles, calling them by what can only be his old shipmates names (with names such as Scar-Face, Long Tom, Spanish Joe, Mate Ellis, and…Peters). As he speaks with them the bottles and the lead make “definite vibrations as if in answer.” Could the lead in these bottles actually be “saltes” of his old shipmates?

Beyond that there is also the connection that the Terrible Old Man pays for everything with “Spanish gold and silver minted two centuries ago.” Which is exactly what Curwen did as well.

Incidentally this Spanish gold and silver is what our trio of thieves is after, so their strategy is to send in Ricci and Silva to force the Terrible Old Man to give them the riches, while Czanek stays outside as a look out.

Czanek could hear gut wrenching screams coming from the house which we’re meant to believe they’re the screams of the Terrible Old Man, but this is Lovecraft and we know better.

Czanek hears the front gate open and goes to look, but instead of finding his fellow robbers, he finds “…only the Terrible Old Man leaning quietly on his knotted cane and smiling hideously.” Then we are given one last indicator of the Terrible Old Man’s malevolence. “Mr. Czanek had never before noticed the colour of that man’s eyes; now he saw that they were yellow.”

We come to the quote which opens this essay, and find that the three men were torn up with cutlass slashes, which “...so ancient a sea-captain must have witnessed scores of things much more stirring in the far-off days of his unremembered youth.”

Now the question is: did the Terrible Old Man actually kill these men? I’d wager the answer is no. Remember what happened in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward?” Curwen brought the dead back to life to be slaves using their essential “saltes”. I believe that’s what’s in those jars. The “saltes” of his old crew. I think he called those crewmen back from the grave and the old crew cut up the robbers and disposed of them in the ocean. Unlucky for some.

I hope everyone enjoyed that spooky story, but join me next week as we read “Old Bugs”

Post Script:

One of the most enjoyable things in doing this project is gathering the connections between the stories. For example The Terrible Old Man is also Thomas Olney’s guide in “The Strange High House in the Mist.” Where he is still a curmudgeon, but eventually Olney gets him to loosen up a bit. The greatest part of that story to me is the fact that he is still called the Terrible Old Man, but there is no indication as to why. Olney peruses him because he’s so curious about what the house is, and eventually gets him to open up about his dark knowledge which leads to Olney’s terrifying adventure in that story.

The old Collins estate in Collinsport, Maine

As mentioned earlier, Kingsport is also where my favorite Lovecraft story takes place, “The Festival.” where we dont get to see a Terrible Old Man, but we do get to see a Sinister Old Man, who leads our narrator astray. I like to think that they are the same Old Man (we never actually get his name, and somehow that makes him even more esoteric), but it is possible that everyone in Kingsport has had some kind of strange within them. The town reminds me so very much of Collinsport from the old show “Dark Shadows.” That was a sinister old town where every resident had a secret to hide.

Kingsport also plays a key role in the stories “The Dream Quest of Unkown Kadath” and “The Silver Key” as well as a brief mention in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” where we are told of the strange rituals which take place there.

Taking all that information in, it’s safe to say that the ocean is not a safe place in a Lovecraft story. Both the costal cities in Lovecraft country (Innsmouth and Kinsport) have a very gothic and sinister undertone, and that mainly comes because all the sailors that come in from the sea, bringing in with them the terrible things that dwell there.

One has to almost wonder, because this is cosmic horror, if Lovecraft lived and wrote now, would the sea still have such a draw? Now that we have space travel, would the space ports be where a modern Lovecraft would focus on? In the 20’s the ocean was still feared. The Ocean was still a place where the unknown was just around the corner. A place where unknown things could dwell and infect and inflict upon weary travelers. In a modern world space now holds that place as the great unknown. The Final Frontier as it were. Would, in fact, a modern Lovecraft have Kingsport be a spaceport instead of a coastal city?


The Final Piece of the Puzzle

Inspired by Frankenstein 1931 Universal Pictures

“Dr. Frankenstein’ll be ‘appy,” Louis Grogan said.  He was a recent transplant to the states, his cockney accent giving him away.  Louis was a young kid when he ran away from home and jumped on a freighter.  He didn’t realize he was headed for the America’s until the boat landed in Plymouth.  Being so young, naïve, and stupid, He was the perfect specimen for Buddy Charles to exploit.

                “Boy, you know it,” Buddy responded, “you grab the head and I’ll grab the feet.”

                The night was dark and storm clouds rolled over the graveyard.  Buddy liked it when the weather was poor.  A little thunder and a little rain made the digging was much easier.  Not to mention you could be damn near as loud as you wanted and prying ears wouldn’t hear you.  That was the problem with grave robbing.  People always called the law.

                They lifted the crudely made casket from the earth; cold blue moonlight refracting off the grave dirt.  They had a carriage waiting for them with doors akimbo, so once they freed the casket they hoisted it into the carriage and slammed the doors shut.  The crack of the carriage doors was echoed a moment afterward with a ripple of thunder.

                “UUUUUHHHHHH.”

                “Louis, shut yer pie hole.  No need to be groaning like that!  What, you hurt yourself?”  Buddy hissed.

                “It wa’nt me, boss,” Louis said. 

                No, it couldn’t have been Louis.  He was much too close.  That moan came from a distance.

                “Get saddled up, hoss.  We’re getting outta here,” Buddy said.

                He scanned the graveyard, waiting for the lightning to illuminate the plot; straining to find the origin of that moan.

                “We got company, hoss.  Out yonder, beyond the Mausoleum.  He’s a big ‘un too.  Let’s get moving,” Buddy said.

                He climbed on the front of the carriage next to Louis and cracked the reigns.  The horses neighed and reared and Buddy wondered if their reaction was because of the reigns or the thunder.

                “UUUUUUHHHHH.”

                “Shit, that was close!” Louis cried.

                Buddy cracked the reigns once again, urging the horses to speed.

                A large figure stepped out in front of the carriage and grabbed one of the horses by the neck.  The force of the figure and the momentum of the horse created an audible crack as the horse’s neck snapped and it collapsed to the ground.  The carriage tilted from the mismatched inertia and it flipped on its side.  Buddy and Louis were thrown clear from the carriage as it rolled and smashed up against a rock.

                Buddy rose to his knees.   He shook his head in an effort to clear the haze of shock from the wreck.  A large figure stepped over him.  Lightning shone dirty boots and overalls covered in grave dirt.

                “UUUUUUUHHHH.”

                The creature above him moaned.  It had bulging muscles beneath the overalls and another crack of lightning illuminated its face.  It was a patchwork of brown and pink skin crudely stitched together.

                “Do not be afraid of him, Buddy,” a familiar voice echoed over the graveyard. 

                “Dr. Frankenstein?  What’s going on here?”  Buddy asked.  He was vaguely aware of his bladder releasing.  He glanced around and saw Louis was unconscious lying on the ground.

                “He’s glorious, isn’t he?”  Dr. Frankenstein said.  The doctor looked up at the creature and smiled.  He approached and caressed its arm.  “Such an amazing specimen.”

                “What…what is he?”  Buddy asked.

                “He is my creation!”  Frankenstein said.

                “What, like a robot?”  Buddy asked.

                “No!  He’s alive!” Dr. Frankenstein cried.  “I’ll show you what he can do!”

                The doctor whistled and the creature walked over to Louis.

                “UUUUUHHHH,” It moaned.

                It grabbed Louis by the head and lifted him off the ground before turning Louis around like a rag doll and swinging his body, crushing his head against a rock.  The creature groaned and repeatedly swung Louis’ body down.  With each subsequent blow Louis’ head flattened until eventually gore and bone splayed like a child’s drawing over the granite.  Buddy felt the hot splash of blood and brain spatter across his face.

                “Oh, god!” He cried.

                “Isn’t it beautiful?”  Dr. Frankenstein said.

                Buddy jumped up and tried to run but the creature was faster.  It grabbed his arm and twisted him into an embrace.  Its breath reeked of decaying putrescence that made his eyes water.

                “I am truly sorry Buddy,” Dr. Frankenstein said.  “I just had to make sure you couldn’t escape.”

                The creature pinned his arms to his sides and picked him up off the ground.  He kicked the creature with all his might and it didn’t even seem to notice.

                “You see, I’ve always admired you Buddy.  You were never got caught by the police,” Frankenstein opined.  He took a few steps toward them.  Lightning flashed again, illuminating the grimacing construct of semi-rotten skin.

                “That takes a special kind of intelligence.  To stay out of jail all of these years, I mean,” The doctor crooned.

                The creature leaned Buddy over and pinned him to the ground.  He tried to move his arms but the creature’s hands were like iron shackles.

                “You see Buddy, this creature is incredibly complex.  It has taken years of experimentation.  You’ve been able to provide me with some exemplary body parts, always taking care the tissues weren’t too decayed.  This is important Buddy, because they need to hold up as I patch them together.  But those are just limbs.  When I tried to give my creature intelligence the corpse brains never worked.  I’ve found that once the body dies the synapses that make the brain work aren’t far behind.  I needed a fresh brain.  Some new intelligence.  That’s what my creature is lacking.  The final piece of the puzzle,” Frankenstein said, suddenly brandishing a knife.

                “UUUUHHHHH,” the creature moaned, as if to confirm Frankenstein’s statement.

                “A brain of its own.”

Frankenstein held the carving knife up to Buddy’s forehead and began to cut.


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Call of Cthulhu Conclusion

Then, driven ahead by curiosity in their captured yacht under Johansen’s command, the men sight a great stone pillar sticking out of the sea, and in S. Latitude 47* 9′, W. Longitude 126* 43′ come upon a coast-line of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror – the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh, that was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This time…I swear…This time we will finish The Call of Cthulhu! There is just far too much memorable and incredibly in depth material here to try and crunch it down, and I didn’t want to have two posts of 10k words a piece. Anyway here we go!

Last week we left off with the conclusion of Legrasse’s story of how he came across the Cthulhu idol and his raid of the cultists in the swamps of Louisiana. This week we start off by getting some connectivity between the two story lines (Wilcox and Legrasse).

Once Legrasse finishes his story, Angell takes the idol which was a remarkable resemblance to the one which Wilcox fabricated from his dreams. Both the narrator and Angell seem to be in denial, believing Wilcox must have somehow heard the story of the Louisiana raid, because Angell’s papers tell us that the idol “…was, no doubt, the giant shape he (Wilcox) had raved of in delirium.”

Our narrator goes to see his Uncle (Angell) who speaks of how the whole ordeal has effected him. “He talked of his dreams in a strangely poetic fashion; making me see with terrible vividness the damp cyclopean city of slimy green stone – whose geometry, he oddly said, was all wrong…”

We find that Wilcox “…had soon forgotten it amidst the mass of his equally weird reading and imagining…” and yet Angell seems to be followed by it. In fact our narrator tells us that “my uncle’s death was far from natural.” and yet still the narrator strives to understand what all of this actually means: “for I felt sure that I was on track for a very real, very secret, and very ancient religion whose discovery would make me an anthropologist of note.”

There are two very interesting themes here if you’ll indulge me. The first being Wilcox’s apparent amnesia. How can it be that someone can experience such a breakdown and not remember much about it? Beyond that, how can there be such a great population across the world which experienced the Call and for that month had similar breakdowns, only to go about their normal lives? The answer? Disassociation.

We humans are excellent at putting things in buckets and adapting. If there’s something that’s a little too big for our minds to wrap around, we are able to put it aside and basically ignore that it ever happened. This is a theme that is so closely tied to madness that I’m surprised that I haven’t seen or heard about it in Lovecraft discussions already. We already know that the mere thought of The Great Old Ones can drive a person insane, but what does that really do to a person? How does that effect our narrative?

It’s disassociation which makes Lovecraft so prominent. How can these cults remain so hidden when they have such reach? How can The Great Old Ones be so influential, but no one knows about them? How can COVID-19 be so prevalent, but we still go about our daily lives? We as humans have an ability to ignore facts if they aren’t in our face, and then when they appear they can drive us to madness. This is the classic “I didn’t think it could happen to me!” syndrome. There’s a reason why people are scared of ghosts and things that go bump in the night, because in the back of their mind there’s the possibility the supernatural could be real. But of course we ignore that…until we are face to face with something we are unable to rationally explain.

The second theme which keeps presenting itself over and over again is character Hubris. Again and again we see these people go down the rabbit hole of chaos and end up paying the price. So what is it that makes them do it? We get the quote right in the text from the narrator, “I was on the track of a very real, very secret, and very ancient religion whose discovery would make me an anthropologist of note.” Our narrator ignores all the signs of danger and actively participates in denial. Why did Wilcox forget about everything and his Uncle conversely get sucked in? Because Wilcox had a momentary lapse of sanity and Angell got old and couldn’t deal with the real life consequences of his pursuits? But of course, our narrator is young and strong, so nothing could possibly effect him the way it did his Uncle…right?

It’s something we see again and again in Lovecraft because it’s so endemic in our personalities as humans. If we want something, we’ll ignore the red flags, even the direct danger, because it’s something you desire. In both life and love this is a universal truth, but the denial of this truth is strong because the ends justify the means. In a relationship you’ll ignore red flags because you want to be with the person. In Hubris, you’ll ignore the dangers because the end result of the pursuit is that ever elusive power.

This pursuit leads our narrator to find a news article from the Sydney Bulletin which describes the freighter ship “Vigilant” who captured a ship with one living man and one dead man. The living man was Gustaf Johansen and his story brings together the reason why so many people went cuckoo that April.

While sailing in the middle of the Ocean on the schooner Emma, the crew came in contact with a yacht Alert, who had a very aggressive crew which attacked the Emma. Damaged, the Emma sinks and a number of the crew die, but the remainder now led by Johansen, boards and kills the crew of the Alert easily, “because of their particularly abhorrent and desperate though rather clumsy mode of fighting.”

The next day, it appears, they raised and landed on a small island, although none is known to exist in that part of the ocean.” Johansen doesn’t seem to have a memory of what happened but the only survivors on the Emma turned out to be Briden and Johansen himself, with Briden dying of “…no apparent cause, and was probably due to excitement or exposure.”

The narrator comes to a realization. Right about the time Johansen and the crew get to the strange island in the ocean, is right about the time things started going crazy all over the world. To dig even further (Hubris) into this quandary, he decides to go and find Johansen.

Eventually he finds that Johansen has gone back to Oslo, but died shortly after returning. Apparently “Physicians found no adequate cause for the end, and laid it down to heart trouble and a weakened constitution.” If that sounds familiar, that’s because that’s the same thing Angell died of, but still our narrator ignores the signs.

Johansen’s widow gives the narrator Johansen’s journal, and finally we find the terrible truth.

The journey of the Emma started off with a vast earthquake and fast forwarding, after the fight and boarding of the Alert we find that the strange island they found (the quote from the beginning of this essay) is none other than the Nightmare City of R’lyeh, presumably broken free, or arisen from the depths because of the strange earthquake.

Johansen and his crew go aboard this strange island and are immediately ill at ease with its geometry; “He had said that the geometry of the dream-place he saw was abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours.”

Dreams in the Witch House by Arkham Angst!

We are met with the strange angles from such stories as Dreams in the Witch House and Sphere’s such as in the stories of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and the Dunwich Horror. We know that these are the calling cards of the Great Old Ones, the architecture of madness which encompasses their culture, things which call Their attention which are too hard for our mere mortal minds to comprehend. For example “suspense lurked leeringly in those crazily elusive angles of carven rock where a second glance shewed concavity after the first shewed convexity.” and “though they could not decide whether it lay flat like a trap-door or slantwise like an outside cellar door.

The group tried to open the door to no avail, until suddenly the door opened by itself: “In this phantasy of prismatic distortion it moved anomalously in a diagonal way, so that all rules of matter and perspective seemed upset.”

From inside Cthulhu “…actually burst forth like smoke from it’s aeon-long imprisonment, visibly darkening the sun as it slunk away inot the shrunken and gibbous sky on flapping membranous wings.”

After vigintillions (which equals 1 with 63 zeros after it) of years Great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight.”

So we know that nine men went aboard that island, but only two got back to the ship. Here’s what happened:

Three men were swept up by the flabby claws before anybody turned. Parker slipped as the other three were plunging frenziedly over endless vistas of green-crusted rock to the boat, and Johansen swears he was swallowed up by an angle of masonry which shouldn’t have been there; and angle which was acute, but behaved as if it were obtuse.”

Briden and Johansen were the only two that made it to the boat, and as they fled “…the Titan thing from the stars slavered and gibbered like Polypheme (more cylops references) cursing the fleeing ship of Odysseus.

Briden looked back and went mad…But Johansen had not given out yet.”

The awful squid-head with writhing feelers came nearly up to the bow-sprit of the sturdy yacht, but Johansen drove on relentlessly.” And Johansen got lucky. He never looked back and never got a full glimpse of Cthulhu as It actually is. It seems as though for that brief moment Cthulhu was in our world, until it ascended back up to the stars, It sent It’s Call to our world. The empaths like Wilcox felt this Call and had a month long descent into madness, because at It’s core, Cthulhu’s essence is chaos. Briden stayed in that spot on the ship and died, not eating nor drinking, scared to death, because just seeing The Great Priest was enough to strip his mind.

Our narrator put the journal in with his notes and the idol into a lock box and set it aside knowing that what he felt while reading it, that strange otherworldliness, the odd feeling that what he was reading was not possible but was possible at the same time, that he vowed never to let that information see the light of day.

