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Blind Read Through; H.P. Lovecraft: The Rats in the Walls

We spent the rest of the night in the brilliantly lighted study, nervously discussing what we should do next. The discovery that some vault deeper than the deepest known masonry of the Romans underlay this accursed pile – some vault unsuspected by the curious antiquarians of three centuries – would have been sufficient to excite us without any background of the sinister.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we dive down into the depths of Gothic Romanesque castles to find the truth behind The Rats in the Walls. This story is lauded as one of Lovecraft’s best of his first decade of writing, and though the imagery it elicits created one of the absolute best illustrations of Lovecraft’s work to date (in my opinion at least), the story is a bit plodding. It isn’t until the last five pages or so that we really get into the gruesome reality of the story and it’s understandable that it was turned down by so many publications early on (notably rejected by Argosy)… this is one vivid and gory tale.

Argosy the men’s magazine of the early 1900’s which Lovecraft published many of his works

I contend that the reason it’s said to be the best of his early work is because so much of what he strove to do early on was focus on detail to elucidate setting… in that case this story truly is one of the best he wrote early on. In addition to that factoid, we also have his early theme of family. Specifically revolving around genetic madness. So many of his stories have to do with the narrator slowly realizing that he’s odd, or at least his impulses are, but it’s not really his fault. It’s because there is some kind of hereditary defect which creates a strain of corruption.

This leads me to believe that there must have been something in his own life… some drive or impulse that he (Lovecraft) felt nagging at the back of his skull which he felt was directly a cause of his genes. Or could he have been of the mindset that all humans are inherently good and the only reason someone would turn bad, or even evil, is if they had some kind of genetic interference with their ancestors who in turn passed on the defect? I’m sure there is some Lovecraft scholar out there that knows the answer to this. If you do, leave a comment for discussion!

Anyway, lets get into the text…

We start off with place. The narrator tells us, “On July 16, 1923, I moved into Exham Priory after the last workman had finished his labors.” So the first sentence tells us that there’s some religious undertones to the story. The fact that the narrator is moving into a Priory gives us that immediate understanding of a vast array of history surrounding place…and religion in Lovecraft is rarely good. The reason the place is laid bare is in the next sentence:

“...a tragedy of intensely hideous, though largely unexplained, nature had struck down the master, five of his children, and several servants; and driven forth under a cloud of suspicion and terror the third son, my lineal progenitor and the only survivor of the abhorred line.”

This is our first indication that something is wrong. Why would our narrator call his genetic line abhorred? There’s a bit of contextualization, but we as readers are supposed to pick up that there is something not quite right with the family. However the narrator tells us right up front, “Had I suspected their nature, how gladly I would have left Exham Priory to it’s moss, bats, and cobwebs!”

The narrator gets flack for rebuilding this monument to the past, specifically from the people who live in the nearby town: “When the people could not forgive, perhaps, was that I had come to restore a symbol so abhorrent to them; for, rationally nor not, they viewed Exham Priory as nothing less than a haunt of fiends and werewolves.

Why werewolves? Lycanthropy, in all of my forays into Lovecraft, has not been a trope that he is prone to focus on. There is primate mating, but no specific virus or disease which causes a person to become an animal. What is it about this, “prehistoric temple, a Druidical or ante-Druidical thing which must have been contemporary with Stonehenge“?

Why had the locals “…represented my ancestors as a race of hereditary daemons beside whom Gilles de Retz and Marquis de Sade would seem veriest tyros, and hinted whisperingly at their responsibility for the occasional disappearances of villagers through several generations“?

Was it because he had an ancestor who “performed nameless ceremonies at the bidding of a Phrygian priest.” or the “young Randolph Delapore of Carfax, who went among the negroes and became a voodoo priest after he returned from the Mexican War” or potentially even “…the hideous tale of Lady Mary de la Poer, who shortly after her marriage to the Earl of Shrewsfield was killed by him and his mother, both of the slayers being absolved and blessed by the priest to whom they confessed what they dared not repeat to the world.

Well, for the purposes of this story and for the intention of our narrator, (dont forget the lycanthropy thread) it’s probably “…most vivid of all, there was the dramatic epic of the rats – the scampering army of obscene vermin which had burst forth from the castle three months after the tragedy that doomed it to desertion – the lean, filthy, ravenous army which had swept all before it and devoured fowl, cats, dogs, hogs, sheep, and even two hapless human beings before its fury was spent.”

Here we have our explanation more than anything else. The titular rats have made their entrance into the story and they are causing all the havoc. So the priory was burned down. Years later, our narrator rebuilds the house and moves in. Obviously people are not happy, but why? Everything happened so far in the past and the real reason why people disliked his family was because of the rats…well that and the…werewolves.

Shortly after moving in, our narrator immediately finds that something isn’t right with the newly built house. “I told the man there must be some singular odour or emanation from the old stonework, imperceptible to human senses, but affecting the delicate organs of cats even through new woodwork. This I truly believed, and when the fellow suggested the presence of mice or rats, I mentioned that there had been no rats there for three thousand years…

The narrator’s cat (who’s name I will not repeat here) was pawing at tapestries and walls where nothing presented itself. It was curious to our narrator, but nothing to be alramed about. I will, however, call your attention to the line, “imperceptable to human senses,” and remind you one more time of the strange mention of lycanthropy earlier in the story.

Later that night he has a dream which foreshadows everything else and gives a precursor to the great artwork of Michael Whelan: “I seemed to be looking down from an immense height upon a twilit grotto, knee-deep with filth, where a white-bearded daemon swineheard drove about his staff a flock of fungous, flabby beasts whose appearance filled me with unutterable loathing.

Strange happenings continue into the next day and eventually our narrator finds a sub-basement. Too scared to proceed alone he calls on a friend, Captain Norrys, and beneath the Roman construction they found a vault:

The Vault was very deep in the foundations of the priory, and undoubtedly far down on the face of the beetling limestone cliff overlooking the waste valley.”

The quote which opens this essay comes next, with our intrepid explorers trying to figure out what to do. They eventually decide to go through the sub-cellar and go into the vault…where nothing good could ever come.

There now lay revealed such a horror as would have overwhelmed us had we not been prepared. Through a nearly square opening in the tiled floor, sprawling on the flight of stone steps so prodigiously worn that it was little more than an inclined place at the centre, was a ghastly array of human or semi-human bones. Those which retained their collocation as skeletons shewed attitudes of panic fear, and over all were the marks of rodent gnawing. The skulls denoted nothing short of utter idiocy, cretinism, or primitive semi-apedom.”

What I find truly intriguing about this part of the story is that all of these men are following our narrator down into this pit without any kind of inclination as to what they’re doing. The only person to hear the critters was our narrator (“imperceptible to human senses“), so it must just be the high of the discovery itself that kept them going.

Beyond that we have another mention of “apedom.” This calls back to “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” where, again, one of Jermyn’s ancestors went to the Congo and wed a She-Ape who was considered a demi-god. Arthur Jermyn finds out that his ancestor is a white ape. Could our narrator here have much the same ancestral line? Or could there be a streak of rodent lycanthropy in his past?

Our group keeps going down until we get to this incredible passage. It is here that Lovecraft starts to really pour it on thick:

It was a twilit grotto of enormous height, stretching away farther than any eye could see; a subterraneous world of limitless mystery and horrible suggestion. There were buildings and other architectural remains – in one terrified glace I saw a weird pattern of tumuli, a savage circle of monoliths, a low-domed Roman ruin, a sprawling Saxon pile, and an early English edifice of wood – but all these were dwarfed by the ghoulish spectacle presented by the general surface of the ground. For yards about the steps extended an insane tangle of human bones, or bones at least as human as those on the steps. Like a foamy sea they stretched, some fallen apart, but others wholly or partly articulated as skeletons; these latter invariably in postures of daemoniac frenzy, either fighting off some menace of clutching other forms with cannibal intent.

Michael Whelan did a number of illustrations for Lovecraft’s work

I’ve been dancing around it, but this has to be the inspiration for the classic Michael Whelan cover. This is the Lovecraft that I had always been looking for as a young man growing up. For me it was always about the imagery and the feel of what he was writing, rather than the actual themes that he was exploiting. I would sit and look at the Michael Whelan covers and marvel at their gothic surrealist nature, but whenever I picked Lovecraft up the language was too daunting for me to overcome.

