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Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Crawling Chaos

This was a fairly early iteration of Lovecraft’s work, and a clear indication of the direction that he intended to go in the Dream-Cycle.  This is a collaboration, so it is a bit of a stretch from Lovecraft’s other work, and frankly, not nearly as precise and put together.  The language is pulled together with cheap word positioning (“the doomed shack”.  The only reason doomed is used here is to give the story a creepier effect, when in reality, it shouldn’t have been written as a creepy story, but as a cosmic horror story because the whole planet is doomed) and a rambling tone, when on close inspection of Lovecraft’s other works, he tends to have loose meaning and trite verbiage, but it is precise.  Where it isn’t in this story.

Basically we follow the narrator into a cosmic horror dream.  The use of Opium is prevalent, though the narrator says that this experience is neither an Opium dream, nor a fever dream.  He goes on a cosmic journey, meeting gods and leaving the earth, only to find that there is a cosmic event that has destroyed the world.

The plot line is a Lovecraftian story, but what is absent is all the beautiful references, and subtleties.  From the preface of the story Lovecraft thought highly of Winifred Jackson who this story is based on, but I fear that his collaboration with Elizabeth Berkeley sapped the story of it’s needed umph.

Join me tomorrow for a Blind Read through of “The Walls of Eryx”, another collaboration.

Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Quest of Iranon

Quite an interesting and lore building story.  From the preface to the story it seems as though Lovecraft was very proud of the language of this story, but what goes far beyond the language is the depth of character and world building.

The story follows a young man named Iranon who is looking for the city of his youth.  He tells everyone he meets that he is a Prince of Aira, and he is trying to find that city once more. He travels around and sees all of the world, and even though he is young, he experiences much, that is until the twist at the end.

I would portend that Iranon is actually the narrator of most of Lovecraft’s stories.  He tells of Sarnath, he tells of ancient cities in Egypt (the nameless city), and other strange locals.  He strangely doesn’t remember when these visits happened or much about them, just that he has been there.

Then at the end of the story we find out that he is much, much older than we initially thought (in fact much older than he himself thinks), and that there is a certain amount of madness in his personality.

Then we couple that with the fact that we very nearly never hear a narrators name, they just tell the story.  The narrators of the stories we see all are unreliable, which partners with the madness of Iranon.

The world of Lovecraft just keeps getting better and better.

Join me next Tuesday for “The Crawling Chaos” blind read through.

Blind read through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Nameless City

This one is a pure horror story.  This reminds me of the times my friends and I sat around and played the table top game.

The story follows a narrator through Egypt to explore and he comes across the nameless city.  A city whose inhabitants seemed to be some prehistoric creatures that were part man and part reptile.  Our narrator finds a tunnel and happens upon some kind of deeper creature sleeping within the earth.

The absolute best part of horror, is the fear of the unknown.  There are things in the world which we can even fathom and what makes Lovecraft so amazing is that he tunes into this with his Chthonic Deities and their followers.

Best line in the story?  “To convey any idea of these monstrosities is impossible.”

And even though he gives a semblance of a description right after this, it still hits the fear meter.

We are also reintroduced to the Mad Arab who wrote the Necronomicon off the horrible experiences he had in places similar to this.

We are left with the wonderful, famous, Lovecraft line from the Necronomicon:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,

And with strange aeons even death may die.

Lovecraft is also a precursor to all the modern day Urban fantasy, with his first person narrators who are describing these strange happenings, with their own voice.  If you notice every Lovecraft narrator is invariably, Lovecraft.  His discernible prose streams through each narrator’s tome, and what makes it work is the absolute weirdness and uniqueness of the tales.

Join me tomorrow for a blind read through of “The Quest of Iranon”

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

Welcome back!  We’re getting into it today!  Thus far through the blind reads I have read a number of stories which were written before the Cthulhu Mythos truly began.  I have enjoyed these stories for their literary merit, and for the genesis of Lovecraft as a writer.  Then we get the The Festival and we finally get to the feel and nomenclature that I associate with Lovecraft.  This is the first mention of The Necronomicon, the first mention of Miskatonic University, and the first mention of Arkham that I have come across in the readings.

Our story begins with the narrator heading back to “the ancient sea town where my people dwelt…”  It is a horribly beautiful description, that portrays a town built centuries before and is somehow still standing.  He is heading back there for a Yuletide celebration, as he got a message summoning him back to join his family for this celebration.