He knows that the cults still exists and he knows that one day Cthulhu may return, but R’lyeh was sunken again and so he just has to hope that while he lives the stars wont align to give a path back for the High Priest from the stars.

Join me next week as we read “The Terrible Old Man!”

Post Script:

It is really no wonder that so many of the games that have come out focus so much on this particular Lovecraft story and there are three reasons for this being so.

The first is that we actually get to see Cthulhu, unlike the other Great Old Ones. Sure, we get to see a bit of the Shoggoth, but that’s not nearly the same because they’re just the workers, the slave labor of the Great Old Ones. Because we have a idea of what this creature looks like and has abilities to do, we are able to put it into a gameable scenario.

The popular role playing game

This story has incredible imagery, but what makes it special is that it’s tied to specific places around the world, so that leads to the second point. Many games follow along with the investigative plotline, which is this story in it’s entirety. You have a narrator who is following clues, through cultists and strange happenings, to find…and hopefully stop…the ultimate horrible ending. The rise of Cthulhu.

Finally Lovecraft has a tried and true style which he uses in many of his tales to bring the reader into the story. It was made famous by Bram Stoker in Dracula, but Lovecraft uses it to perfection. This is the Epistolary model. The best way to make something feel more realistic and more impactful is to show the action as part of a letter or as part of a newspaper. These epistles show first hand experience rather than just a narrator (which in Lovecraft are primarily unreliable) telling us a story. This gives the reader something they can feel they could look it up themselves which gives the narration validity and trustworthiness, especially when dealing with the macabre and otherworldly. It’s no wonder that this style is so popular in spectacular fiction


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Call of Cthulhu pt. 2


There lay Great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults and sending out at last, after cycles incalculable, the thoughts that spread fear into dreams of the sensitive and called imperiously to the faithful to come on a pilgrimage of liberation and restoration. All this Johansen did not suspect, but God knows he soon saw enough!”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! I was planning on concluding the illustrious “The Call of Cthulhu” this week, but it turns out I had waaaay to much to say, so we’re going to push the conclusion to next week!

Last week we finished with a few thoughts about Cthulhu himself (itself? herself? theirself?), and the beginning of Detective Legrasse’s story. Remember how he went into the swamps of Louisiana and found a bunch of cultists effecting a ritual around a ring of fire and in the center of that ring was a monolith with a statue of Cthulhu on it’s apex? Well there was a tussle as the police broke up the ritual, “Wild blows were struck, shots were fired, and escapes were made…”

In the end the police captured “forty-seven sullen prisoners” and “The image on the monolith (the idol of Cthulhu)…was carefully removed and carried back by Legrasse.

Initially the police thought this gathering was just a particularly nefarious voodoo cult. They let their prejudice guide them in their approach because, “Most were seamen, and a sprinkling of negroes and mulattoes, largely West Indians or Brava Portuguese from the Cape Verde Islands, gave a colouring of voodooism to the heterogeneous cult. But before many questions were asked, it became manifest that somethign far deeper and older than negro fetichism (sp) was involved.

The police did everything they could to get more information out of the worshippers beyond that they prayed to “The Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men,” and that “This was a cult,” who “...had always existed and always would exist… until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R’lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway.”

The cultists said they were innocent of any killing. All those missing people, all the dead bodies that led the police to execute the raid were denied. The cultists said the ritual “…killing had been done by Black Winged Ones which had come to them from their immemorial meeting-place in the haunted wood.”

This strikes me as incredibly atmospheric. The thought of the old Spanish Moss trees, hanging down over the swampy foggy ground where hidden dark winged aeon old creatures lurk, just tickles my imagination in the best possible way. The description of the raid is short, but the set up is effective enough and then as we continually look back at the events surrounding the raid, it gives you a more and more grotesque point of view of what they actually walked into.

They finally get one of the cultists, “Old Castro,” to give them a bit more information. “There had been aeons when other things ruled on the earth, and They had had great cities. The remains of Them… were still to be found as Cyclopean stones on islands in the Pacific” (this is important later in the story), and “there were arts which could revive Them when the stars had come round again to the right positions in the cycle of eternity.” because “They had, indeed, come themselves from the stars, and brought their images with them.

That is an interesting statement. “Brought their images with them.” Castro tells us that the Great Old Ones “had shape… but that shape was not made of matter.” Then he gives us the most important and interesting line of the story:

When the stars were right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky; but when the stars were wrong, They could not live.

Shortly there afterward we get “the much discussed couplet” from the Necronomicon:

That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.

Lets put all this together. We are told that Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones are dead and trapped in their great city of R’lyeh under the Pacific Ocean somewhere, because at some point on ancient history the city sunk. How can They be asleep but dead and have form but no matter?

The Great Old ones are immortal so we know that even though we are told Cthulhu is dead under the ocean, He is also immortal thus he cannot die. We also know that They are from the stars and made from the stars. So then we go back to what Old Castro told us, “They brought their images with them.”

The Great Old Ones came from the stars with form, but those forms were just shells, just fantastic images of what they projected themselves as. What we think of as Cthulhu, dead and sleeping under the ocean is in actuality just a shell. Cthulhu and the Other Great Old Ones ascended back to the stars at some point, and because they are formless (and maybe just concepts?) they left their shells to remain on Earth for the time when they need or want to come back. So that’s why Cthulhu can be both dead and sleeping at the same time. It is just the shell and He can be awoken through a ritual when the stars align, giving Him a causeway to earth.

When reading through Lovecraft the couplet is in many stories, and is something which always confused me. This story made it terribly obvious. Cthulhu is immortal, thus eternal, thus he cannot die; “That is not dead which can eternal lie,” ok that makes sense, but then what does the second part mean? “And with strange aeons even death may die.” Oh. Given time and multiple universes (and dream worlds) even death, the ultimate absolute can die. Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones, are more powerful than what we understand as the ultimate absolute.

Cultists for these types of beings never really made sense to me before. There is certain subset of the anarchists who want to set the world on fire, but Castro describes the resurrection of The Great Old Ones this way:

The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.

So I can see how there might be a very small amount of people who could believe that this is the way to go. But the volume of people? That ceremony that Legrasse broke up was hundreds of cultists. They all want to burn the world?

Then while digesting this story and the infamous couplet brought me to a realization. Yes, there are people that want to burn the world, but there are a far higher population which are terrified of death. If the return of the Great Old Ones means that the followers will be granted eternity, than there probably is a huge amount of the population who would be willing to take part, damn the consequences. Death is supposed to be the absolute, but what if it didn’t have to be?

Beyond this the couplet brings up what Lovecraftian horror really means. Cosmic horror is a difficult concept to wrap your mind around and it’s specifically built that way. The couplet gives us a glimpse into what this really means; where we truly stand in the world. I remember showing my wife the reboot of the show “Cosmos” narrated by Neil Degrasse Tyson. When they showed the earth in comparison to the galaxy and then in contrast with the universe, she made me turn it off because it gave her the willies. It was too much for her to understand that our entire world means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. This is the same concept with cosmic horror except more theologically. Death is where we all head, but there are things so far beyond that. Things that are “miles tall” that cannot die. Things which have lived billions of years and will live for billions more.

It’s no wonder Lovecraft was agoraphobic, if he just sat around thinking about these concepts all day.

Join me next week for the conclusion of “The Call of Cthulhu!”

Post Script:

Just a few more thoughts if you’ll indulge me. While reading about the section on the raid I had a conceptual thought about Lovecraft in general. In the story Lovecraft uses a thematic approach that describes the action in a single line, then when recalling the events Legrasse goes into much greater detail. After reading as much Lovecraft as I have, I can say that he did this because he’s not great at writing action, however his strength is in the feel of the piece. Legrasse is able to go far more into detail and flush out his feelings at the time and his disgust with the cultists, but during the raid all he could muster was direct and emotionless fact.

Our human brains work this way. When we look back on a time frame or an event, it almost always comes out more emotional that it was during the event. If it was traumatic, the events are colored much darker when you recall them. If it was inconsequential or happy, the events usually are colored much brighter and happier while recalling them. This is known in psychology terms as the reminiscence bump.

I’ve been reading Lovecraft now for nearly two years. I do a critique and analysis on a story every week (or, as in this case, over multiple weeks). I saw a thread on Twitter asking people what their favorite Lovecraft story was and I couldn’t come up with one. I thought back on nearly every story with fond memories, even though I know for a fact that I didn’t always like the stories that much while I was reading them. That’s the reminiscence bump.

Lovecraft is a master of atmosphere, despite his terrible action sequences and dialog. But atmosphere is what you truly remember when thinking back on a story. How the story made you feel. Individual action sequences and dialog are no longer aren’t what stick in long term memory, so what bubbles to the surface is the atmosphere you experienced while reading. When I think back on Lovecraft’s works I feel almost universal love. That’s a really strange thing to say, because about six months into this project it felt like a slog and I remember feeling bored, but now I cant remember which story I was bored with because I liked them all so much!

The more you read Lovecraft the more you like it. He’s insidious in that way. At first the language is a bit of a barrier, but once it starts to flow, your mind creates and atmosphere and experience greater than you read on the page.


The Find of the Century

                Lewis turned the key in the lock to the main doors and waved off Dr. Whemple.  The darkened museum was always his favorite place to be.  It was quiet, there were things to be learned from the exhibits, and there were always books. 

He’d been looking forward to this week for months.  This was the week they brought in the treasures from the Egyptian dig.  He’d been following it closely.  Dr. Whemple and his associates finally discovered the long lost burial site of Imhotep. 

It was all very exciting for Lewis.  He didn’t know much about Egypt or its history, but he thought he could use the information.  He had another date with Elizabeth on Tuesday and she had even mentioned how much she loved Egyptian history and was excited to hear about the exhibit of the high priest Imhotep coming to their town.  He was planning on learning everything there was to know about Imhotep to impress her.  She was beautiful and smart and maybe, just maybe, he could trick her into falling in love with him.

He whistled as he opened the door to the curating room.  He knew he wasn’t allowed in the room without supervision, Dr. Whemple made sure that no one went into the room without him but what was the harm?  Lewis only wanted to get some firsthand experience to show off for Elizabeth. 

The room was incredible.  It was dusty, sure, but all the artifacts came from Egypt.  What else could he expect coming from all that sand?

The first thing he noticed was the sarcophagus.  It was stone and had the shape of a man carved into the lid.  The carving had crossed arms was holding a flail and maybe a hook.  He hoped those things had a name.  He would love to regale Elizabeth with that knowledge. 

He turned to the table and saw an old parchment underneath a heavy glass.  It was in a language he couldn’t understand, but he gave it a shot anyway.  The words stumbled over his tongue, but he finished and shrugged. Maybe he could regurgitate that and say it was some kind of prayer to impress Elizabeth. He tried it again.

A moment later a large crash came from behind him.  He twisted just as the candles blew out and the room was plunged into darkness.

“Damn,” he said under his breath and patted his uniform until he found a box of matches.  He lit one and held it high and blood instantly drained from his face.  The lid of the sarcophagus had fallen off and smashed on the ground.  That was it.  He was going to get fired.  There was no way Dr. Whemple would forgive something like this!

Then he heard something move behind him.  It almost sounded like someone dragging a sheet over the ground.

  He turned and held the match high.  He thought he saw movement for a second but the match burned his finger and he dropped it, cursing.  He got another match and struck it on the box.  The light bloomed and illuminated a figure standing before him.  It had old rotten cloth wrapped around it, covering the entirety of its body.  It lifted an arm out to him, cloth hanging loose, showing a brown, wrinkled skeletal hand with long twisted and yellowed nails.

Lewis screamed and jumped back, swiping his hand at the thing.  His finger caught on a strand of the rotted cloth covering the thing’s face.  The cloth pulled free, taking with it a part of the creatures dehydrated skin.  The cloth began to unravel as the second match burned Lewis’ finger.

He cursed and fell backwards.  He struck another match.  It bloomed and he immediately wished it hadn’t.  The wrappings had fallen free of the face of the creature.  Its skin was rotten and twisted, with intermittent holes, showing bone and blackness of its mouth.  The eyeballs were gone, replaced with some kind of beetles crawling in and out of the empty sockets.  Its teeth were long and yellow and pointed.

Lewis was sure it laughed at him.  He screamed as it grasped his arm with its rotten hand.  Its grip was stronger than anything he’d ever felt before and it snapped one of the bones in his forearm. 

The creature lifted him up by his ruined arm, bringing him face to face with its horrible rotten visage.  Its breath smelt like decay and hot sand.  It opened its mouth wider than Lewis thought possible and one of those beetles began to crawl out.

Lewis screamed again and when he opened his mouth, the beetle flew into it.  He could feel it crawl down his throat.  He tried to scream, but no sound came out.  Two more beetles crawled out of the creature’s eyes.  They landed on Lewis’ nose and forced their way into his nostrils…

Dr. Whemple stood outside the door, waiting for Lewis to unlock it for him.

  “About time Lewis!”  Whemple cried as Lewis swung the door wide for him.  “My lord man, you look terrible.  Maybe you should head home and get some rest!” 

Lewis didn’t respond, but Whemple could see a beetle crawl over the back of Lewis’ hand.

“Lewis!  Wipe that off!  Why, that looked suspiciously like a scarab!  You weren’t bitten were you? Those can be terribly poisonous!”  Whemple asked.

Lewis pointed behind Whemple into the Museum.  The doctor, confused, turned to see what Lewis was pointing at.  A large figure limped towards them.

“Who…” Whemple began, but Lewis grabbed him in a bear hug trapping his arms to his sides.

“Lewis!  What is the meaning of this!”

The Mummy opened its rotten mouth and a scarab crawled out of it.  Whemple screamed.


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Call of Cthulhu Pt. 1

Cthulhu by Andree Wallin

It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long narrow wings behind.”

Welcome back for another Blind Read! This week we’re diving into the most classic Lovecraft story in the catalog. Between the board games, the role playing games, and the video games (not to mention the plushies!), Cthulhu and the perennial trope of a detective investigating an eldritch mystery while fighting off evil cultists has burned its way into our culture. This Great Old One was so popular that he took over from Yog-Sothoth, transferring the mythology from Yog-Sothothery to The Cthulhu Mythos.

What I find so fascinating about this tale is that it’s more of a creepy mystery than a horror story. Lovecraft wrote far scarier stories, but with this one he found just the right mold to make it everlasting.

We kick off the story with the best opening paragraph in Lovecraft:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all it’s contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

Much of this opening chapter is written in this theosophist cadence, delivering some of the best writing of Lovecraft’s career. Not only is it beautiful prose, but it also deftly communicates not only the direction the story is going to undertake, but the theory behind the mythos itself. It really is no wonder Cthulhu became the center of Lovecraft’s world (at least in his audience’s point of view).

The actual narrative starts with a realization of our narrator, “That glimpse, like all dread glimpses of truth, flashed out from an accidental piecing together of separated things – in this case an old newspaper item and the notes of a dead professor.” The professor, the narrators grand-uncle George Gammell Angell, was ninety-two years old and happened upon a man (epithet from the original text redacted) whom reminded him of some strange past. Whatever it reminded him of dropped the professor by a heart attack right then.

Angell was a Professor Emeritus of Semitic languages at Brown University, and because of his interests, he had many archaeological artifacts. Upon his death the narrator and the executor of his estate find a strange box. Beyond the barrier of the box there is an odd bas-relief and a number of papers.

The papers have strange hieroglyphics “which only a diseased fancy could conceive.” Our narrator tells us they look like, “...simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature…A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings…

Well hello Cthulhu.

In case there is any question, we next find a document entitled “Cthulhu Cult” which talks about “Dream and dream work of H.A. Wilcox” and the “Narrative of Inspector John R. Legrasse.” This sets up the rest of the narrative, as the story is cut into three parts. The first focuses on Wilcox’s story, the second on Legrasse, and the third of a strange sea voyage. (Because of the volume of text to unravel here, we’ll only be covering Wilcox and the first half of Legrasse in this essay.)

Wilcox just showed up one day at Angell’s study “bearing the singular clay bas-relief“. Wilcox was a young man who was studying sculpture and was an excitable, anxious youth, in fact he even called himself “Psychically hypersensitive.” He visited Angell many times, seemingly testing the waters to see if Angell would believe his outlandish tale, before finally diving into a larger, very odd story. What struck Angell more than the youth’s frantic nature, was the bas-relief, because “…the conspicuous freshness of the tablet implied kinship with anything but archaeology.

Wilcox seemly changes over the time he’s dealing with Angell (starting on March 1st and ending on Arpil 2nd). He gets more and more frantic, his claims becoming more and more deliriously strange. Finally Wilcox gives in and tells Angell, “It is new (the bas-relief), indeed, for I made it last night in a dream of strange cities; and dreams are older than brooding Tyre, or the contemplative Sphinx, or garden-girded Babylon.”

Wilcox the sculptor tells a rambling tale which began with a slight earthquake which Wilcox thinks triggered his imagination. He dreamed, “...of great cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror.” He heard “a voice that was not a voice” which said “Cthulhu fhtagn.”

Angell worked more and more with Wilcox to try and get to the bottom of this strange youth’s obsession. To understand where his psychosis came from. As Angell worked with him the words Wilcox repeated most often were “Cthulhu” and “R’lyeh.” He even mentioned of a “...gigantic thing ‘miles high’ which walked or lumbered about.”