Now that I’m older and more well read and capable of the mental bandwidth it takes to analyze his language, I felt it was the perfect time to dissect his works, which is why this blog came into being. Hopefully it will give others the ability to enjoy his stories, despite the language, or in some cases, maybe even because of it.

But I digress.

It was the antechamber of hell, and poor Thornton fainted again when Trask told him that some skeleton things must have descended as quadrupeds through the last twenty or more generations.”

Our narrator had taken his fellows into some hellish nightmare with “prehistoric tumuli” and “skulls which were slightly more human than a gorilla’s…” All this in some massive vault underneath the priory and was so tumescent that “We shall never know what sightless Stygian worlds yawn beyond the little distance we went…

The group traverses this nightmare realm, built upon centuries of bodies and bones, until the narrator finally hears what he was dreading:

It was the eldritch scurrying of those fiend-born rats, always questing for new horrors, and determined to lead me on even unto those grinning caverns of earth’s centre where Nyarlathotep, the mad faceless god, howls blindly in the darkness to the piping of two amorphous idiot flute players.”

This is where the theories of the narrative diverge, as no one else in the party sees or hears the rats other than our narrator, who incidentally spouts off some phrase in Gaelic:

That is what they say I said when they found me in the blackness after three hours; found me crouching in the blackness over the plump, half-eaten body of Capt. Norrys, with my own cat leaping and tearing at my throat.

Two theories jump out at me as the narrator is put away raving that he didn’t kill Captain Norrys, the rats did. The first is what I like to believe because of all the seeds planted earlier in the story. We had the mention of werewolves, which is merely a reference for us to understand that there is Lycanthropy in the possibility of this story, but instead of it being a werewolf, it’s a wererat.

The second notion is that the narrator is the only one to ever hear the rats in the walls; with the exception of his cat, but I’d contend that the cat was trying to say that something was there in the walls. Some vast power the cat was trying to get to. Cats have power in Lovecraft, just look at “The Cats of Ulthar.

The unique take on this however, is that the narrator doesn’t take on the appearance of a rat, but the mental capacity of the rat. That’s the power of the lycanthrope here and that’s probably the storm of rats which happened all those years previous. What was built underneath the priory is a temple to the horrible god Nyarlathotep and the people tied to the priory, the people who practiced the rituals and built the horrible vault, were the people inflicted with the curse of the lycanthrope. That’s why so many of the townsfolk are scared of the priory…years ago it was a group of cannibals who imagined they were rats who stormed the village and killed and ate and ravaged. Thus when the narrator discovers the horrible truth, his genetic disposition is to turn feral and become one with the rat…poor Captain Norrys was just in the way as the rodent appetite took hold of the narrator.

We were also given a hint to the cannibalism earlier as well, which could also be considered part of Nyarlathotep’s influence.

The other theory is that everything was normal until they got to the vault and Nyarlathotep’s influence robbed the crew of their senses, but I this theory is all conjecture. The real evidence comes from what I’ve discussed prior and I tend to believe that Lovecraft puts in hints, buried underneath detail, and we just have to dig a bit to get to it.

This story touches on a number of tropes classic to Lovecraft as well. Genetic madness, place triggering memory and sanity, the haunted/possession trope, and architecture which develops a tone for the story. What I love about it (and probably why it’s lauded as his best) is that it puts all these themes together in one place, but doesn’t focus on any individual theme, which just enhances the overall feel of the whole story.

Let me know what you think in the comments! Were there mystical rats? Or was it really our narrator all along?

Join me next week as we dissect “The Very Old Folk”!


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Picture in the House

As I surveyed this quaint apartment, I felt an increase in that aversion first excited by the bleak exterior of the house. Just what it was that I feared or loathed, I could by no means define; but something in the whole atmosphere seemed redolent of unhallowed age, of unpleasant crudeness, and of secrets which should be forgotten.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! With heavy influences from Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft takes this story to a very dark place, creating an almost grim dark form of his predecessor. In addition to it’s extremely dark nature this tale is apparently the first mention of the Miskatonic Valley and potentially even the first glimpse of Arkham as Lovecraft develops the eponymous Lovecraft Country. We also get echoes and seeds of some other stories which would come about later and perhaps the introduction of a different favorite character; but make no mistake; this story is a wonderfully detailed terror.

This story is all about the details which tends to happen in Lovecraft periodically a ten page story about a single event. He tends to elucidate to such a degree as to give the reader a sense of being there. The detail is spectacular which lends to the extremely visceral denouement.

Our narrator begins by telling us of his search, that many searchers (he’s a genealogist) “haunt strange, far places…” like Egypt, “Rhine castles” and “forgotten cities in Asia.” But we find that our narrator has found a newer venue, a place where he can find ancient knowledge and deep lines of genealogy:

But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.”

You see what I mean by detail? But what I find most interesting about this passage is “a new thrill“. This is Lovecraft stating that you’ll not find the run of the mill horrors here. This is a whole new level of terror. This is an entirely unique horror. This new thrill is Lovecraftian Cosmic horror.

We find the “Most horrible of all sights are the little unpainted wooden houses remote from travelled ways, usually squatted upon some damp, grassy slope or leaning against some gigantic outcropping of rock.” and “In such houses have dwelt generations of strange people, whose like the world has never seen.” who have “dark furtive traits from the prehistoric depths of their cold Northern heritage.

Here he sets up these people as being human, but slightly separate from the normal, run of the mill, person. We see that, “Erring as all mortals must, they were forced by their rigid code to seek concealment above all else; so that they came to use less and less taste in what they concealed.”

I find it odd that Lovecraft, the wordsmith that he was, chose to use the word “mortals” instead of humans. This seems to indicate to me that there is a shift in breeding and evolution (which makes sense seeing as the narrator is a genealogist), kind of like what happened to Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. These people, for all intents and purposes, are no longer human, but another line of genetics who are merely “mortal.”

Our narrator finds the house he’s looking for. “Honest, wholesome structures do not stare at travelers so slyly and hauntingly, and in my genealogical researches I had encountered legends of a century before which biased me against places of this kind.” never-the-less our narrator approaches and “...instead of trying the door I knocked, feeling as I did a trepidation I could scarcely explain.”

The narrator decides that the house must be occupied, so he enters and we get a grand description of the place adding to the ambience of the narrative, and just before we get the quote that opens this essay we find out that “Most of the houses in this region I had found rich in relics of the past, but here the antiquity was curiously complete; for in all the room I could not discover a single article of definitely post-revolutionary date.”

So if the owner of the building which is still inhabited, is either stuck in the past metaphorically, or they are preternaturally old and are hiding away from the species that they used to be.

The Regnum Congo

While looking around the narrator comes across a book…Pigafetta’s Regnum Congo, which is a real account of a Italian traveler in the Congo region. The narrator flips through the book surprised and terrified at the illustrations which show beings which are half ape alongside others that are normal humans. This is either a call back or a precursor to “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” as in that story we find that a descendant of Arthur goes into the Congo and claims a wife…who turns out to be one of these partially white apelike creatures. In fact throughout Lovecraft we can see indications of these creatures and so far I am undecided as to whether they have a direct correlation to the ancient magics that take place in the alternate universe of Lovecraft, or they are just an accidental creation and have no real stake in anything that’s happening in the overall cosmic reality. It’s an interesting question and I’m sure that I wont ever truly have an answer to it, but I hope to glean a little more insight as I get through the rest of the stories.

While our narrator is reviewing the terrible “...Plate XII, which represented in gruesome detail a butcher’s shop of the cannibal Anziques.” we hear “the unmistakable sound of walking in the room overhead.” and the old tenant of the abode appears, who “seemed abnormally ruddy and less wrinkled than one might expect…But for his horrible unkemptness the man would have been as distinguished-looking as he was impressive.

The man greets our narrator calmly for someone who just experienced a B and E and the two talk about the book for the majority of the remainder of the story… that is until “The especially bizarre thing was that the artist had made his Africans look like white men – the limbs and quarters hanging on the walls of the shop were ghastly, while the butcher with his axe was hideously incongruous. But my host seemed to relish the view as much as I disliked it.”

Yikes! Could it be there’s a reason the host didn’t balk at seeing a stranger in his house?

A storm brews outside which our narrator doesn’t notice immediately because the intensity of the storm increases as the fervor of the host’s grotesque desires bubble to the surface. As “I listened to the rain, and to the rattling of the bleared, small-paned windows, and marked a rumbling of approaching thunder quite unusual for the season. Once a terrific flash and peal shook the frail house to it’s foundations, but the whisperer (the host) seemed not to notice.”

