“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”
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.
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?
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.
“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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“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”!
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.
“Upon investigation it was seen that a new abyss yawned indefinitely below the seat of the blast; an abyss so monstrous that no handy line might fathom it, nor any lamp illuminate it.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the last of the juvenilia from the Del Rey book “The Tomb and Other Tales.” If you want to follow along, we’ll be covering the last three fragments at the end of that book in the next three weeks!
This story has a bunch of interesting lore involved, and where it isn’t specifically Yog-Sothothery, it’s a good basis for his cannon.
The story starts with Lovecraft’s classic unreliable narrator. He is unwilling to give much background but we know that he fought in the Anglo-Indian wars, as he “…was much more at home amongst white-bearded native teachers than amongst (his) brother officers.” Which to me indicates maybe he was of mixed race, Indian/English who never felt at home. He was an outcast in his homeland and I get the feeling that he chose to go to India to fight, not our of civic duty, but of a desire to prove he belonged.
He leaves India, but instead of going home, he heads to the American West and takes on a new name: “…a life wherin I found it well to accept a name – my present one – which is very common and carries no meaning.” indicating that his name had meaning before he started his new life in America. He is an outsider that somehow holds some sort of unforeseen talent or power and just hasn’t realized it yet.
His new life consists of being a miner at the Norton Mine, looking for gold along with his fellow miner, Juan Romero. During the dig, they do some blasting and they blow out a huge abyss with no end (see opening quote).
That night there are strange sounds; drumming from the deep (which is almost the exact same line from Tolkien. I half wonder if Tolkien stole it for the Mines of Moria), some wolves howl, and Juan Romero freaks out. He goes to the edge of the abyss: “and with a wild outcry he forged ahead unguided into the cavern’s gloom.”
Romero yells “Huitzilopotchli,” which is the Aztec god of war, the sun, and human sacrifice, before heading into the maw. I first thought this an odd inclusion the tale, because why would the deity which watches over Tenochtitlan be buried in a huge abyss underneath the American West? The more I thought about it however, I realized that this was probably just a manifestation of what Romero thought might be down there. There is another possibility which I’ll cover later, but I prefer this one, so we’ll leave that here.
There are some strange lights, “at first I beheld nothing but a seething blur of luminosity;” then he sees Romero through the diverging forms in that light. Romero has changed! We don’t know into what; in fact Lovecraft has his popular non-descriptors which made his horror so palpable. He doesn’t describe it, which makes the idea that much more terrifying: “but God! I dare not tell you what I saw!” He allows the reader to formulate in their own mind what this terror could possibly mean. The brilliance of this is that each reader will come up with their own interpretation of what the horror is which hits the hardest for them.
Some kind of deific power comes down and collapses the cavern, filling in the abyss to the point that the drillers are never able to find it again. Our narrator is not sure how he got away, but he”…noticed the unaccountable absence of my Hindoo ring from my finger,” which he doesn’t believe is a coincidence: “Somehow I doubt if it was stolen by mortal hands, for many strange things were taught to me in India.”
So what does this all mean? Did Lovecraft get confused and believe that the Indian sub-continent had the same deities as the South American? How could these two different deities interact? Juan Romero sees an Aztec god, however the narrator’s Hindu ring (Shiva?) was gone after the event. How could an Aztec God possibly be effected by a talisman from a Hindu God? What was Lovecraft getting at?
I believe Lovecraft knew what he was doing. Lovecraft himself seemed too versed in religions and he tended to research and ask questions, so I very highly doubt he confused the deities of two very separate religions. What I think is more likely is that Lovecraft is taking a more unifying approach.
Lovecraft was not religious; in fact he seemed to despise religion. So why would there be two religions in one story? There wasn’t. The characters believed they were two different beings, but we are one people, and there’s a reason so many of our religions are so similar. Think about all the cultures which have a flood myth. Lovecraft is saying that we are of one culture and the true deity which was nearly released was a cthonic god. A God which was the basis of all world religions. Their moniker is only what a culture called them based upon their experience. That’s why the Hindu ring worked on an Aztec god. They were one and the same, buried under our earth much like Cthulhu is in his lost city of R’lyeh.
What do you think?
Welcome back to another Blind Read! By the looks of things, I will have made it through all of Lovecraft by the end of the year. SO…If you have an author that you’d like to discuss, or have trouble reading let me know! Maybe they can be the next author covered in this series.