Then suddenly, despite the youth getting worse and worse, devolving into a miasma of despair, Wilcox one day was perfectly fine with no trace of anxiety or psychosis.

Angell, perturbed researched and found that many people in New England were acting strangely, much like Wilcox, “...always between March 23rd and April 2nd…” The narrator even gives us more examples of how others went “hysterical“, but still the narrator holds onto rationalism, as though Angell was searching for signs and he saw what he wanted, not the actual truth. It is only when we get to the second chapter of the story that the true cultural cataclysm begins.

That chapter begins with Inspector Legrasse travelling all the way from New Orleans to speak directly with professor Angell and brings with him, “a grotesque, repulsive, and apparently very ancient stone statue whose origin he was at a loss to determine.”

The good inspector came across this fetish when he broke up a supposed voodoo meeting down in Louisiana. The quote at the start of this essay is the description of the idol he confiscated from that cult meeting and is an actual description of Cthulhu himself. All those art pieces you’ve seen online gain their inspiration from the few paragraphs in this story, and I have to say, their depictions are pretty perfect.

Lovecraft does a really interesting thing here. He is famous for not describing the creatures from the cosmic horror arena, but yet he does go to great lengths to describe Cthulhu here. Why would that be? Why would Lovecraft subvert his theme of not describing the horrific creatures in his mythos in this story? Then I came to a realization, but more on that in a bit.

The confiscated idol was researched and was not found to be made of earthly origin and the subject and writings on the fetish, “belonged to something horribly remote and distinct from mankind as we know it…

Angell collected professors to view the idol and to see if anyone had any kind of insight as to what it was, or what it might mean. Unanimously they were at a loss … except for one man, Professor of Anthropology William Channing Webb. Years before while on an expedition in Greenland Webb came across a native tribe praying to some kind of idol very similar to this fetish. He said they were chanting:

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

Which roughly translates to: “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.

Excited, Legrasse tells his tale. His precinct knew of a place in the swamps of Louisiana where squatters and voodoo practitioners liked to occupy. They generally stayed clear of the “…black haunted woods where no dweller ventured...” but there were reports of women and children missing in the area, and speculation that a voodoo cult was behind it. They heard there was going to be a big voodoo meeting so Legrasse compiled a force of twenty policemen to head down to the swamps to break up this cult meeting. This group of cultists used the same chant as Professor Webb had heard in Greenland, but something horribly unique happened down in those swamps. In a natural glade, “...leaped and twisted a more indescribable horde of human abnormality than any but a Sime or an Angarola could paint.” These monstrous creatures danced around a “ring-shaped bonfire” which had an eight foot monolith in the center with the Cthulhu statuette on the top.

They captured a few of the cultists only to find that they were praying to their head priest Cthulhu.

What a minute. This took me a minute to compute. Cthulhu is only a priest? This is a creature so powerful and so corruptible that it has the capability of destroying the world… and it’s only a priest to a much higher being?

Then I realized this is what Cosmic Horror is all about. This is why Lovecraft doesn’t describe these beings very often, but that’s what also makes this story so memorable and powerful. We DO get to see Cthulhu here, and his visage is enough to drive men to death. Cthulhu is miles tall, nearly formless, but somehow has form of a terrible amalgamation of things which are at the roots of all fear. Just looking at a idol of him gives people the willies. But when we learn here that Cthulhu is just a mere priest it means that Cthulhu prays to beings which are epically more powerful than he is. It’s like the perspective of the universe seen from your living room. This story really strikes home the fact that we dont matter in the grand scheme of things. That there is so much more to the world than our minds could ever comprehend. Why doesn’t Lovecraft describe his Cosmic Monsters? It would be like trying to describe the scale of the universe to an agoraphobic infant.

This is what the narrator is slowly beginning to realize as he puts together the tale of Wilcox and Legrasse, and we can only wager that Angell guessed at the truth, because when he saw that (epithet redacted) sailor, the man mirrored the Cthulhu cultists so much that it made his heart stop in terror. At this point, we can only guess that, but things get so much deeper, so much more grand that our narrator will come to see the possible impact of what this creature is and the havoc these cultists could wreck upon the world.

Join me next week for the conclusion of “The Call of Cthulhu!”

Post Script:

Trypophobia? “The abnormal feeling of discomfort or revulsion at the sight of clustered holes or bumps?” That’s a real thing and it keeps coming up again and again in Lovecraft. Why do I bring it up here? Well the root of this phobia comes from strange things in nature. The images we see root down into our subconsciousness and inform our conscious mind. Are you scared of spiders? You probably suffer a little from this phobia. Think about their clusters of eyes. If you see a cluster of bumps or holes, your subconscious mind attributes this to a close up of the cluster of a spiders eye, and triggers that fear of spiders. Octopus? Their tentacles have suckers that look like clusters of holes or bumps. Again, this is something rooted into your subconsciousness. When Lovecraft describes Cthulhu as having tentacles, it isn’t the idea of a whip like beard that’s scary, I mean no one is truly scared of tails. It’s the suckers on those tentacles and what they could possibly do to you if they attach is which make the tentacles eerie. Lovecraft is tapping into those deeper fears, the fears of which we dont even realize that we have, which make his writing so effective.


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; History of the Necronomicon

Original title Al Azif – Azif being the word used by the Arabs to designate that nocturnal sound (made by insects) suppos’d to be the howling of daemons.

Welcome back for another Blind Read! This week I wanted to review one of the shorter stories because we’ve gone over so many long ones in the past month or two, but I was presented with something altogether different than what I expected.

I thought that since this was deemed a short story in the collection I have that it would actually have a narrative, but this is actually more of a “non-fiction” essay about the etymology and history of the Necronomicon through modern times (or at least the time of Lovecraft’s writing).

We find that the Text was written by “Abdul Alhazred, a mad poet of Sanna, In Yemen,” in 700 A.D. He wrote the book based upon the horrid learnings and all the terrible things he saw and experienced in “The ruins of Babylon and the subterranean secrets of Memphis,” then “spent ten years alone in the great southern desert of Arabia –” which was said “to be inhabited by protective evil spirits and monsters of death.

Alhazred was called mad, possibly for making an effort to pursue the mysteries of those horrors. In fact it seems as though he got so deep that he was “seized by an invisible monster in broad daylight and devoured horribly before a large number of fright-frozen witnesses.”

We found that “He was only an indifferent Moslem, worshipping unknown entities who he called Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu.” If he was worshipping these two we know from “At the Mountains of Madness,” that their main workers or slaves are the Shoggoth, which we know from “The Dunwich Horror” that those Shoggoth can be invisible and move around our world.

But because this is a history we gloss over this auspicious death and move on. We find that the Al Azif “was secretly translated into Greek by Theodorus Philetas of Constantinople under the title Necronomicon…” and for a century “it impelled certain experiments…” until it was suppressed. Then in 1228, two copies were translated into Latin; “both editions being without identifying marks, and located as to time and place by internal typographical evidence only.”

These texts were banned by Pope Gregory and they went away for hundreds of years, until the Greek copy “has been reported since the burning of certain Salem man’s library in 1692” (Read that as Curwen from “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward“).

Later an English translation was made but never printed, and only the original papers (which are strewn about the world) occasionally come up. The text tells us that there is a Latin translation at the British Museum “under lock and key” and another at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. Later editions could be found at the Widener Library in Harvard, Miskatonic University in Arkham, and the library of the University of “Buenos Ayres.”

This all makes sense. These are rare texts and you would imagine that they would be interred in these prestigious places. However, due to human nature, “Numerous other copies probably exist in secret, and a fifteenth-century one is persistently rumoured to form part of the collection of a celebrated American Millionaire. A still vague rumour credits the preservation of a sixteenth-century Greek text in the Salem family of Pickman;”

Original Spanish edition

I hadn’t truly realized how much this little story effected so much literature after the fact. Books like “The Club Dumas” by Arturo Perez Reverte (later made into the movie “The 9th Gate” with Johnny Depp), where we have collectors or antagonists searching out lost pieces of a nefarious book to complete research into a horrible other world. This kind of suspense or horror ties directly into these origins, and even if it isn’t specifically cosmic (“The Club Dumas” was about a Satanic cult) the themes are still there. The theme that we are smaller in the overall scheme of things than we realize. This theme creates anxiety and uneasiness in our minds and enables us to experience an existential dread without even beginning the story. The skill of the writing brings us even deeper because Lovecraft has some truly incredible atmospheric lines.

And one of the best line I’ve read in Lovecraft comes here: Reading leads to terrible consequences.

This line hits on so many levels.

First and foremost, the most obvious, is reading the book can cause a Shoggoth to come out and eat you (Like Alhazred). That would probably be pretty terrible. Yeah. That would suck.

Then there is also the other in-text meaning, of which so many of the characters in Lovecraft end up going crazy or being consumed by their analysis of the book (The irony is not lost on me that I dove straight into Lovecraft and have become consumed by his writing). This is the basis for all of those crazed billionaires seeking out the scattered lost pages of the Necronomicon to understand their larger meaning.

But what I take from this line, more than anything else is Lovecraft’s hidden meaning. It’s a double entendre that only becomes clear the more Lovecraft you read.

Reading leads to terrible consequences.

Yeah that’s a little tongue in cheek. Reading will give you a greater knowledge and show you vistas that you will never be able to experience. On top of that, Lovecraft wasn’t a huge fan of people and he thought most of the populace below him in intelligence quotient. So to him reading will make you more intelligent and bring you to a level above others. Then others will discourage you and disparage you because of your superiority (read nerdiness). Lovecraft believes that reading makes stupid people jealous, because they don’t understand it. What have we learned about human nature from the eyes of Lovecraft? That you try to understand it and it destroys you, or the people that dont understand you will try and destroy you. In either case, Reading leads to terrible consequences.

There is also the factor that the more you read you’ll get to experience places that you will never go. This is even more dangerous for an agoraphobe like Lovecraft because, naturally, he wants to see and experience different worlds and lands. The problem is his mental illness prohibits him from doing so because his anxiety prevails and skews his perspective to animosity. (think about his time living in Red Hook in New York).

So for all of you reading this now, beware… Reading leads to terrible consequences.

Post Scrip:

R. W. Chamber’s Classic

There is also a very interesting last line where Lovecraft says that R.W. Chambers derived his idea of The King in Yellow from the fictional Necronomicon. This almost seems like a dig at Chambers, but we have to remember that Lovecraft encouraged other authors to create works within the mythos, and the creation of Hastur, who now has become ubiquitous with Lovecraft was a pretty brilliant addition to the most infamous text in Lovecraft’s oeuvre.

Read along and join me next week in a discussion of “The Call of Cthulhu!”


By Any Means Necessary

Inspired by The Invisible Man, Universal Pictures 1933

I’d followed him here to a rundown flop house in the South Side of Chicago.  I don’t think I have to tell you, this is not the place I’d like to be after dark.  Then again the life of a private detective is never done.  At least my protégé, Malcolm, was with me.

                The tenement was just what you’d expect.  It was filthy, both of bodily fluid and dirt.  Stains covered the walls and strange ochre blotches littered the staircase.  We ascended to what I hoped was an easy snatch and grab arrest.

                We were after Dr. Jack Griffin.  A man once reported missing, but recently showed his face…well I guess I can’t say that, now can I?  He appeared, but his skin was covered in heavy duty bandages.  He announced himself as he robbed the bank.  Told everyone he was the illustrious Dr. Jack Griffin. 

                The guards chased him to the alleyway, but all they found was a trench coat, some shoes and socks, and a large swath of Ace bandages.

                So how do I know it was Dr. Griffin, you ask?  I took finger prints.  It was a slam dunk match.  I followed the trail here.  Through the years, I’ve found it’s better to sneak up on your prey, so I decided to come at night.  I regret that decision.

                “Keep your eyes peeled.  If you have to shoot, aim for the legs,” I told Malcolm.  I made sure my voice was lower than the creaks of the staircase.  No point in announcing our visit.

                He nodded in response.  Good lad, keeping quiet.

                We reached the room in question.  The door was ajar, so I held my hand out, indicating Malcolm should wait outside.  Be prepared in case Griffin tried to escape by way of the stairs.

                The room was a sight of horrors.  I dared not engage the lamp, because what I saw was enough.  It wasn’t a living space, but a laboratory.  There were cages lining the walls with dead rotting creatures, and the ones who were alive were so emaciated they might as well be dead.  Rats, dogs, rabbits, pigs, you name it.  The smell was unbearable.

                I slowly pressed the hammer back on my .38 special, wincing as it clicked into place.  I moved through the room past lab equipment and what I can only describe as an autopsy table – mid procedure.  I could swear that the temperature in this room was far cooler than it was in the hallway, but there was a notable absence of the monotonous drone of fans. 

                I observed a door with light emanating from behind it.  I creeped over to it, pausing only once when the floorboards creaked beneath me.  I was sweating profusely despite the cool temperature, the moisture ran down my forehead as I reached for the door handle to this door.  I gripped it tightly and took a deep, silent breath. 

                The door was ripped from my hands and swinging open, revealing a stark bedroom.  It had a single bed, upon which was the score from the bank.  I lifted my pistol, bracing it with my off hand, and swung it around the room.  I was sure Griffin opened the door and I was also sure he knew I was here. 

                But the room held nothing but the bed and the cash.

                I took a few steps in, my arms rigid, holding the gun aloft.  I bent at my waist and leading with the gun, peered beneath the bed.  Nothing.  I stood and looked back into the laboratory and saw what I could only describe as a figure running through the room. 

                “Griffin!  Show yourself!”  I yelled.  Sneaking was useless.  He knew we were there.

                I somehow lost him in the room and I was suddenly overcome with horrid nausea.  How could anyone live like this?

                “Get ready to die,” a voice whispered in my ear.  I could feel hot breath on my skin and I broke out in gooseflesh.

                I spun around, nearly firing my gun.  There was nothing.  I must have imagined it.

                “Fool,” That hot whisper assaulted my other ear.

                I twisted again, this time firing.  The bullet went through the wall out into the Chicago air.

                The door to the hallway burst open and I caught a glimpse of Malcolm as his expression turned to surprised horror.  I can’t explain what happened, but it look like he was pulled back, as though he were a vaudevillian actor being pulled off the stage by a hook.  Although, there was no backstage for Malcolm.  He went tumbling backwards down the staircase.  I heard him scream then I heard a crunch followed by silence.  I still could see nothing.

                “Show yourself you coward!”  I screamed.

                Laughter echoed through the room.  I feel that he was there with me and I have no idea how he was able to knock Malcolm down the stairs without me seeing.

                “I must continue my research.”

The whisper was directly behind me.  I felt his fingernails slide through my hair.

                I twisted, flailing blindly with my fists.  More laughter to my right.

                “I thought I was curing cancer.”

He bit my ear lobe.  I screamed and pulled away.  I felt violated.  Something as intimate as a bite.  How had he gotten so close?

                “But this is something so much more.”

                I felt a punch in my stomach.

                “So I must continue my research.”

                I looked down.  It was not a punch.  It was a knife.  I felt a hand cradle me but saw nothing.  I watched as it unlevered itself from my stomach and slammed home again and again into my torso.  The knife was moving of its own volition.  How was this possible?

                “By any means necessary.”

                I could see blood spill down the handle of the blade.  It covered what looked like a hand.  A towel flew up from the table next to my body, as my sight began fading to black.  It wiped the hand, and as the blood soaked the towel, the mystery hand it was wiping evaporated.  It was the last thing I saw.


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; Pickman’s Model

FUSELI: NIGHTMARE, 1781.

Any magazine-cover hack can splash paint around wildly and call it a nightmare or a Witches’ Sabbath or a portrait of the devil, but only a great painter can make such a thing really scare or ring true.

Welcome back for another Blind Read! This week we’re diving into Pickman’s Model; a singularly unique Lovecraft story. We get not only the classic Lovecraft tropes; Witchcraft, summons, and people going beyond their ken to gain power or knowledge, but we get some insight into the man himself and his personal tastes (hint, they’re just as weird as his writing is).

We know exactly how the story will end within the first few paragraphs, and yet, this is one of Lovecraft’s finest works (at least in my opinion). The previously mentioned themes of Lovecraft are in the background (though obviously present), and two facets of Lovecraft’s personality come through, the love of New England (specifically Boston) and his love of art. His prose transcends much of his normal exposition because he’s describing, what is in his opinion, high art. He isn’t only trying to create horrors, but he’s lifting up some of his favorite artists and some of his contemporaries. It reads as though he was having a blast writing, which some of the stories he wrote (I’m looking at you Herbert West – Reanimator) feel contrived.

The story is simple. We follow an art curator who had Richard Upton Pickman as a resident in his Art Club, to a gruesome conclusion. He begins the story by telling us “…I cant use the subway or go down into cellars anymore.” and that “Morbid art doesn’t shock me…” We know all of Pickman’s art is morbid because the narrator tells us that the only piece that wasn’t wholly grotesque, the one that people could actually palate, was the piece entitled “Ghoul Feeding” which was hung in the narrators Art Club.

The narrator goes to great pains to explain that “Pickman’s forte was faces.” and how he had “latent instincts” for “the proper colour contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness.

To give example the narrator says “…Fuseli really brings a shiver while a cheap ghost-story frontispiece merely makes us laugh.” because “There’s something those fellows catch – beyond life – that they’re able to make us catch for a second. Dore had it.