The tenant is caught in zeal over the depictions of the cannibalism, and in fact soon tells our narrator “Queer haow a cravin’ gits a holt on ye- As ye love the Almighty, young man, don’t tell nobody, but I swar ter Gawd thet picter begun ta make me hungry fer victuals I coudn’t raise nor buy-” and finished by telling our narrator “They say meat makes blood an’ flesh, an’ gives ye new life, so I wondered ef ‘twudn’t make a man live longer an’ longer ef ’twas more the same.

The storm ravages outside as droplets begin to fall upon the opened book, but we soon come to realize that “rain is not red.” Our narrator looks up and “...beheld just above us on the loose plaster of the ancient ceiling a large irregular spot of wet crimson which seemed to spread even as I viewed it.”

Our narrator has stumbled into the domicile of a cannibal who has been eating people for hundreds of years to keep himself alive, when “a moment later came the titanic thunderbolt of thunderbolts; blasting the accursed house of unutterable secrets and bringing the oblivion which alone saved my mind.”

There is a bit to unravel here and it’s all a little outside the normal realm of Lovecraft. The first aspect is the capitalization of “Gawd” by the host. The general usage of God versus god, is that when the capitalization is used in this context the speaker believes in this higher being, when it isn’t… he doesn’t. By all indications the narrator believes as well. What makes this particularly interesting is that Lovecraft was a notorious atheist, but he still includes divine intervention of the “Thunderbolt” at the end of the story. The whole thing feels more like a really dark Hawthorne tale rather than a Lovecraft story because of these influences. I half wonder if that was the intention because of the detail in the opening salvo of the story. It sounds remarkably similar in tone and description as the openings of “The Scarlet Letter” or “The House of Seven Gables.”

Could there be some latent subconscious religion spattered in here, or is this intentional on Lovecraft’s part?

After working on this project for as long as I have, I’d wager that he was working to emulate, not to infuse religion. That wasn’t something he really even cared to follow through with, and the capitalizations are not there in his other works. The only possible explanation is that the host was speaking of some cosmic being (Azathoth?) as a higher being, not the Roman-Catholic Yahweh.

What do you think?

Join me next week as we cover “In the Vault!”

Post Script: I mentioned in the introduction that there was the possible inclusion of a favorite character? I think there is a distinct possibility that the tenant is the “Terrible Old Man.” We know that at one point the Terrible Old Man came from Arkham or at least passed through it, and there is mention of the works of Cotton Mather of Salem Mass. fame in the house. We also know that the Terrible Old Man was at one point in Salem (possibly during Joseph Curwen’s time there). We also know that the Terrible Old Man is a sea captain who went all across the globe before finally settling down in Kingsport, so it is possible he gained some of this knowledge or info from his time at sea (possibly sailing into the Congo?).

Whether these connections are there or not, this is one of the most fun aspects of this project. Looking for these connections. See you next week!


The Dark Ride

Inspired by Vincent Price movies of the 50s and 60s

“Hello.  I’m Vincent Price, and you’re invited to my Carnival this evening.  So far the ghosts have only murdered seven people.  So won’t you come to make it 8?  You’ll find creatures beyond imagination, murderers, ghouls, vampires and other…blood sucking things.  You’d better hurry, your ticket…expires…at midnight.  Your Carnival is at Hubert’s Grove.”

                Oscar pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it, as if its screen would divulge more information. 

                The call’s number was (000)000-0000, so Oscar didn’t answer.  He turned to Olivia.

                “What is it babe?”

                “I just go this really weird call,” he held the phone out to her.  “Listen to the message.”  He half thought it was a joke.  Olivia loved that horror shit.  Oscar didn’t have a clue who Vincent Price was, but he was sure Olivia would.  Besides that, every year at Halloween she begged Oscar to take her to Hubert’s Grove.  It was one of those places where they build a haunted maze in the woods and then charge a crazy admission price to go in and have idiots in costumes jump out at you. 

                He realized he made a mistake handing the phone over a second before he did it.

                “OH MY GOD WE HAVE TO GO!”  Olivia squealed when she finished the message.

“Babe…”Oscar started.

“No!  That was really Vincent Price’s voice!  They must have spliced it from old movies!”

“Babe…” Oscar repeated.

She looked at him, then firmly planted a fist on her hip.  “You wanna get lucky tonight, you’re taking me.”

A few minutes later they were in the car on the way to Hubert’s Grove.

The marquee said “Carnival of Souls” and they parked right in front of it.  The carnival was desolate and run down.  There were no people about and the tarp which encompassed the tents was stained and torn.  Dust blew on a hidden zephyr through the central concourse where a solo ticket booth stood.  Behind the glass of the booth was an old mechanical Zoltar, which had an abyssal stare and teeth that were just a little too white.

The full moon was the only illumination in the carnival, but it was enough to show the way to through the park.  Directly on the other side of the carnival was an old house of horrors dark ride with the title “The Tingler” and a large cutout of Vincent Price’s head under the arched name.

“Oh my God this is spectacular!”  Olivia screamed and ran to the Zoltar ticket booth.

“For access to the carnival please place your tickets in the slot below,” the mechanical soothsayer intoned.

“Ah, damn babe, I don’t know about this,” Oscar said.  “This thing ‘aint looking like it’s been running for years.”

“Oh stop it, you big baby!  I seen the squash festival here last week,” Olivia came back at him.

Oscar looked up to the rusty ferris wheel.  “That enough time to build all this stuff?”

                “Totally!  They build that shit in a few hours.  Where are the tickets?”  She asked.

                “Serious?  You were there, we ‘aint got no tickets.  We just got that phone call.”

                A bright flash came from Zoltar’s eyes that briefly blinded them before Vincent Price’s dulcet tones echoed through its voice box.

                “Welcome to your carnival.  We accept your ticket,” The voice paused and a loud boom echoed over the grounds followed by a shower of sparks.  There was a soft baby’s cry and the rides burst to life.  Oscar was sure he could still hear the baby’s lament behind the screeching of rusted gears, but he was distracted by the voice coming from the Ticket Booth.

                “Your first tickets are for “The Tingler,” so named because of the parasite in your spine that gives you tingles every time you’re frightened.  If you can survive The Tingler you will receive your ticket to the next attraction at the conclusion of the dark ride.”

                Two tickets popped out of a metal disc at waist height on the Ticket Booth.  The voice laughed a terrifying but familiar guffaw before it faded to the ambiance of the grinding gears and soft baby cry.

                “This is so fucking cool,” Olivia said already running toward the haunted house dark ride.

                Oscar looked down at his arms and could see goose flesh and hair standing on end.

                “Hold up!”  He said running after her.

                The Tingler had a long ramp with switchbacks leading up to the entrance, where a track carried cars barely large enough for two people to sit in.  Olivia jumped in one of the cars and slid to the side gently slapping the seat next to her, beckoning Oscar to join her.  Her smile hit each ear.  He squeezed in and lowered the safety bar to cover their laps.

                “The more scared you are, the larger the Tingler grows,” a voice projected from the car’s speakers behind their head.

                The car sped up, then jerkily slowed and slammed a 90 degree turn into the attraction, snapping their heads to the side.  Oscar let out a little “uh” as they were suddenly faced with a realistic wax figure on a hydraulic piston shooting out at their car.  With a hiss, the piston moved the figure away from the car, revealing how fake the set up was.  It was dark inside of the first room, which looked like a laboratory with faint glowing red lights.  There were dollar store props, including rubber bats hanging from the ceiling with twine.  There were other wax figurines in the room as well, all in various poses of horror but none of them moving.  On what looked to be an operating table was a wax figure working on what looked to be a giant rubber centipede.

                “Your first experience of the Tingler is past!  Don’t let it get too strong or it could take over!”  Vincent Price’s voice echoed in their ears.

                The car moved slowly through the room before snapping again to the left.  A sound track of a scream blasted from the speakers behind their heads and the wax figure of a woman with long nails and sharp teeth jumped out at them.  Oscar jumped, but Olivia squealed in delight.  The hiss sounded and the hydraulics brought the wax doll back into the shadows.

                The next scene had even worse décor.  There were more wax dolls in a scene that looked like a scientist fighting off vampire, but the supposed house they were in was just canvas that covered the walls with a painted scene and a jarring green lightbulb which lit the room from the ceiling.  Vampires were painted on the canvas to look like they were swarming the painted windows and there was a Paper Mache dog attached to a metal pole moving back and forth as though it was attacking one of the vampires.  The wax figures looked fairly realistic, though the running wax was evident.  Everything else looked like it was produced for an eight year old’s diorama.