He heads through town to find his ancestors home and knocks on the door.  He is met by an old man who’s face is so soft and un-moving that it looks like a wax mask instead of skin, and there is an old woman off spinning in the corner.  The old man doesn’t speak, but tells our narrator to sit and wait for him (he writes it down on a tablet, I assume he doesn’t speak because the wax mask wouldn’t move and he doesn’t want to break the illusion yet).  The narrator sits down and sees a number of books on the table in front of him, one of which is The Necronomicon.  He picks it up and reads a bit while the old woman continues to spin in the corner.  Eventually the old man comes back, dons a robe and beckons our narrator to follow him.  They head out through the snow, in a congregation of hooded figures, until they get to an old church.  They head down a trap door in the church to a tomb underneath.  There is a flame that gives off no heat and a strange oily, putrid stream that flows through the tomb.  The old man gets up and raises The Necronomicon, says a few words and horrible creatures come out of the flame.  They are fetid and rotting and have wings.  The group gets on and flies out of the church.  The old man beckons our narrator to get on one, and gives him a watch that had been buried with his grandfather in the 1600’s.  The narrator freaks out and jumps in the fetid stream.  He wakes in the hospital and finds out that the town he was in has not existed for quite some time, and everything has been updated.  He is then sent to Arkham for psychological surveillance.

We are led to believe that the old man is in fact his great-great-great-great grandfather, and that the narrator actually has ties to the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred who wrote The Necronomicon.

Though less literary than a number of his other stories; this straight forward horror tale is indicative of everything I’ve come to love about Lovecraft’s legacy.  I’ts been amazingly fun to read through it, and I loved this one.  Absolutely my favorite thus far in the cannon.

Next week there will be no Blind read through, because of a vacation, but join me September 7th for The Nameless City.

Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; From Beyond

This one was fun.  Obviously, it was very heavily influenced by Poe (Tell Tale Heart comes to mind), but wonderfully unique and unutterably Lovecraftian.  This was, thus far int he blind read through’s, the least literary.  What the story has going for it is it’s horror, because it is by far the most horrific and terror filled story I’ve read by him.

Our narrator tells us of a friend of his, Crawford Tillinghast, who has gone a little off the reservation.  Tillinghast invites our narrator to his house one evening and relates the story of what he has been working on.

He has recognized that the pineal gland can be altered to view the world for what it really is.  To see beyond what we perceive.  He creates a device he calls a resonance wave machine and turns it on.  The whine creates a wave that gives the pineal gland an altered sense and the narrator begins to see jellyfish like creatures that surround him.  We find out that Tillinghast had servants and the narrator thought they were dismissed, but we find out here that in fact one of the servants turned the light on when the Resonance Wave was turned on and creatures from beyond dissolved them.  That is the plot of Tillinghast.  He invited our narrator because he thinks the narrator held him back from his potential.

We find out that one of the horrible creatures that has the ability to dissolve is right behind the narrator and he shoots the Resonance Wave.  The machine explodes, the creatures disappear and Tillinghast dies of apoplexy.

Not a whole lot to read into in this one.  The interesting thing is that Tillinghast somehow tied the machine to his brain, and that’s why he suffered the stroke, because his pineal gland burst, this leads me to believe that if the narrator had shot Tillinghast instead of the machine the same outcome would have come about.

There seems to be a theme in Lovecraft where the Old and Elder Gods (and all their children) don’t really care about humans.  They are so much greater and bigger than we can imagine that it is only when some human summons them that the havoc is wreaked.  Even when they do this damage however, it is not of their malevolence (with the exception of Nyarlahotep), they are just going about their own business, but their norm is so far beyond and bizarre to our human sensibilities, that it destroys us.

Join me again tomorrow for another blind read through of The Festival.  If you want to read along I’m reading “The Doom that came to Sarnath” by Del Rey.

Blind Read through: H.P. Lovecraft; Nathicana

I have to admit on this one, I wasn’t sure while reading through if these was some knowledge I needed to prepossess to understand what was going on here.  I eventually went seeking some more information to see if my initial impressions were correct or if, in fact, I had some ignorance to the material Lovecraft was writing about.  I’ll describe what my first impressions were and then talk about what I could find in a cursory search.

