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Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft/August Derleth; Wentworth’s Day

I assured him I had never heard of Nahum Wentworth before, though I admitted privately to some curiosity about the object of my host’s preoccupation, insofar as he had been given to reading the Seventh Book of Moses, which was a kind of Bible for the supposed hexes, since it purported to offer all manner of spells, incantations, and charms to those readers who were gullible enough to believe in them.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we tread the back roads beyond the wastrel excuse for a farming town known as Dunwich to find horrors unknown in the magical ether of Lovecraft’s universe.

Robert Bloch with one of his most popular books

So I immediately have to print a retraction (but that’s kind of the point of a blind read isn’t it? To conjecture?). Last week I said I expected Derleth to work pretty much exclusively on expanding Lovecraft’s mythos. To clarify the unclear, and to streamline the vague. I said I didn’t think he would write a straight horror story. I’m happy to say that in the very next story, “Wentworth’s Day,” which we’ll be digesting shortly, he’s proved me wrong. There have actually been many stories which are allegedly inspired by Lovecraft (By authors such as Brian Lumley and Robert Bloch), but I’ve never really understood exactly how Lovecraft supposedly inspired them because they never really felt like they truly fit in his world. Weird of course, but not really Lovecraftian. Now I understand. This story, which again is just a straight horror story with only a slant connection to the cosmic (which you’d only catch if you were well versed in Lovecraft), is the direct antecedent to such books as “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.”

The original cover of an amazing collection

The story begins as our narrator is driving through the backwoods beyond the previously mentioned Dunwich. There seems to be nothing habitable out there except for “…reclusive dwellers on some broken-down farms.” The narrator even mentions that the area, “Once, long ago, it had the reputation of being a country in which Hexerei – the witch beliefs of superstitious people – was practiced…” and that which we know as readers has the potential for Shoggoth (disappointingly, none appear). I thought this may be a call back, but as we’ll see, there are a few things in this story which are only call backs… they’re only prompts meant to entice the reader to keep going.

Derleth spends some decent time setting the scene as the narrator tells us he gets stuck because the highway was blocked off. He goes on a detour late in the evening, trying to push through and instantly regretting it.

A storm soon blossoms and he passes what seems to be a more habitable property. It’s a house and a barn and “The headlamps’ glow swept the face of the dwelling there…” He sees a mail box with the name “Amos Stark” (which really has no reference lineage, but I mention is because it seems remarkably familiar to a Stephen King story you may be familiar with…). The narrator takes the liberty of parking in the mans barn (how rude is that? I know these stories were written in the 50’s, but imagine the gaul… ‘I’m just going to drive my car into your barn without asking. I’m owed that because this place is so run down, I bet they wont even notice!’ Well, the people of the backwoods New England must be nicer, because when “a wizened old man with a scraggly beard half covering his scrawny neck” came to the door, he didn’t bat an eye, just ushered the narrator into his house.

Then the weird stuff starts to happen and not the weird stuff you’d expect from this kind of horror story. Stark offhandedly says today “is Wentworth’s day. I thought yew might be Nahum.” Now I’m not an expert on New England names from the early 20th Century, but I don’t think Nahum is a popular one, so immediately I’m excited because I’m thinking, “Yes, here’s ‘The Colour out of Space’ character directly in a Derleth tale (Nahum Gardener was the farmer whose family’s misfortune it was to have the meteor land on their property), but then the more I read I realize that it’s just a bad call back, a poorly misplaced fan service. This new character is Nahum Wentworth, not Gardener, and Derleth only named him that to keep readers reading… to keep the references to Lovecraft, no matter how thin, while forging his own path. I understand this predilection but it makes me sad because this story is good, but this erroneous and desperate grab for an audience feels dirty.

After that we get the tale of Stark and Wentworth. Apparently Wentworth was pretty rich and gave Stark a loan. The loan was set to come due this night: “Five years, an’ this is the day, this is Wentworth’s Day.” Wentworth had until midnight, that very night our narrator came knocking to collect on his money… the only problem is… Wentworth is dead. Stark “accidently” shot him in the back of his head:

“‘I fell,’ he muttered, and there followed a sentence or two of inanities. ‘All they was to it.’ And again many indistinguishable words. ‘Went off – quick-like.” Once more a round of meaningless or inaudible words. ‘Didn’t know ’twas aimed at Nahum.'”

So all of that put together seems like it shouldn’t be a big deal right? Well, then we remember that this is an area which historically practices what Derleth calls the Hexerei. Stark shows our narrator (still don’t really know why he’s being so forthwith with our narrator. This seems like a plot convenience, but at the same time, this was backwoods New England in the 50’s, set in the 30’s. Maybe, nay probably, people were a bit more equitable back then) some of Wentworth’s books he had taken and our attention is immediately drawn to The Seventh Book of Moses.

A recreation of the Seventh Book of Moses

…the Seventh Book of Moses, which, I soon found, was a curious rigmarole of chants and incantations to such “princes” of the nether world of Aziel, Mephistopheles, Marbuel, Barbuel, Aniquel, and others.”

Yet another reason why we know this is emphatically not Lovecraft (besides the fact that Derleth was actually much better at dialogue). The Seventh Book of Moses is a real historical book which talks of magical and spiritual arts as well as Christian demons and devils and such and is commonly mentioned in occult circles. This is nothing like the Pnakotic Manuscripts or the Necronomicon. It’s a bit disappointing that we aren’t getting more of Lovecraft’s world, because Derleth claimed these stories were actually written by Howard Phillips and only cleaned up by Derleth. Like I said earlier, the stories (so far at least) stand on their own, but to put Lovecraft’s name on it gives the first tinges of stigma against Derleth. I still enjoyed the tale, but for these reasons it feels a bit like a cash grab instead of honest inspiration.

We then get another “Colour out of Space” reference when a Whippoorwill calls. If you recall from that tale, the whippoorwill cries as an omen for ill to come. Shortly there after the deadly call there’s a knock at the door.

Stark goes to answer, but waits the few minutes until after the clock strikes midnight… or at least he thinks he does:

I heard Stark’s exclamation of triumph. ‘Past midnight!’ He had looked at his clock, and at the same time I looked at my watch. His clock was ten minutes fast.

And retribution come right quick. Wentworth had come back for Stark.

Amos Stark was spread on the floor on his back, and sitting astride him was a mouldering skeleton, its bony arms bowed above his throat, it’s fingers at his neck.

Once the deed is done and Stark is dead the skeleton withdraws, leaving our narrator aghast in horror, and we get our moment of Scary Stories to tell in the Dark:

For as I bent above Amos Stark, ascertaining that he was indeed dead, I saw sticking into the discolored flesh of his neck the whitened finger bones of a human skeleton, and, even as I looked upon them, the individual bones detached themselves, and went bounding away from the corpse, down the hall, and out into the night to rejoin that ghastly visitor who had come from the grave to keep his appointment with Amos Stark!”

Join me next week as we dive deeper into Derleth with hopeful curiosity in “The Peabody Heritage.”


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft/August Derleth; The Survivor

The lower or ground floor, however, abounded in evidence of its one time occupant, the surgeon, for one room of it had manifestly served him as a laboratory of some kind, and an adjoining room as a study, for both had the look of having been but recently abandoned in the midst of some inquiry or research, quite as if the occupation of the house by its brief tenant – post mortem Charriere – had not touched upon these rooms.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! We’ve graduated from Lovecraft after reading his entire catalog, and we’re now moving onto works inspired by, and potentially even partially written by, Lovecraft. August Derleth was one of Howard Phillip’s contemporaries and loved his work so much that he published it all years after they originally appeared in magazines like “Weird Tales.” From what I can surmise, Derleth states that much of what he wrote himself was based upon extensive notes he gathered from Lovecraft himself and thus for many years published these under Lovecraft’s name instead of his own.

The un-assuming visage of August Derleth

The Survivor is the first of these stories we’re getting to, and where the atmosphere, tone, and content are accurate and reminiscent of Lovecraft’s works, the writing makes it painfully apparent that this story was written by someone other than Lovecraft himself. Not to say that it’s bad. This is an entertaining story and it’s written well, but the archaic sentence structure and unique verbosity of Lovecraft created the depth of gothic horror present in all of his tales. This story feels more like Derleth is doing his best to imitate Lovecraft all while trying to clarify the mythos and put his own stamp onto it at the same time.