“At length, being avid for new strange things and held back by neither the Kingsporter’s fear nor the summer boarder’s usual indolence, Olney made a very terrible resolve.”
This story is a connector of the Dreamlands stories. In it we have a house perched on top of a tall cliff, with the only doorway leading out to the abyss of the cliff. Inside the house we have a protector. Someone who spends eternity guarding the world from the other gods and the incursion of the Dreamlands into our reality. We are enabled to see this house because our intrepid adventurer, whom out of curiosity and a lust for life, finds a way up to “The Causeway” and meets this caretaker.
We start the story describing the harbor town of Kingsport. Right from the very first paragraph we are given knowledge that the people of Kingsport know there are strange dealings around them. The feel of the town is one of mysticism. The fantastic nostalgia for a simpler time. A time when older gods ruled the world and people only wanted for basic survival. There was no rat race, but a desire for simplicity and knowledge. This is the core of Lovecraft, both person and writings. He believed in simplicity, and loathed materialism. You can see this starkly in his portrayals of cities like New York, as he yearns to stay in his protected, almost mythical, section of New England.
Thomas Olney, our main character, is new to Kingsport and he hears stories about the house from sailors and an old bearded man in town. He can occasionally catch glimpses of it as well through the thick mists that circle the craggy cliff it sits upon. His curiosity overwhelms him and he decides that the’s going to take the trip up to it. It is a dangerous and arduous journey, but eventually he gets there and finds that the only ingress to the house are the closed windows, and a door that opens out over the cliff. He hears someone approach and hears the door creak open, so he hides beneath the sill of a window, only to be pulled into the house. The man who pulled him into the house is young and bearded and he is reminiscent of the grouchy old man in the village who seems to know about this house.
The bearded man tells stories to Olney; “…and heard how the kings of Atlantis fought with slippery blasphemies that wriggled out of rifts in the oceans floor, and how the pillared and weedy temple of Poseidonis is still glimpsed at midnight by lost ships…”
This is both a reference to R’lyeh, the city where Cthulhu is buried in slumber, and Dagon, one of the pantheon of lesser gods and linked with Poseidon. In other stories there is mention that the god like men of Atlantis fought off the Elder Gods, Cthulhu being one of them. Where they couldn’t defeat them, they buried R’lyeh, the lost city, and trapped Cthulhu within the earth. Dagon is the fish god, and still calls creatures from the sea in a slow effort to gain back control. See The Shadow over Innsmouth.
Olney is also told of older things: “Years of the Titans were recalled, but the host grew timid when he spoke of the dim first age of chaos before the gods or even the Elder Ones were born, and when the other gods came to dance on the peak of Hatheg-Kla in the stony desert near Ulthar, beyond the River Skai.”
There is a lot to unpack there, but basically we have the establishment of what Lovecraft himself called “Yog-Sothothery”, later to be coined “The Cthulhu Mythos” by August Derleth, one of Lovecraft’s closest friends and writing partners. The other gods were first; terrible creatures and malevolent in nature. The Elder Ones came later. Creatures like Azathoth. Then later, came the deep ones like Cthulhu. The River Skai also has importance in the Dreamcycle as we see in the Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and other stories.
Shortly after describing this, something comes to the door of the house. The bearded man hurries and locks the door, then goes around the house and shutters all the windows. It’s a suspenseful scene as he tells Olney to get low and be quiet. “And the bearded man made enigmatical gestures of prayer…“. The bearded man is setting wards against shadows that are gathering in the room, “For there are strange objects in the great abyss, and the seeker of dreams must take care not to stir up or meet the wrong ones.”
All of this information, plus numerous mentions of dreams and dream seekers, leads me to believe that this house is a way point. This house, in between Kingsport and Arkham, is an thin place that connects the dream world to the real world. The keeper, the bearded man, must be careful not to let these ancient horrors through the world. He gives the information to Olney, just like he gave it to The Terrible Old Man (Lovecraft even capitalized this honorarium in the story) so many years before. They get just enough information to be afraid of the house, and potentially keep others away. Olney never goes back, and in fact he loses some of his natural curiosity because of the shock of the experience, and eventually moves away. But still that Strange High House in the Mist stays and guards against the others from transcending into our world.
What do you think?