Gustave Dore “Satan in Council”

Indeed Dore was lauded as the most iconic realist artists of in his time. His black and white drawings had more depth of character of anything I’ve had ever seen either (I have “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Coleridge, illustrated by Dore and it is everything). His mostly religious vistas brought humanity to his angels and devils. Dore endeavored to show his audience that humanity could be all of these things. We were the angels. We were the devils. We were everything in between. We came to realize, through his art, that WE were better or worse than anything we could actually dream up.

Sidney Sime “Slid”

Then our narrator mentions Sime. Sidney Sime was a fantasist and a satirist who relied on his outrageous concepts to elicit emotion. Famously he partnered up with Lord Dunsany (is it any wonder that Lovecraft liked Sime?) to illustrate Dunsany’s “The Gods of Paegana.” Dunsany famously quoted “I tried to account for the Ocean and the Moon. I don’t know whether anyone has ever tried that before.” Dunsany is Lovecraft’s inspiration for stories like Dagon, and with images like “Slid” is it really any wonder?

Art is the centerpiece of this masterful story, but either because Lovecraft is channeling the art or because of it’s inspiration; we get some of the best, most atmospheric writing he’s done. While explaining that Pickman’s relatives were cast out of Salem in 1692 (we’ve heard that one before!), the narrator describes how they treaded through the North End:

When we did turn, it was to climb through the deserted length of the oldest and dirtiest alley I ever saw in my life, with crumbling – looking gables, broken small – paned windows, and archaic chimneys that stood out half-disintegrated against the moonlit sky. I don’t believe there were three houses in sight that hadn’t been standing in Cotton Mathers time – certainly I glimpsed at least two with an overhang, and once I thought I saw a peaked roof-line of the almost forgotten pre-gambrel type, though antiquarians tell us there are none left in Boston.”

This is a classic Lovecraft technique. We go from some normal vista to an area that is just a little off. Something that shouldn’t be possible. There’s nothing outwardly menacing about the neighborhood the narrator suddenly experiences, but the mention that “antiquarians tell us there are none left…” indicates that we have passed into another world, or we have transcended into an underworld where normal people don’t pass.

The narrator tells us again and again that he is not weak of heart, that he has seen horrible paintings, but “It was the faces…those horrible faces, that leered and slavered out of the canvas with the very breath of life!” He sets us up for the denouement when we finally reach Pickman’s vault.

Clark Ashton Smith “The Forbidden Barrier”

The vault is filled with paintings; “…the ones he couldn’t paint or even shew in Newbury Street…” The narrator tells us “There was none of the exotic technique you see in Sidney Sime, none of the trans-Saturnian landscapes and lunar fungi that Clark Ashton Smith uses to freeze the blood.” No, these were more hyper realistic than his public “Ghoul Feeding” painting that turned everyone’s blood. It seems that most of these paintings had a backdrop of Copp’s Hill burying ground, which had a number of figures who “…were seldom completely human, but often approached humanity in varying degree.” and “They were usually feeding.”

Our narrator is disgusted, but he allows Pickman to take him into the next area where things get even more atmospheric. We get depictions of art with creatures coming up from cracks and holes in the ground, and strange angles and spaces that should not be possible. Here again, Lovecraft is making an effort to seep into our subconscious without us ever knowing it. There is a very real fear called Trypophobia which states that people are scared of honeycombs or groups of regular holes (I wont scar anyone with pictures…but if you’re curious click here) . To envision hellish creatures coming from these holes is just one more way to make the reader feel ill at ease. It’s an atmospheric addition in which Lovecraft uses to perfection. Likewise his “strange geometry” which we’ve seen before as well. Remember back in “Dream in the Witch House” where the “sorcerer” used the strange geometry of the house to better conjure up horrors? Lovecraft is setting the scene for the climax. Building the tension, making the reader feel… off. The first step is setting the stage that Pickman is somehow odd and descended from witches. The next is heading into a place that even historians say doesn’t exist. The final step is giving the audience a glimpse of strange and off-putting artwork – artwork that’s hard to look at because it shouldn’t be possible. Art work that is too horrible to look at without screaming.

As we digest this, the narrator sees a camera. When asked, Pickman “…told me that he used it in taking scenes for backgrounds...” and our narrator sees a paper crumbled up next to a painting. He makes an effort to unravel it, when he is distracted by Pickman taking him deeper into his studio, so the narrator puts the crumpled paper into his pocket.

When they get into a bricked up room Pickman shows the narrator a work in progress so terrifying that it makes our narrator scream. This, right here, is what’s so wonderful of Lovecraft’s work. He’s painstakingly told us that Pickman had a horrible realism to his work. Then we get possible examples that are close, but not quite as terror inducing as anything Pickman had the ability to exude. We get a few examples of his lesser works as well, just to give the reader some dread as to what is coming – “The Lesson” about dog-like things that are teaching stolen children how to eat like them…”Subway Accident” which portrayed “a flock of vile things…clambering up from some unknown catacomb through a crack in the floor of the Boylston Street subway and attacking a crowd of people on the platform.” – also an unnamed drawing that depicted “a vast cross-section of Beacon Hill, with ant-like armies of the mephitic monsters squeezing themselves through burrows that honeycombed the ground.

All of this anticipation and then Lovecraft purposely keeps the description of the painting which finally puts the narrator over the edge because Lovecraft knows that whatever we’ve been building in our minds is far more terrifying than anything he could possibly put to page. Lovecraft does this time and again in his work, where he describes just enough to make the psyche of his reader take off and make of what they are reading that much worse.

The scream causes Pickman to start. He produces a revolver and ushers our narrator out of the room. He makes up an excuse that there’s a rat nest in the walls, but when he’s hidden from sight something more devious happens. Our narrator heard, “a sharp grating noise, a shouted gibberish from Pickman, and the deafening discharge of all six chambers of a revolver...”

That ends the narrators adventures with Pickman. He leaves to go home and is terribly off put by the realism of the paintings, the detail Pickman is able to get from the photos he takes for the backgrounds, the realistic faces Pickman is able to create out of nothing. But then, when he gets home, he feels the paper in his pocket. It isn’t a paper at all. It’s a photograph. A photograph of “the monstrous being he was painting on that awful canvas.”

And oh reader, “It was the model he was using – and it’s background was merely the wall of the cellar studio in minute detail…It was a photograph from life.

Join me next week as we tackle the infamous “History of the Necronomicon!”

Post Script:

There is another painting in Pickman’s vault which gives us and interesting peek into Lovecraft’s social landscape.

A scene in an unknown vault, where scores of beasts crowded about one who held a well-known Boston guide-book and was evidently reading aloud. All were pointing to a certain passage, and every face seemed so distorted with epileptic and reverberant laughter that I almost thought I heard the fiendish echoes. The title of the picture was “Holmes, Lowell, and Longfellow Lie Buried in Mount Auburn.”

This is a seeminly deviant view at first. It’s just demons looking at a…guidebook? But then we get answers when we get the title. Mount Auburn is a well known cemetery in Boston and it’s the main resting place for the Boston Brahmins (nomenclature penned by the doctor and writer Oliver Wendall Holmes…yes the same Holmes).

So why are the demons laughing at the guidebook? Well the Boston Brahmins are heavily associated with the Boston Aristocracy and Anglicism. Two things that Lovecraft railed against.

So what is Lovecraft saying here? The demons have a guidebook. The demons are looking for this place, because they are going to collect the Boston elite and religious, because, to Lovecraft, those two things are worse than being a murderer. The demons, using the guidebook, have finally found their way to the elite to procure thier pound of flesh. Death and the cemetery wont save them.

That right there is what’s so wonderful about Lovecraft. These little gems that you can extract, only if you look close enough, to the overall narrative.


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; Herbert West – Reanimator

celebrating the campy horror of Herbert West – Reaminator

It is uncommon to fire all six shots of a revolver with great suddenness when one would probably be sufficient, but many things in the life of Herbert West were uncommon.”

Welcome back for another Blind Read! We’re tackling Reanimator this week and yowza, there is a heck of a lot going on here in a story that is absolutely not a typical Lovecraftian story.

Lovecraft was commissioned to write an episodic tale, in which each segment was published subsequently in each issue of the magazine. I have to admit, that after reading the story I did a tiny bit of research into the story, because of how… well… unlike his other stories it was and found that Lovecraft himself called the process of writing for the magazine “manifestly inartistic” because of how the magazine editor wanted it structured. You can feel Lovecraft’s disdain as he writes the story and the further you get into it, there is an aspect of camp that can absolutely be considered Lovecraft’s subtle dig at how much he hated the project. Ironically that bit of camp invigorated film makers from (obviously) Stuart Gordon to Sam Raimi.

But we’ll get to all that soon. Let’s dive in, shall we?

We start the story with a very strange statement which sets up the unreliable narrator right off the bat: “Of Herbert West, who was my friend in college and in after life, I can speak only with extreme terror.”

Excuse me, what?

He was your friend in college and… in after life? Is the narrator trying to say that they are friends still after death, or does he just mean that they were friends after college? This is a strange statement because immediately after it we find that West disappears in a “sinister manner.” Lovecraft isn’t one to mince words like this… he tends to be vague, but very precise. So what is our narrator telling us here? Well we wont get the answer to that until the very last sentence of the story.

The narrator states that he can only speak of West in terror because of the “wonder and diabolism of his experiments…” and instantly we understand that West was enamored by the dual nature of life and death. West believes that there could be developed, a method to delay death, or “overcome it artificially” by a “calculated chemical reaction.

West immersed himself in these experiments during college using his home brew formulas on animals with varying levels of success, but “since the same solution never worked alike on different organic species, he would require human subjects for further and more specialised progress.”

Ridiculed by Miskatonic University staff and students, he is soon told that he cannot continue this line of study by their dean, “the learned and benevolent Dr. Allen Halsey.”

While the narrator describes this rejection from the Dean, we get our first philosophical rumination. “Holding with Haeckel that all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called ‘soul’ is a myth...” (We’ll talk more about Haeckel later) Relying on this thesis West looks for fresh human bodies in an effort to re-animate them. He knows that if the flesh deteriorates too much then the process wont work, so the two men (narrator and West) “followed the local death-notices like ghouls...” and moved out to a farm house for its remoteness. The idea being that they can grave rob and bring the bodies to the house without being seen.

It takes a while, but they finally procure a body with enough freshness so they try the formula. They wait far longer than they think they should and nothing happens. Disappointed, they move into the next room and continue to work, while “…from the pitch black room we had left there burst the most appalling and daemonic succession of cries that either of us had ever heard.”

The two men are so terrified by the ululations and the crashes of destruction coming from that room that they tear from the place and head home, only to hear the next day that the house burned down with nary a glimpse of their reanimated corpse.

And this is all in the first chapter.

There are one or two exceptions, but this first chapter reads like a standard Lovecraftian story. The descriptions, the prose, the tone, it could basically be all out of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, but then we move into the second chapter and find the story stalls.

From the first sentence we understand a plague of typhoid has devastated the town, and we rehash the theory behind the freshness of the bodies. We hear again from Dr. Halsey, who tells West in no uncertain terms that he must stop his research.

Then the story devolves for a page or so. From the perspective of the narrator we get into a rant about religion and ethics. He calls the “professor-doctor” type “the product of generations of puritanism...” and “whose worst real vice is timidity” with “…sins like Ptolemaism, Calvinism, anti-Darwinism, anti-Nietzscheism, and every sort of Sabbatarianism and sumptuary legislation.”

The narrator is railing against morals with an almost Ayn Rand fanaticism. You remember the scientist which we mentioned earlier? Haeckel? Without a doubt a brilliant man who created our classifications for families of living creatures (phylum, kingdom, etc,), BUT was a proponent of scientific racism and eugenics. Yeah, you heard that right. The man the narrator (and probably Lovecraft) is lauding as a genius, believes that there are scientific reasons why some races and creeds are better than others and that we should use eugenics to resolve the problem. You want to know who else got his main ideas from this man? Adolph Hitler. Also a German fanatic who was coming into power as this was being written. One has to wonder if the magazine Lovecraft was writing for had “specific leanings” and that’s why these elements are in this story and so prevalent (seriously, like the whole story), as opposed to his other stories. I wont mention it beyond this but there are some horribly racist things stated in the next chapter, worse than anything I’ve read in Lovecraft so far. Suffice it to say that there are some really interesting things in this story with plotting and style (and perhaps, just maybe, Lovecraft was using this hate as a device, but we’ll see that later), but if these themes are triggers IN ANY WAY, never read this story. It’s not even in the top 50% of Lovecraft anyway, and if it weren’t for the 1985 movie, I don’t think this story would have any historical longevity.

Whew! Sorry, had to leave that disclaimer. Anyway…

There’s a wake at the end of this chapter for Dr. Halsey (he died of typhoid) and West and the narrator tie one on, “making a night of it” and are seen later, after midnight, walking home with a third man in their arms. There’s a kerfluffel in West’s boarding room that night and when the landlord comes to investigate, they find West and the narrator bloodied and the window broken.

There’s a trail of blood and “remnants of bodies left behind...” There is even evidence of these bodies being chewed on. The police follow the trail until they find the fiend, who bears a startling resemblance to Dr. Halsey. The beast is captured and put into Arkham Asylum and the two heroes take a breath of relief as the chapter ends. But before it does, we get the first evidence of camp that will carry through to the 1985 movie.

Stuart Gordon’s 1985 campy masterpiece.

To conclude the chapter West says: “Damn it, it wasn’t quite fresh enough!” Queue slight chuckle and eye roll.

The third chapter begins with the quote from the start of this essay and we spend over half of this chapter re-hashing the previous two. Then West and the narrator, because they are doctors, are asked to oversee an illegal boxing match. One of the pugilists is knocked unconscious and West declares him dead. They take the man and inject him with the formula, hoping that he is recently dead enough for it to work, but the man comes back as a monster, raging at them, and West puts it down with his revolver.

The next chapter is interesting if only because the prose is so simplistic as opposed to the majority of Lovecraft, and the plot so kooky, that it really feels as though Lovecraft is mentally done with the project, as if the only reason he is continuing it is for the money.

Three quarters of the chapter re-hashes the previous ones, until a travelling salesman comes around and “suddenly dies” on West’s porch. West uses the formula on him and when the man re-animates. We understand that West killed him because of his statement when he revives: “Help! Keep off, you cursed little tow-head fiend – keep that damned needle away from me!”

Then suddenly because WWI is going on, West decides he needs to go to the battle front to get fresh body parts to see if he can reanimate them. Some of the most atmospheric writing comes here and there is a bit more waxing poetic on the idea of the soul versus the mechanics of the body, but there isn’t much more to go on. The reader can feel Lovecraft’s disdain for the project bleeding through the text.

Then finally we get the last chapter where we get more re-hashing and a Halloween haunted house moment where one of the reanimated creatures is wearing a wax mask (check the very last quote in this essay). This triggers a campy moment where all the creatures West has reanimated come back and break through a plaster wall. The creatures are apparently angry at West for reanimating them so they “tore him to pieces before my eyes, bearing the fragments away into that subterranean vault of fabulous abominations.”

Servants find the narrator unconscious the next morning with West gone and an “unbroken plaster wall.” The servants state he was either mad or a murderer, and we get the last line which brings it all together: “But I might not be mad if those accursed tomb-legions had not been so silent.”

I sat for quite some time after reading this last line. He might not be mad if they had not been so silent. Meaning that he was mad as a hatter the entire time, and everything that we’ve experienced through his eyes were the ramblings of a potentially very dangerous madman. The perspectives on race, religion, science versus the soul, and all that malarkey that we spiraled into, was really just a madman capable of murder and probably much worse. Lovecraft is saying “nope, that was all from a crazy person, so you shouldn’t actually believe any of it.”

Don’t believe me? Lovecraft left us clues.

Remember the first line we talked about earlier? About how the narrator knows West “After Life?” The narrator tells us all along that West is the one reanimating everyone. West is the one killing people. But if the narrator knows West “after life,” then that means that he has killed West and reanimated him, making the narrator the real monster here, not West. In fact because of the unreliable narrator form, the entire story is subject to speculation, because it was probably the narrator who had been doing all the killing and reanimating all along.

We also know that from the very beginning the that West is missing. But in the last paragraph the narrator tells us that West was torn limb from limb. Throughout the story there are contradictions like this. For example: The narrator is a doctor but he doesn’t understand that Jewish, black, and white people (the only examples he gave) have the same internal organs.

There is also the fact that when they went to war and got to see the battle fields, the narrator, as a doctor felt that “Some of these things made me faint, others have convulsed me with devastating nausea, while others have made me tremble...” Really. You’re a field doctor who has killed creatures you brought back to life, done autopsies, looked at desiccated and chewed on corpses without a second thought… but a battlefield makes you faint. I at first thought this was a failing of the writing, but now because of other evidence I think it was a stylistic, unreliable narrator choice.

Throughout the story the narrator lovingly says that West, is “…a calm, blonde, blue-eyed scientific automaton...”, like, multiple times (I think I counted four times). In this exact same way. Yet we have a character call West a toe-head, a slang debasement for a blonde white person. It was odd at first that there would be a slang word against a white person in this story given the hate speech toward others, but what I realized is that the hate speech all came from the narrator, and the other characters in the story (Dr. Halsey, this salesman for example) didn’t hold these same views and railed against what the narrator thought. Those horrible racist, classist, and bigamous statements were from the perspective was an extremist insane psychotic.