The story begins much like you’d expect; with out narrator recanting a story of something which happened in his past. We get that same “gather around the fireplace” feel but, again, you can tell right from the start that it isn’t Lovecraft writing:

I had never intended to speak or write again of the Charriere house, once I had fled Providence on that shocking night of discovery – there are memories which every man would seek to suppress, to disbelieve, to wipe out of existence – but I am forced to set down how the narrative of my brief acquaintance with the house on Benefit Street, and my precipitate flight there-from, lest some innocent person be subjected to the indignity by the police in an effort to explain the horrible discovery the police have made at last – that same ghastly horror it was my lot to look upon before any human eye – and what I saw was surely far more terrible that what remained to be seen after all these years, the house having reverted to the city, as I had known it would.”

Wow! What a rambling full paragraph sentence which says absolutely nothing! The story really gets much better from here, but you can tell that Derleth was trying his hardest to do what Lovecraft did so well…create a thesis for the story in the first paragraph, to set the story up for what we should be expecting for the rest of our reading experience, but Derleth rambles here and it halts the suspension of disbelief due to lack of comprehension.

Soon Derleth rights his ship and we find that our protagonist/narrator is an “antiquarian” much like many of the Lovecraftian characters (think Charles Dexter Ward) and is looking for a house to live in for a month so he can continue his work. He is drawn to this house because of it’s old architecture, which delights his antiquarian nature despite having many people telling him the house is cursed.

He moves in finds that it’s the house of a Dr. Cherriere who recently died, but paid the taxes long enough so that one of his “relatives” could come and claim it (Though we already know from the opening paragraph that, that didn’t happen).

The house was built back in 1704 and “Its rooms were irregular – appearing to be either quite large or very small.” There is even a laboratory, which doesn’t surprise our narrator because Cherriere is a doctor, but in this lab there are “strange, almost cabalistic drawings, resembling physiological charts, of various kinds of saurians...”

This was the first moment that gave me pause (at least in terms of mythology). I was expecting a purely Lovecraftian fever dream out of this story, but it turns out that this is the first moment that Derleth decides to add his own spin onto Lovecraft’s mythos. There is evidence of other reptilian creatures and studies throughout the house and in the study the narrator finds, “a sequence of cryptic references to certain mythological creatures, particularly one named ‘Cthulhu,’ and another named ‘Dagon.'”

Artist’s rendition of a Deep One

Obviously Derleth found these two gods and their servants, “The Deep Ones,” the most intriguing (at least as far as this first story is concerned. The evidence is there, however, because where Lovecraft called his mythology Yog-Sothothery, Derleth renamed it “The Cthulhu Mythos”), because this story is firmly rooted around the two of them. The change comes with the advent of the saurian features. The narrator calls the Deep Ones “evidently amphibious creatures living in the depths of the seas.” Which is curious for a number of reasons. The first is that amphibians don’t actually live deep under water as they need oxygen periodically. The second is that Lovecraft’s deep ones were fish creatures, not reptile creatures. So as Derleth is working on clearing up some of the confusion as to what these gods are and where they land in the pantheon, he is also stamping his own predilections on top. I’m in no way detracting from Derleth’s efforts (except for the amphibian living on the bottom of the ocean) because I believe that Lovecraft wanted other authors to take the ideas and run with them (he’s said so a few different times in letters). In fact the only reason Lovecraft is as popular as he is today is because of Derleth’s efforts at clarifying the mythos (and renaming it) for the broad populace. After reading just this first story, I myself have a much clearer understanding of the mythos which is, incidentally, what I was looking for when I started this series in the first place. It’s also why I wanted to keep going and cover Derleth as well. I believe Lovecraft was only looking to create unique and terrifying stories. It doesn’t seem like it was until Derleth took over that it really became a contained “cosmic horror” theme in and of itself.

From the pages of the Pnakotic Manuscripts

Speaking of “mythos,” our narrator continues to dig and finds strange books which will be familiar to any reader of Lovecraft: Cultes des Goules, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, and The Pnakotic Manuscripts, all mixed in with other strange books of Derleth’s creation. Some of these (like The Saurian Age) will be interesting to see if they come up in future works as well, since it looks like Derleth is making the sea creatures reptilian, rather than the fish people of Innsmouth, potentially in an effort to make the Deep Ones more scary. He’s even moving from the notorious “smell” which we have found in Lovecraft to be a fungoid smell, to now a reptilian smell (full disclosure. I really have no idea what a reptilian smell is…can someone describe that? Is that in any way similar to the moldy smell of fungous?)

While filtering through these he finds that Dr. Cherriere is actually extremely old. There’s evidence of him being born back in the 1600’s! Could this actually be him and not just some ancestor? Could it be that he is actually not dead, and just waiting for the memory of his “death” to die down so he can come back as his own “nephew?” (Of course he is!)

This is where the real horror of the story begins. The narrator hears a break in and follows the sounds to the study:

I turned on the flashlight, which was directed at the desk I had left…What I saw was incredible, horrible. It was not a man who stood there, but a travesty of a man.

It was a half reptile, half man. It was Dr. Cherriere. The man who’d spent his life studying the ancient and forbidden knowledge hidden in those terrible books. It’s the classic Lovecraftian theme of the eternal desire to gain forbidden knowledge. Dr. Cherriere had turned himself, through experiments with the saurian nature of Dagon and Cthulhu and the hidden knowledge in the forbidden tomes, into a mockery of a man just to prolong his life.

The story is predictable, but in a weird way that’s comforting. Like I said earlier, this story feels like Derleth’s effort to clarify Lovecraft, and that predictability was necessary because he was giving the reader familiarity (or fan service?) so he could go the extra mile with exposition and explanation of known quantities. In general we know these creatures and those ancient tomes exist in this world…what we don’t know is how they’re interconnected. It almost feels like Derleth’s stories will be an approach of connecting Lovecraft’s world, instead of just writing horror stories.

Let’s find out if that’s the case next week, as we evaluate “Wentworth’s Day!”

Post Script:

If there is any doubt whether this was Lovecraft writing or Derleth, then rest easy. I found the smoking gun! The text should be enough to tell. Though Derleth is a good writer, his style is all together simple when put up next to Lovecraft. Lovecraft uses archaic words that weren’t even still in use back when he was writing in the 20’s and 30’s. He did this to give an “antiquarian” feel for the reader. To bring us all into a different world. Derleth isn’t looking to do that, he’s looking to clarify the universe in which Lovecraft created.

But that isn’t the smoking gun. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Derleth wrote this story and not Lovecraft because of a simple tool. Derleth calls it a flashlight. Lovecraft calls it a torch. There is not one mention of the word flashlight in any of Lovecraft’s stories. This is done on purpose to give the reader that previously mentioned feel. Derleth gives himself away, but really…do we care??


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Shadow out of Time, Pt. 1

The essence was always the same – a person of keen thoughtfulness seized with a strange secondary life and leading for a greater or lesser period an utterly alien existence typified at first by vocal and bodily awkwardness, and later by a wholesale acquisition of scientific, historic, artistic, and anthropological knowledge; an acquisition carried on with feverish zest and with a wholly abnormal absorptive power.

Welcome back to another blind read! This week we trek down a mind bogglingly complex philosophical maze of “nightmare and terror,” in addition to connecting a large collection of Lovecraft’s tales as we try to peel back the layers of the first half of the journey of “The Shadow out of Time.”

This novelette is absolutely the most dense of anything I’ve read by Lovecraft and believe me, breaking it all down is a little daunting, but as the text says at the beginning of the story, “If the thing did happen, then man must be prepared to accept notions of the cosmos, and of his own place in the seething vortex of time, whose merest mention is paralysing.”

The plot of the story surrounds our narrator (Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee) who is a professor at Miskatonic University and by his own proclamations, insists that he has always been sound of mind. That is until he gained a “queer amnesia” which lasted for five years. During that timeframe he became obsessed with “occultism and abnormal psychology,” of which he had never had an inkling towards. During this “lost time” he traveled to the Himalayas, to the Arctic, to the Arabian deserts, to Australia, and even the “vast limestone cavern systems of western Virginia.