May 29, 2020 | Categories: Blind Read, Blog, Essay, Uncategorized | Tags: #author, #blindread, #blog, #essay, #fiction, #H.P.Lovecraft, #horror, #horrorfiction, #literature, #lovecraft, #shortstory, #writing | 2 Comments
In a time of such division. A time where people across the world are scared of terrorists. A time where people don’t trust and fear their leaders. A time when we seem to be moving apart from one another instead of moving closer to each other. A time where fear is perceived to be more prevalent than love.
There is hope.
We as a people go through waves and there are always troughs as much as there are peaks. You can see it in the way the cultural perspective has shifted.
The popular things now are reality TV, minimalistic music based around repetitive beats and repetitive lyrics, poorly written books meant to shock or entice.
We have weaved ourselves into a trough of apathy and complacency, where we let others tell us what to do or think and our entertainment is not there to entertain, but to anesthetize.
But out of the malaise comes art of quality.
Small at first. A book here. A movie there. A song. A painting. A TV show.
Something that comes along that makes us think again. That makes us wonder. That makes us hope.
They come from the strangest places. Disney’s Wall-E. Bad Robot’s Star Trek. Netflix’s Stranger Things.
You might be thinking what does this have to do with where the country is? What does this have do with us as a people?
It’s about the power of Imagination (with a big I). We as a species have separate processing systems in our brain. One processes logic and the other processes creativity. The creative part of your brain controls your emotions. It follows that when you feel fear or hopelessness you have an absence of creativity.
The more imagination we develop, the more we will be able to process, the less we’ll fear; the more we will hope and dream.
Art leads the world. Star Trek had one of the first interracial couples (and many of the first inter species couples). Star Wars ended the gritty anti hero hate that was brewed during the Cold War.
We went through such a boon in the 90’s that we couldn’t help but slip back. The Cold War came to and end, Apartheid ended, the global economy was growing more than ever in history.
So we relaxed. We let our imaginations grow cobwebs. But the more you see unique new shows. The more unique new art you see. The more intricate the lyrics of the music you listen too. The better the writing of the books you read…
Know that the more and more good or great art you see and intake, the more and more the culture is shifting. Our hope comes from our imagination, so lets be more childlike. Lets go on adventures. Lets fight more dragons. Lets have more tea parties. Lets Imagine.
May 24, 2020 | Categories: Blog, Essay, poetry, Uncategorized | Tags: #author, #blog, #essay, #fantasy, #imagination, #movies, #posivitvity, #startrek, #strangerthings, #television, #tv, #writer | 1 Comment
Ignorance is the foundation for Evil. Ignorance, not in derogatory terms, but in it’s definition; a lack of knowledge, is the cause of the greatest of all issues.
Welcome back to another Blind Read! Today we’re tackling an introduction to Randolph Carter, in the short vignette, and we’re covering the nature of evil, and how in Lovecraft, it always seems as though a willed ignorance is the cause of much of the horror.
The Statement of Randolph Carter has our titular character telling officials of what happened to his friend Harley Warren.
It seems as though Mr. Warren delved into strange occult books. He was fascinated with something, and kept digging deeper and deeper. He searched the world for the book that would tell him what he was looking for, and eventually he found it. Carter says that many of the books he is looking at are in Arabic, proving that he is looking for some ancient knowledge, but that the book that holds the secrets are in a language that Carter doesn’t understand.
Carter helps Warren carry equipment to a site, but when the open the tomb Warren turns to Carter, with confidence, and tells him that he is to stay there. That Carter’s sensibilities are too soft to experience what is down in the catacombs of the tomb.
Warren heads down and clicks on a phone, so that he can communicate with Carter. Warren eventually finds what he’s looking for, but realizes that he’s made a mistake. Whatever it is that he was looking for is far worse, far more powerful, far more demented, than what he anticipated. He screams and screams for Carter to run, that it’s too late for Warren to save himself, but Carter could get out.
Carter promises to save Warren, but cant bring himself to go down into the tomb. Eventually he hears a voice that tells carter “You fool. Warren is dead!”
I’ll get to the idea of ignorance, but first there is something that has been happening in quite a few Lovecraft stories which had been bothering me; in many of the stories, the narrator of the story passes out from fear before they get a glimpse of the true horror that is coming for them. Why is it that these Elder creatures and beasts are letting these people live? They come upon them, helpless, but they always let them go to tell their story. This is useful for Lovecraft to tell his tales, but is there a thematic reason for this benevolence?
