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Blind Read Through; H.P. Lovecraft: The Cats of Ulthar

This fun little ditty was a page out of Poe.  Thus far this was the most linear and straightforward story, and obviously something that Lovecraft knocked out one dreary evening.  Very little appears of his Mythos cycle, or of his cosmic horror, except for a few sentences in the middle of the story.

Ostensibly this story is about the town of Ulthar, who loves cats.  There is one crotchety old couple that will kill any cat that comes near them in the night, but the town folk are too scared of them to approach or do anything about them, so they continue their nefarious deeds.

Then we have a strange caravan with strange drawings come through the town.  The people are odd and are interested in buying odd things, and there is a young boy names Menes, who’s parents died “in the plague” and he has a cat whom he loves and makes him happy in their absence.

That night the cat that Menes loves so much disappears and the towns folk blame the old man and woman in the cabin in the forest.  Menes prays and meditates in a language the people don’t understand, and many of them feel as though there are strange symbols and creatures in the sky and in the trees, but the narrator says that sometimes “…nature is full of such illusions to impress the imaginative.”

All the cats disappear in town the next day and the old couple is blamed, but then the cats come back, full and lethargic.

The mayor checks on the old couple, only to find two skeletons picked clean.

Here is Lovecrafts genius.  In the first paragraph he states that cats are “the soul of antique Aegyptus…” and that they have vast knowledge beyond our understanding.  The boy in the town was named Menes who was a Pharaoh of Egypt around 5000 BCE.  Here we have the link to the fictional Nyarlathotep from millennia ago, and one can assume that this caravan was indeed a troupe following Nyarlathotep, as Menes calls upon his Old Gods power (which looks very similar to how it looked in the story “Nyarlathotep”).

At this point I assume that all of these stories are told within the same headspace, and not necessarily meant to coalesce, however the more I dig and the more I read, the more it seems as though there is connection.

Join me next week for the next blind read through “Hypnos” as we get deeper in the the mythos of Lovecraft.

Blind Read Through; H.P. Lovecraft: Nyarlathotep/Ex Oblivione

I bring you two more vignettes of Lovecraft in this weeks Blind Read through.  These two stories seem to be divergent from the cannon as it has been presented, but give an interesting new facet to how the horror in his stories is presented.

In “Nyarlathotep”, we see what I have to think of as a Outer God.  He is called the crawling chaos in the first sentence of the story, and that comes to full fruition at the end.  Nyarlathotep is seemingly a man who came from Egypt.  He is large and dark and mysterious and is described as looking like a Pharaoh.  He holds shows to garner followers, and these shows are filled with strange and marvelous things, which bring people from far and wide to find out what he is going to do next.  There is a underlying malevolence in everything Nyarlathotep does, then eventually (when the greenish light of the moon comes about) these people are led to a location where it becomes apparent that they are being led to slaughter.  Their souls are being consumed by a a large miasma of creeping energy, and where Lovecraft doesn’t tell us that this is indeed Nyarlathotep, it is heavily inferred.  He has transcended his corporeal form to his godlike “creeping chaos” form and consumes his followers for strength.

The starting point of Egypt is interesting, because everything I’ve read thus far has surrounded the cold north, with it’s northern lights and frozen tundras.  Now we get to see the far reaching grasp of the Outer Gods (or Old God, not really sure which he is yet).  Could they, in Lovecraft’s world, be part of the creation of the Pyramids?  Could they have given humans portions of their terrible knowledge, and secretly build these structures to their benefit?  It’s a provocative concept.  I recognize Nyarlathotep’s name, so I look forward to reading more about him (It?) in later stories, as I’m pretty sure this is it’s first iteration.