Illustration of the Great Race of Yith

Nathaniel asserts that right before his “lost time” happened he felt “...that someone else was trying to get possession of my thoughts.” which brings into play so many of the previous stories in Lovecraft’s collection. Most recently this makes me think of Asenath from “The Thing on the Doorstep” where she would project her mind into other’s bodies. As we get further into the story, we find there is an Alien species which Lovecraft refers to as the “Great Race” which “With suitable mechanical aid a mind would project itself forward in time, feeling its dim, extrasensory way till it approached the desired period. Then, after preliminary trials, it would seize on the best discoverable representative of the highest of that period’s life-forms; entering the organism’s brain and setting up therein its own vibrations while the displaced mind would strike back to the period of the displacer, remaining in the latter’s body till a reverse process was set up.”

This passage echoes the concepts in the story “The Whisperer in Darkness” as maybe a beginning of the transposition process. Remember in that story that they would extract the brain from the body so that the brain could travel to all reaches of the galaxy to gain new knowledge? Their bodies would be cast aside and their brains would be entered into metal tubes which would be sent with the alien race to space to gather knowledge (if you can believe them).

Erich Zann communicating with the Great Race

We get even deeper into the mythos as we understand that, “If the mind came from a body whose language the Great Race could not physically reproduce, clever machines would be made, on which the alien speech could be played as on a musical instrument.” Which stands to reason that “The Music Erich Zann” was playing was actually communication to this Great Race and the horror which came from the sight of them: “The Great Race’s members were immense rugose cones ten feet high, and with head and other organs attached to foot-thick, distensible limbs spreading from the apexes.”

So it’s natural to draw the conclusion that it’s this Great Race which has been searching out the history of the universe and transpose themselves into various cultures on planets. They were the influence for Asenath gaining her access to these powers, which also ties them to Dagon and the “Shadow over Innsmouth,” they are an influence on Kingsport with the “Terrible Old Man” and his metal tubes, they influence Arkham as they collect people mechanically and put their brains in tubes. While they enter their subjects bodies they search out as much cosmic knowledge as they can gather from that world, and when they’re done they put the consciousness back into their host’s body. To the host it feels like they are dreaming. We have absolutely heard that before. This story seems to be confirming my suspicion as to what the dreamlands actually are, because right at the beginning of the fourth section Nathaniel tells us, “I continued…to keep a careful record of the outré dreams which crowded upon me so thickly and vividly. Such a record, I argued, was of genuine value as a psychological document. The glimpses still seemed damnably like memories…”

In the Randolph Carter tales (The Silver Key, Through the Gates of the Silver Key, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, The Statement of Randolph Carter, The Unnamable), our protagonist is called a dreamer. With the help of the Necronomicon, he “dreams” and travels around the universe, interacting with various species. He then uses the Silver Key to go beyond consciousness. In fact in “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” he even becomes one of these creatures.

The layer that’s added with this story is that even though these travels are thought of as dreaming, the real nature of what’s going on here is that these people are traversing time not consciousness. To solidify this concept there’s even a paragraph right in the middle of the fourth chapter:

There was a mind from the planet we know as Venus, which would live incalculable epochs to come, and one from an outer moon of Jupiter six million years in the past. Of earthly minds there were some from the winged, star-headed, half vegetable race of palaeogean Antarctica; one from the reptile people of the fabled Valusia; three from the furry pre-human Hyperborean worshippers of Tsathoggua; one from the wholly abominable Tcho-Tchos; two from the arachnid denizens of earth’s last age; five from the hardly coleopterous species immediately following mankind, to which the Great Race was some day to transfer it’s keenest minds en masse in the face of horrible peril; and several from different branches of humanity.

He goes on to talk of the various historical figures of both Lovecraftian mythos and human history, inexorably trying them together. It is here (it’s discussed in The Dream Quest-of Unknown Kadath as well) in which Lovecraft tells us in no uncertain terms that Time is not a concept of motion or reality, but that Time itself is an alternative universe, which is why people can actually traverse to and from. It is, in and of itself, a dimension, so to understand time travel we have to understand that it’s a linear thing. You go through a gate into another dimension. A dimension of time. This bypasses the problem of physics because it’s a separate dimension of which the Great Race have perfected (alongside some of the Elder Gods) how to traverse it. The same way that Carter was able to get there through the gate using the silver key, and Wilmarth viewed (albeit in a much more crude fashion) in “The Whisperer in Darkness.”

This story is about discovering something from a different dimension, not a different time period, so when we look at the title, we should see it as “A Shadow from Another Dimension,” though, of course, that isn’t nearly as catchy.

SO we know that the knowledge and witchcraft of transposition came from this Great Race and much of what’s happening in Lovecraft’s devised world centers around these beings. In fact when this story opens we are immediately greeted with the knowledge of Prof. Peaslee finding “fragments of unknown, primordial masonry” in “Western Australia.” Similarly, just off the Western Coast of Australia, in the story “The Call of Cthulhu” we find a “cyclopean city” made with strange, impossible angles with unknown materials (primordial masonry?). We know of this city as R’lyeh, the lost city of the god Cthulhu. Could Peaslee have also found evidence of this lost city?

Find out next week as we conclude “The Shadow out of Time!”


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Thing on the Doorstep

What he did do was to become an almost fanatical devotee of subterranean magical lore, for which Miskatonic’s library was and is famous. Always a dweller on the surface of phantasy and strangeness, he now delved deep into the actual runes and riddles left by a fabulous past for the guidance or puzzlement of posterity. He read things like the frightful Book of Eibon, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, and the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Abdul Ahlhazred, though he did not tell his parents he had seen them.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re sinking into a story which brings together much of Lovecraft and his themes, while simplifying the language to tell a straightforward horror tale…all while (potentially) creating yet another horror trope!

Lovecraft begins the story, like he does in so many of his stories, by immediately telling us how it will end: “It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to shew by this statement that I am not his murderer.”

This leaves us as readers to ruminate on what the story is to be as we move forward. At the moment in time Lovecraft was writing this could have potentially been a tactic to heighten suspense, but to the modern reader who has seen so many of these themes over and again as authors re-use tropes, it falls a little flat. To start this way, we as readers know exactly how this story ends and unfortunately there aren’t any twists to surprise us.

Stephen King once wrote that (I’m paraphrasing) he goes for the creep out and if that doesn’t work he goes for the jump scare, and if that still doesn’t work he goes for the gross out. Lovecraft recognized that he wasn’t going to get the creep out, and he’s never been much for the surprise scare, so he went straight for the gross out.

Don’t let that detract from the story however because what Lovecraft does along the way is bring the history of his Lovecraft country all together and develop a disturbing little story.

The tale is mainly about Edward Pickman Derby. Sound familiar? That’s because it is. Lovecraft does a strange things with names here. Pickman is the surname of the infamous artists Richard Upton Pickman from “Pickman’s Model.” A man who housed monsters to draw and create fantastical art. In addition to this, the narrator of this story (Daniel Upton) has a child and names him Edward Derby Upton. I thought and thought about this connection. Are these characters connected to Richard Upton Pickman? The more I think about it the less I think that’s the case. I think it’s Lovecraft’s way to show how connected everything in his world is. To show how everything seems to stem from Salem, Mass (many of these characters have family trees which date back to there), or to mysterious travelers from mysterious ships. There is a connectedness in the collective consciousness of the people of Lovecraft Country, which gives credence and horror to the small town trope (all those locals staring at you as you drive through).

Popular concept art for Asenath

Ruminating on this we move onto the second chapter and we learn about Edward’s wife Asenath Waite, “She was a dark, smallish, and very good-looking except for over-protuberant eyes; but something in her expression alienated extremely sensitive people.” We find that she grew up in Innsmouth, the notorious village from “The Shadow over Innsmouth” which worshipped Dagon and bred with the fish-people. We find that she went to Kingsport high school (the slightly less nefarious town from such tales as “The Terrible Old Man” and “The Strange High House in the Mist.”) and had a “odd reputation” before moving on to Miskatonic University where she studied “mediaeval metaphysics” and had some “well-attested cases of her influence over other persons.” Students considered her a hypnotist because, “By gazing peculiarly at a fellow-student she would often give the latter a distinct feeling of exchanged personality – as if the subject were placed momentarily in the magician’s body and able to stare half across the room at her real body, whose eyes blazed and protruded with an alien expression.”