The largest evidence of this? This story is too campy, too simplistic, too direct to be a serious Lovecraft story. I’ve spent the better part of two years reading and analyzing his work and I’ve not come across anything like this story. This was a very specific idea that was written for a very specific audience and he got paid $5 a chapter to do it. I get the feeling that he was asked to make it this direct, so the subversion of expectations was his way of sticking his middle finger to the proprietor and the audience.

Join me and read along as we cover “Pickman’s Model” next week!

Postscript:

I’ve stated that the prose in this story is much more simple than most Lovecraft (admittedly making it more accessible to a larger audience), but there were a few moments of brilliance here and there. My favorite examples are as follows:

A touch of colour came to cheeks hitherto chalk-white, and spread out under the curiously ample stubble of sandy beard. West, who had his hand on the pulse of the left wrist, suddenly nodded significantly; and almost simultaneously a mist appeared on the mirror inclined above the body’s mouth.

In a dark corner of the laboratory, over a queer incubating burner, he kept a large covered vat full of this reptilian cell-matter; which multiplied and grew puffily and hideously.”

I can still see Herbert West under the sinister electric light as he injected his reanimating solution into the arm of the headless body.”

His expressionless face was handsome to the point of radiant beauty, but had shocked the superintendent when the hall light fell on it – for it was a wax face with eyes of painted glass.”


By the Light of the Moon

Based on The Wolf Man Universal Studios 1941

AAARRRRROOOOOO

                “It’s alright Claude, it’s just the wind,” Larry Talbot told his son.  Larry was your typical heartthrob.  He dressed like Carey Grant and looked like Marlon Brando.  Claude was eight going on forty and scared of everything.  That was part of the reason Larry brought him out to the woods.  He wanted to expand his son’s horizons.

                “That sure didn’t sound like no wind, I ever heard of,” Evelyn Ankers said.  She was gorgeous, a perfect blonde bombshell, but the only reason she was there in the cabin was to gain notoriety.  She had been invited for the weekend, free of charge, if she would only tell her famous Hollywood friends about how wonderful it was up here.

                “Max,” Gwen prompted her husband.  “Max, would you go out and check on that?  Our guests want be comfortable here after all.”

                “Of course, mother,” Max responded.  Max was an old man with only one leg.  His hair was long, stringy, and gray, and his clothes were tattered and torn.  He was one of those old men who called their wives mother as a term of endearment.

                Max waddled out of the door, rifle in hand, and winked at his guests before closing the door.

                “You see Claude?  Nothing to worry about!”  Larry said.

                He got up and walked over to the window, excited to see what the one legged older mountain man could do with that rifle.  He cupped his hands around his eyes to cut the glare and pressed his face to the window.

                “What do you see out there, Larry?”  Evelyn asked.  She held her hands prim in her lap, but there was an eager look to her eyes as she stared at Larry.

                “Why, it’s just darkness and snow!”  Larry turned and winked at Evelyn before turning to his son.  “You see Claude?  It was just the wind after all!”

                Just then the window exploded inward, glass flying into the room.  Larry instinctually covered his head as a huge wolf snapped at him, it’s teeth tearing a mouthful from his shoulder.

                Larry screamed and twisted.  He lashed out with his fist, landing a roundhouse blow to the Wolf’s snout.  The snarling beast disappeared out of the window and Larry collapsed onto the ground.

                “Everyone get away from the window!”  Larry cried, but a moment later a rifle blast echoed through the night.

                Claude and Evelyn sat in shock as Larry crawled over to them.

                “That must have been Max, shooting the beast.  I think we’re safe now, let’s just stay away from the window,” Larry said.

                “Dada, I’m scared!”  Claude cried.

                “Oh my god, are you ok?” Evelyn asked.  She hugged him, and held his head to her shoulder.  Larry let her.

                “I’m alright, it’s just a scratch!  Nothing a bandage wouldn’t fix!”  Larry said, projecting masculinity.

                “You were bit, weren’t you?”  Gwen asked.  Her thick Romani accent commanded attention.

                “Well, yeah.  Yeah he did,” Larry responded.  A brief moment of panic touched his words, before he caught it and stabilized.

                “Then you are beyond help,”  Gwen said.

                “Dad?” Claude’s voice was small.

                “Now you wait just a minute!  What do you mean scaring my kid like that?”  Larry scolded.

                “Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night.  May become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright,” Gwen said.

                “Now, what in blazes is that supposed to mean?”  Larry said. He stood and loomed over Gwen.

                “You were bitten by a werewolf Mr. Talbot, and tonight is a full moon,” Gwen said.  She held up a bundle of herbs in Larry’s face.  He twisted away crying out.

                “Uhhh!  Those smell terrible!  What is that?” Larry cried.

                “It is too late for all of you,” Gwen said and threw the bundle out of the window.  “You should not have come.”

                “Now wait just a minute,” Evelyn cried.  “a Werewolf?  Why, there’s no such thing!”

                “Claude!” Larry cried.  He was hunched over, holding his stomach.

                “Dada?”

                “Larry are you alright?”  Evelyn asked.  She didn’t notice the click of the kitchen door, nor the thwack of the dead lock as it slid into place, as Gwen disappeared.

                “Get Claude out of here!”  Larry cried and fell to all fours.  His fingernails began to grow into sharp points, and he howled in pain as his mouth elongated and new teeth pushed through his gums.

                “Dada?”  Claude cried.

                “Larry?”  Evelyn asked, hugging Claude to her.

                “It’s too late!” Larry’s voice was more of a growl than speech.

                He turned and looked out the window.  There above the trees was the moon.  Full, bright, and yellow.  In the distance a wolf bayed and Larry responded.

                He felt joints pop into place, and his tongue flicked out of his snout and licked his chops.  He hadn’t eaten in quite some time and there were two morsels right in front of him.


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Dunwich Horror

Dr. Armitage, associating what he was reading with what he had heard of Dunwich and it’s brooding presences, and of Wilbur Whateley and his dim, hideous aura that stretched from a dubious birth to a cloud of probable matricide, felt a wave of fright as tangible as a draught of the tomb’s cold clamminess.

Welcome back for another Blind Read! The week we’re diving into one of the creepier, lugubrious, and plodding stories to date – The Dunwich Horror (check pronunciation notes in the post script!).

Lovecraft intersperses some interesting socio-political factors into this, one of his more visceral tales, all the while giving some first hand looks at what some of these cosmic creatures look like – breaking from his standard of building fear by occluding our sight of these terrible creatures. The story is slow developing, but there’s more in this story to build the Mythos than any other story I’ve read from him.

That being said, let’s dive in shall we?

Despite the fact that we divert from Lovecraft’s held tenet of showing his creatures, we begin the story with an old standby, an introductory chapter to set the stage and atmosphere of Dunwich. Lovecraft leans into his overbearing descriptions in an effort to make sure the reader understands the place; “Without knowing why, one hesitates to ask directions from the gnarled, solitary figures spied now and then on crumbling doorsteps or on sloping, rock-strewn meadows…” and “It is not reassuring to see, on a closer glance, that most of the houses are deserted and falling to ruin, and that the broken-steepled church now harbours the one slovenly mercantile establishment of the hamlet.” In fact the town has “…gone far along the path of retrogression…” that “They have come to form a race by themselves, with the well-defined mental and physical stigmata of degeneracy and inbreeding.”

“The Hills Have Eyes” is a 1977 Wes Craven film about a group of cannibals who are deformed by radiation

We’re shown a run down shambles of a town with all the quaint elegance of “The Hills Have Eyes.” But that’s what sets this story apart from his other works. Much of Lovecraft has affluent characters, using their influence and money to dive down into these rabbit holes of terror. The Dunwich Horror is the opposite, it has backwater folks living in the abandoned hills of New England experiencing the insidious horror.

The saddest aspect of this comes in the first chapter of the story: “The old gentry, representing the two or three armigerous families which came from Salem in 1692…” and though they “…have kept somewhat above the general level of decay…” they themselves have degenerated. This is not “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” where we get to gallivant around the globe researching and finding clues to the highest peaks of godhood. No. This is the story of the underside. This is the story of people who had the knowledge (they came from Salem, just like Curwen did in that story) of cosmic wonder, and let it degrade into something foul. I’d wager that’s why we get to see a bit of the creature here…Lovecraft wanted to solidify how dirty, how incredibly unclean this place really was.

But that also raises that sociological aspect I mentioned earlier. Throughout this story Lovecraft is disparaging to the townsfolk. Their speech is degraded, their hygiene is terrible (“Dunwich folk have never been remarkable for olfactory immaculateness.“), and their living situations are deplorable. They cant even solve their own problems, they need to get help from the more affluent Arkham people. The whole book almost feels like Lovecraft is saying ‘this is what happens when you live in poverty. You stop caring and you devolve.’ The deceit here is that it doesn’t matter what your fiscal situation is, in Lovecraft, there will always be some fanatic who delves into the unknown and causes unrest.

But I digress. Back to the story!

We are introduced to the Whateley clan, more specifically the “goatish looking” infant Wilbur Whateley, his albino mother Lavinia, and Old Whateley, who are all inbred and have odd looks with no chins. Lavinia gave birth to Wilbur without anyone knowing his parentage, many speculating inbreeding because he was “exceedingly ugly despite his appearance of brilliancy; there being something almost goatish or animalistic about his thick lips, large-pored, yellowish skin, coarse crinkly hair, and oddly elongated ears.

Wilbur grows at preternatural rates; walking at 8 months, talking at 11 months, reading the tomes of Old Whateley at the age of a year and seven months, and by the time he was four and a half years old he already looked 15.

This is where the slog hits in the story, where page after page goes by with familiar themes and normal Lovecraft happenings. We find sores on Old Whateley and Lavinia, cattle are sent to the house frequently, paid for with gold of an extremely ancient date (who even accepted it as a form of payment?), evidence of vampirism, strange odors no one is able to recognize, and odd rituals on May-eve and All-Hallows up on Sentinel Hill led by Old Whateley amongst strange rock formations and a rock altar. Old Whateley and Wilbur re-build the house, to make the inside space larger, and to give it some of the same strange architecture as can be found on the hill. These are all integral to the story and all instances which come up in Lovecraft again and again.

Then one day Old Whateley dies and tells Wilber, “Open up the gates to Yog-Sothoth with the long chant that ye’ll find on page 751 of the complete edition…

Wilbur heads to Miskatonic University library to search out The Necronomicon as the Old Whateley’s volume is not complete. He seems to get the information he needs and heads back home. That Halloween there is some kind of kerfluffle and his mother is never seen again.

Dr. Armitage of nearby Arkham hears of Wilbur’s visit and looks over his shoulder at page 751 translated. Here we get more information about the Old Ones than we’ve gotten in nearly all of Lovecraft, and all in one page (It’s so provocative that I’ll set a link here for you to read it, but it’s so long that it will just take up too much space, so you may read it…at your own peril!). That page of the Necronomicon leads directly into the opening quote for this essay.

There is also another interesting connection with other Lovecraft here, and that’s “Facts concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family“, where Wilbur’s movement is considered “Gorilla like” along with his “albino mother,” and if you’ll remember the story a princess was pulled from a temple in the jungle and it was found out that she was basically an albino gorillaesk figure. Could it be that this is what happens to people as they take on aspects of the Old Ones? Did at one point in our evolution, we humans diverted from the cosmic skein while our hominid ancestors were closer to those outer deities? Something to ponder.

The Great God Pan was an inspiration for Lovecraft to write The Dunwich Horror, and has echoes of similar story lines.

Armitage makes a crack that inbreeding could not have caused the physical features displayed by Wilbur, “Shew them Arthur Machen’s Great God Pan and they’ll think it a common Dunwich scandal!” Armitage already knows something is amiss.

Later that year Armitage, along with two fellow compatriots hear a dog howl and smell the horrible odor connected to the cosmos. They find a dog had jumped through the window and killed Wilbur Whateley, though this was not the Wilbur Whateley everyone had known…”...with very man-like hands and head, and the goatish, chinless face had the stamp of the Whateley’s upon it…though it’s chest…had leathery, reticulated hide of a crocodile or alligator. The back was piebald with yellow and black, and dimly suggested the squamous covering of certain snakes. Below the waist, though, it was the worst; for here all human resemblance left off and sheer phantasy began. The skin was thickly covered with coarse black fur, and from the abdomen a score of long greenish-grey tentacles with red sucking mouths protruded limply…whilst in lieu of a tail there depended a kind of trunk or feeler with purple annular markings…

Yikes!

Strange things begin to happen in Dunwich and they all seem to surround a large invisible creature who is destroying houses and killing people. Armitage delves into research to figure out how to dispel the creature and comes across the “Dho-Hna” formula and a singular terrible phrase written in Wilbur’s crooked scrawl: “I wonder how I shall look when the earth is cleared and there are no earth beings on it.”

Double yikes!

Wilbur obviously began his transformation into some sort of cosmic avatar, whether that be the servant Shoggoth, or something else, he was actively looking to wipe the earth clear of humanity. From everything I’ve read in Lovecraft thus far, this is the first instance where it is absolutely clear the destruction of the human race is the point of the fanatic study. Usually it is just a lust for power or eternal life or knowledge beyond what they should be able to understand.

Dr. Armitage, along with Professor Rice and Dr. Morgan head to Sentinal Hill with a special sprayer which will show the invisible creature (clever if trite plot device). Again we are shown a description. Lovecraft does a fairly good job at this though, because he just throws out a few vague discordant descriptors and lets our mind construct the monstrosity. It is readily apparent that the invisible monster is a Shoggoth. Here it is in clear terms from one of the villagers:

Bigger’n a barn…all made o’ squirmin’ ropes…hull thing sort o’ shaped like a hen’s egg bigger’n anything, with dozens o’ legs like hogsheads that haff shut up when they step…nothin’ solid abaout it – all like jelly, an’ made o’ sep’rit wrigglin’ ropes pushed clost together…great bulgin’ eyes all over it…ten or twenty maouths or trunks a-stickin’ aout all along the sides, big as stovepipes, an’ all a-tossin’ an’ openin’ an’ shuttin’…all grey, with kinder blue or purple rings…an’Gawd in heaven – that haff face on top!…

I find this description particularly interesting, not only because we finally get to see what a Shoggoth looks like (It was a terrible, indescribable thing vaster than any subway train—a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down upon us, crushing the frantic penguins and slithering over the glistening floor that it and its kind had swept so evilly free of all litter. – description of a Shoggoth from “At the Mountains of Madness”) with a bit more clarity, no the more intriguing thing here is that section about a ‘half face.’

The Shoggoths are the work horses of the Old Ones (Like the actual workers. They tend to whatever the Old Ones need. Do the dirty work as it were.) and this story seems to be indicating that humans can become Shoggoth, and all they need to do is breed with them…

The story concludes with the trio from Arkham banishing the Shoggoth creature to whence it came. This would probably be a satisfactory conclusion, but Lovecraft takes it a step further. In the last paragraph we find the truth of where the creature came from. This entire story, the Whateley’s were building bigger and bigger spaces. It was unclear as to why, just a vague mention by Old Whateley on his death bed: “More space, Willy, more space soon. Yew grows – an’ that grows faster.”

But oh god, the creature had half a face. “That face with the red eyes an’ crinkly albino hair, an’ no chin, like the Whateleys...”

Remember that Wilbur grew at an abnormal pace? This was because of his connection with the cosmic deities. Why would the Shoggoth grow at the same pace? We finally see that this monster was not something Wilbur or his grandpappy summoned. Lavinia gave birth to Wilbur and the no one knew who the father was, well it turns out that the monster “…was his twin brother, but it looked more like the father than he did.”

One only has to wonder…did Old Whateley willingly give up Lavinia to birth cosmic deities?

Triple Yikes!

Join me next week as we jump into Herbert West – Reanimator!

Post Script:

Here’s just a fun rejoinder about the pronunciation of Dunwich.

My brother and his family live in Providence, RI and he is adamant that the real pronunciation of Dunwich is Dunnich. Because RI was a colony they took on the English pronunciation and that’s what is used today (Hence Greenwich village is pronounced Grennich village. What’s interesting in this story is that Lovecraft goes to far lengths to use onomatopoeia to make the speech of the villagers precise to their dialect. He does this to the point that some of it is neigh on impossible to read because he focuses so much on pronunciation to show their destitution. I mention this because there’s one instance where a villager, in dialogue, calls the town Dunwich. Therefore we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it is the Dunwich Horror, not the Dunnich Horror.


Necronomicon Notes

Page 751 of The Necronomicon:

“Nor is it to be thought,” ran the text as Armitage mentally translated it, “that man is either the oldest or the last of earth’s masters, or that the common bulk of like and substance walks alone. The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and the guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They have trod earth’s fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread. By their smell can men sometimes know Them near, but of Their semblance can no man know, saving only in the features of those They have begotten on mankind; and of those are there many sorts, differing in likeness from man’s truest eidolon to that shape without sight or substance which is Them. They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness. They bend the forest and crush the city, yet may not forest or city behold the hand that smites. Kadath in the cold waste hath known Them, and what man knows Kadath? The Ice desert of the South and the sunken isles of Ocean hold stones whereon Their seal is engraven, but who hath seen the deep frozen city or the sealed tower long garlanded with seaweed and barnacles? Great Cthulhu is Their cousin, yet can he spy Them only dimly. Ia! Shub-Niggurath! As a foulness shall ye know Them. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold. Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, and after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again.