In “Ex Oblivione”, we catch a decidedly different and much more Poe-like side of Lovecraft.  We come across a narrator who is at the end of his life (I’m assuming disease is a factor here, partially because the narrator is cavalier about his Opiate use), and he hears something call to him, so he goes to see what it possibly is.  He takes his opiates (more than likely Opium or Laudanum, as I’m not sure if Heroin was around yet), and goes into a dream world within the horrible twisted, swampy grove he rests in.  In this dream world he finds a city and within the city he finds a papyrus that tells him to take a drug and that will help him transcend his existence to another world.  He takes this drug and happily leave behind the “daemon world”.

There are elements in this story that correlate to others, and even Nyarlathotep, but to me this is about a man who is in terrible pain from a disease and he begins to take Opiates for the pain.  The Opiates do what opiates do, and eventually alter his perception.  He thinks that he is transcending, but in reality he is overdosing, and riding the wave of drug to his imaginary Oblivion.  Though this is a blind read and I haven’t read other than these stories of Lovecraft, nearly every story that involves the horrors of his Mythos, that Green hazy light is present, floating or permeating from the moon.  It is conspicuously absent form this story, ;leading me to believe that this is a horror story about a tortured soul.

I’ll return with a blind read of “The Cats of Ulthar”, one of his supposedly literary fantasy stories (by his own description).

Blind Read Through, H.P. Lovecraft: Memory/What the Moon Brings

These two are merely vignettes, minute glimpses into the world that Lovecraft was in the process of creating; the strange and the cosmic.

“Memory” is a look forward and “What the Moon Brings” is a naval gaze of the apocalypse.  Both are no more than 2 pages a piece, but both are full of meaning.

In Memory we are shown a shambles of a world.  Ruins that are over run and the only inhabitants are apes.  Two gods are having a discussion, and where one cant remember the past, asks the other “Daemon” about the beings who built the original ruins.  The Daemon says that he is Memory and what he remembers is that they were insignificant and their deeds were forgotten as soon as they were preformed.  They built the ruins and their name was Man.

The meaning behind the vignette is that, far in the future, the deeds and actions of humans are forgotten and the only thing that remains is earth.  The gods themselves look over everything, but they forget as well, which makes them insignificant as well.  The ultimate god, the ultimate truth is the earth.  The land holds the longest memory and will outlive and outlast all.

What the Moon Brings flows into a similar vein.  The narrator tells of their own death.  He (due to Lovecraft’s sexism and racism, I assume that every narrator is a white man) describes what he can see from the light of the moon.  The moon (a otherworldly being in and of itself that is the origin of many of Lovecraft’s creatures) shows the death of civilization through the reflection of the lake.  He can also see creatures in the water.  He decides at the end to go and join them, because he knows that the moon will continue to come and continue to bring the visions of what is coming.  In his despair he walks into the waters and either drowns himself or lets the creatures have him.

It is intimated that he is the last of the population and is giving in to despair, as he gazes at the reflection of the “dead, dripping city”.  The book I’m reading through (Del Rey 1971 ISBN: 0345331052) should have put them in reverse order, because What the Moon Brings, shows the decline and fall of civilization and Memory shows the aftermath.

What the Moon Brings is much less deep, but by far the creepiest of the stories thus far, because it is more direct (with the exception of The Tomb).  Both a lot of fun, but I still feel as though these stories are merely setting up the mythos that are coming.

Blind Read through, H.P. Lovecraft; Beyond the Wall of Sleep

I’m going to start this one with a little rant.  This is a blurb about this story from the back of the book:  A crazed murderer blames his crime on beings from another dimension.  Wild ravings from an insane man turn to prophecy when the Truth is revealed.

This is the problem with most writing.  It isn’t the writing itself, but it’s marketing.  The only thing about the above sentence that is true is the fact that the man (Joe Slater) is a murderer.  Nothing else is true, and it begs the question if the person who wrote the blurb actually read the story.  If they had, then it is a much greater crime to purposefully mislead the reader to try and get more sales, by outright fabricating the plot.