                “Oh, come on!  This is…ooof!” Oscar started as the car made another sharp turn.

                This time he closed his eyes as to not get the jump scare but volume of the scream in the speaker system still made him jump.

                This room was another painted canvas, however this one depicted a large Victorian mansion.  There was a wax figure with a knife attached to a pneumatic track in the middle of the room.  It was moving back and forth so that every time it moved forward it stabbed another wax figure.

                “The only way to stop the Tingler from taking over,” the voice echoed behind their heads again, “is to kill the host!”

                Oscar rolled his eyes and searched for more fake decorations when he saw something strange.  The wax figure getting stabbed was missing one of its eyes and beneath the wax veneer was a real eye, open wide and staring at him.  Olivia was laughing beside him.

                “Yo, what the fuck?”  He said as the car jerked them around another corner.

                Another figure jumped out at them, but this one had a knife in its hand.  The knife slid into his shoulder and his cry of pain echoed the tinny voice over the speaker.

                With a hydraulic hiss the wax figure moved backwards.  As it did the figure’s the head slumped.

                “Oscar?”  Olivia wasn’t laughing anymore.

                The figure that jumped out at them wasn’t wax.  It was a dead woman with her hands tied together around the knife.  She had enough wax coating her that it made her body slightly stiff.

                The room they entered was entirely metal illuminated by a red light.  A figure hunched over a large cauldron in the corner of the room.  It was facing away from them, but it was tall and gaunt and absolutely alive.

                “The Tingler gets stronger!  We must kill its source before it gets out of control!”  The voice echoed behind them.  There was a click and a grinding noise coming from the speakers as if a record had completed and continued to spin on its pin.

                “Oscar?”  Fear laced Olivia’s voice.

                Oscar tried to turn to see what made the noise and felt a needle slide into the back of his neck.

                “Oww!”  Olivia wailed.

                Immediately Oscar’s vision blurred.

                The figure leaning over the cauldron turned around.  It was wearing a melting wax mask and underneath Oscar thought he saw burnt skin.

                “Welcome to your carnival,” the figure said.  “Where you’ll be an attraction for all eternity.” 

                The figure pulled a lever and the last thing Oscar saw was a body falling from the ceiling into the cauldron of wax.


The Spot

I’m taking the week off from the Blind Read series to catch up on work, so I’ll leave you with a Lovecraft inspired story. Here’s a horror short based in the madness of the mind…

THE SPOT

The black spot was still there.  How many times have I scrubbed that damn thing?  It’s always there, in the corner, next to the refrigerator, just above the counter in the kitchen.  I used to put my knife block there to cover it.  It was a large spot, but there were a lot of knifes in the set.  It’s such an embarrassing spot.  It makes me feel like people would look at it and think I didn’t clean.  I mean, how can I ever have anyone over?

Who am I kidding?  It’s not like I know anyone who would come over.  Not like I have any friends.  I can’t have friends.  They might want to come over and then they would see the spot and then they would judge me.  I have to get rid of it.  Cleaning doesn’t seem to help, so I decide that the best thing that I can do is cut it out.  Cut it out of the wall, cut it out of my life. 

Ah it worked!  I got it out of the wall!  I went to the hardware store and I bought a drill and cut the embarrassing stain out of the wall.  I bought drywall to cover it up and repainted it.  It finally looks like the rest of the wall!  I can be a normal person now.  I can invite people over, I can have friends.  This is the best day of my life!

The best day followed by the worst day.  When I woke up today, I found a new spot and it’s larger than the last one.  It’s in my living room this time.  It’s large and ugly.  It looks kind of black, but if you get closer to it, it almost looks brown.  Where are these stains coming from?  I have to go get the drill. 

That one was much harder to get out.  It ended up being a much larger hole than I anticipated.  I started to cut and red liquid came out from the wall.  For a moment I thought it was blood.  It can’t be blood.  Walls don’t bleed.  But the liquid spread the stain.  I had to cut out half of the wall.  I didn’t have enough dry wall to cover it the spot I cut so I had to go back to the hardware store.  The clerks there are friendly.  Maybe they could be my friends.  Maybe.  But I have to get that spot out of the wall first.

It’s gotten worse.  There is a human sized spot in my room.  It’s deep brown.  I’m not fooled by thinking its black anymore.  The moment I put the drill to it, blood comes out.  I know, I know.  It can’t be blood, because walls don’t bleed.  But it really seems like it.  What’s even stranger is that when I cut, the house seems to groan.  You know how old houses shift and they make noises?  Creaks, cracks, pops?  That’s what happens when I cut.  I wish I had a friend who could come over and tell me that it’s just the creaks in the house.  That it’s not something more strange.  That it’s not blood.

I cut into the wall.  I ignore the wall’s cries. I ignore the blood.  Behind the drywall is something I can’t ignore though.  The house has bones.  Bloody bones in the walls.  Bones where studs should be. 

I got back to the hardware store.  I need to get more dry wall.  I need to get more paint.  I’m so embarrassed though.  They are nice to me there.  I think they can be friends, but something has changed now.  It is as though they know about my house, with its blood and its bones. They ask me why I’m wearing sunglasses and a hat and a large trench coat with the collar turned up.  They say it’s good to see me, but I can tell that they’re lying.

I put up the drywall when I got home.  I spackled it perfectly, then painted it over.  No one would ever guess that there are bones and blood behind the wall. 

There’s another spot.  Another one!  It’s in the shower.  The brown spot almost makes it look like the wall is skin.  Like it has texture.  Like it has movement.  I repeat the process.  I ignore the groans.  I ignore the blood.  I ignore the bones.  I act like nothing is there.  I act like I have a normal house.  I act like I’m normal.

There’s a new spot today.  I don’t know how they keep appearing.  I know how to fix it.  I’ve done it so many times before.  I know I just need to do it again.  This must be what my life is.  Just getting rid of these dark spots.  Erasing anything that doesn’t seem normal.  I will make sure that people think I’m normal.

I grab the drill.  I run my hand over the spot.  I wonder how I’m going to find the materials to fix the hole I create as I cut out this abnormality.  I put the drill to my chest.  Once I cut this spot out of me, I’ll be normal.  I’ll be able to have friends. 


The Expedition

Inspired By “The Creature From The Black Lagoon” Universal Studios 1951

“It’s a beautiful place,” I said, looking out over the bow of the ship at the Amazonian jungle as it passed us by.  I wasn’t lying.  Such an untouched place brought a warmth to my heart, more so than any city ever could.

                “It’s a dangerous place, Kay,” My boyfriend David said, “full of deadly creatures, deadly flora, and superstitious and territorial natives.”

                “Which is why you brought me along,” Mark said, cocking his rifle and kicking a box of C4 housed under the windows of the boat.  “Now hold on, while I dock this thing.”

                We were headed to a sacred pool down in the Amazon jungle, following a lead to the find of the century.  The missing link.  For years my research kept hearing rumors of a fish man in the depths of the jungle, but it wasn’t until Mark and I found the skeletal hand with webbing on a tributary of the Amazon that brought some credence to those rumors.

                “Did anyone else find it strange that those natives told us exactly where to look?”  Edwin asked.  He was our Anthropologist.

                “Enough Edwin!  We gave them more supplies than they could use in a year!  Of course they were going to tell us where to go!”  Mark said.

                “I’m just saying.  Native Amazonian’s historically aren’t too happy to work so well with others,” Edwin concluded.

                “The natives are the last thing we have to worry about, Edwin.  Let’s get camp set up, it’s starting to get dark.  We don’t want to be caught outside with these deadly mosquitoes!”  David laughed.

                It didn’t take long to build camp, but David was right.  The Mosquitoes were horrible.  It was so nice to get inside the tent and block out the bugs.

                “You hear that Kay?  Sounds like laughter,” David said after we had settled down to sleep.

                “David, get away from the side,” I cried. 

                “But I really think I heard laughter.  It was strange, kind of gurgling.  I’m gonna to take a look,” He said and left the tent.  I sat there with my sleeping bag pulled tight under my chin, I mean I know that’s a stupid childish protective safety thing, but I really couldn’t help myself.

                I was right to be worried, because after a few minutes I heard him scream.

                “David!”  I cried and unzipped my tent.  I saw a shadow of someone walking by and my skin went cold.  There was a strange earthy, wet smell in the air.  It was like ozone blended with moss. 