I think there may be more to it. How else could all these old books like The Necronomicon be written? The knowledge had to have been obtained for the first time somehow. Could it be that the Elder Gods allowed some man to write down this knowledge? Or could it be that they want the knowledge to get out?
There is another possibility…do they have a moral code? I have always assumed that the Elder Gods have a chaotic nature, but do they not attack people that don’t wish to delve into their secrets? Do they stop their rampage when they find something helpless? Are they like the Predator? An alien creature who is a hunter, who never kills when the prey is helpless? There seems to be some credence to this theory.
So if the Elder Gods are indeed this way, then why would anyone strive to find their secrets? Is it just curiosity? Power? Which brings me to my next point. It seems like the cause of much of the issues that begin in Lovecraft, happens when ignorance takes over.
These brash adventurers, who with to go after this forbidden knowledge, are in fact ignorant of what the knowledge they seek really means. In every story these men find these books and seek their knowledge. What we infer is that these men see that there is hidden power or knowledge and that’s where they stop. It is their ignorance of what is actually going on that causes their deaths.
So are the Elder Gods actually evil? Or are they only trying to stop the ignorant from accessing knowledge (like strange angles that will enable you to travel to another dimension), that they are not ready for?
What do you think?
April 23, 2018 | Categories: Blind Read, Blog, Essay, Uncategorized | Tags: #arabic, #author, #blog, #essay, #fiction, #horror, #horrorfiction, #hplovecraft, #literature, #lovecraft, #short, #writer, #writing | 1 Comment
This was a sad and tragic tale of the Jermyn lineage. We start the story with the knowledge that the titular Arthur commits suicide. This fact weighs on the reader and becomes the driving force behind the mystery of the story.
Throughout these blind reads, I have come to understand that there is a deep mystery in every one of Lovecraft’s stories. Something terrible, otherworldly, or macabre lies at the heart of every story and through it’s telling the reader strives to understand this mystery.
This story is fairly straight forward, in that, we are reading to see what would make someone immolate themselves.
In the end, Arthur finds evidence that his great-great-great-grandfather traveled to the Congo and took a humanoid white ape as a concubine and Arthur is the descendant of this ape.
At the beginning of the story, our narrator tells us that everyone should do what Arthur did to himself if they found the same. Where bestiality is repugnant, there seems to be something more going on here.
The civilization where Wade Jermyn (the ancestor) goes speaks of the White God and the ape-princess, which is obviously Wade and his concubine, but the great civilization was told (to Arthur by Mwanu) to house “hybrid-creatures”.
Could this be a sect of Outer God worshipers? Or is this a culture built on interbreeding with apes, and Wade got caught up in the fervor of their culture?
My predilection is to think of the prior, because as horrible as it is that Arthur finds that he is descended from an ape, he is not a young man, and must know about his own soul. I would think that even if it would lead to suicide (if for no other reason than to end the lineage), it might take a little longer.
The housekeepers heard a horrible scream once Arthur opened the box. We assume as the reader that it must just be the mummified corpse of his great-great-great-grandapema, but at the beginning of the story the narrator tells us that there is an object. It is possible that Lovecraft is being coy and skirting around that it was a mummy, but there is also the peculiar golden locket which I believe holds the key.
When Arthur opens the box, it takes him a while to scream. It is readily apparent by the appearance of the mummy that it is his ancestor, but it takes him a while to scream. I think there must have been something leading to a cosmic horror discovery in the locket. Maybe that there is something far more sinister that just the white ape in his lineage?
What do you think?
Join me on Halloween for a Blind Read of “The Temple”
October 25, 2017 | Categories: Blind Read, Blog, Essay, Uncategorized | Tags: #ape, #author, #blog, #essay, #horror, #horrorfiction, #hplovecraft, #literature, #lovecraft, #object, #shortstory, #writer | 3 Comments
Welcome back to another Blind Read. This story is an interesting departure from the normal cannon. I have read a little about Lovecraft’s religious leanings and understand him to basically be an Atheist, so that’s what makes this story so fascinating to me.
The story follows our nameless narrator who watches a lighthouse. He sees a mysterious White Ship that sails in over the seas and seems to sail calmly, no matter the state of the ocean. The narrator eventually walks out over the waters and joins the White Ship. They sail past the horrible land of Xura “The Land of Pleasures un-attained”, and they continue to follow the “bird of heaven” which takes them to the wonderful Sona-Nyl. This is a land where everything is beautiful and wonderful and everyone is happy.