Slater never blames his crimes on beings of another dimension (in fact there are never beings, in plural, but ever only one being who “did him great wrong”).  Then the author of the blurb deigns to use the buzz word “prophesy”.  There is no prophesy.  The ravings of the mad Joe Slater are heard by the narrator and the narrator has an interest in dreams, so to see what Joe is seeing, he hooks them both up with a skullcap to see what he is seeing.  Which he does.  That’s it.

Ok sorry.  Now to the nitty gritty of the story.

This is one of Lovecraft’s earliest stories and supposedly has no correlation to the later works.  I see quite a bit here that would lead to that however.  Again we have these strange green northern lights.  Again we have madness derived from exposure to a cosmic deity.  Again we have the unreliable narrator.  Again we have the remote local.  And to top it all off we have Lovecraft’s trademark superiority complex (He names the madman’s neighbor Peter Slader, where the madman’s name is Joe Slater.  He mentions many times that they are all backwoods yokels who have no knowledge and intimates that they inbreed.  Only to verify that claim by naming the characters of the mountains with such close names as to subliminally castigate them).

Where this shows as an early work is that he actually shows his god.  The narrator goes “Beyond the walls of sleep”, and into the cosmic realm that drove the simple Slater mad.  the Narrator himself (though it is never discussed what he actually does, or how he acts) is offered a leave of absence, because he is “working too hard” after the experience he gained from Slater’s mind.

But perhaps the most provocative aspect of the story, is why the cosmic deity would come down and inhabit a backwards “white trash” (Yes.  Lovecraft actually wrote the words “White Trash” in 1919) yokel, who doesn’t have any brains.  Maybe because the idea was to make a transformation?

“His gross body could not undergo the needed adjustments between ethereal life and planet life.”

Meaning he was not intelligent enough to understand how to make the transition.  But the narrator can ascend and we are left feeling slightly off kilter, as if this were not a choice, but now that the cosmic deity has found an appropriate zygote he will being his proliferation.

Blind Read Through; H.P. Lovecraft, Polaris

This story plays off the classic unreliable narrator that Lovecraft is so famous for.  More of a vignette than an actual story, our narrator tells of a city he sees only from the light of the “Pole Star”, shortly after the green mist of the Northern Lights shone on the ground.  The narrator tells of how there are creatures who have come into the land, “Nightmares” as he calls them, and they threaten the existence of the Lomarians (the narrator never says that he is a Lomarian, but he lives among them and his best of friends “Alos” is the captain of the guard).  Till one night the narrator is in a tower and the Pole Star speaks to him and lulls him to sleep while the danger of these creatures looms near.

This seems to me (though I have not read any of them yet) that this is the introduction to the Dreamlands, though it is toted as a normal “Horror” story.  You have the Cosmic horror elements that were in previous stories (The Green mist of the Northern Lights as was present in The Doom that came to Sarnath), and you have the dreamlike state where the narrator doesn’t know the difference between reality and dream.

What is provocative about this story is that it seems to me as though it is a modern day narrator who is dreaming that he is part of this Lomarian society in ancient times (We know this because the Lomarian’s live in the frozen north, and the narrator speaks of the swamps outside his window in the gloom of the north star).  He gets so sucked into the world, that it seems real to him and he even becomes friends with a personage from the time.

Elements of The Tomb are also present because the narrator is reading an ancient tome called the “Pnakotic manuscripts”, which probably means that there is some possession happening.  The Narrator reads the manuscripts and gets his consciousness transposed into the real Lomarian who fell asleep at the watch as the gods’ minions destroyed the society.  This is why the creatures mock him by telling him that it is not a dream.

Another interesting item of this story is that it takes place in the frozen north.  I always thought Lovecraft took place in Mayan temples of the jungles, but it is turning out to be mainly in the north.  The eponymous “Polar Star” is the North Star, and in the first paragraph the narrator talks about the strange green glow of the Northern Lights.

 

Blind Read Through; H.P. Lovecraft, The Tomb

This is supposedly the first story written by Lovecraft, and it flows perfectly into his predilection for madness.  The story follows Jervas Dudley, the quintessential unreliable narrator, in his descent into madness.