                “What’s going on?”  Mark called.  I let out a little yip, embarrassed at my reaction, because he must’ve been the figure I saw. 

                “David heard laughter and went out to check it out.  I heard him scream,” I said.

                “Stay with me,” Mark said.  He lifted his rifle.  “We’ll move to the edge of the water.  That way we can’t get surrounded by anything in the woods.”

                “What’s going on guys?”  Edwin ran up to join us.

                “Stay close,” Mark responded.  I couldn’t open my mouth.  David had better be kidding, but you’d better believe I was going to kill him whether he was or not.

                “Woah!” Edwin cried.  “Look at this!”

                He was bent over something stuck in the muck at the forest edge.  Stuck in the ground was an old wooden pendant, petrified by time.  It portrayed some strange bipedal fish creature.  I turned it in the moonlight when something out of the corner of my eye made me look up. 

                Mark was standing on the edge of the water line looking past us into the jungle.  The something that caught my eye was walking out of the water towards him.  The water was black reflecting moonlight making the water look like oil.  I thought the figure was David at first, but it was just my mind wishing for something that wasn’t true.  The figure opened its arms.  It had a huge arm span and its hands were webbed, its skin was scaly, and its neck had gills.

                “Look out!”  I cried.  I was too late.  The creature’s arms wrapped around Mark and its nails dug into him.  He screamed as the creature bit into his neck from behind.  I could see blood as black as the oily Amazon roll down Mark’s body as the creature ripped a piece of his neck free.  He collapsed into the water. 

                “Run!”  I cried. 

                We ran back to the metal safety of the ship.  My heart was pounding and I was having trouble getting breath.  Did I really just see that?  I had to have imagined it, right?  But, God the metallic stink of blood surrounded me, I couldn’t focus, I just wanted to be with David.  I wanted him to hold me. 

When Edwin and I approached the ship, I saw David on the other side of some bushes.  My heart soared! 

“David!”  I cried.  “David, get on the ship!”

We turned the corner and my knees gave out beneath me.  It wasn’t David.  Or rather, it was only part of him.  His head was stuck down on a pole that was thrust into the ground.  His eyes bugged out of his head, and his tongue lolled.  Bugs crawled in and out of his grotesque mouth.  I saw a mosquito feeding on one of his bulging eye balls.

                I think I cried out. I think I sobbed, but the next thing I knew, Edwin and I were inside the metal boat.  Edwin must have put a mop across the handle of the door, blocking us in.  Didn’t he see David outside?  How did he think a mere mop would stop that thing?  Especially with exposed windows?

                “Let’s get out of here.  We got what we came for,” Edwin said, he was sobbing.  Tears and snot running down his face.

                “What?  What do you mean we got what we came for?”  I cried.  We didn’t got anything but death! 

                Edwin held up the idol he found on the beach. 

                “Get rid of that fucking thing!”  I yelled.

                “No!”  Edwin wailed.  “It’s what we were paid for!”

                The mop handle cracked as the creature slammed on the other side of the door.

                “It’s coming for the idol! Get rid of it!”

                Edwin took a few steps back, nearing one of the many windows in the cabin.

                “No!  Let’s just get the boat moving… ” Edwin said.

                The creature’s hands broke through the window and grasped Edwin’s head.  Its claws dug into his cheeks and he was momentarily lifted before his skin gave way and the claws tore up and back, ripping skin from his face, piercing his eyes and spraying blood across the room.

                I grabbed the idol from Edwin’s dead hands and threw it out the window.  I grabbed the broken mop handle in a futile attempt to defend myself. 

                Then the creature stepped into the room.  It smelled of earth and blood and swamp water.  It looked like a piranha, if a piranha was six foot tall.  Its teeth were razor sharp and its claws were long and dripping with blood.  Its green skin shone in the moonlight and it cocked its head to the side like a dog when it saw me.

                “I’m leaving.  You can go now.  I…I won’t cause you any problems,” I called.  I took a step back and my foot hit a box.  I glanced down.  It was the explosives.  I knelt down and grabbed a packet of explosives and the detonator.  The creature didn’t like that.

                It screeched and opened its arms wide.  Blood dripped from its hands and its mouth. 

                My heart was pounding so hard I thought it was going to leap from my chest.  The creature took a step toward me and I threw the explosives at it.  Its reflexes were incredible.  It caught the C4 in the air and immediately turned to look at it.

                “Fuck you,” I said, and depressed the button a split second before diving behind a table.

                The echo of the explosion resonated in my ears, but somehow I got up and got to the wheel.  I thrust the throttle all the way to the maximum.  Fuck this place.  I was getting out of here. 

                I managed a glance at the body of the thing.  Its arm was completely gone.  Disintegrated.  Its head was half gone, the rest a toasted black.  I had to get the thing off the boat.  There was no way I was going to keep going with its corpse there, but I couldn’t think of that right now.  I was shaking too bad, I just had to focus on getting out of the jungle.

                I heard distant chanting.  It got louder and louder and I felt bile rise in my throat.  I peered out the window and I saw Amazonians at the shore line.  They were dancing and shaking something in the air.  The chant was a dissonant sound that made my skin crawl.  I squinted at what they held.  It was the same as we saw on the beach.  The fish idol.

                I went back to the wheel when I heard clicking behind me.  Nails on metal.


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; Sweet Ermengarde

Thus only a week after his advent to the Stubbs family circle, where he lurked like the vile serpent that he was, he had persuaded the heroine to elope! It was in the night that she went leaving a note for her parents, sniffing the familiar mash for the last time, and kissing the cat goodbye – touching stuff!”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re talking about the satiric and absurdist piece, “Sweet Ermengarde.” This is a literature genre that I’m not super familiar with (at least it’s history), but this story seems to bite off the comedic nature of some of his contemporaries, while calling back to some of those classical authors like Shakespeare, or even further back, Aristophanes.

Calling on Vaudeville, Lovecraft tells a story of Ethyl Ermengarde Stubbs, whom “...her father persuaded her to drop the praenomen after the passage of the 18th Amendment, averring that it made him thirsty by reminding him of ethyl alcohol” This is the beginning of our tale, setting us up to understand what we’re getting ourselves into.

Ermengarde is a “Simple Rustic Maid” who “confessed to sixteen summers, and branded as mendacious all reports to the effect that she was thirty.” and had “light hair which was never dark at the roots except when the local drug store was short on supplies.” This sets our maid up as duplicitous from the start. These examples, of course are not devious in any way, but they give an indication that things are not actually what they seem. If we know anything about Lovecraft we know this will eventually pay off, because he tends to be very exacting in his prose, never leaving the slightest detail to chance.

We soon learn that Ermengarde had two suitors, “‘Squire Hardman, who had a mortgage on the old home (The Stubbs farm), was very rich and elderly.” and “the handsome Jack Manly, whose curly yellow hair had won the sweet Ermengarde’s heart...”

Nearly Dickensian isn’t it? We have the dastardly vaudevillian villain, Hardman (he’s a “hard man” to love…he is a “hard man” with a hard heart, only caring about money and prestige) who could frequently be seen “viciously twirling his moustache and riding crop, and kicking an unquestionably innocent cat who was out strolling (Lovecraft loves cats).” Meanwhile we have the Jack Manly, who was a young heartthrob and was the romantic love interest who frequently whispered secret nothings to Ermengarde. We immediately know we are supposed to root for “Manly” and hate “Hardman” despite the over the top affections Lovecraft writes in to fan the flames of absurdism in the tale.

Then, just to add another nail in the ridiculous coffin, when the first chapter ends Lovecraft puts “Curtain” as a stage direction indicating the end of a scene; though this is very obviously a story and not a play. It’s just yet another call back to the vaudeville stage plays, with their moustache twirling villains and hooks to pull the players from the stage after a gaff.

The second chapter begins with Hardman going after the Stubbs unknown “vein of rich GOLD!” He plans on foreclosing the Stubbs farm unless Ermengarde disavows her “Manly” lover and marries him. Jack, being the man he is (and after his “Tears flowed like white ale“), he decides he is going to go off to the city to gain a fortune and buy the mortgage from Hardman. Queue more over the top PDA.

Hardman, not to be foiled, decides to kidnap Ermengarde only to realize (after deciding she was being too “Difficult” that it would just be easier to foreclose! Why then he could just take the gold! But, in the mean time, a few hunters find the gold and make an attempt to garner sweet Ermengarde’s affections.