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Colour out of Space

All the while the shaft of phosphorescence from the well was getting brighter and brighter, bringing to the minds of the huddled men a sense of doom and abnormality which far outraced any image their conscious minds could form.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! I’ve been thinking about this story for quite some time because of the recent Nicholas Cage movie (of which I’ve not watched. I wanted to have a fresh vision of what the story was without any preconceived noise in my head). Lovecraft didn’t disappoint because where there is a nice celestial feel to the story, it is decidedly different from just about every Lovecraft story I’ve read (and at this point I’ve read quite a bit!). This story has an interesting facet that adds to the malevolence of the elder gods. In pretty much every other Lovecraft story there is some kind of bad actor who is making an effort to bring about these older gods (even a story like The Shadow Over Innsmouth, because cultists brought Dagon forth), but in this story everything that happens is far outside of any of the characters desires or abilities to stop it; showing how devastating the pantheon can be to us who are bound to the mortal coil.

But we’ll get into that in a minute, let’s jump into the story shall we?

We start, much like all Lovecraft does: with an old man telling a story to a younger narrator. The old man, Ammi Pierce, told of strange happenings west of Arkham, Massachusetts where “The hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut.”

The point of the visit for our narrator is he is scouting out a place where they want to create a new reservoir, a place where the people of Arkham told him “the place was evil…” He assumes because Arkham “is a very old town full of witch legends…”

The place they were referring to was specifically a place called the “Blasted Heath”. When our narrator gets to the location he looks upon the Blasted Heath and offers a curious perspective: It must, I thought as I viewed it, to be the outcome of a great fire; but why had nothing new ever grown over those five acres of grey desolation that sprawled open to the sky like a great spot eaten by acid in the woods and fields?

Lovecraft wrote this novellette in the late 20’s and one cant ignore the similarities to the descriptions of the blasted heath in the story with the Tunguska event in Siberia in 1908. The Tunguska event is still argued over, but the foremost thought is that a meteor hit the earth in Siberia, creating massive devastation which resulted in something similar to the “Blasted Heath”, while also producing an earthquake and so much radioactivity, that (I didn’t do any research into this, but I’m pretty sure this is true) it will still make a Geiger counter go crazy…over a hundred years later. I seriously wonder how much of Lovecraft’s full line of fiction came from this idea. A meteor came down from the heavens with a piece of eldritch godhood and created all the disturbance we see in his fictional Massachusetts. Disturbances of an accord, just like radioactivity would cause mutations, death, and strange visions. This might be something to keep in the back of your mind as we delve deeper into this story.

Our narrator is spooked and heads back to the village and speaks with old Ammi about what happened there. Ammi tells the story of the colour out of space which may indicate why the people of Arkham and the surrounding environs tended to be a locus for such otherworldly influence, but we’ll touch on this again at the conclusion.

Ammi tells us of Nahum Gardner, who was a farmer who had “fertile gardens and orchards”, until a meteor fell from the sky and landed down in the middle of his land. It immediately shrinks and Nahum and his family take a specimen to nearby Miskatonic University to figure out what it is. The professors at first thought it was a silicon, or plastic of some sort, but “when upon heating before the spectroscope it displayed shining bands unlike any known colors of normal spectrum...” The professors tell him that it is metal without a doubt , but they think that it’s from some unknown source, or it’s a brand new element.

They pry the metal open and inside “They had uncovered what seemed to be the side of a large coloured globule imbedded in the substance.” They take the globule out of the metal and put it in a beaker, but the next day the globule and the beaker are gone, replacing them is a burn mark on the counter.

Nahum goes home and finds in the next couple of weeks that the fruit and veggies are of a similar strange “colour” and larger than normal size. The crop seemed to be flourishing, but whenever he took a bite he found that, “for of all that gorgeous array of specious lusciousness not a single jot was fit to eat.”

Animals started acting strangely shortly there after. They seemed to mutate and do things they weren’t normally wont to do.

There are two strange phenomena going on here. The first is the fact that the meteor shrinks, and the second is that the produce grows. Why wouldn’t they both grow? Why wouldn’t they both shrink? The answers come just a few months later when Nahum’s crops begin to turn to grey dust, just as Nahum’s family begins to act strangely.

Nahum locks his wife in the attic because she begins to rant and seems to lose her mind. In her words; “she was being drained of something – something was fastening itself on her that ought not to be…nothing was ever still in the night – the walls and windows shifted.”

Nahum’s children also go either missing or die. Ammi tells Nahum that something is off in their well water, but Nahum tells Ammi he wont stop drinking from it. The animals die with “grey dust” in thier heads, along with the land dying in larger and larger circles emanating out from the well. Even the insects began to turn to grey dust.

Nahum’s littlest even “…Fancied they (his mother and brother) talked in some terrible language that was not of this earth.”

While all this was happening Ammi paid a visit to Nahum. He found a grey looking Nahum, barely able to move spouting nonsense before he eventually died.

The grey circle continued to expand until one day there was an explosion and a flash of that otherworldly “colour” blasted out into space, which we see in the opening quote.

After this explosion Ammi, tells the narrator, there is still some of that strange colour left in the well. The grey area of the blasted heath is also still expanding, though slower. These are all indications that something is still there, however nothing else ever happened.

The story ends as the narrator speculates that when they created the reservoir and covered those lands with water, that Ammi never left. He recalled something the old man said to him, which Nahum told Ammi…”can’t git away…draws ye…ye know summ’at’s comin’, but ’tain’t no use…

Huh. Let’s go back to the beginning of the story, shall we? We know that “The old folk have gone away, and foreigners do not like to live there.” We also know that Arkham (which is in Massachusetts) is “a very old town of witch legends.”

(Note: this is theory! Not that these essays are based on the first time I’ve read these stories. I am trying to get the most out of them, but if I get something wrong please let me know! Otherwise we can discuss it!)

This story was written during one of the most prolific time periods of his life. What if this was supposed to be the origin of his Providence Yog-Sothothery? There are two basic tenants in the Mythos from what I understand. There are the Gods that have home on the earth (Cthulhu, looking at you), then there are the Cosmic gods.

The Gods of the earth have the history. Mad Alhazred wrote down eldritch truths in the Necronomicon, and the Pnakotic manuscripts are even before that, but those seem to be necromantic tomes with only partial notation of their elders (like in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, where they use Yog-Sothoth {Cthulhu’s grandfather) in ritual, but only to gain an aspect of his power latent in the earth with Chthulhu.

The Cosmic gods are what we only see in the dreamlands, because they are so far removed from earth that the only way to get to them is by dreaming (Azathoth, etc.). I believe that this story is these cosmic gods coming down to earth to take a piece of our consciousness and see where we are at in our evolution. The reason for this theory goes back to why the globule shrank in the metal and grew the harvest.

The material of the gods (the globule) needed to feed, but it was also looking for information. It was hungry and got no food, and thus would shrink until it fed. When it got into other things it shone through them. Temporarily expanding them (with it’s own girth) until it sucked all knowledge and life from it’s host, turning that life into grey ash (remember in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward when they used Grey Ash as “Saltes” in a ritual to bring back old knowledge?).

When something with intelligence got the substance in them, it exposed them to the cosmic wonder of the universe, “It was nothing of this earth, but a piece of the great outside; and as such dowered with outside properties and obedient to outside laws.”

That’s why all the animals and people went crazy, because they saw beyond what the mortal mind can comprehend outside of dreams. So far that it enabled them to speak different languages and see far away sights. It opened a doorway between worlds, because as it was letting Nahum and his family see the eldritch truth, it was looking into our world at the same time. Once it gained what it was looking for it closed the door, ate the life out of the creature and moved on.

This is also why people couldn’t leave. The human mind is inherently inquisitive, (i.e. people running towards danger…tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, murderers…you get the idea) because we want to understand. We’ve talked about this many times before and this is where the horror of Lovecraft comes in, because no matter how much we want to be able to put everything in a nice neat box to reduce our fear of them, there are things in this world that we can’t possibly understand, in fact aren’t meant to understand.

Come back next week as we cover another Lovecraft classic “The Dunwich Horror!”


The Hargrave Collection, by Max D. Stanton

“Paying for college destroyed me. Lots of people can say that, but few of them mean it like I do. My debts led me to madness, murder, and Hell.” Max D. Stanton, “The Hargrave Collection” “Your catalogue of hellish and forbidden books sounds highly impressive, and the very names make me shudder. Of only one […]

The Hargrave Collection, by Max D. Stanton

First Impressions and Here Be Monsters – LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some are already declaring Lovecraft Country as ‘this years Watchmen‘, but this feels hyperbolic to a degree. Watchmen was an immediate shock to the system. Lovecraft Country will, hopefully, slow build its way to a piece of cathartic theatre. Based on a 2016 pulp novel by Matt Ruff, the show adapted by Misha Green begins…

First Impressions and Here Be Monsters – LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Beautiful

Based on Dracula Universal Studios 1931

“There’s someone at the window!  Please God, there’s someone at the window!”  She was thrashing in her bed when I got into the room.  My beautiful, gentle fiancée.  She had been so sick the last few days, and now it seemed as though the fever was transitioning into hallucinations. 

“My love!  There’s nothing at the window but a tree branch!  Look!  I will open it for you,” I didn’t know what to do.  My friends were in the drawing room.  I’m sure they were nervous and abashed at the noises coming from my dear loved one’s bed chambers, but there was nothing I could do about that.  I had to just worry about my poor sick fiancée.

“NO!  Stay clear of the window!  I saw him!  He was so pale, and terrible.  His eyes were red, he looked at me, Jonathan.  He looked right into me.  I felt his gaze to my core.  I feel so very cold!” 

She was raving.   I knew it to be nothing but fever dreams.  I could clearly see there was nothing at the window.  It was cold and windy though, and I thought maybe it would be wrong of me to introduce a chill into the room of someone so sick, by opening the window.

“Jonathan,” My friend Quincey called from the doorway.

He was a gruff man, but his demeanor was gentle towards me, almost apologetic.  I could tell in his face that he didn’t expect my love to live through this terrible sickness.

“BEHIND HIM!”  She screamed form the bed.  She held up a pale emaciated hand that looked more like a claw, and pointed at my friend.  “MY GOD, THE TEETH!”

“Shhhhhh,” I said and stroked her hair.  I felt tears well in my eyes, so I bent and kissed her hot forehead in an effort to hide my emotion.

“Sorry for intruding,” Quincey said.  “But I called the doctor earlier.  I know you said not to, but well, I couldn’t stand to sit by and do nothing.  He’s here now and would like to see her.”

“Alright,” I wanted to berate him.  Mina had such a terrible fear of doctors.  I held my tongue.  I knew what he had done was right.

“Please, let me through,” A gruff voice said.

“You see, my love?  It was just the doctor.  That was who was behind Quincey,” I said to her.


Her eyes flittered back to the window, wide with horror.  She pointed to the window.  My lord, her nails were so long and ragged.  How had I not noticed that?

“What is going on here?”  The doctor said.  He face was weathered and brown.  His beard was long and unruly and white as snow.  His hair, buried under a stained brown hat, sprang to his shoulders with the same coarseness as his beard.

“She’s had a fever doctor.  We don’t know why,” I said and looked at disgust to Quincey.  How could he invite such a man here, knowing Mina’s fear of doctors?  A regular doctor would be bad enough; this…unorthodox man…was so much worse.

“NO!” Mina screamed at the sight of him.

“Mina!  It’s ok!  He’s a doctor!”  I tried to sooth her to no avail.  Her eyes were locked on the window and her breath heaved so rapidly that her chest began to heave.

“It’s far worse than I thought,” The doctor said.  He turned to Quincy.  “Quick!  Get me as much garlic as you can.”

“IT’S TOO LATE!”  Mina screamed.  She scratched at me and her skin turned cold.

“Be gone!”  The doctor said while producing an old wooden cross and thrusting it in Mina’s face.

The window exploded inwards making the men in the room dive to the ground.  I heard Mina moan and when I lifted my head a figure was bent over her.  A large black cloak occluded their bodies.

“Quickly!”  The doctor said, pulling a long wooden stake from his satchel.

The figure turned to me and hissed.  Its visage will forever haunt my dreams.  Its skin had the gray tones of slate, contrasted by bright splashes of blood from my poor Mina’s neck.  Its eyes, as red as that blood, bore into me.  It had two incisors, as long as coffin nails.  It stared into my soul.  I felt reality shift.  It was death and, lord help me, I cannot help but think it was beautiful.

It was gone a moment later and so was my Mina.  Dead.  Her face returned to peace and beauty that it held before the sickness took hold of her.

The doctor told me that I had to cremate her body.  He told me he was on the hunt for that creature and we must hunt it down.  That we must kill it.

I prepared to cremate my Mina.  But when I lay her down, I dreamed of her opening her eyes.  I dreamed of her kissing me.  I dreamed of her telling me everything was ok.  That we could now be together forever.  She kissed my neck and I felt death approach.  It was beautiful.


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Case of Charles Dexter Ward Conclusion

Artist credit: Adam Narozanski

Dr. Willett was thinking deeply and rapidly, and his thoughts were terrible ones. Now and then he would almost break into muttering as he ran over in his head a new, appalling, and increasingly conclusive chain of nightmare happenings.

Welcome back for the conclusion of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward!” This week we follow Dr. Willett as he uncovers the truth of the preceding events. Though this was a fun chapter, containing a ton (for Lovecraft at least) of action, the whole thing is fairly predictable. It does, however, deliver a satisfying end to the whole story. Let’s begin shall we?

The first section of the chapter is exposition heavy, and reveals basically what we’ve been suspecting all along: “They were robbing the tombs of all the ages, including those of the world’s wisest and greatest men, in the hope of recovering from the bygone ashes some vestige of the consciousness and lore which had once animated and informed them.” and “…preparing from even the most antique remains certain “Essential Saltes” from which the shade of a long-dead living thing might be raised up.”

So it turns out Curwen’s coven was in fact raising the dead and collecting them to find some ancient information, but what information are they endeavoring to decipher?

The question deepens in the next paragraph. “Joseph Curwen had indubitably evoked many forbidden things, and as for Charles…What forces “outside the spheres” had reached him from Joseph Curwen’s day and turned his mind on forgotten things?”

We are also posed the question, “Was daemonic possession in truth a possibility?”

As we consider these questions the text jumps into the meat and potatoes of this chapter. The action begins as Dr. Willett and the elder Mr. Ward go to Charles’ place. They find a trap door in the floor and open it, causing Mr. Ward to faint; “…the mephitic blast from the crypt had in some way gravely sickened him.”

Willett steels himself and heads down into the abyss. Down there, lit by his flashlight, he finds Ward’s study. All the documents he has heard about (Letters from Prague and Rakus between Orne, Hutchinson, Ward, and Curwen, the cyphers, etc.) are present and he stuffs them in his valise. He finds much of Charles’ handwriting, but he also finds much of Curwen’s, and at this point he thinks that Ward was ghost writing for Curwen: “If he had indeed come to be the leader, he must have forced young Ward to act as his amanuensis.

Willett continues to search, finding strange thing after strange thing, building suspense as we know that something strange or horrible will happen.

The suspension of disbelief in Lovecraft is great, and his lyrical style brings the reader into the story. This novel is framed as such that we get heavy atmosphere, layered on with epistles to make us feel as though we are the antiquarians who are working to solve the riddle.

Framing the story in this way is important because, as I’ve noticed in reading Lovecraft so far, he follows the tenant that to write a convincing story, the person telling it must live to tell the tale. Through all the Lovecraft I’ve read, the narrator witnesses horrid things and gets into situations where they should absolutely not make it out, but they always survive (sometimes the worse for wear). This should take away some of the suspense, because we know as readers the narrator will make it out. The brilliance of Lovecraft’s stylizing is that his lyrical style, though the language is not the most accessible, eventually draws you into the experience of the characters. In “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” this is done through atmosphere and epistles, and this last chapter does it better than any other.

A perfect example is the ending of the second section of this last chapter. We get two “formulae” which are the summons that Curwen’s group (and Ward) were using to raise these long dead people. We see these formulae through Dr. Willett’s eyes as a horrible sound of crying or mewing comes from unknown depths beneath him. The formulae he finds seems to call out to something called Yog-Sothoth (whether it’s to please it, or it’s a call for help, we don’t really know. More on that later). The first formula has a symbol meaning a “Dragon’s Head” and the second formula has a symbol for a “Dragon’s Tail”.

We can almost feel the dread in this section. The whole novel has been a slow build to this moment where we finally get to see what has actually been happening all this time. The dank cavelike office. The ancient tome written in almost alien text. The horrible mewing of either pain or hunger coming from somewhere in the cavernous abode. What is Willett going to find down there!

Well, we’ve been getting the re-occurring theme that one must take care not to bring up what you cant put down, and now we seem to have found the two rituals. The Dragon’s head brings up and the Dragons Tail (this is actually Dragon’s Head written in reverse) puts down what was brought up.

Willett, terrified, then finds an altar that has carved into it some disturbingly unfinished creatures. The mewling gets louder and he is compelled to see (or rather to gather evidence) what is making the sound, so he follows the horrible noises until he finds a pit. When he looks down he sees, “What the thing was, he would never tell. It was like some of the carvings on the hellish altar, but it was alive. Nature had never made it in this form, for it was too palpably unfinished.”