Jervas states at the beginning of the story that he loves reading ancient tomes; books that no one else ever reads, who’s subject matter is strange and malignant.  He has no social life and he derives much of what he understands about life from these convoluted books.

Then one day he happens upon a tomb.  It is in the location of his neighbor’s (The Hydes) burned down house.  He begins spending much of his time there, hiding out and sleeping in front of the partially ajar, padlocked tomb.

One day a voice from the tomb tells him to go to his attic, where he finds a key to the padlock and enters the tomb.  He spends much of his time there, but at the same time, his father becomes concerned for his mental well being, so he sends a “spy” to watch over him.  Listening in on the conversation, Jervas is confused to hear the spy tell his father that he spends all his time sleeping outside of the tomb, not inside as he knows to be true. He also develops a fear of lightning and storms, which is what destroyed the Hyde’s mansion in the first place.

Then while in the tomb he attends a party held by the Hyde’s and everyone seems so realistic and the mansion is back to its former glory, that is until Jervas’ Father and the spy grab him.  In the struggle lightning started to flash and it exposed a box on the ground with the initials J.H. and inside was a statue of a young man with an uncanny resemblance to Jervas.

The story ends with one of the servants, supposedly going into the tomb and finding a coffin with the name Jervas on it.

This can be read in two different ways.  The first is that the narrator, who is confined to a madhouse, has pushed his brain into thinking about the strange dealings of the netherworld by reading all those tomes instead of interacting with others.  Then his half sleep for weeks on end in front of the tomb, his mind played games with him and he imagined everything.

It is easy to correlate that the Hyde’s were his ancestors, and once the mansion was destroyed the family built a new one close by.  It stands to reason that during that time there was a young man by the name of Jervas Hyde (J.H.) who’s coffin the servant found at the end of the story.  Because of this Jervas Dudley thinks everything is about him, because he has no other basis in reality.

The other way to read it (and the one I quite prefer) is that Jervas found something in the attic, that began to possess him.  It made him desire to be with his ancestors, and the spirit of Jervas Hyde had somehow begun to merge with Jervas Dudley.  They began to see and experience the same things.  One could even conjecture that Jervas’ father knew this was happening, and that is why he was relegated to the asylum.

In either case, it was a fun read, though much shallower than the other Lovecraft I’ve read to date.  This was supposedly in his straight horror days, which people say is uninspired, but it has a beautiful reminiscence to Poe and tales like “The Fall of the House of Usher”.

Blind Read Through; H.P. Lovecraft, The Doom That Came to Sarnath

This was the first story from the “Dunsany” period and probably the first iteration of his eventual shift into the Cosmic Horror genre.  Published in 1919 (full of mis-spellings and embellishments), this story tells of the city of Sarnath in the land of Mnar.  Sarnath was built next to a river, near the Ancient City of Ib.  The city of Ib, as we find out from the extremely old and archaic writings on brick walls of another ancient city and parchments, is housed by strange beings, who are green and have a green halo, and bulging eyes and flabby lips.  These beings are mute and supposedly descended through this green mist (which occasionally also surrounds the moon) from the moon to create the city of Ib next to the still green lake.

The primitive warriors of Sarnath decide that they hate the minions of Ib because they are disturbing looking and worship Bokrug, a water lizard.  They kill all the creatures of Ib and push them into the lake.  They destroy the city of Ib, and keep only the green statue of Bokrug.  Soon the high priest of Sarnath (Taran-Ish) dies, with an expression of great horror and writes on the sea-green stone idol of Bokrug the word…DOOM.

The city moves on and goes through decades of prosperity, mining out precious stones and living richly, until one day, during a ceremony commemorating the destruction of Ib, a mist floats down from the moon to the still lake, and green creatures come forth and destroy Sarnath.