And, believe it or not, ANOTHER suitor comes into play, the indominable Algernon Reginald Jones; the perfidious “city chap” who came down to work on the foreclosure which brings up to the quote at the beginning of this essay. That was all pure Lovecraft: all at once vilifying and romanticizing the exit. Pure satire.

But then our resourceful young (well, as long as the hair dye held out) lady finds a love note from another woman in Algernon’s breast pocket! Well I never! She just had to leave that scoundrel behind!

So she heads off and gets lost “Alone in the Great City.” She looks for her “Manly” suitor but fails. She looks for a job and only finds only a “fashionable and depraved cabaret; but our heroine was true to her rustic ideals and refused to work in such a gilded and glittering palace of frivolity – especially since she was offered only $3.00 per week with meals but no board.”

The parallels are deep with this one.

She wanders and finds an ornate bag in the park. Soon after finding that the the owner is a Mrs. Van Itty, a clever play on words and very much a replacement for Havisham of Great Expectations fame. Mrs. Vanity, sorry… Van Itty is so pleased with our heroine that she takes her on as a ward, and then everything begins to come up Millhouse.

Van Itty hires a chauffer who turns out to be the down and out Algernon. remember the note from the woman in his breast pocket? She stole all his land and money from him.

Algernon drives Van Itty and Ermengarde to Hogton (another fun play on setting and words), Ermengarde’s home, and there they find that Manly has become a beggar. Van Itty sees Ermengarde’s mother and realizes that she was a maid who stole Van Itty’s babe from her crib some 28 years previous (“How could she get away with the sixteen-year-old-stuff if she had been stolen twenty-eight years ago?”). So Ermengarde was really Van Itty’s child all along! With this incredible revelation our intrepid heroine decides to take Hardman up on his offer and foreclose on her faux parent’s house and take the vein of gold for herself. Hardman, “The poor dub did…” what she asked and became subservient, and Ermengarde was suddenly the devious rich heiress.

A Possible basis of Lovecraft’s Sweet Ermengarde

We come to the end of the tale and find there is a bit of a Lovecraftian twist and role reversal going on. Ermengarde is a play on a contemporary Frances Hodgson Burnett’s character in The Little Princess (P. 1905), of the same name. In that story Ermengarde is a “fat child who is not in the least bit clever…” and that’s who we are meant to believe this Ermengarde is (mentally, not physically), but this is Lovecraft and he’s never pleased with leaving things simple so he flips expectations on their head multiple times. Manly becomes a bum. Algernon becomes a pauper. Hardman becomes a cull. Van Itty becomes a loving mother.

One of Shakespeare’s most popular absurd comedies

Taking an “As You Like It” type of approach, Lovecraft excels in his humor and construction to give us the surprise ending, but he does leave clues along the way.

Her father, the elder Stubbs, is a bootlegger and loves alcohol so much that he has to drop his daughter’s first name, lest he become a lost drunk. Hardman makes poor decisions and cant figure out that he can just foreclose on the property to get the gold until it’s too late. Algernon let’s things happen to him, rather than making things happen for himself. Manly is nothing but a pretty face and curly hair. These are the types of details you must pay attention to in Lovecraft to be informed on where he’s going next, both in this absurdist romp, and the normal horrific fare.

This is not your normal Lovecraft, but it is spectacular and hilarious. If you’re a fan of classic literature the references and the humor will hit you in exactly the right way. This is a must.

Join me next week as we delve into an underground Lovecraft classic “The Music of Erich Zann!”

Post Script:

Horatio Alger’s Street Boys, starting small and living large

I have one last reference I wanted to call up. Algernon Reginald Jones (and the whole tale in total) seem to be a call back to the tales of Horatio Alger, the classic rags to riches author. Alger wrote about “Street Boys” who lived the American Dream. They worked hard and worked their way up the ladder to become pillars of their community or leaders in business. Alger(non) was a play on those classic characters, but with the classic Lovecraft twist.

It’s truly amazing the depth and intelligence that Lovecraft writes with. It makes me a bit sad that I started here and not with Lord Dunsany or other contemporaries, because even as I delve deeper, I find that his work is founded on so many others. His ideas are built from the seeds of his predecessors and I feel as though I’ve missed so much by not understanding fully his foundation.

This post has been a bit English Teachery (and I get rid of that idea by using a word like teachery!) but there is so much more enjoyment when you catch the threads and really get into the man’s head!


Born To Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                I screamed in agony and threw him away from me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                I screamed and fired my pistol again.

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

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

                …this town rips the bones from your back…

                I heard the laughter of the insane in the room.

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

                I could see his eyes reflecting through the darkness.

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

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

                …we gotta get out of here…

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

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

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

                Laughter echoed in the darkness.

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

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

                …I want to die with you…

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

                …on the streets tonight…

                “I called you here to have a partner.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

The old Collins estate in Collinsport, Maine

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dreams in the Witch House by Arkham Angst!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

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

The popular role playing game

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

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

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

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

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


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

Cthulhu by Andree Wallin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well hello Cthulhu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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


By Any Means Necessary

Inspired by The Invisible Man, Universal Pictures 1933

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

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

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

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

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

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

                He nodded in response.  Good lad, keeping quiet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                “Show yourself you coward!”  I screamed.

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

                “I must continue my research.”

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

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

                “I thought I was curing cancer.”

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

                “But this is something so much more.”

                I felt a punch in my stomach.

                “So I must continue my research.”

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

                “By any means necessary.”

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


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

FUSELI: NIGHTMARE, 1781.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gustave Dore “Satan in Council”

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

Sidney Sime “Slid”

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

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

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

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

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

Clark Ashton Smith “The Forbidden Barrier”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress. Back to the story!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yikes!

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

Double yikes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triple Yikes!

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

Post Script:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Artist credit: Adam Narozanski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is Curwen and how is Dr. Allen involved?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Memory sometimes makes merciful deletions.”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript:

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

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


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Case of Charles Dexter Ward pt 1.

Artist Alvin Schwartz from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

“He bore the name Charles Dexter Ward, and was placed under restraint most reluctantly by the grieving father who had watched his aberration grow from a mere eccentricity to a dark mania involving both a possibility of murderous tendencies and a profound and peculiar change in apparent contents of his mind.”

Welcome back to another blind read! It feels like it’s been a long drought since the last time we covered one of Lovecraft’s more popular pieces, and I gotta tell you, I was very excited to jump into this one.

Right from the start we enter into familiar territory. The POV is much more omniscient than much of Lovecraft (the majority of his stories seem to be told from a much more limited 3rd person, and much of that is from the perspective of an unreliable narrator), however the omniscient narrator spends this chapter describing the character of Ward, whom is a young man who has gone down a path that has led him to the strange.

We find that Ward is an inquisitive youth. He’s described as “a scholar and antiquarian”, but at some point (specifically at his last year of Moses Brown School, the feeder school to Brown University) “he suddenly turned from the study of the past to the study of the occult.”

Ward, while doing research into his past, found that one of his ancestors had some connection to the occult. One Joseph Curwen, “who had come from Salem in March of 1692, and about whom a whispered series of highly peculiar and disquieting stories clustered.” It was in this research of his ancestor that Ward began to go down the rabbit hole of the occult.

Whatever he did had strange consequences. It changed, not only his mind and the psychology behind it, but his actual physiology. There is a really fascinating section early on in the story where Lovecraft describes Ward’s “Organic processes”. The entire point of this is to show that Ward had tapped into something that changed him, but the brilliance of this section is that it encompasses the horror of Lovecraft perfectly:

“Respiration and heart action had a baffling lack of symmetry; the voice was lost, so that no sounds above a whisper were possible; digestion was incredibly prolonged and minimised, and neural reactions to standard stimuli bore no relation at all to anything heretofore recorded, either normal or pathological. The skin had a morbid chill and dryness, and the cellular structure of the tissue seemed exaggeratedly coarse and loosely knit.”

This was the most fascinating section to me because when you read the passage, something about what he’s describing feels off. You know that Ward has been effected by something, but as a reader, you are uncertain what it is. You know he’s still human, but you know that whatever he got himself into has done something to him, and it’s that word… something… that creates real fear. This ambiguous description is the cornerstone of Lovecraft’s genius of horror. He pontificates, but doesn’t out and out recount what is truly going on.