Edward meets young Asenath (who at twenty-three already has crow’s feet at her eyes) and they begin to date. Soon after Edward brings her to meet Daniel who had reservations but, “…I saw at once that his interest was by no means one sided. She eyed him continually with an almost predatory air, and I perceived that their intimacy was beyond untangling.” A month later the couple was married.

They, as a couple, delved into the occult. Asenath had a history of it from her father, Ephraim Waite, who studied the occult before his death in Innsmouth. Everything seemed good for the first year of their marriage, but then “people began talking about the change in Edward Derby.”

People said he looked too much like his wife, or like old Ephraim Waite himself...” and then after three years of marriage to Asenath, “Edward began to hint openly to me of a certain fear and dissatisfaction.” and “...would talk darkly about the need of ‘saving his identity.‘”

Is this book inspired by this story?

At this point in the story I knew exactly what was happening and if anyone has seen the Nexflix show “Behind Her Eyes” you’ll know the outcome as well. It’s about transposition, and if we know anything about Lovecraft it’s about a man who is looking for extended life to continue on with his power gathering…I.E. Ephraim.

At the beginning of chapter four Edward speaks with Daniel and spouts his entire fears:

Dan – for God’s sake! The pit of shoggoths! Down the six thousand steps…the abomination of abominations…I never would let her take me, and then I found myself there…Ia! Shub-Niggurath!…The shape rose up from the altar, and there were 500 that howled…The Hooded Thing bleated ‘Kamog! Kamog!’ – that was old Ephraim’s secret name in the coven…I was there, where she promised she wouldn’t take me…A minute before I was locked in the library, and then I was there where she had gone with my body – in the place of utter blasphemy, the unholy pit where black realm begins and the watcher guards the gate…I saw a shoggoth – it changed shape…I can’t stand it…I wont stand it…I’ll kill her if she ever send me there again…I’ll kill that entity…her, him, it…I’ll kill it with my own hands!

And there we come to the horrible realization that Edward is actually married to Ephraim! Eww!

In all actuality he is probably married to some older creature who has since invaded Ephraim’s body, although there is a pretty hilarious moment with Ephraim: “Why did he curse that his daughter wasn’t a son?” Because he knew to transpose his mind it would have to be into his offspring, who would have a stronger hold on the otherworldly magics. Then in turn Asenath’s child would be that much stronger; but to have any of that happen, Ephraim would have to find someone to impregnate him while he was in Asenath’s body. I can imagine the curses coming from a crotchety old straight man!

Knowing Lovecraft, this could and should be the end for Edward, but suddenly he is able to somehow “convince” Asenath to go away and leave him alone. He spends a little time with Daniel, by now just a shell of a man, trying to get his life back together and eventually goes back to his home. He’s there for a while before he has a break down, calling Daniel:

My brain! My brain! God, Dan – it’s tugging – from beyond – knocking – clawing – that she-devil – even now – Ephraim – Kamog! Kamog! – the pit of the shoggoths – Ia Shub Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!...”

He goes into the Arkham Sanitarium and Daniel goes to visit him when Daniel has a terrible realization. Edward is no longer Edward. Kamog has somehow come back to take over. Daniel shoots the form of his best friend…six times…hoping to kill the evil wizard which presides inside him.

The Thing on the Doorstep by Paul Carrick

The entire time reading this, I was entertained, but wondered where the title came from…that is until we get to the end of the story. A figure appears on Dan’s doorstep. It smells terrible and it’s diminutive. It’s wearing “one of Edward’s overcoats” with “a slouch hat pulled low” and “a black silk muffler concealed the face.” It makes a watery noise and hands Dan a letter from Edward.

In the epistle we find out Asenath “has been dead three months and a half.” Edward killed her by smashing her head in with a candlestick. Then when he was in the sanitarium she worked on “seizing my body and putting me in that corpse of her buried in the cellar.

Dan faints, but when he comes to he calls the authorities. “What they finally found inside Edward’s oddly assorted clothes was mostly liquescent horror. There were bones, too – and a crushed-in skull. Some dental work positively identified the skull as Asenath’s.”

The thing on the doorstep was Edward, inside of the rotting corpse of Asenath. What makes it so horrible and so…Lovecraftian…is that Kamog has already lived through at least one murder, which means that he may be hovering somewhere above Arkham just waiting to find the next body to inhabit…

Lovecraft went full force into the gross out, but he tried to leave a little creep out at the end…

Join me next week as try to solve “The Mystery of the Grave-Yard” and understand “The Mysterious Ship!”


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; IBID

It was in the house of Dexter, in the northern part of the town near the present intersection of North Main and Olney Streets, on the occasion of Canonchet’s raid of March 30, 1676, during King Phillip’s War; and the astute sachem, recognising it at once as a thing of singular venerableness and dignity, sent it as a symbol of alliance to a faction of the Pequots in Connecticut with whom he was negotiating. On April 4th he was captured by the colonists and soon after executed, but the austere head of Ibid continued on his wanderings.”

Welcome back to a very strange Blind Read! This week we contemplate academia while ruminating on relevance, legacy, and idolatry and wax poetic while following Lovecraft’s lead!

What a odd, curious whimsey this story was. There really isn’t much to it as it’s primarily a brief satire of what Lovecraft deemed academia of the time period… but if we look closely, beyond the gallows humor indicative of the man, and past the analogy he was striving for, we catch some strange influences into his other works. Themes that seeped into popular culture over the years which have not been present in his others works. Theme’s subsumed within a blanket of normalcy. Ok, I’ll stop being coy, let’s get to it!

Like I said, there’s not much to the story (especially the length), but we get the analogy immediatly with the opening sentence:

The erroneous idea that Ibid is the author of the Lives is so frequently met with, even among those pretending to a degree of culture, that it is worth correcting.”

This is immediately following from an opening quote (“…-as Ibid says in his famous Lives of the Poets.” – From a Student theme.)

We then get a brief glimpse of the history Ibid himself (with some ridiculous speculation on his name which puts together many Ceasar’s and common Roman names together…there may be something to this, but it’s not something I caught: Caius Anicius Magnus Furius Camillus Aemilanus Cornelius Valerius Pompeius Julius Ibidus) before Lovecraft describes how the man’s skull is passed from person to person throughout history. From ancient Rome to Charlemagne, from private citizens to soldiers, from Native Americans to witches. This skull is passed as heirloom, as an art piece, as a magical talisman, and as a curiosity. There are even scenes which recall Hamlet and his famous Yorick scene where he gazes at the skull, nay into the skull, as though there is some deeper meaning or power within it.

Kenneth Branagh in the best version of Hamlet

So what is the point? Why follow along with a supposed “Learned Man” and then his skull afterward? The quote would seem to indicate that Lovecraft is railing against the stupidity of the uninformed at first. From the matter of a student wrongly using a quote, to Lovecraft ridiculing those who don’t know the truth:

It should be a matter of general knowledge that Cf. is responsible for this work

There is a false report – very commonly reproduced in modern books...”

This seems to be the idea, but then, after we survive a page of brain numbing etymology, we get this sentence: “His full name – long and pompous according to the custom of an age which had lost the trinomial simplicity of classic Roman nomenclature…

Then we go into a romp of the mans skull through history. Why would the man’s skull, as it outlines in the quote at the beginning of this essay, be “a thing of singular venerableness and dignity” when the only reason it’s available to be handed down is because it was “exhumed and ridiculed by Lombard Duke of Spoleto, who took his skull (after exhuming it) to King Autheris for use as a wassail-bowl.

Many cultures used Skulls as bowls

It’s because Lovecraft is poking fun at the pompous nature of academia in general. These people are so focused on revering something which was created to use as a drinking vessel, but attribute all means of power to it because of it’s age and the misguided idea of what he wrote.