This is a very Poe’esque poem.  Reminiscent of “Annabelle Lee” in it’s lyrical qualities and repetition; also in congruence with it’s macabre nature.  We begin by viewing a purely Lovecraftian landscape, a very Romanesque place called Zais.  There the narrator, through the mists of Yabon (the moon?), he sees the horrible beauty of Nathicana.  This woman (Goddess?) is someone he is obsessed with, and strives to find her again, but soon comes the dreaded season of Dzannin (the sun?), that interferes, with it’s red light, the dreams where the narrator can see Nathicana.  So he develops a “draught” that once he takes he can escape life and rejoin the “divine” Nathicana.

Seems fairly straight forward, the narrator sees a Goddess in his dreams and he can’t get back to her because his dreams are interfered with, so he drinks poison, to go beyond life and back into the realm of dreams to get back into the graces of his Goddess.

What I was confused about was the nomenclature.  It may have been because I hadn’t read much Lovecraft before this project, but I hadn’t heard Dzannin, nor Yabon, Nor Nathicana for that matter.  So I did a bit of searching on the old interwebs.

The most interesting quote I came across was in a letter that Lovecraft sent to Donald Wandrei.  In it Lovecraft told Wandrei that the poem was a “parody on those stylistic excesses which really have no basic meaning.”

How very David Lynch of him.

I stick with my original feeling about the poem.  Now while I am a bit underwhelmed by the poem, it does fit within this beginning time frame where his style is developing and transmogrifying into one of the Cthulhu Mythos and that of the Dreamlands.

Join me next week for a blind read through of “From Beyond”.

Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; Hypnos

Welcome back to the creeping revision of H.P. Lovecraft’s work!  This week I’m delving into Hypnos and it’s duality meaning.

The basic story is that the classic unreliable narrator meets a man who had a god-like face almost as ‘white as the marble of Pentelicus.’  The man had passed out in a train station, and our narrator went to him and when the man opened his eyes the narrator knew ‘he would be thenceforth my only friend.’  They discuss the universe and everything within it, and the narrator sculpts his friend.  Our narrators new friend has a secret desire that he dare not speak of, to rule and go past the barriers of our known world.  They experiment in drugs and try to get into the sleep world (which I can only imagine is a precursor, or even the beginnings of the dream-cycle pantheon).  Then one one of these trips the friend (unnamed…for now), goes past an impassible barrier in the dream world, and comes back terrified and visibly aged.  The two then vow to sleep as little as possible, also with the help of drugs.  They age horribly and they pass their time in big groups and go to as many parties as possible, until one night as they are sleeping something strange happens as a light glows over his friends head and our narrator can see the disembodied face that looks as his friend once did before he went through the impassible barrier.  The police come and gather the narrator and tell him that he has been alone, that all along he has been alone…that there was no friend.  the only evidence is a bust of his friend with the name Hypnos.

There is an emerging theme that I had never known about from hearing about Lovecraft and that is the drugs.  There have been many stories thus far eliciting that the narrators are using drugs to help them get past the barriers and see what is beyond.  One cant help but think of the drug dreams of Irving Welch, and wonder if these are stories of fever dreams.  It would be a provocative theory, though probably an unpopular one, but I would need to read more to see if the thread continues.

The connectors in the story are traced back to Greece.  The narrator is a sculptor and he says he spends his free time sculpting his friend, who has a forehead as white as the marble of Pentelicus…a mountain in Athens known for it’s marble.  Then at the end we find that the friends name was Hypnos, which was the Greek demi-god of sleep.  So we come to a crossroads.  The story is either telling us that the narrator finds this marble bust, and through his drug or fever dream, thinks that the bust opens its eyes and becomes his friend.  Remember that the friend was found asleep in the train station, a place where it would make sense for a bust to be.  Our narrator is lost in the HYPNOtic gaze of the bust, steals it and the drugs bring him through the adventures.  The strange light over his friend at the end, is actually light over the bust and the cracking of the narrators reality.  Remember that the idea was put there by drugs (one can only guess that it was a hallucinogenic), and he then stayed awake with the help of drugs.  Sleep deprivation on top of a psychotic break will only deepen psychosis.

The other option, is that the events of the story are unfolded exactly how they are told, but frankly with the evidence that Lovecraft deposits throughout the story, this is not very likely.  In any case, this was probably my favorite story thus far, right up there with The Tomb and The Tree.

Join me on Thursday this week (08/17) for one of Lovecraft’s Poems “Nathicana”.  and if you want to read along with me I’m reading the Del Rey edition of “The Doom That Came to Sarnath”. ISBN:  0345331052

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.