It wasn’t that Ward had become some creature (although he could… this is only the first chapter), just that there was something wrong with him. I see this all the time in bad horror, where the author tries too hard for the scare, and in doing so, usually describes the creature or describes in lurid detail what is happening to the character. When we actually get to see something our brain is able to put it in a box, and where that box may not be pleasant, it’s the first step in understanding. Lovecraft’s point is that we can never understand these types of horrors. He lets the reader’s mind do the work for them.

Even the titles elicit this with stories like “The Thing in the Moonlight” or “The Unnamable” prove that he understood what’s truly scary to people is what they don’t know, not what they do know. He describes things that are a little strange to unsettle the reader, but not to outright terrify. Lovecraft wants to do what his creations do, he wants to be that insidious pulling at the back of your unconscious that tells you something isn’t right, even though you don’t understand what that is.

The brilliance of this story is he places Ward into such a realistic place. He goes into great detail describing Providence, RI. So much in fact that there is criticism (actually from Lovecraft himself) that the novel is a “cumbrous, creaking bit of self-conscious antiquarianism” because of the detail he uses in describing Providence. Now, where he sees this as self aggrandizing, I find it a wonderful juxtaposition to the oddity that is Ward. The realism of his illustration of Providence grounds us, which makes the possibility of the unseen horrors corrupting that reality all the more… well… horrible.

Come back next week and read along as we cover chapter 2 “An Antecedent and a Horror” in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward!


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Thing in the Moonlight

“Presently I heard a swishing in the sparse grass toward the left, and saw the dark forms of two men looming up in the moonlight.”

Welcome back to a very strange blind read!

This wasn’t really a story and in fact when I researched Lovecraft’s bibliography it isn’t represented at anywhere. As it turns out, this is actually a letter that Lovecraft once sent about a dream he had to a colleague. The letter was then taken and a beginning and end was tacked onto it. It’s curious why someone would do this, because the text doesn’t make sense and doesn’t sound ANYTHING like Lovecraft. Let’s break it down a little. Here’s the opening, obviously not written by Lovecraft:

“Morgan is not a literary man; in fact he cannot speak English with any degree of coherency. That is what makes me wonder about the words he wrote, though others have laughed.

“He was alone the evening it happened. Suddenly an unconquerable urge to write came over him, and taking pen in hand he wrote the following:”

So, so many things wrong here. First of all why name him Morgan? Without any characterization this is just a failed attempt to change something that doesn’t need to be changed. The very next line starts “My name is Howard Phillips.” so there is no reason to adjust it, other than either an attempt to make it their own (which I don’t believe because it’s published in a Lovecraft book), or they wanted it to seem more like a story rather than a letter. It’s an uninspired and useless tactic.

Next “he cannot speak English with any degree of coherency.” What? If you read the following letter, the man writing it obviously has an expert’s grasp of the language; as it’s written far better than this opening salvo. I mean, the writer (I refuse to say author here for this anonymous hack job) tacks on a fragment to end the sentence that makes zero sense in the context!

Then we get into Lovecraft’s actual (letter) writing. This letter is brilliant and terrifying (it might be some of the scariest he’s written), and packs so much into just two pages that I would consider it a must read for any fan (just ignore the two opening paragraphs and the closing paragraph).

The narrator describes finding a strange aged trolley car on a plateau. The narrator goes inside and sees two figures approaching. One screeches and the other goes to all fours and runs around wolf-like. The description of the screamer is terrifying, and now I understand why people say “Silent Hill” is Lovecraftian: “…but because the face of the motorman was a mere white cone tapered to one blood-red-tentacle…”

The scene repeats itself with a feeling of foreboding and anxiety that the dreamer will eventually be caught by this mysterious motorman. The story ends with the ominous, “God! When will I awaken?”

This letter was written in the last few years of Lovecraft’s life, and I wonder if this was almost a cry for help. He created this verdant field of wonder and fear, and one has to wonder if drugs (laudinam or opium) caused some of this nightmare fuel to seep into his head.

Then again what if this was a metaphor? The bestial nature had left him (the conductor was the one who went wolf-like and ran around; ostensibly away. Cone-head was the real nemesis) as the conductor ran off, and he was left being haunted by the strange and otherworldly motorman. I find it interesting that the conductor, the one who was meant to drive the vehicle (or in this case drive the consciousness?) went feral and directionless, whereas the motorman – the one who powers and builds the craft – became the staying force. The motorman whom changed and became something otherworldly. It almost feels like this is Lovecraft’s ID and this letter is the realization that maybe there is something off about him internally. Something otherworldly?

Much like many of his narrators he sees this truism and is terrified by it, and we as readers have to wonder… How much time did Lovecraft spend dreaming, and in the end did he succumb and transcend into his own dreamlands?

Join me and read along next week where we’ll cover the first chapter of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward!”


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

“It was a key – a guide – to certain gateways and transitions of which mystics have dreamed and whispered since the race was young, and which lead to freedoms and discoveries beyond three dimensions and realms of life and matter that we know.”

Welcome back to another blind read! I was excited to read this one because I thought it might have to do with the Necronomicon, but soon found out that the eponymous book was yet another tome of outlandish sorcery – but more on that later.

This fragment starts out with the old Lovecraft standby – the unreliable narrator. This one doesn’t mince words though, our narrator comes right out and says, “wow this is crazy, I don’t even know where I am, or even who I am half the time!”

Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s the beginning: “My memories are confused…I am not even certain how I am communicating this message…My identity, too, is bewilderingly cloudy.”

I’ve been debating on where to put this critique, but every other story is pretty jam packed with content, whereas this is a shorter fragment, so I think I’ll talk about this here…

I’m not thrilled about this unreliable narrator that Lovecraft loves to use. It’s fine every once and a while, but when you consistently re-use the same themes, it feels more like bad writing than a trend. I understand it for sure. Lovecraft is trying to set the stage and each unreliable narrator tends to have a different reason for their unreliableness (totally a word). This narrator is confused because of “… that worm riddled book…” he discovered. He delved so deep into it’s mysteries that it has altered his reality so that he’s not sure as to which reality he’s actually in.

The issue this creates is that the story is now forever stuck in the fantasy realm. The wonderful nature of Lovecraft is the creepy realism he develops with his mythology. He takes us to real places with dirty people (literally and figuratively) who are just trying to make a living, and these extraordinary things happen to them. By telling the story by an unreliable narrator it takes away some of the stakes. Could all of this insanity all be in their head? Could they just be lying? Are they under the influence of something like Opium of Peyote? All of these choices are fine for a story or two, but when we start out nearly every story with the narrator saying something along the lines of “I don’t even know where I am right now!” It becomes more about fantasy than horror and the stakes are lowered for the reader. Lovecraft dances this line superbly in most of his works, but it would be a better choice had the narrator understood what was happening, rather than telling us at the beginning of each story that it might not be true.

Just had to get that off my chest, but back to the story…

The narrator finds the old “wormy” book in some old book store and the shop keep is grateful to be rid of it (or is this some ploy? Could the shop keep with his “curious sign with his hand” be in on it?). When the narrator reads it he finds that, as the starting quote says, it is a key; a gateway to other worlds. I thought for sure this was the classic Grimoire I mentioned earlier but, “… the hand of some half-crazed monk, had traced these ominous Latin phrases in unicals of awesome antiquity.” So we know it’s not the Necronomicon because that tome was written by the Mad Arab Alhazred and he’d be writing it in either Arabic or Aramaic, so it must be something else. The first few pages are burned away, so no one really knows what the book is, however there are references to many other things within: “But still I read more – in hidden, forgotten books and scrolls to which my new vision led me…” So we know there is more to Lovecraft’s old forgotten mystery tomes than the Necronomicon and the Pnakotic Manuscripts.

This fragment was written just a few years before Lovecraft died, so who knows what he would have created as he expanded his universe (I’m sure other authors, like Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth did, along with a multitude of others who followed, but I’m not there yet).

We even get a glimpse of some strange square building which terrifies the narrator into giving up his research and becoming a hermit. There’s mention that he has gone back in time, could this strange square building have been a Cthulhu temple in R’lyeh? The narrator doesn’t know, so we wont either.

But that’s all. This one is a fairly contained story, but there isn’t a whole lot to it. It feels like this is actually a character sketch for a future story, or that he was trying to work out what another old tome could be. Who knows? Maybe I’ll read another story during this blind read and come across a book which is a “key” somewhere else! Anyone out there, know which book this story is referencing?