This threw me for a while as it seems as thought Lovecraft is making fun of himself, after all one of his primary themes which pop up again and again is the idea of gathering knowledge and respect for learning. Is this supposed to be another navel gazing romp? Is Lovecraft saying he isn’t taking himself too seriously so we shouldn’t? Or is he saying that maybe he has taken himself too seriously and should stop? I think it goes deeper than that.

When we think about characters like Curwen in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” they are the ones pursuing these dark powers. They are the ones pursuing the dark underbelly of nature by seeking out these vessels of the outer gods. It’s a theme that I’ve mentioned many times and it’s a theme which comes up again and again in Lovecraft. Characters who seek out knowledge to understand more about the universe.

There’s only one character whom has been able to do this and not paid a terrible price. That’s Randolph Carter. What makes Carter unique is that he didn’t actually strive for the knowledge, rather it was thrust upon him and he adapted and worked with it to better understand his place. Carter’s wasn’t a path of power, but rather of understanding. I think that’s the crux here. Yes, Lovecraft is railing against the pomposity of academia and learning, which he seems to revel in, but instead he’s pushing back against the idea of false knowledge.

Lovecraft is playing with us before we even start reading. Ibid is actually a writing tool. Ibid is an abbreviation of the Latin “ibidem” which means in the same place. When you see the word ibid in a reading list it is referring you to material in a source just mentioned. For example it could be another chapter of a book that has just been referred to. Even with the title Lovecraft is playing with us, as he’s letting us know that he’s mentioned this concept multiple times. He’s referencing back to his previous works. This whole story is merely a reference to prove his thesis in his current (at the time he wrote this) oeuvre.

Anything can be twisted to fit a narrative. The whole point of much of Lovecraft’s cosmic gods is the idea that we’re insignificant in comparison to the beings actually running the show. If you’re striving for power, your talisman will end up being a mug from some smart dead guy, but if you’re goal is respecting and living with that power, then and only then, will you end up with “The Silver Key.

Join me next week as we delve into some of Lovecraft’s earliest work with “The Little Glass Bottle!”

Post Script:

One last this before you go. There is one last thing which this story brought to my head (pun totally intended). One big visual within Lovecraft’s legacy is the idea of the head sprout. Whether that’s from fungi breaking through the skull (an Example is from “Fruiting Bodies” by Brian Lumley), creatures breaking through (we’ve actually seen this in “The Haunter in the Dark“), or people gaining such “insight” that they literally have thoughts (creatures) as an extension of their skull (think the tokens in the game Bloodborne).

The mere fact that so many of the historical people and the fictional characters in this story thought they could gain power or knowledge from this skull made this correlation immediate in my brain. This is not much of a story, but although this is supposed to be a “Blind Read” (meaning that I’m reading the story for the first time, without knowledge of it), I read this one twice. I feel as though I’m still missing references and innuendo, but if I can leave you with anything that represents Lovecraft to me, I’ll leave you with this image:

Madman’s Knowledge item from Bloodborne

Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Whisperer in Darkness, Part 1

The unknown things, Akeley wrote in a script grown pitifully tremulous, had begun to close in on him with a wholly new degree of determination. The nocturnal barking of the dogs whenever the moon was dim or absent was hideous now, and there had been attempts to molest him on the lonely roads he had to traverse by day.

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re diving into the new strange world of the Vermont Backwoods as our narrator strives to solve the mystery of one Henry Akeley. We get glimpses of Cosmic horror, the dream lands, and a brand new call back to a horror trope (the one appearing here, I’m pretty sure Lovecraft probably created!) as we descend in this world and strain to hear the Whisperer in Darkness.

Lovecraft begins this story with an enigma; “Bear in mind closely that I did not see any actual visual horror at the end.”

It’s a strange way to begin a short story because it leads the reader to infer that the narrator didn’t actually see anything throughout the story…so how is there a story to even tell? This can be a daunting assignment as we look at the sheer length of the tale but as we peel back Lovecraft’s language, we begin to see that he didn’t “see” anything, but that doesn’t preclude audible horror and given the title of this story, I think the denouement is going to be quite the romp. Besides which fact that this is what Lovecraft does best. He beats around the bush, deftly hiding from his audience what’s really going on, because the very nature of his horror would be ruined by the descriptors. In this story, we do in fact get a description, but it’s of dead creatures who may or not be real and the corpses disappear before any inspection can take place…that only makes it that much more terrifying when the encounters begin.

We start the story with the classical skeptical narrator (who very well could be unreliable. We’ll get t that later), who has heard a number of strange happenings in the woods surrounding his friend Akeley’s house. The folk tales speak of, “…pinkish things about five feet long; with crustaceous bodies bearing vast pairs of dorsal fins or membranous wings and several sets of articulated limbs, and with a sort of convoluted ellipsoid, covered with multitudes of very short antennae, where a head would normally be.”

So here we get our first glimpse of some freaky Lovecraftian stuff, but our narrator defers; “It was my conclusion that such witnesses – in every case naïve and simple backwoods folk – had glimpsed the battered and bloated bodies of human beings or farm animals in the whirling currents; and had allowed the half-remembered folklore to invest these pitiful objects with fantastic attributes.”

Although our disparaging narrator disavows the local folk on prejudice alone, he does dive into the mythology of the area. We hear how these backwoods folk have adapted to them, “the common name applied to them was ‘those ones,’ or ‘the old ones,’…” so we already know there’s some validity to these destitute whom the narrator disparages. They have knowledge of the Cthulhu Mythos. It does makes sense because these are the type of people who distrust outsiders, whom take care of themselves; so if something like this were to become a regular occurrence, then having it happen in this type of locale with these types of people make the most sense because they wont be going outside of their bubble to talk about it.

We also learn that the Native Americans had stories about these strange creatures as well. “They talked with their heads, which changed colour in difference ways to mean different things.

Mi-Go of Yuggoth

Then to cap off everything the narrator ties in that he’s heard about a Nepalese Abominable Snow-Men species, whom they call the Mi-Go (Which I believe were also referenced in “At the Mountains of Madness“). This is where the story turns from the normal garden variety horror to an aspect of the Mythos.

The Farmer who disappeared (Akeley) whom our narrator is searching for, has knowledge of forbidden tomes. He knows about the Necronomicon and in one of his letters he even states, “the Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu cycles – which were hinted at in the Necronomicon.”

These things are so outside of our everyday reality that our narrator continuously dis-believes his erstwhile friend and contends that it must just be natural phenomena. The claw prints outside of his house, the strange whisperings he hears in the darkness, the strange corpses of creatures he cannot explain. He disavows the claims because the corpses soon disappear and Akeley has a neighboring crotchety old farmer by the name of Brown who he holds accountable for all the other occurrences.

Hastur

But the more and more our narrator looks into these night occurrences, the more and more he delves into the mythos: “I found myself faced by names and terms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connections – Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R’lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L’Mur-Kathulos, Bran, and the Magnum Innominandium – and was drawn back through nameless aeons and inconceivable dimensions to worlds of elder, outer entity at which the crazed author of the Necronomicon had only guessed in the vaguest way.

The first half of this tale is an expansion of the mythos in general, and we finally get an understanding of where the outer gods call home.

With the knowledge we have of what the universe looks like, this revelation is a little lack luster, but if you think back to what we understood of the universe in 1919 and imagine what it must have been like for people when scientists said they discovered a “new planet beyond Neptune” and then Lovecraft included that new dwarf planet into his mythos? The fear that might have been invoked, especially when the planet was given the name of the god of the underworld…Pluto. Lovecraft put his stamp on it. Pluto is where these strange, alien, creatures came from (though the mythos name for it is Yuggoth). The Mi-Go, who worship Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath (the goat with a thousand young and the mother of many gods of the mythos), who bow to Hastur, and do the bidding of Nyarlathotep, call Pluto home.

Newspaper espousing the discovery of Pluto…notice the Prohibition story on the right!

We also know the grand daddy of the mythos, Azathoth, also wanders blindly around the vacuum of space. One with the limited knowledge of how large the Universe was at the time, can only assume that Azathoth must have been wandering just past Pluto. Thus when Randolph Carter went sailing in his Dream-Quest and came into contact with Azathoth, he was wandering beyond the icy mountainous ranges of Pluto and it’s Mi-Go inhabitants.