Lovecraft is obviously describing Inuit’s when he talks about Sarnath and it’s peoples.  The land of Mnar, has some Norse inclinations as well.  The reason I say this is because the green haze must indicate the Northern Lights, which seem to emanate from the heavens and descend upon earth.  Then at the end of the story Aryan men go to view the ruins of Sarnath (showing Lovecraft’s prejudices, since they were the only people on earth with enough courage to view the ruins), indicating that it is a different location than Europe.

The story attempts to pull its horror from the fear of religion and the bible once again, and I’ll be curious to see if that is indicative of all the Dunsany stories, or if it’s a theme throughout.  The Ultimate story is a combination of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Babel themes, mixed in with a little Old Testament, good old, God fearing idol worship.  The people of Sarnath are being punished for their worship of a false god and their love and lust of the material, and then the Ancient Ones come back for retribution with their strange descendants, the creatures of Ib.

Because this is a blind read through and I haven’t read any Lovecraft before I dont know if Bokrug is part of the mythos cycle of Gods, but I would probably argue that it should be at least a lesser god.

For purposes of categorization, Bokrug will be a lesser god, based in Greenland area.  We’ll see if that has any bearing on the future stories.

Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Tree

I finished this story and my first response was…What was that?  This story is from his Dunsanian period, which I assumed to mean part of a otherworldly mien.  This extremely innocuous, and seemingly disparate narrative focuses on two artists who are commissioned to create a marble sculpture of Tyche, the Grecian Goddess who governed prosperity and fortune of a city.  One of the sculptors, Kalos, dies and asks to be buried with two olive branches by his head.  The other sculptor, Musides, is his best friend and complies.  Musides continues working on the sculpture, and eventually finishes as a tree grows from the grave site of Kalos.  The tree looks like a man. When the Grecians come to get the sculpture and give accolades to Musides, they find the house destroyed, the tree’s roots grown into the house and no sign of the sculpture or Musides.  The narrator tells us that in the boughs of the olive grove one can still hear whispers that say “I know, I know.”

That’s the story.  In it’s entirety.  It took me about an hour of rumination to come up with what it truly means.

In the first paragraph the narrator tells us that the grove is thought of as belonging to Pan, the Greek god of mischief.  Which would make sense since strange happenings go on there.  Then at the end of the paragraph, he tells us that he hears a different story.  This is where the Dunsany influence comes in, and why the story is truly Lovecraftian.

Kalos is said to speak to the creatures of the forest, in his Olive grove, and when he dies he asks for two olive branches to be put by his head.  Lovecraft was atheistic, but religion seeped into his writings because he thought that was the ultimate horror.  So the two olive branches indicate knowledge of the Gods and creation of a church. The creation of the Church was the tree that looked like a man, and the olive branches next to his head meant that Kalos was given the knowledge of the Gods as the branches grew through his head.  However it was thought that the god of the grove was Pan, but we are told that was not correct.  Kalos was given sight of the Great Old Ones.

Musides goes to finish his creation there, but in reality he comes to the realization of Kalos, because of the whispering of the tree.  The Great Old Ones are upset with his creation of a “graven image of another deity” in Tyche, so they destroy the house.

The whispering of “I know, I know” is not a comfort of one spirit of a friend to another, as I originally thought (I mean come on, this is Lovecraft, after all), but of knowledge.  Kalos is whispering to the world of the horrible knowledge of the Elder Gods he gained by communion in the olive grove.  The tree is Kalos ascended with that knowledge and he whispers in torment in his jail that is a tree in the shape of a man.

“I know, I know”

Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Other Gods

Sorry for the radio silence the past few months, but I’ve been head-down, grinding away at my Chapter Book Series “Elsie Jones Adventures”.  To break up the monotony and stave off burn out, I’ve decided to take on a new project.  Once a week (or so) I’m going to read through a H.P. Lovecraft story and give some insight and critical analysis.  This is purely meant to be a fun project and I’d love for feedback or discussion surrounding it.

