“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!”
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.
“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!
“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.”
“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!
“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!”
“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!
“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.”
“There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself, but I will tell of the Street.”
This is the best opening line I’ve seen from Lovecraft in all that I’ve read of him (Despite the weird piratey feel), and this even comes from one of his Juvenilia!
I wasn’t really sure where Lovecraft was headed with this one. This short story felt like a bit of a ramble; as if he had a basic idea of what he wanted to accomplish, but he wasn’t sure how he wanted to get there. The writing is much more sophomoric than much of his other writings, but the story itself is far more controlled and succinct than The Poetry of the Gods was (which I’ve since been told the majority of which not actually written by Lovecraft).
In this story we follow the history of a street from the dawn of time when magic ruled, to the present day. The “soul” that Lovecraft is talking about is the Street’s history; the mystery and magic that’s inherent to an individual location. This is such a through line with all of Lovecraft’s writings, but I don’t think I’ve seen it so blatant in any other story than it is here.
The Street has a soul. Through time events happen. People coalesce around the Street and form it into a community. They build it into a town. The nation forms around the Street. There are wars to defend locations and ideals, including skirmishes with “natives” and battles with soldiers wandering the streets. There is even mention of the Declaration of Independence as the world changes around the Street.
The Street, however, never loses its core. It never loses it’s spirit. Things around it can change, “the air was not quite so pure as before, but the spirit of the place had not changed.”
Lovecraft believed that the way the world was headed was a detriment to the human mind. I think that’s why he ultimately wrote about what he wrote about. It was his goal to keep things unchanged and his Yog-Sothothery was that old magic that was too powerful (both in good and evil and ambivalence) to change. Many of the people in his stories are trying to bring back those old gods…trying to bring back that old magic…to a time before humans gradually destroyed the world. That’s why he loved New England, because it held onto the traditions of old, unlike places like New York which thrived on change (See the stories HE and The Horror at Red Hook).
Overall there isn’t much to this story but that theme. That theme is such a powerful one in his writings, however, that this is an incredible addition to his works because we can gain a greater understanding of his oeuvre as a whole.
One last thing before I let you go. I noticed something strange in this story, and where it is a blind read (meaning that it’s the first time I’ve read it, so I could have easily missed some context), I think that there may be more to his legacy than I previously thought.
I’ve always heard that Lovecraft was a notorious racist. Now, because of the day and age that he lived in, I’m sure that this was true (not to mention some of the wording he uses to describe minorities, also not using this as an excuse to forgive racism), but reading his works in such a bulk and analyzing them like I have, I think that he’s a bit more of a Xenophobe and an Agorophobe. I think he equally was scared of and disliked any people who were different, or had differing cultures than he did. It actually makes me pity him more than vilify him because fears drove him as we see in his literature. (Qualifier: I am not giving him a pass. I am not saying racism in any form is ok, in fact I think treating anyone different because of melanin or cultural differences is pretty abhorrent. I’m not saying that we should look past it. It’s just an observation that it seems like he fears everyone outside of his comfort zone, not just minorities. In fact in The Horror at Red Hook the evil person is dutch. He does have terrible language which is detrimental to the world as a whole.)
Lines like; “But it felt a stir of pride one day when again marched forth young men, some of whom never came back. These young men were clad in blue.”
It seems as though he’s talking about the Civil War here. If he is, then he was firmly in the Union side (which makes sense because he lived in Providence). I want to hope that he was pro Union because of the slavery issue, that he was still a humanist, but it could be that I love his writing and I’m looking for an excuse.
I guess I’d have to read his letters to get a better understanding of the man himself.
What do you think?
“It was only a bit of vers libre, that pitiful compromise of the poet who overleaps prose yet falls short of the divine melody of numbers; but it had in it all the unstudied music of a bard who lives and feels, who gropes ecstatically for unveiled beauty.”
Welcome back for another Blind Read! This time we’re diving into a co-op between Lovecraft and Anna Helen Crofts. This story is a divergence from what we have seen so far in Lovecraft’s fiction so if you’re looking for a horror story, look elsewhere. What we do get to see here is an interesting genesis of Lovecraft as an author and potentially his position, much like Marcia in the story, as a herald to the gods.
The story follows the aforementioned Marcia, who lives in an austere mansion and suffers from general malaise because of, “…some greater and less explicable misplacement in time and space, whereby she had been born too late, too early, or too far away from the haunts of her spirit ever to harmonize with the unbeautiful things of contemporary reality…” This quote strikes me. It feels almost as if Lovecraft is using Marcia to be a stand in for himself (or potentially Ms. Crofts).
He was not born at the right time.
Lovecraft craved mystery, and the strange, and mysticism. Contemporary culture of the time just didn’t fit with these amorphous constructs. We see this time and again (especially in the stories such as HE or Shadow over Innsmouth) Lovecraft wanted magic in the world of technology.
We go along with Marcia as she’s approached by Hermes and brought before Zeus. Zeus is looking for a mortal to herald the coming of the gods and brings Marcia there to do so.
The text itself is interesting because the exposition is cut up by poetry, as if to expose how brilliant Marcia is, but it also displays how bad poetry can halt magic from happening.