This is just another nail in the coffin of belief that the dream-lands and the real world are fluid. The dream lands are more like a parallel universe, where there are gates between our world and the worlds of the Outer Gods. So few humans have experienced it, but many of the creatures of that dream realm have breached the barrier and have come over to our world. Our narrator even feels this as he tells us “My own zeal for the unknown flared up to meet his, and I felt myself touched by the contagion of the morbid barrier-breaking.”

So now we have set the stage. We know that our narrator will not “see” anything throughout this story, so we can only hope to garner inference (are the claw marks part of Shub-Niggurath’s thousand young? Is it a coincidence that Satan is considered goat like, while Shub-Niggurath is the mother of goats?) from the correspondence that Akeley sends our intrepid narrator…which brings us to our next point.

The Blair Witch Project…the movie that made “found footage” famous.

It feels like Lovecraft has created a new horror trope in this story which I’m sure has not existed before this point. The reason I’m sure is because of the availability of technology…and that is the trope of “found footage.”

As we progress through the story Akeley tells our narrator of various things which have transpired around him which we have already mentioned – the whisperings in the dark, the claw marks, the Mi-Go corpses (which incidentally disappear and fade back into the dreamlands) – and he goes through the normal progression of a character in a Lovecraft story…he suspects and is scared, he becomes terrified and pleads for help, he suddenly turns this around and says he was mistaken and he is in no danger, then he disappears. This is a theme which Lovecraft has instituted in many of his stories (take “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” for example), but the layer he adds into this tale is a recording phonograph and a Dictaphone.

We get passages like this:

(A CULTIVATED MALE VOICE)

…is the Lord of the Woods, even to…and the gifts of the men of Leng…so from the wells of night to the gulfs of space, and from the gulfs of space to the wells of night, ever the praises of Great Cthulhu, of Tsathoggua, and of Him Who is not to be Named. Ever Their praises, and abundance to the Black Goat of the Woods. Ia! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!

(A BUZZING IMITATION OF HUMAN SPEECH)

Ia! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!

The narrator spends time cultivating what it must have been like to listen to this passage, and though we are jaded now, at the time this was a unique and never before seen tool. Lovecraft was able to give an audible, visceral take on what it must have been like for this man to be sitting in a darkened room, listening to a scratchy Dictaphone espousing these words in barely human tones.

To this hour I shudder retrospectively when I think of how it struck me, prepared though I was by Akeley’s accounts.”

I leave you with that slight feeling of unease. The feeling that you are being watched by some unseen Whisperer of ancient horrors. Watched by a group of alien creatures who’s motivations are unknown. Watched.

“There seemed to be an awful, immemorial linkage in several definite stages betwixt man and nameless infinity. The blasphemies which appeared on earth, it was hinted, came from the dark planet Yuggoth, at the rim of the solar system; but this was itself merely the populous outpost of a frightful interstellar race whose ultimate source must lie far outside even the Einsteinian space-time continuum or greatest known cosmos.”

Join me next week as we conclude “The Whisperer in Darkness”


Blind Read Through; H.P. Lovecraft: Through the gates of the Silver Key

What happened then is scarcely to be described in words. It is full of those paradoxes, contradictions, and anomolies which have no place in waking life, but which fill our more fantastic dreams, and are taken as matters of course till we return to our narrow, rigid, objective world of limited causation and tri-dimensional logic.”

Welcome back to another mind bending Blind Read! We’ve learned about Randolph Carter in the past, including the indominable Silver Key, but this time we traverse through the doorway this magical talisman produces. Lets dive into a treatise on traversing space, time, dimension, and existence as we traverse through the gates of the Silver Key.

The opening few chapters is basically a rehash of the stories “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” “The Silver Key” and “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” The story is unique in it’s narration because most of Lovecraft is told from the perspective of a single narrator, but this story begins omniscient and doesn’t more into narration until Swami Chandraputra directly relates the events surrounding Randolph Carter.

“In a vast room hung with strangely figured arras and carpeted with Bokhara rugs of impressive age and workmanship four men were sitting around a document-strown table.” These four men were Etienne-Laurent de Marigny (Later to be a mainstay in Brian Lumley’s Titus Crow Series), the aforementioned Swami, Ward Phillips, and Ernest B. Apinwall, whom is an executor of Carter’s estate and is trying to sell it all off.

Apinwall tells the other three his goal is selling off the Carter estate, because Carter himself has been gone nearly four years and it’s time to move on. The Swami objects and tells the group he has proof that Carter is alive and needs to make sure that Aspinwall doesn’t sell anything. Once we have the abridgement of Carter’s history we jump right into new territory with the quote which opens this essay.

The actual story is too complicated and intricate to tell in short form here, heck, Lovecraft could barely get it out in long form of the story itself, but the basics are that just beyond where Carter had already gone using the Silver Key, there are more gates, and these gates had only been transcended by a few mortals…ever. Carter traversed these gates and gained an understanding far deeper than any human could ever comprehend.

The story covers what we consider to be Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, so we’re not dealing with a horror story as it is, but something that goes so much farther than that. Serendipity comes to mind because I’ve recently been following Marvel and all that they have been working through, with perceptions of thought and reality and multiverse, which makes reading this story at this time seem so very apt. We’ll dig into what I’m talking about in a moment here, but first I would like to discuss the perception of gods and Gods in Lovecraft.

To open it up, I’d like to give you some straight text from this story:

Carter guessed what they were, whence they came, and Whom they served; and guessed, too, the price of their service. But he was still content, for at one mighty venture he was to learn all. Damnation, he reflected, is but a word bandied about by those whose blindness leads them to condemn all who can see, even with a single eye. He wondered at the vast conceit of those who had babbled of the malignant Ancient Ones, as if They could pause from their ever lasting dreams to wreak wrath upon mankind. As well, he thought, might a mammoth pause to visit frantic vengeance on an angleworm. Now the whole assemblage on the vaguely hexagonal pillars was greeting him with a gesture of those oddly carven scepters, and radiating a message which he understood…

There is a whole lot of theology and thought packed into that one little paragraph!

The first portion is the concept of damnation. If you’ve been following along with this blog then you know Lovecraft didn’t adhere to any specific religion; in the sense that the dogma of the church just didn’t make any kind of rational sense to him. This paragraph is the perfect example of that. People who are either willfully ignorant, or just plain blind to reality as Lovecraft saw it, didn’t understand that if there was a God or gods, then they really dont care about you. Rationally it doesn’t make sense for a supreme being to care about lesser beings, thus indicating that these “gods” were mammoths and we were angleworms. Because these beings dont really care about us, then damnation itself must be a construct of religion to keep people in line. Religion, like governance, is about control and comfort. Humans crave structure despite how we act and react sometimes, and to know that there is a heaven and a hell makes people more at ease. If they go to church on Sunday and say their prayers by night, they wont become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright. Damnation (at least what this story is trying to convey) is a construct of the mind, and for Carter, it isn’t until he breaks the barrier held in check by the Silver Key that he comes to this realization. He moves beyond one universe into multiple and lives countless lives and endless consciousness’ all at once; giving him a greater understanding than that of even the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred and his ravings in the Necronomicon. Damnation is a state of mind, not a place.

To piggy back on that we have the conception of the gods in Lovecraft’s mythos. It has been played around with in stories such as “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”, but not elucidated with such clarity as it is right here in this paragraph. With the notable exception of Nyarlathotep, the gods of Lovecraft are omnipotent, they are not malignant. These gods transcended space, time, and universe, occupying all and none at the same time. They have lived for eternities and will live for eternities more. Their consciousness has developed for hundreds of thousands of millennia, and because of this, their scope is so much larger than the few thousand years humans have existed. In fact, the only reason Nyarlathotep has any kind of vengeance is because humans keep trying to invade and go beyond their bubble. He is a god who believes we are a stain on the beautiful tapestry of consciousness and wants to be rid of our parasitic species. When Cthulhu comes out of the sea at the end of “The Call of Cthulhu” he is not trying to destroy the world, but his simple visage shows the magnitude of what we dont know, and that in-and-of itself is enough to drive everyone, with the notable exception of Randolph Carter, insane. Damnation is tied so closely to the malevolence of gods and the insanity caused by them, but that’s just a construct so that mere mortals can understand. This whole story is all about how the life we live is an illusion of our own construct, and there is so much more beyond our ken.