I’ve purposely kept some of the better known Lovecraft stories for last. I wanted to try to get as much experience within the framework of his oeuvre before jumping into larger and more popular stories. To that end, I have just one more fragment to get to, “The Thing in the Moonlight” which will be next week (reading from the beautifully Michael Whelan illustrated Del Rey books), before heading into “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.”

Come join me! Lets read along!


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

“There rose within him the tantalizing faith that somewhere an easy gate existed, which if one found would admit him freely to those outer deeps whose echoes rattled so dimly at the back of his memory.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! I’ve finally finished with the Juvenilina and I can’t say how happy I am to be back with the fragments. These are some of his later story ideas and, well, fragments of stories that Lovecraft never got to finish and oh my lord what a wealth they are.

These fragments contain more Yog-Sothothery than any of the individual short stories that I’ve read so far and I wonder if these works were his way of organizing his thoughts. He packs so much information into these few pages, while the rest of his short stories are vague and only hold a little indication of where he wanted his mythos to progress. I wonder if this is how all of his stories started and then he pared back on the lore, so that he might be able to focus more on the. After all, to me, the greatest strength of Lovecraft is how he lets the reader develop the horror in their own minds.

Anyway, back to the story. This story starts out like many of his other stories where the narrator tells us of a man (here in London instead of New England) who walls himself off from friends and family. He has been traumatized by something in his past and we get a page or two glimpse of how he lives his current life, then we peel back the onion to stare directly into the trauma.

The man strives to stay away from anything that makes him think. In fact the only books he has are brain candy: “His room is filled with books of the tamest and most puerile kind, and hour after hour he tries to lose himself in their feeble pages.” No! Lovecraft wasn’t elitist, I swear! (as a side note, I’m really curious to see who he thought was “puerile.” That would be an interesting post in and of itself!)

The point is, something happened to the man and he wants to make sure his brain doesn’t delve deeper into whatever past experiences he had. That’s either a coping mechanism not to relive the trauma, or it’s because he has something hidden in his brain that he’s scared to bring back out.

Eventually a young man named Williams enters his life. This young man is a scholar and has a feeling that the old man knows something more than he tells. He picks and prods and eventually gets a bit of information out of the old man about his past.

Seemingly unprompted, though one might believe that he inferred about the terrible book from the conversations he had with the old man, Williams brings home the Necronomicon. “…the infamous Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.” which he sought out from a local rare bookseller.

The old man sees the book and, “…one glimpse he had had of the title was enough to send him into transports, and some of the diagrams set in the vague Latin text excited the tensest and most disquieting recollections in his brain.”

We learn that the old man is Lord Northam, whose lineage goes back to Roman times. In fact, one of his Roman ancestors actually found evidence of the Old Ones; “Gabinius had, the rumour ran, come upon the cliffside cavern where strange folk met together and made the Elder Sign in the dark…”

During the Hellenistic period and slightly before there were cave dwelling hierophants who practiced something called the Eleusinian Mysteries, which were basically rituals to Hades and Demeter. We already know that Lovecraft gets much of his inspiration from Greek and Roman culture and it seems as though he is adopting these Hierophants as his own to represent his Cthulhu cult (I.E. praying over the ocean). He also infers R’lyeh, “a great land in the west that had sunken, leaving only the islands with the roths and circles and shrines of which Stonehenge was the greatest.”

The story abruptly ends while telling about Lord Northam’s childhood, and one gets the feeling that if Lovecraft was able to actually finish it, this story would be one of the most complete and comprehensive histories of his Mythology.

We get so much of the origins of the cult that surrounds the mythos, including a great understanding of where in our world much of these places are and the events that happened within them. Lovecraft was absolutely anglified, making the majority of his major events happen in England, New England, and in the sea between, but he also holds a special place in his heart for the mysteries of Greece and Arabia. There is much that he didn’t understand about those worlds and I think he was drawn to culture mainly because of the desert. It was something that he couldn’t have imagined being in, or being around (whether that be because the of the temperature, the vast miles of nothingness, or the emptiness of humanity) and thus it grew in mystery within his brain. I believe that’s why he posed the people of the mysteries as cultists and why artifacts of the Old Ones power (The infamous Mad Arab, and even the narrator from The Transition of Juan Romero) seem to come from there. Because the culture was so vastly different, that in a way he vilified it.

Once again we are shown brightly Lovecraft’s xenophobia, as he subsumes it within the mythos he created. Transposing real world people and events into horrors which we don’t understand and cannot contemplate.

Come back next week for another Blind Read! We’ll be covering the fragment, “The Book.”


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Transition of Juan Romero

“Upon investigation it was seen that a new abyss yawned indefinitely below the seat of the blast; an abyss so monstrous that no handy line might fathom it, nor any lamp illuminate it.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the last of the juvenilia from the Del Rey book “The Tomb and Other Tales.” If you want to follow along, we’ll be covering the last three fragments at the end of that book in the next three weeks!

This story has a bunch of interesting lore involved, and where it isn’t specifically Yog-Sothothery, it’s a good basis for his cannon.

The story starts with Lovecraft’s classic unreliable narrator. He is unwilling to give much background but we know that he fought in the Anglo-Indian wars, as he “…was much more at home amongst white-bearded native teachers than amongst (his) brother officers.” Which to me indicates maybe he was of mixed race, Indian/English who never felt at home. He was an outcast in his homeland and I get the feeling that he chose to go to India to fight, not our of civic duty, but of a desire to prove he belonged.

He leaves India, but instead of going home, he heads to the American West and takes on a new name: “…a life wherin I found it well to accept a name – my present one – which is very common and carries no meaning.” indicating that his name had meaning before he started his new life in America. He is an outsider that somehow holds some sort of unforeseen talent or power and just hasn’t realized it yet.

His new life consists of being a miner at the Norton Mine, looking for gold along with his fellow miner, Juan Romero. During the dig, they do some blasting and they blow out a huge abyss with no end (see opening quote).

That night there are strange sounds; drumming from the deep (which is almost the exact same line from Tolkien. I half wonder if Tolkien stole it for the Mines of Moria), some wolves howl, and Juan Romero freaks out. He goes to the edge of the abyss: “and with a wild outcry he forged ahead unguided into the cavern’s gloom.”

Romero yells “Huitzilopotchli,” which is the Aztec god of war, the sun, and human sacrifice, before heading into the maw. I first thought this an odd inclusion the tale, because why would the deity which watches over Tenochtitlan be buried in a huge abyss underneath the American West? The more I thought about it however, I realized that this was probably just a manifestation of what Romero thought might be down there. There is another possibility which I’ll cover later, but I prefer this one, so we’ll leave that here.

There are some strange lights, “at first I beheld nothing but a seething blur of luminosity;” then he sees Romero through the diverging forms in that light. Romero has changed! We don’t know into what; in fact Lovecraft has his popular non-descriptors which made his horror so palpable. He doesn’t describe it, which makes the idea that much more terrifying: “but God! I dare not tell you what I saw!” He allows the reader to formulate in their own mind what this terror could possibly mean. The brilliance of this is that each reader will come up with their own interpretation of what the horror is which hits the hardest for them.

Some kind of deific power comes down and collapses the cavern, filling in the abyss to the point that the drillers are never able to find it again. Our narrator is not sure how he got away, but he”…noticed the unaccountable absence of my Hindoo ring from my finger,” which he doesn’t believe is a coincidence: “Somehow I doubt if it was stolen by mortal hands, for many strange things were taught to me in India.”

So what does this all mean? Did Lovecraft get confused and believe that the Indian sub-continent had the same deities as the South American? How could these two different deities interact? Juan Romero sees an Aztec god, however the narrator’s Hindu ring (Shiva?) was gone after the event. How could an Aztec God possibly be effected by a talisman from a Hindu God? What was Lovecraft getting at?

I believe Lovecraft knew what he was doing. Lovecraft himself seemed too versed in religions and he tended to research and ask questions, so I very highly doubt he confused the deities of two very separate religions. What I think is more likely is that Lovecraft is taking a more unifying approach.

Lovecraft was not religious; in fact he seemed to despise religion. So why would there be two religions in one story? There wasn’t. The characters believed they were two different beings, but we are one people, and there’s a reason so many of our religions are so similar. Think about all the cultures which have a flood myth. Lovecraft is saying that we are of one culture and the true deity which was nearly released was a cthonic god. A God which was the basis of all world religions. Their moniker is only what a culture called them based upon their experience. That’s why the Hindu ring worked on an Aztec god. They were one and the same, buried under our earth much like Cthulhu is in his lost city of R’lyeh.

What do you think?