This is pretty much everything you get out of the story. It’s disjointed and strange, but it tries to hover between the mega weird of Lovecraft and softer, more realistic fiction. It doesn’t hit the nail on the head. It leaves you with the feeling that either one, or both of the authors were trying to show off how important and how amazing they were, but the self aggrandizement comes off as cheap and smarmy. It makes the story feel useless.
Where my interest in this story lies is how similar the Greek gods of the story were with Lovecraft’s original cannon. I’ve mentioned before that Greek gods and culture were a heavy influence on Lovecraft in general, and this story solidifies this.
There is a bit of the Dream-Quest as Marcia is brought to Olympus and sits before Zeus, as he tells her, “..the time approaches when our voices shall not be silent. It is a time of awakening and change.”
There is even evidence of the Pnakotic Manuscripts or the Necronomicon with “…reading from a manuscript words which none has ever heard before, but which when heard will bring to men the dreams and fancies they lost so many centuries ago, when Pan lay down to doze in Arcady, and the great Gods withdrew to sleep in lotos-gardens beyond the lands of the Hesperides.”
So much correlation that it’s hard not to read into it. From stories such as The Tree, The Tomb and What the Moon Brings, we catch such a huge influence from Greek culture that I now truly believe that his Yog-Sothothery is based upon these gods. He just puts a slightly more nefarious tint to them.
What do you think??
“At this time, my belief in the supernatural was firm and deep-seated, else I should have dismissed with scorn the incredible narrative unfolded before my eyes.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! We’re diving back into another one of H.P. Lovecraft’s Juvenilia… The Alchemist. This was the first story I’ve read from Lovecraft that I truly feel that he had not gained his writing chops before starting. The narrative is obviously unpracticed and the plot is loose, with a number of issues.
The major thing that jumps out at me is that, unlike his other stories where he relies on inference for horror and terror, in this one he goes right to it and calls a spade a spade. The antagonists are father and son and they are evil. Flat out. Lovecraft even goes so far as to state that the father “…burnt his wife alive as a sacrifice to the Devil, and the unaccountable disappearance of many small peasant children were laid at the dreaded door of these two.” OK. That’s bad enough. We can probably leave it there. We know that these two are corrupt and irredeemable. We know they are the antagonists, but Lovecraft takes it a step further.
“…the evil old man loved his offspring with fierce intensity, whilst the youth had for his parent a more than filial affection.”
I hope I misunderstand this quote, and I hope it means something other than physical love, though I don’t know what else would be more than filial. Even more bothersome, Lovecraft states “…through the dark natures of father and son ran one redeeming ray of humanity,” meaning that their “more than filial love” is seen as a redeeming quality. Hmm. Mayhaps we’ve seen a little into why Lovecraft became such a recluse.
But let’s dig into the story, shall we?
A young man is locked away in a tower because the “…restriction was imposed upon me because my noble birth placed me above association with such plebeian company.” (though really it was because of the curse, but more on that later) Because of this isolation our narrator spends the majority of his time reading over old archaic tomes, but “Those studies and pursuits which partake of the dark and occult in nature most strongly claimed my attention.”
Through these tomes he reads of a man by the name of Michel Mauvais and his son Charles, also known as Le Sorcier. Mauvais, an evil sorcerer who strove for “such things as the Philosopher’s Stone or the Elixir of Eternal Life.” Meanwhile the Count, our narrator’s ancestor, finds one day that his son is missing and immediately goes to Michel Mauvais’ house and kills him for the murder Godfrey, his son. It is later found that Godfrey had just wandered off and eventually came back, though too late to save Mauvais. Le Sorcier curses the count and his ancestors, stating that every man in his lineage will die at the age of 32.
The tome tells how each ancestor of our narrator dies at that age. Eventually on the narrator’s 32nd birthday, Le Sorcier appears and says that it was actually he that had lived these past 600 years and had killed every one of the Narrators kin on their 32nd birthday to ensure the curse continues. He takes the Elixir of Life to help him in this capacity. Here the tale concludes.
We know the narrator wins the inferred scuffle, because he lives to tell the tale. We also know he steals the Elixir of Eternal Life from Charles Le Sorcier because the narrator tells us that the events he described were 90 years prior.
There are two possible outcomes here. The first is how the narrator tells it: he kills Le Sorcier, takes the drought, and lives forever in his tower. The second is that the narrator is none other than Le Sorcier himself, and the earlier story of being holed up was a hoax. Neither one of these are well thought out conclusions however. Either one of these outcomes leave a large number of plot holes, even in this seven page story. Unfortunately I felt this was Lovecraft’s weakest story of which I’ve read so far.
What do you think?
“Cautiously advancing, we gave vent to a simultaneous ejaculation of wonderment, for of all the unnatural monsters either of us had in our lifetimes beheld, this was in surpassing degree the strangest.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week, we’ll be diving into some of Lovecraft’s “juvenilia,” as it’s called. This is one of the last stories he wrote as a young man (The Alchemist being the last), before taking a break from writing these types of fictions. He returned to fiction years later and wrote the rest of his better known bibliography
This is a good story with echoes of future works tucked inside of it. Now, where there isn’t much in terms of cosmic horror or a Mythos connection, there is a slight thread (though far fetched) that we’ll be examining in a bit.