The narrator driven by curiosity and tells the crew that he want’s to visit a land he heard of in Sona-Nyl. The Land of Cathuria. He convinces them to take him there, and as they sail out of Sona-Nyl, they run into a horrible storm and the ship crashes. The narrator finds himself back at the lighthouse and finds a mysterious dead bird on the shore and for the rest of his time, he never sees the White Ship again.
This story is obviously about humanity and the afterlife. We have our narrator who has died, and walks upon the waters to join the crew of the White Ship. They sail past Hell, because that is not where he belongs, but follow the “bird of heaven” to the actual Heaven. A place where everyone is content and happy and there is no strife.
But there is a curiosity in Human Nature that drives us for understanding. I think this hits home more in Lovecraft than many people and I think that’s why he wrote the type of stories that he wrote.
The narrator wants to see this other land, so he coerces the crew to take him, and though they know what will happen, they agree. They sail away from Sona-Nyl and reject it and he is returned to the real world never to see Sona-Nyl again.
Could this be Lovecraft’s veiled attempt at telling his story of the rejection of religion? you can gather a glimpse of heaven, but it is sallow and thin. There is more mystery in the world and to ignore it is to live in ignorance. So Lovecraft is rejecting heaven to gain a darker understanding of our terrestrial world.
What do you think?
Join me Tomorrow for a Blind Read of “Arthur Jermyn”
October 24, 2017 | Categories: Blind Read, Blog, Essay, Uncategorized | Tags: #author, #blog, #essay, #fiction, #H.P.Lovecraft, #horror, #horrorfiction, #literature, #lovecraft, #sail, #ship, #shortstory | Leave a comment
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.
September 26, 2017 | Categories: Blind Read, Blog, Essay, Uncategorized | Tags: #author, #blog, #chaos, #dream, #dreamlands, #fiction, #horror, #horrorfiction, #hplovecraft, #literature, #lovecraft, #writer | Leave a comment
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”
September 20, 2017 | Categories: Blind Read, Blog, Essay, Uncategorized | Tags: #author, #blog, #cthulhu, #essay, #horror, #horrorfiction, #hplovecraft, #lovecraft, #monster, #shortstory, #writer | Leave a comment
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.
August 11, 2017 | Categories: Blind Read, Blog, Essay, Uncategorized | Tags: #author, #blog, #cats, #essay, #fiction, #horror, #horrorfiction, #hplovecraft, #literature, #lovecraft, #writing | 1 Comment
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).
August 9, 2017 | Categories: Blind Read, Blog, Essay, Uncategorized | Tags: #author, #blog, #egypt, #essay, #fiction, #horrorfiction, #hplovecraft, #literature, #lovecraft, #sciencefiction, horror | Leave a comment
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.
July 11, 2017 | Categories: Blind Read, Blog, Essay, Uncategorized | Tags: #author, #blog, #dream, #essay, #fiction, #horror, #horrorfiction, #hplovecraft, #lovecraft, #nightmare, #sciencefiction, #scifi | Leave a comment
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.
June 29, 2017 | Categories: Blind Read, Blog, Essay, Uncategorized | Tags: #author, #blog, #essay, #fiction, #horror, #horrorfiction, #hplovecraft, #literature, #lovecraft, #writer, #writing | 1 Comment
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”
June 22, 2017 | Categories: Blind Read, Blog, Essay, Uncategorized | Tags: #author, #blog, #essay, #fiction, #greek, #horror, #horrorfiction, #hplovecraft, #literature, #lovecraft, #mythology, #tree, #writer | 2 Comments
Today in honor of finishing one of my books which is based upon poetry, I’m submitting some poetry of my own. I wrote this one a few years ago, but I never published it here. Enjoy!
Driftwood finds it’s way to sand, how is it that it’s so hard for me to find land?
and this state of constant wonder, leads me divided; torn asunder
in this horrid devil’s playground in my head…
My fingers tell the story, of the broken trumped up glory
when my mind refused to listen, drowned out by broken pistons
the silence beating louder than my heart…
The darkened frozen night glows, and the turgid sky just bellows
of my time examining seams, on the boulevard of broken dreams
as words flow down as kindling for my hearth…
But those wounds of empty pages, who speak louder than the ages
as the clock runs down to zero, I’m not a battered, broken hero,
just a man who wont give up until he wins…