I’ve read very little Lovecraft, but I love the idea behind his stories and have even incorporated some into my own fiction.  So, each story I will read and discuss will be brand new to me, which is why I’d love some discussion surrounding my thoughts. THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!  Anyway, here it goes…

The Other Gods

This story seems to be told by an observer who goes to a village named Ulthar.  This observer is obviously interested in the religions of this village, which is said to be based upon Earth’s Gods (which probably pertain to the Elder Gods, which were the benevolent Gods who have since left earth to return to the cosmos).  Earth’s Gods had lived high upon a mountain peak called Hatheg-Kla, but as humans expanded thier knowledge of the world, Earth’s Gods recede to Kadath (which I believe is the Dreamworlds, but I’m sure we’ll get more information through future reading).  This gives way to the Other Gods (Probably intending to mean the Ancient ones, or the malevolent gods) to take position on the peak of Hatheg-Kla.

The story holds two of the supposed staples of Lovecraftian stories.  The lust for knowledge to understand the world and the fact that the cosmos are much larger and stranger than any human mind can possibly understand.

We follow the story of Barzai the Wise (Lovecraft’s choice of nomenclature calls back, purposefully, to ancient times.  Babylonian and Arabian where all religions started.  Whereas he himself was atheist, he somehow tapped into the idea that there was a reason that these locations were where religion started, but it seems that his idea was that the genesis of religion was based in Cosmic Deities, instead of the more terrestrial tied that we as a species associate with), and his apprentice Atal, as they climb to the peak of Hatheg-Kla.  The climb becomes impossibly difficult, but the desire for knowledge is too strong in Barzai, and he reaches the strange peak to gaze upon the Earth Gods, only to be fooled and absconded by the Other Gods.  To be tormented and become mad in the Presence of the Ancient Ones.  Atal, could not make the journey, so he makes it back to Ulthar to tell the story, which is then related to the narrator, through the filter of the villagers.

It’s a great beginning to the mythos of Lovecraft I think, because it introduces all the themes we’d expect, and gives a glimpse into the burgeoning cannon that would become the Cthulhu Mythos.

There’s a ton in just a few pages, and it even introduces one of Lovecraft’s famous documents that many people for years (some still do) thought were real; the Pnakotic Mnuscripts.  “…which were too ancient to be read.”

The Holidays and the regretful respect of Dickens

I cant believe it’s been over a month since the last post!  It’s back into the busy times again, with work piling up, the mornings getting earlier and the evenings getting later.  Still, despite all that, there is something truly wonderful about this time of year.  There is a hum in the air, a mysticism floating on the wind.  From Halloween through Christmas day there is a definitive nostalgia, and lately I’ve been wondering about what books to read to feed into this nostalgia.

The strange thing for me is that whenever I think of a Christmas read, I always come back to Dickens  What’s surreal about this is I don’t even really like Dickens.  To me it seems a shame that the man got paid by the word to write his novels in serial form, because invariably his books became droll and drawn out.

Even with this realization, we have have a trope named after the man, and there’s no better nomenclature for December other than Dickensian.  It’s dreary, but somehow hopeful.  Totally overwhelming, but somehow comforting.  Completely serious, but somehow infused with whimsy.

I’m in the process of reading Bleak House by Dickens, and where the name is apropos, it is also completely ridiculous.  This is something I’m finding more and more with Dickens the more of his work I read.  As droll as he can be.  As long winded.  He still hits the notes he’s striving for.

This brings about the regretful respect, because I keep getting brought back to him.  After every book I read of his (Bleak House will be my fifth), I think how bored and angered I am at his writing style.  Then time passes and the only thing that sticks is those characters and events and the recollection of the rabbit holes he falls into disappear.  What remains is the whimsy and pride and adventure infused within the pages.

This is why Dickens reminds me so much of the Holiday season.  Though there may be hard times, there may be strife, there may be frustration, but once you’ve been through it, the only thing that sticks is the whimsy and the wonder.