So lets dig into that multiverse, shall we?

The man of Truth is beyond good and evil…The man of Truth had ridden to All-Is-One. The man of Truth las learnt that Illusion is the only reality, and that substance is an impostor.”

Carter goes through the first Gateway of existence:

Even the First Gateway had taken something of stability from him, leaving him uncertain about his bodily form and about his relationship to the mistily defined objects around him, but it had not disturbed his sense of unity. He had still been Randoplh Carter , a fixed point in the dimensional seething. now, beyond the Ultimate Gateway, he realized in a moment of consuming fright that he was not one person but many persons.”

I mentioned Marvel earlier, and I’ve just started watching WandaVision, like many of you may have as well. This show seems to be of a similar set up to Carter’s story. We have Wanda living in a dream world of her own construct (or maybe caused by another to keep her under control with those calls of “Who’s doing this to you Wanda?”) The layers are slowly being peeled back to revel a reality that may just be too difficult for her to comprehend, thus fracturing her mind. Or maybe she has already been through the gates of which Carter speaks of, and what we view every Friday night is a perception of her fractured mind? The idea of a multiverse is complicated, and Lovecraft here barely scratches the surface (hopefully, with the help of Rick and Morty writers, we’ll see a bit more cohesion in the Marvel Multi-Verse). Carter has lived many lives and we’ve seen that in previous stories (in “The Silver Key” Carter was both his adult self and his ten year old self), but when he goes beyond the ultimate door we find that there are many worlds which hold his consciousness. There are countless alien beings which have been “Randolph Carter”, just not in human form. These are not parallel universes, but unique and individual universes with single threads of consciousness which hold things together. Deja Vu? Strange memories of places and things you shouldn’t have? Sudden empathy or hate for a creature or thing? These are all because we have lived these experiences either concurrently or in the past…or even in the future.

Think of a cupcake stand. The saucers are the different universes of which there could be infinite, the pole holding them together is your consciouness and on each infinte saucer there is a different being with different experiences, but with your soul as the connector. Lovecraft describes it here as:

They told him that every figure of space is but the result of the intersection by a place of some corresponding figure of one more dimension – as a square is cut from a cube or a circle from a sphere. The cube and sphere, of three dimensions, are thus cut from corresponding forms of four dimensions that men known only through guesses and dreams; and these in turn are cut from forms of five dimensions, and so on up to the dizzy and reachless heights of archetypal infinity.

A slight change of angle could turn the student of today into the child of yesterday; could turn Randolph Carter into that wizard Edmund Carter who fled from Salem to the hills behind Arkham in 1692, or that Pickman Carter who in the year 2169 would use strange means in repelling the Mongol hordes from Australia; could turn a human Carter into one of those earlier entities which had dwelt in primal Hyperborea and worshipped black, plastic Tsathoggua after flying down from Kythanil, the double planet that once revolved around Arcturus; could turn a terrestrial Carter to a remotely ancestral and doubtfully shaped dweller on Kythanil itself, or a still remoter creature of trans-galactic Shonhi; or a four-dimensioned gaseous consciousness in an older space-time continuum, or a vegetable brain of the future on a dark radio-active comet of inconceivable orbit – and so on, in the endless cosmic circle.

Dr. Who TARDIS

In fact Carter did this. He transcended through the Ultimate Gate into Zkauba, the wizard of Yaddith, a strange bird-insect like creature and lived for years in this being, until he found his way to travel in a “thin envelope of electron-activated metal” (early TARDIS?) back to earth.

And then we find ourselves back in the room from the beginning of the story with Swami finishing his story and the group realizing that Swami’s accent was fake. That Swami’s face was a mask. The Swami himself…was not a Swami. To reveal the truth Carter pulls the mask off releveling the physiognomy of the bird-insect Zkauba as he never moved beyond that bodily form. Between everyone in the group only Apinwall, the lawyer, sees and in his madness at seeing beyond the gates of the Silver Key, flees the scene and doesn’t foreclose on Carter’s estate.

It’s a long strange ride and this being a Blind Read (The first time I’ve read it) I’m sure I missed volumes which others could fill in. As I get closer to completing the entire oeuvre of Lovecraft I’m constantly mystified at how intellectual all of the stories are and now fully understand the praise as one of the early incredible horror authors.

What do you think??

Join me next week as we delve into “The Whisperer in Darkness”

Post Script:

I’m going to be diving into the Titus Crow series now that I’ve gotten the Carter books under my belt. They follow Titus Crow and Etienne-Laurent de Marigny from this story (follow me on Goodreads if you want updates). That tale centers around the strange clock which is the center piece of Carter’s house which the four men discussed Carter’s fate.

The reason I bring this up here is because it ties together the dream Lands and the waking world so perfectly, where I thought previously that they were two separate, mutually exclusive things. The strange clock has strange hieroglyphics on it instead of numbers:

To him let me say that the language of those hieroglyphics is not Naacal but R’Lyehian, which was brought to earth by the spawn of Cthulhu countless ages ago.

And in sunken R’lyeah sleeping Cthulhu lie…and with strange aeons even death may die.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript:

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

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


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Strange High House in the Mist

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?


The Power of Imagination

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.


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Horror at Red Hook

But at this time it was all horribly real, and nothing can ever efface the memory of those nighted crypts, those titan arcades, and those half-formed shapes of hell that strode gigantically in silence holding half-eaten things whose still surviving portions screamed for mercy or laughed with madness.”

Wow, what a wild ride this story was. This was probably the scariest and most classic horror of any H.P. Lovecraft that I’ve read up to date.

As the story begins we are introduced to detective Thomas F. Malone who is on extended medical leave for trauma. The first portion of the story describes how he’s living and dealing with this trauma, of which we are still ignorant.

The second portion of the story covers Red Hook. We get a call back to HE, as there is a similar tenement structure our narrator experienced there. This story also takes place in New York, which is absolutely unique for Lovecraft. It does not hold the same atmosphere as much of his work, but from the start of this story the tone has a much darker and sinister feel. The basis in New York gives Lovecraft the ability to explore different themes than the usual fantasy/cosmic horror that he frames in New England.

The third portion of the story is the introduction to Malone’s quarry, Robert Suydam. “Suydam was a lettered recluse of an ancient Dutch family,” and he purchased a space in the run down, twisting alleyways of Red Hook. After a strange trip to Europe, Suydam began to deteriorate. His personal hygiene took a hit, he lost friends, and “When he spoke it was to babble of unlimited powers almost within his grasp, and to repeat with knowing leers such mystical words or names as ‘Sephiroth’, ‘Ashmodai’ and Samael’.” And there it is. We have three demons from the Kabbalah and Christian religions. The text has gone beyond the normal Lovecraft, no longer in the world of the cosmic horror. We are no longer in the dreamlands (though there is a little bit of dream stuff to come), we have now crossed over into religious horror. To me this raised my hackles. I find this subject matter far more terrifying that anything I have yet come by within Lovecraft’s oeuvre.

The fourth section of the story delves into the police work. Trying to uncover just what strange dealings that Suydam has been up to. They raid his home, which is empty, and they come across blasphemous art work and things that Malone simply “did not like”. They also found an inscription:

O friend and companion of night, thou who rejoices in the baying of dogs and spilt blood, who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs, who longest for blood and bringest terror to mortals, Gorgo, Mormo, thousand-faced moon, look favourably on our sacrifices!

I had no idea what this meant. Though obviously a atmospheric quote, I believed it had deeper meaning. Lovecraft infuses lots of Greek mythology and heritage within his work. There is a certain amount of admiration he obviously felt for the culture and the artwork. He loves the idea of marble structures and busts and even includes some of that iconography in this story as well. So when I came across this quote, it was no surprise to me that it was about Hecate, the Greek Goddess of the underworld, ghosts, and magic. This story was not going to deal with cosmic horror, it was going to deal with something closer to home. It was about Hell.

The next short section of the story tells of a journey Suydam takes across the sea, where he dies. He instructs that his body be conveyed to the bearer of the note provided.