Here is another brilliant choice by Lovecraft. What makes his horror so palpable, is that he relies on imagination to create fear. He never truly describes any of these horrors because the idea behind them is that they are so terrifying that the human mind cannot conceive of words to bring comprehension. If he spent a bunch of lines really describing the creatures in detail, we’d be able to compartmentalize what the creatures are and thus they’d be less scary. Your mind can wander and create any terrible thing that’s “Unfinished” and then the monster becomes your monster. It becomes something you’re scared of, thus making it more personal for the reader.

Willett, dealing with his terror of these unfinished creatures goes even further and we finally figure out what’s really happening. He finds leaden jars (read as urns) in two differing Grecian styles. We have finally found the elusive “Saltes” that have been used to call up the dead.

As Willett is terrified as he inspects the laboratory. To assuage his fears he finds himself gently repeating the “Dragon’s Head” as he somehow finds it soothing. While he is doing so a figure appears out of the shadows. The figure have a beard and immediately we recall the nefarious Dr. Allen. Willett is scared for his life and faints and the creature who looks like Dr. Allen takes hold of him.

Willett wakes the next day in a room with Mr. Ward looking over him. They struggle to understand what’s actually going on, until they find a false beard and glasses which were very obviously Dr. Allen’s.

We are led through several pages of confusion. Who is Allen? Is Allen Ward? Is Allen Curwen? Is Allen either Hutchinson or Orne? What were those “Unifinished creatures” in the pit?

Then we get the opening quote. Dr. Willett suddenly understands. Dr. Allen was in fact Curwen…that is until he transposed bodies with Charles Dexter Ward! Curwen changed bodies, that’s why Ward’s speech changed, his memory was wiped, and his writing changed. Curwen took over Ward’s body, and put Ward’s soul into Dr. Allen’s body, then “put down” Allen.

Willett, unknowingly called Ward back up (and for some reason he was still wearing the fake beard) unknowingly because quoting the Dragon’s Head calmed his nerves as he investigated the horror lab. He just happened upon Ward’s “Saltes” and brought him back.

Meanwhile the “unfininished” wretches in the pit, were undoubtedly the men who charged the farm all those years ago. This was Curwen’s method giving them penitence for deigning to stop him of his nefarious ends…to give them unending torment. He brought them back unfinished (because he didn’t use all the essential “Saltes”), so he might complete his ritual of long life and find the information he was searching for.

Why did he need them to complete the ritual? The text doesn’t actually say, but we know that Yog-Sothoth is a deity of information, and to do a ritual which goes beyond life and death, and possibly beyond the cosmos like the one Curwen was attempting, I think the missing essential “Saltes” were put into either the altar, or into Curwen himself for added strength. That seems to be the only reason why depictions of the “unfinished beasts” would be on the Altar in the first place. It was signifying that those creatures were the “sacrifice” needed to get to the next step of ascension.

Dr. Willett was just lucky enough to call back the young Ward, who saved him and took him home. There is a hilarious moment when Willett makes the connection. “The article was a photograph of the luckless son, on which he now carefully drew in ink the pair of heavy glasses and the black pointed beard which the men had brought from Allen’s room.”

Willett goes to Ward (Curwen) in the institution for the climax. “The patient quailed, conscious that since the last visit there had been a change whereby the solicitous family physician had given place to the ruthless and implacable avenger.”

Willett uses “the cryptic invocation whose heading was the Dragon’s Tail, sign of the descending node” and put Curwen down “…scattered on the floor as a thin coating of fine bluish-gray dust“, ending the horrible nightmare.

The novel is a horror story first. Indeed the only mention of anything cosmic is the name Yog-Sothoth itself, so hang on we’re going to get meta here for a minute!

What I mean by a horror story is that we have those classic horror tropes we started to identify in the third chapter and just when I expected something cosmic to erupt at the end of the novel, Lovecraft kept it about reanimation and zombies and vampires and witches…or did he?

Yog-Sothoth in the greater mythos is considered an all-knowing deity and grandfather to Cthulhu. The whole novel we have all the characters (and because of how the book is structured, the reader) striving for knowledge. The idea of striving for this eldritch knowledge is at the core of Yog-Sothoth’s interests, because it is all knowing. Curwen went to it to find out about all the weird things that lie at the edge of our known world. So the coven of three were praying to Yog-Sothoth, not Satan, and that’s how they got to understand the powers that they did. The reason they resurrected the “Great minds” of yesteryear, was because they fell into the pit-fall of all Lovecraftian antagonists…they wanted to know how to commune and interact with the cosmic dieties, and thus transcend their own mortal beings. Well, I guess it was cosmic after all!

The next logical step that I would take, is that this novel was written in 1927, and it’s the first time Yog-Sothoth was mentioned in any of Lovecraft’s stories. Lovecraft didn’t call his created universe and the deities it contained “the Cthulhu Mythos,” that was actually a creation of August Derleth (his friend and publisher). Lovecraft actually called it Yog-Sothothery. Meaning that every story he wrote had these creatures, these deities in the background, and it was this novel that solidified the scope of the idea for him. Everything after (that he wrote himself, there are one offs he co-wrote) had a distinct connection with this cosmic approach, and because Yog-Sothoth was about knowledge, he was able to tie every story written before into this as well.

Another reason he called it Yog-Sothothery was because of the idea of the deity itself. Nearly every story he wrote was about the characters seeking something beyond their ken. Seeking ancient or forbidden knowledge. Yog-Sothoth for Lovecraft was the owner of that knowledge, so it makes sense that his stories in his mind would all have to deal with this celestial god.

I think this is also why he wanted other authors to continue on with telling the stories of the Mythos after he died, because he knew it was such broad universe of ideas and he simply didn’t have the time or the overall perspective to produce it.

Well, that’s all for this week! Thanks for sticking around for this longer post!

Read along and join me next week as we discuss “The Colour Out of Space”!

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September Updates

Whew! What a year it’s been! Through all the changes and challenges and fears of this year, there is really nothing else to do than to assess what is really important and get down to business.

Yesterday was my last day with Sur La Table (it’s a kitchenware store). I spent seven years there, from running my own store, to opening new stores to running multiple stores at once. Because of debt exacerbated by Covid, we were told to liquidate and shut our doors.

Writing has always been a passion for me, but it’s been a secondary passion because, well, I have to make a living. Because of that I’ve stayed up late, or woken up early every day so I can get my thoughts on to the page and hopefully turn it into some enjoyment for everyone.

I’m hoping only to be unemployed for a few weeks at the most, but during that time, just like during quarantine this past year, I want to get ahead of work so I can keep a steady stream of content coming to you! I mean come on! Priorities!

That being said, this is what’s in the pipeline. Much of this you can get right now if you head over to my Patreon.

Elsie Jones Series:

Currently there are 3 books published of a 15 book series. The publisher is not working on them anymore, so I am taking them under my own hand and releasing “Author Editions” (new expansions and edits) of the first three, and then continuing on with the series until all 15 are published (12 of which are written). These will be published on Kindle, and more than likely in print from through Amazon and Barnes and Noble if I can make that work.

The Legacy:

This is my Indiana Jones/Dan Brown inspired novel. I have recently finished my second draft and I’m hard at work on the third draft. It needs some work, but I’m hoping to be about finished with it, or at least get it ready for queries, by the holidays.

Short Shorts:

I’m going to start posting these every other week. The first selection of these have the Theme of “Universal Monsters”, meaning that each story is about the classic Universal Monster silver screen movies, I.E. “Dracula”, “The Wolf Man”, “The Creature From The Black Lagoon”, and so forth, done in my own spin. Expect the first story this coming Saturday 09/05/20 and a story every two weeks there after until I run out of stories, or decide to give some other type of content. You can catch many of these on the website Tone Poems and Nightmare Fuel.

The Blind Read Series:

I’ve had such a blast doing this series, and I’m going to continue doing it when I finish with Lovecraft. This series is built to not only make difficult reads more accessible to people, but to create an analysis for readers who love the stories. I have narrowed the list for the next author down to a few, and would love some feedback. The next authors taken into consideration are: J.R.R. Tolkien (I’ve read LOTR and the Hobbit, so this would be about his histories), Victor Hugo, Jack London, O. Henry, or Classic Adventures (everything from Pride and Prejudice to The Talisman). If you want to read along, or if you’d love to see more from one of these authors let me know!

The Revolution Cycle:

This is my magnum opus. I’ve been working on this series for nearly twenty years. I have written three books in the series that I’m not happy with, but each one of these has gotten me closer to the truth of what this series is going to be. I am currently working on an outline for the first book (in the now 10 book series) called “The Monster in the Woods”. This book is a heist/adventure/mystery/fantasy book. The feel will be “The Goonies” crossed with “Pan’s Labyrinth”, with just a dash of “Ocean’s Eleven”.

There are many other projects, but they are so far down the road, that they probably aren’t worth mentioning here. Thank you all. I appreciate the support, and if you want to purchase any of my existing books, go here! The Elsie Books are on sale through Monday 09/!

Thank you! Check back often for more!


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, pt. 4

“Important sections of Charles Ward’s store of mental images, mainly those touching modern times and his own personal life, had been unaccountably expunged; whilst all the massed antiquarianism of his youth had welled up from some profound consciousness to engulf the contemporary and the individual.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve even deeper into the mystery of Charles Dexter Ward as we take a look at chapter four, “A Mutation and a Madness.”

This penultimate chapter gives us some much needed information, and sets us up for the final chapter “A Nightmare and a Cataclysm.” I have a feeling because of the direction the text is taking, and the title of the last chapter we are going to get a much more intimate view of what that attack on Curwen’s farm house looked like; with Ward taking place of the antagonist, but that’s for next week.

This week we continue to follow Ward down the rabbit hole. What Lovecraft does so well in this novel is heighten the mystery and suspense by not fully showing us what’s actually happening. He’s brought in all these other horror tropes (as mentioned last week), so the reader is left wondering what’s going on. Is this magic? Are Curwen and his fellows actually witches? Are they vampires? Did they tap into some eldritch energy? Based upon my reading so far in Lovecraft’s oeuvre it could be any of these options. We don’t get a specific answer in this chapter, but things are certainly clarifying, so lets dig into it as much as we can!

We start, right off the bat, with Ward acting subdued after the event on Good Friday where his mother collapsed. Ward seemed to regress back to the antiquarian activities of his youth. He was subdued for months. What was he doing during this time? We know he was dabbling in Curwen’s personal documents, so was Curwen biding his time before coming into being? Or was Ward trying to fight him off?

Those few months go by and it seems as though we have the answer: “The youth was arguing or remonstrating hotly with himself, for there suddenly burst forth a perfectly distinguishable series of clashing shouts in differentiated tones like alternate demands and denials…” then a curious statement was overheard from Mrs. Ward: “…must have it red for three months…”

Curwen had been biding his time. There was something they were working on which took time, some incantation, and Ward was either an unwilling or reluctant participant in it. We know this because Ward’s mother listened all night and “...as long as she had remained awake she had heard faint sounds from the laboratory above, sounds as if of sobbing and pacing, and of a sighing which told only of despair’s profoundest depths.”

Ward was being compelled and I think that something happened during the “Good Friday” kerfluffle that ended the last chapter which took hold of Ward. It’s almost as if a part of Curwen had been injected into Ward’s subconsciousness and they were two beings fighting for one body. That would certainly explain “clashing shouts in differentiated tones.”

The next day we find there had been more body snatching from the cemetery the night before Ward’s lamentations. The body of Ezra Weeden, the young man who courted Eliza Tillinghast who became Curwen’s wife and then led the charge on the farm house, was exhumed and then shortly there after there were “…shrieks of a man in mortal terror and agony.” followed by, “strange and unpleasant odours…”

This entire novel there has been grave robbing. In previous chapters, I assumed it was because Curwen was trying to gain access to the knowledge of his ancestors. What I now am coming to realize is the reason Curwen (and by extension Ward) needs the “Saltes” of the past, is not to resurrect them (although I do believe that they do resurrect the bodies, which makes the hypothesis all the more gruesome), but to feed on them. Curwen and his coven have abnormally long life and to do that you must have a source to fuel you.

This makes exhuming Weeden seem cruel and vicious, as though Curwen is exacting revenge on the man for storming his farmhouse all those years ago, but maybe there is something deeper going on here. If they in fact do gain the knowledge from these poor souls they bring back, maybe Curwen is trying to figure out how Weeden succeeded in convincing the townsfolk to attack. Maybe Curwen is trying to stop that from happening again, against Ward.

This still doesn’t change that they seem to not only be feeding on the dead but also the living, because vampirism begins taking place concurrently, and we already know that Hutchinson has survived thus far as a “Transylvanian Count” who lives off blood. Around this time there is also stories of people being attacked by …”a lean, lithe, leaping monster with burning eyes which fastened its teeth in the throat or upper arm and feasted ravenously.”

Enter Dr. Allen, a mysterious man who suddenly appears and has become Ward’s companion. This companion, along with a man servant, move into a new house…the center of the vampiristic attacks…and they become reclusive with each other.

Ward “grew steadily paler and more emaciated even than before, and lacked some of his former assurance when repeating to Dr. Willett his old, old story of vital research and future revelations.”

Could it be that Dr. Allen is the vampire and he is actually feeding on Ward? Or is it Curwen, through Ward’s body that is effecting the exsanguinating attacks?

The answer is unclear, but at this time Ward makes a deal with a local abattoir and has abnormal amounts of blood and meat sent to him. There is concurrently a caravan headed to Ward’s abode that is hijacked by thieves. Thieves who promptly drop the cache in horror as they realize it’s grisly (dead bodies) contents.

The small coven of three is slowly building power. Power in blood and power in knowledge. The three men move into the old Farm House complete with it’s hidden catacombs of Curwen’s making. It does not seem strange to me that they had to find a “man servant” to join Dr. Allen and Ward, because years before Curwen had to be joined with Orne and Hutchinson to be a coven of three. What did Allen and Ward promise this young man to join them?

Once at the farmhouse Ward realizes that he’s in over his head and decides to take a last stand. He sends a letter to his Alienist (Psychiatrist) Dr. Willett which states, “Instead of triumph I have found terror, and my talk with you will not be a boast of victory but a plea for help and advice in saving both myself and the world from a horror beyond all human conception or calculation.” Yikes. It’s here that Lovecraft begins to transcend the run of the mill horror. He has conceded that things like zombies, witches, and vampires exist in the world, but they are a means to an end for a deeper and more horrible truth to come. They are mosquito’s pecking at someones skin, when the whole time there is something deeper, insidious, and ruthless, like a virus which will do much more damage, just waiting to be let free.

As if to emphasize this, the post script is a desperate attempt at redemption, “Shoot Dr. Allen on sight and dissolve his body in acid. Don’t burn it.”

What a strange and horrifying thought. Ward is so scared of Dr. Allen coming back from the grave, that he knows you must absolutely destroy the body; that way the “Saltes” cannot be restored. This also makes sense because in previous letters, Orne told Curwen not to bring up what you cant put down, which coincides with Curwen’s collecting acids. He must have used those acids to “put down” whatever horrible thing he “brought up.”

Soon after this letter, Charles Dexter Ward goes absent. His nefarious companions state that he is just out and about and must not be disturbed. They say he is OK and just doing very important research. Charles’ dad calls, inquiring after his son and hears Dr. Allen for the first time and “…it seemed to excite some vague and elusive memory which could not be actually placed…” It stands to reason that the voice was one he heard Ward utter in a different tone while he argued with himself on that infamous Good Friday. Then we get into the last and probably most important question of this chapter.

Who is Curwen and how is Dr. Allen involved?

Dr. Willett and Ward’s father visit and Ward himself tells them, “I am grown phthisical,” (I had to look it up too) which means that he’s become consumptive, that his speech is hoarse and gravelly. Ward has become a shell of who he formerly was.

We call back to the beginning of the chapter and remember that Ward had stopped being his normal self. His memory was wiped and any knowledge of anything current was cleared for items of antiquity. His speech had even changed cadence to represent a previous dialectical time. He even makes statements like this one:

There is no evil to any in what I do, so long as I do it rightly.

I believe Curwen has taken over Ward. The text leads to some question of that, in fact the last few paragraphs actually seem to state that Dr. Allen was Curwen. What if that was true? What if Allen was Curwen? Allen disappears about the time Ward makes this transition, so it may well be that Allen was Curwen (they even slant rhyme) in Ezra Weeden’s expired body. When the body began to give out (because it required too much blood for upkeep) Curwen began the transition into Ward’s body. That was why Ward was absent for those few days, because it took that much time to make the transition.

The conflict will come because Willett and the elder Ward believe that Allen is Curwen, so we’ll have to to just wait for the final chapter to see how it all pans out!

Will Ward make it through? Will Curwen summon something he can’t put down? Will Hutchinson and Orne re-appear?

Join me next week for the finale of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward!


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, pt.3

“There were chanting’s and repetitions, and thunderous declamations in uncanny rhythms; and although these sounds were always in Ward’s own voice, there was something in the quality of that voice, and in the accents of the formulae it pronounced, which could not but chill the blood of every hearer.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This time we’re jumping into chapter 3 “A Search and an Evocation.” There are some very interesting concepts in this chapter and I’ve begun to wonder if Lovecraft is using this novel to incorporate all horror within his mythos, as there are many horror tropes in this chapter. It feels as though he is trying to say that these tropes were actually created from his own “Yog-Sothothery.” We’ll get a little more into this later, but this chapter jumps forward and we are reunited with our titular character as we follow him in his descent into madness.