Then we move into the Horror. Malone goes to Red Hook and investigates, noticing a melee. He goes to allay the fight and finds strange sounds and smells while all the participants of the battle flee. Malone suspects something nefarious behind a large door, so he takes a stool and breaks the door open, “whence poured a howling tumult of ice-cold wind with all the stenches of the bottomless pit, and whence reached a sucking force not of earth or heaven, which, coiling sentiently about the paralysed detective, dragged him through the aperture and down unmeasured spaces filled with whispers and wails, and gusts of mocking laughter.

Malone is sucked into Hell. He experiences some truly horrific scenes, perfect for any fan of this type of fiction, and much more evocative than anything I’ve experienced from Lovecraft. We see Suydam giving himself over to a demon, finally getting what he was after, and becoming one with hell.

The final section explains how the mysterious group brought Suydam’s body back to that experience and how Malone could hear that same refrain from some “hag” speaking to young children about Hecate. The knowledge of the fate of Suydam and that whatever devious magic caused it is still alive and well in Red Hook is what truly throws Malone over the edge.

When I think of Lovecraft I don’t generally think “disturbing”, but I have to say that this one was up there. That penultimate chapter covering Malone’s experiences in Hell were truly unsettling.

What do you think?


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; Celephais, and The Silver Key

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars.” – Walt Whitman

“If youth knew, if age could.” – Sigmund Freud

“Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty.  Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”

Ah the origin story.  The tales where we uncover the history of the characters we follow, and find out what makes them tick; why they are the way they are.  Here we have the dreamlands.  What brings King Kuranes and Randolph Carter to the dreamlands?  What made King Kuranes a king??

Welcome back to another blind read!  Sorry for the limited blogs, but I’ve been extremely busy with writing and vacations (hey!  Vacations are work too!).  To make up for my truancy, I’ll be covering two short stories this week.  Celephais and The Silver Key.  But first, a brief synopsis:

Celephais:  Kuranes creates the city of Celephais while being a child dreamer.  Then as he grows old, he goes to the dreamlands and becomes a King over the city that he created (keeping it simple, but this is pretty much it!)

The Silver Key:  Randolph Carter used to dream all the time as a child.  He would travel constantly, but as the story begins Carter is 30 and has been unable to get to the dreams that he once had.  That is until he meets a man at Miskatonic University (there is a brief description of the events of “The Statement of Randolph Carter” [ Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Statement of Randolph Carter ]) which opens his eyes to the world that he once knew.  He starts to dream again and has a dream about his grandfather who tells him to go back to his childhood home, and look for a box in the attic.  He goes and finds a box with arabesque designs.  When he opens it he finds a parchment with symbols reminiscent to what he saw in the Necronomicon, and inside of the parchment is the eponymous key.  His dreams become more vivid and more reminiscent to what they once were.  He goes to the place of his childhood, and there he goes into a crevice, holding the key.  He then enters a dream state.  The story ends how Carter, beginning at the age of ten, when he found the crevice, knew glimpses of the future that he could not possibly know.  We also find that a narrator has been telling us this story, a narrator who is a king of a city that he hopes to see Carter in one day.

So there you have it!  The origin stories of Kuranes and Carter!  Celephais seems more like a fragment from “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”, than an actual story, just a little more illumination of Kuranes, whereas The Silver Key seems much more like a full story, not to mention, it looks like it’s continued on in the next story of the book “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, even though that’s a collaboration.

There are some major links between these two stories, that both seem to link with Lovecraft’s personal life and ideals, and to the evolving dreamlands.  Take youth for example.  There is a romanticizing of what it means to be young in both of these stories.  The innocence, the ignorance.  It reminds me of all those horror stories back in the eighties (yes I know they continue on now, but that’s because it’s a trope.  I would be interested in researching this and finding out where it actually stems from), where the child could see or interact with the supernatural element, but the parent could not.  Seemingly because of the lost innocence, and lost open mindedness.  The stories deal with this in two different ways:

Celephais is a lamentation of the innocence.  Kuranes moves forward with his life, but regrets his decisions, and thus in “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” he reverts Celephais to a version of Cornwall, so that he may re-live his past experiences.

The Silver Key is an effort to spurn the vagaries of everyday life and get back the mystical nature of youth.  In fact Carter actually goes back in time and becomes himself as a 10 year old, to re-establish those experiences and memories.

This seems allegorical to Lovecraft himself (There is even a portion of “The Silver Key” where the narrator tells us that writing helps get back the mystery, through opening of one’s mind).  Both of these stories show that at some point, there was belief in wonder, belief in the mystical, that came from Lovecraft’s youth.  But then, like with many of us, life happens.  You grow up.  You have responsibilities that take away time and energy from the mysteries of life, making it easy to become bitter, hardened, or ignorant of the fantasy that can be apparent in life. I really felt as though Lovecraft was saying in these two stories that writing saved his life.  He was getting bogged down with the stresses of everyday life, bills, housing, love and intimacy, but when he was able to sneak away into the worlds that he created he no longer feared about these mundane issues.  He freed his mind in his fantastic worlds, just like Kuranes and Carter did in their dreaming.

Another interesting factor is drugs.  There is a finite stigma against all drugs, but there is a certain amount of research that proves that in controlled environments that drugs can be helpful.  For example LSD, and marijuana (or Hashish in Kuranes’ case).  In modern medicine, these drugs are used as a better alternative for treating things like PTSD and anxiety disorders, and at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, they would be far more prevalent if Big Pharma didn’t get their hands into government pockets and stymie their progression.  In Lovecraft there is countless mentions of drugs helping dreamers get back to their “dream state”, of characters opening their eyes to the actual world that is around them, instead of believing and trusting in the veil.  I think this subject is probably better suited for an entire post later on, but I think it very worth noting here, because of the content of these stories and the stigma of drugs.  Is it considered juvenile?  Irresponsible, to take these drugs to try and open up your consciousness?  Is it ignoring your responsibilities or reverting, to try and recover youth?  Or is there in fact a veil, that needs to be punctured, and we must attempt this in any way possible?

What do you think?

Join me next time for a blind read of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”!


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Statement of Randolph Carter

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?


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft Arthur Jermyn

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”


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The White Ship

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”


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; Dagon

Back for another Blind Read.  I am trying to keep honest to the Blind Reads and not do research on the side to gather connections, but if my memory serves me correct, Dagon is one of the lesser gods in the Lovecraft pantheon.  That makes this story very interesting to me because this story could have wide ranging implications for the building of the Mythos (or apparently as Lovecraft called it, Yog-Sothothery.  It was actually August Derleth that coined the phrase Cthulhu Mythos).

The story follows our narrator during WWI, as his ship was taken by a German sea-raider ship.  He escaped them and found his way to a strange, unknown of island in his dinghy.  As he explores the island, he finds a strange monolith with images carved that are humanoid, but fish-like.  They have webbed hands and feet, they have large eyes and large lips, and they are huge, nearly the size of a whale.

As he stands there one of these creatures comes out of the sea and hugs the monolith, then prays to it.

The narrator immediately thinks of Dagon, who is an ancient fish god.

What is provocative about this story is that there have been small connections in the past with figures like Nyarlathotep, which make a connection with our actual world.  The difference, however is that in every previous story I’ve read the characters in the stories are fictional, in a real setting.  This is an actual god that people have worshiped in the past, and here Lovecraft uses the same name and adopts it as his own.  Thus bringing his pantheon into our cultural reality.

There are two different ways to look at the story.  One is that the creature that comes out of the sea is a disciple of Dagon, and the monolith is what it prays to in supplication to Dagon.  This event keeps Dagon as a god, and now we have a race of cthonic creatures, whom live under the sea and live under Dagon’s rule.

The other way to read it (and this is what i believe Lovecraft intended) is that the creature that comes out of the sea IS Dagon.  This is a much more horrific idea.  This means that this creature, which made the narrators mind break (“I think I went mad then”) at the mere sight of it, is actually supplicating to something more than itself.  So this creature which in our real life mythology is considered a god, has a being so much more powerful than it (Cthulhu himself?) that it prays through the form of the monolith.

What do YOU think?

Join me next Tuesday for another blind read of “The White Ship”.


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 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; Beyond the Wall of Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Blind Read Through; H.P. Lovecraft, Polaris

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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