The majority of this chapter is the “Search” of the title. Ward is fascinated with his ancestor and researches to find more information about him. At the start of the chapter he is open about his curiosity and what information he discovers. His family is slightly disturbed by his findings, but they generally don’t seem to care that much.

Ward asks consistently to travel abroad to dig deeper, but his parents reject that idea, telling him instead to stay state-side. He decides the best thing for him to do is research Salem.

He finds “Curwen’s only close friends had been one Edward Hutchinson of Salem-Village and one Simon Orne of Salem.” We already know from the previous chapters that Simon has practiced some kind of spell craft or alchemy which had given him such prolonged life that he had to take another name and act as though he was his own son, Jedediah. So we understand that they have some connection with the occult.

Ward continues to research and finds a curious letter which speaks of strange things: “And of ye Seede of Olde shal One be borne who shal looke Backe, tho’ know’g not what he seeke

Obviously this pertains to Ward. It’s curious that this passage tells us that Ward is compelled to research despite not knowing why he has the urge, nor knowing what he’s looking for, and it is this passage which tells him that he doesn’t have a choice. This is a staple of Lovecraft and horror in general. There’s a reason why people run back into houses whilst being chased by monsters and murderers. There’s a reason people don’t move out of haunted houses. It can sometimes be jarring when you watch or read a character do something like this, but there’s a reason it’s one of the oldest horror tropes. People feel compelled to understand. Think about magic tricks. How many people will watch someone do a magic trick and then immediately ask how the magician did it? It’s that unknown that drives their worst fears and if we can just comprehend what’s going on, we can correlate it to something tangible and make it less scary. That’s the brilliance of Lovecraft. He uses creatures and themes that are so beyond the realm of our ken that it is not possible to correlate them.

This is why the people of Salem and Providence were so scared of Curwen and his coven of three. Because they were doing things; chants that weren’t in a known language, smells that were beyond comprehension, and anti-aging, that the people instantly feared them because these actions were outside of the norm.

This brings me to the second classic horror trope, the Witch. We’ve been playing at the witch for this entire book so far, with references to Salem and casting spells, but this is the first time we get a small, secluded house, hidden in the woods where a coven of three practice their incantations. To Lovecraft these incantations are not witchcraft as we know it, but direct conversation with the Great Old Ones. That’s truly where magic comes from, not from the earth, or Satan, or anything else. Witchcraft is Yog-Sothothery.

But back to the story. After spending time in Salem, Ward comes home excited about his found evidence of Curwen. During this time he also figured out where Curwen’s house on Olney Court was, so the next portion is his investigation goes there.

We get the feeling that Ward took on some aspect of Curwen as he was travelling in Salem, because when he sees the house on Olney Court and the changes made to it, he feels a pang of fear and regret. Almost as if that portion of Curwen’s history was dissolved.

He digs into the house and scours it for information finding three interesting items. The first was a portrait of Curwen which was hidden behind the wall. Ward contracts some workers and an artist to take the painting out and restore it, then he puts it up in his attic study to ostensibly overlook his work. He also finds two documents: a lost journal by Curwen with a strange inscription: “To Him Who Shal Come After, & How He May Gett Beyonde Time & ye Spheres…” and a cipher which he hopes will translate a note he found from Hutchinson with a similar language.

Ward takes these documents and heads back to his room. He begins to pull back from his parents, (“At night he kept the papers under lock and key in an antique cabinet of his, where he also placed them whenever he left the room.”) and spends his time under the gaze of Curwen’s portrait. “…he inaugurated a dual policy of chemical research and record-scanning; fitting up for one laboratory in the unused attic of the house.” Remember how Curwen would get the “Saltes” of his ancestors to bring them back and ask for information? Well during this time Ward’s research is about where Curwen is buried. There is evidence that he may have found the grave, and possibly more evidence that Curwen’s body was not in it. But more on that later.

He continues to ask his parents to travel abroad, and where they resist for a while, they finally agree to let him. He wanders through Eastern Europe and at first, sends frequent letters. Soon however the letters slacken and then nearly stop by the time he gets to Transylvania. He visits with Baron Ferenczy, and “…the situation of Baron Ferenczy’s castle did not favor visits. It was on a crag in the dark wooded mountains, and the region was so shunned by the country folk that normal people could not help feeling ill at ease.”

What a strange description. To me this is a perfect depiction of Dracula’s castle, yet another reference to a classic trope that Lovecraft is incorporating in this novel. To top that off, the experience of Ward is similar to that of Jonathan Harker as well. He goes to the castle, then becomes so consumed (see what I did there?) with work, that he doesn’t readily respond to correspondence. Could this possibly be Lovecraft trying to subsume these tropes? Was Dracula meant to be part of the mythos? Think about all those coffins that Curwen “imported” in the last chapter. Could it be that some of those creatures weren’t actually vampires, but vampiric constructs that Curwen, using Yog-Sothothery, resurrected? Or is this just a nod to Stoker?

It may in fact be a nod because the next few paragraphs, those of Ward returning to Providence from his time abroad, are wonderful homages to Poe. The language suddenly shifts, and the focus on atmosphere takes center stage;

When the coach crossed the Pawcatuck and entered Rhode Island amidst the faery goldeness of a late spring afternoon his heart beat with a quickened force, and the entry to Providence along Reservoir and Elmwood avenues was a breathless and wonderful thing despite the depths of forbidden lore to which he had delved.”

Ward gets home and is noticeably changed. He has prematurely aged and has become far more withdrawn. In fact, “…Dr. Lyman’s assign to Ward’s European trip the beginning of his true madness.” The most disturbing aspect of this is the next trope that we come across. Thirty years before this book was written, Oscar Wilde published “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. Here Lovecraft throws another bone out to the horror community. Ward’s visage begins to take on the physiognomy of the portrait of Curwen. Ward has been striving to find his ancestor, but maybe there is something more going on here. Could he have been possessed by Curwen in Transylvania? or is it the magic, the Yog-Sothothery, bringing them together? The fact that the concept and usage of the portrait is so similar to Wilde’s tale I’d intimate the latter.

Ward retreats to his attic lab and we see the opening quote of this essay, where he delves into his experiments. Strange noises and smells emanate from the lab (remember how Curwen’s farm house had strange smells that latched onto it’s attackers?), and his parents take note. His mother tries to spy on him and notices four men bringing a coffin like box into the lab. This coffin could be the body of Curwen, or even more likely Curwen’s “Saltes”, because what comes after is startling.

Ward begins a strange chant in an even stranger dialect and the weather goes south. The strange smell (possibly Brimstone?) wafts throughout the house as Ward’s experiment proceeds and it gets to the point that his mother faints. Once the ceremony concludes, Ward promises his father that he will discontinue that type of experiment in the attic and move on, but right at the end of the chapter we find that “the portrait of Joseph Curwen had resigned forever its staring surveillance of the youth it so strangely resembled, and now lay scattered on the floor as a thin coating of fine bluish-grey dust.”

The transformation was complete, or rather the “evocation” was complete. I wonder if Curwen didn’t actually die in the raid on his farmhouse, but instead transposed himself, or at least his soul, into the painting. When the four men brought the coffin with the mortal and tactile “Saltes” (remains) of Curwen, all that was left was the ritual to bring him back. The essence of the portrait seeped into Ward, and he took on the aspect of Curwen.

That’s how the chapter ends, but before I let you go I’d remiss if I didn’t mention that is some beautiful language in this chapter, far better than I’ve seen in the previous ones. My favorite line pertains to Ward’s mother when asked what she saw to make her faint:

“Memory sometimes makes merciful deletions.”

Yikes. This just adds to the mystique and horror of the tale, especially with only two more chapters. We know something is going to begin to come together and I think some major knowledge is going to be dropped in the next chapter.

I wonder if we’ll continue to receive those classic tropes. Keep an eye on them if you’re reading along because I wonder if there may be some underlying meaning behind this novel. So far we’ve come across Witches, Zombies, Vampires, Dorian Gray, and a little bit of Poe stuck in there. What might we find next?

Let’s find out next week for an analysis of Chapter 4 “A Mutation and a Madness.”


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Pt. 2

“All that can be told of their discoveries is what Eleazar Smith jotted down in a none to coherent diary, and what other diarists and letter-writers have timidly repeated from the statements which they finally made – and according to which the farm was only the outer shell of some vast and revolting menace, of a scope and depth too profound and intangible for more than shadowy comprehension.”

Welcome back for another Blind Read! This week we tackle chapter two “An Antecedent and a Horror,” of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (apparently I’ve read too much Robert Louis Stevenson because I consistently want to call this “The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” in reference to “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”).

We take a bit of a hard right turn in this chapter after learning about Ward in the previous one; it makes sense however because of the title of the chapter. We know that we’re learning of Joseph Curwen, the antecedent (and ancestor) of Charles Dexter Ward in this long chapter from the first line: “Joseph Curwen, as revealed by the rambling legends embodied in what Ward heard and unearthed, was a very astonishing, enigmatic, and obscurely horrid individual.”

There is evidence to suggest that Curwen practiced witchcraft in Salem at the height of that age and fled directly before the hunt began to weed out the witches. This flight led him directly to Providence, “-that universal haven of the odd, the free, and the dissenting-“. I kind of love that Lovecraft has a statement about Providence in here because the narrative is decidedly opposite; the people of Providence revolt against the odd and the dissenting. It is, however, obvious how much Lovecraft adored Providence , and this statement is more from his perspective, the author, rather than the narrators perspective. This is why his writing and his livelihood flourished here… because he felt accepted.

Anyway, back to the text. Curwen moves to Providence and we already know something is odd about him. He’s an antiquarian, just like Ward, but he also dabbles in drugs and acids and strange metals, and he is preternaturally old, but doesn’t look it: “At length, over fifty years had passed since the strangers advent, and without producing more than five years’ apparent change in his face and physique.”

This makes the people of Providence weary of him, but to make matters worse, he contacts a local apothecary and also a local literary and scientific fanatic hermit, John Merritt, to bring him books from all over the world. Lovecraft spends nearly a page of text naming the works, from historical to literary to religious, until “upon taking down a fine volume conspicuously labelled as the Qanoon-e-Islam, he found it was in truth the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arad Abdul Alhazred…”

Merritt sees a passage which sheds a little light on some of the things that the Necronomicon can actually do: “The essential Saltes of Animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious Man may have the whole Ark of Noah in his own Studie, and raise the fine Shape of an Animal out of it’s Ashes at his Pleasure; and by the lyke Mothod from the essential Saltes of humane Dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal Necromancy, call up the Shape of any dead Ancestour from the Dust whereinto his Bodie has been incinerated.”

So here we find what Curwen is striving for (though the motive is still absent). He is just trying to understand life and gain what knowledge his ancestors had. He is a pre-eminant scholar, but even though he’s dabbling in these strange and forbidden arts, there is zero evidence that he’s done any harm to any living being (other than livestock and being a slave owner. The slave owner thing is completely unforgivable, but in terms of the time period this story is taking place in, it was a commonplace practice, so he’d be no different from the townsfolk in terms of morality).

Despite the knowledge of his “dark arts” he joins the church and tries to become a contributing member of society. He might be trying to get people to relax about his strange dealings, or he could be trying to ingratiate himself to certain members of society to gain favor…

A few years later we find Curwen looking to marry. He finds his ideal wife… the daughter of a ship-Captain, Dutee Tillinghast. The text itself shows no real nefariousness, but Lovecraft does spend a bit of time describing how old Curwen is and how submerged into witchcraft he is, before suddenly switching the narrative and talking about how he got Tillinghast to agree to marry off his daughter, Eliza (Not Peggy). This sudden switch from his witchcraft to his courting is curious. Is it to indicate that Curwen magically charms Tillinghast to give away his daughter? Or does Curwen just pay enough of a bride price to satisfy Captain Tillinghast? In either case this infuriates Eliza’s young gentleman sailor caller, Ezra Weeden, because he wanted to marry Eliza. Little does Curwen know it, but his choice of bride becomes his undoing.

Ezra, angry at being shunned, “…began a systemic study of the man and his doings…” certain that the old wizard was up to something. Certain that his lovely Eliza could not choose Curwen under her own volition, despite the fact that Curwen set Eliza up at a separate house and gave her everything she wanted or needed and didn’t spend too much time with her, or intrude upon her. Truly we don’t know, because there is nothing in the narrative to tell differently, but Eliza never seemed unhappy or in danger at any time from Curwen. Still, there is no storm worse than a lover scorned.

Ezra continues to watch and notices strange cargo going to Curwen’s farmhouse. “The cargo consisted almost wholly of boxes and cases, of which a large proportion were oblong and heavy and disturbingly suggestive of coffins.” Of course we infer what they are and so does Ezra. The issue is he’s a sailor and he’s often gone with his ship, so he hires Eleazar Smith to watch while he’s gone (The young man from the opening quote).

Eleazar finds prisoners in an extensive tunnel system under Curwen’s farmhouse. These prisoners are of a horrid physiognomy, and we can only infer that they are the resurrected ancestors that Curwen has been importing in those strange coffins. We know from Merritt and his glace at the notated portion of the Necronomicon that Curwen is bringing these ancestors back to life “from their Salte” to grill them for information:

“Once, for example, an alternately raging and sullen figure was questioned in French about the Black Prince’s massacre at Limoges in 1370…”

Weeden and Smith gather many important town figures. They want to get the law involved. Once they do, the group decides to confiscate some of Curwen’s mail. They find all sorts of crazy evidence, but one line stands out as important and foreshadowing: “doe not call up Any that you can not put downe…”

This is all the evidence the group needs. They form a mob to raze the farm house and all that dwell within it. Bringing a Frankensteinian vibe, they storm the farmhouse. There is an incredible battle where many of the men are killed or maimed and Curwen eventually dies. During the middle of the fight there was a blast in the farmhouse. “This blast had been followed by a repetition of the great shaft of light from the stone building,” namely Curwen summoning creatures to aid in the fight. The narrator doesn’t go into detail, but talks of fire creatures and strange smells that stick on the men in the raid.

Right at the end of the chapter there is a passage that leads me to believe that Curwen was actually killed by creatures he called up rather than the attackers:

“I say to you againe, doe not call up any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use. Ask the Lesser, lest the Greater shall not wish to Answer, and shall commande more than you.”

Curwen called up a power that was just a little to strong for himself and in turn it killed him. I do, however, wonder what the scent is and why it’s mentioned. I wonder what the firey creatures are. I wonder how this correlates to Ward’s transition. Again, there isn’t any indication in the text… yet, but I’m sure we’ll soon find out!

What really intrigues me about this chapter has to do with fear and anger. The whole downfall of Curwen was spawned by a young man’s jealousy, because Ezra went a little far in trying to prove Curwen was evil. Without a doubt Curwen was doing some terrible things, however he was not doing them to the living, so there is a bit of a moral question here. Does that merit death?

The through line is that Curwen came from Salem. The witch trials were all about fear. Innocent people died because people were so afraid of what they didn’t understand that they committed atrocious acts against others. The same here. The mob was formed because they stole Curwen’s mail and didn’t understand what they were reading. Rather than just reaching out to Curwen, or even arresting him, they decided that because they didn’t understand what was going on, they were just going to eliminate him. We come to realize that though Curwen is monstrous, the real monsters were the people of Providence, feeding off that fear. All because a young man felt cheated.

One last note for this chapter which I absolutely loved, and I believe it’s more a reflection on the novel as a whole, is that Lovecraft is writing it as though we ourselves are antiquarians looking back at Ward. Throughout the book thus far, we have been given snippets of text from books, articles, and letters that the characters are looking at. Thus it’s as though we as readers are doing the research to understand what happened to Ward. This is a wonderful Juxtaposition of Ward looking back on Curwen, and in turn Curwen looking back at his ancestors. It is a brilliant structural organization because it brings the reader more into the story. It makes the reader empathize with both Ward and Curwen as we delve deeper and unfold more layers of the mystery. We ourselves have become the antiquarians…

Join me next week for chapter 3, “A Search and an Evocation”!

Postscript:

I would feel remiss if I didn’t add in this portion about racism. I have argued with people over the past year and a half as I’ve read through Lovecraft’s works, saying that he was merely xenophobic and agoraphobic and not just outright racist. This story has unequivocally proven me wrong.

In previous stories he rails against the culture of others. I have seen that nearly across the board, and where it’s jarring, it’s also fleeting so I’m able to gloss over it. There is a passage in this chapter (I will not repeat it. Look it up yourself if you’re curious) that is abhorrent. It speaks about appearance, not culture. I can no longer in any way defend what I’m reading. I almost stopped the project all together when I came across that passage. I still may, but I do believe that there is enough time and understanding that has passed since the authorship of these works that I can be impartial. What I mean by this is that with recent art like “Lovecraft Country” coming to HBO (and the book, though I haven’t read it), Lovecraft’s legacy can be about his creation, not the hatred he himself had. I feel it’s OK to continue on because others of races and creeds are benefiting from his creations. That being said the passage rocked me a bit, and left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m hoping the rest of this novel will be free of such prejudice.