The story is a simple one and very straight forward. Lovecraft doesn’t leave much to the imagination, but he does create a great little horror story. The story begins with our narrator taking a tour through some strange caverns. He gets separated from his group and ends up fighting (really just throwing rocks at) some kind of creature that rose up from the depths of the cavern system.
He thinks he kills the creature with the rocks and tries to inspect it. He finds that it’s a white haired ape like creature, but it’s too hard to see because his torch extinguished in the time he wandered, lost. When the tour guide eventually finds him, flashlight en tow, they see that the creature was actually a man, assumed to be down here so long that he has mutated (I wonder if Gollum comes from this story).
It’s fun and short, and what you’d expect from a young man’s fiction. But what if this were the seed for so much more?
So the obvious connection is The Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and his Family, because that is a story of a man intermarrying a Portuguese woman, who eventually turned out to be a Congan Ape Goddess. Arthur Jermyn and his family all had apish aspect because they were offspring of the Ape Goddess. Maybe the beast in the cave was actually a Jermyn?
But then we can go deeper. There are a few mentions of the people of Congo praying to this Ape Goddess “Under the Congan moon”, and inference that potentially the moon could have been where the Ape creatures came from (see What the Moon Brings and The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath). Could this be the mythos connection? Could these creatures have been somehow been connected with the moon-beasts?
Even in stories such as The Doom that Came to Sarnath have this moon connection, where it seems as though something has come down from the moon and taken over, or corrupted life on our planet. This could be the cosmic connection we’re looking for, because the vast majority of Lovecraft’s mythos come from the stars.
Of course, this is a tenuous connection to say the least, but I like to think that Lovecraft’s beginnings could have had this kind of influence, at least subconsciously, over his later work. His vague mythos (which from what I understand, he didn’t want to have much connectivity), may have actually been more connected than we really thought of previously.
What do you think?
“His build and lower facial features were like any other clergymen I had seen, but he had a vastly higher forehead, and was darker and more intelligent looking – also more subtly and concealedly evil-looking.”
Welcome back to another Blind read! This time we’re reviewing the very short and to the point, “The Evil Clergyman.”
There isn’t a whole lot to this one. It’s pretty straightforward, dealing with our classic un-reliable narrator, with themes of cosmic horror and sanity. This story doesn’t add to the cannon of mythos (unless there is something that I’ve missed, or something that I haven’t read yet), but it’s a fun little off shoot story.
We start off with our narrator looking an attic apartment. The man who is offering the apartment makes illusions to one of the previous tenants, and references what he did. We don’t know what it is, but we can tell that it is severe. It seems as though the narrator is not moving into the apartment, but he is rather there for research into “That abominable society…” whom he was a part of, and stayed there. I half wonder if this is the same he from the story with the name HE. They do have similar descriptions.
The man giving the apartment up (or perhaps the narrator is a working lodger) gives a number of requests: “I hope you wont stay till after dark. And I beg of you to let that thing on the table – the thing that looks like a match-box – alone.”
Whatever the previous tenant did we know it was terrible, and potentially had something to do with the thing that looks like a matchbox…which immediately made me think that the item could have potentially been a talisman with an elder sign on it. As far as I’ve seen so far, Lovecraft doesn’t have any elder signs in his fiction, so they are probably a creation of one of his acolytes, but this could have been the genesis of it.
Our narrator takes a “Flashlight” out. He delineates that this flashlight shines purple, not white light, so immediately we know that he’s either testing something, or hes doing his own nefarious experiments.
There is a familiar vacuum sound, a description that Lovecraft has used frequently to indicate summoning, and before the narrator a newcomer appears. The titular Evil Clergyman gets ready to hang himself and seems to peer into our narrator.
At first I wasn’t sure if this was a dream story, or reality, but as the Clergyman starts to hang himself he looks devilishly at our narrator, and our narrator is overcome with fear. He does the only thing that he can think of …”and drew out the peculiar ray-projector as a weapon of defense.”
This scares the Clergyman and breaks the spell. The man who offered the warnings at the beginning comes back and lets us know “Something very strange and terrible has happened to you, but it didn’t get far enough to hurt your mind and personality.”
We find that this is not the first time this has happened and that others have died in this room by their own hand. The Evil Clergyman was trying to take over our narrators body, and in fact, partially succeeds, “This is what I saw in the glass: A thin, dark man of medium stature attired in the clerical garb of the Anglican church, apparently about thirty, and with rimless, steel-bowed glasses glistening beneath a sallow, olive forehead of abnormal height.”
Our narrator had become the Evil Clergyman.
I read this story as two different meanings. The first is the purely horrific, Lovecraftian story where we have an outside being forcing his way into our world. A Clergyman who vied for more power and ended up being taken over, body and soul, by a malevolent cosmic horror being. It follows that their goal is to take over a new form and enter our world. That makes it a fun little story.
There could be deeper meaning here though. The specific mention of Anglican garb gives me a bit of pause, because of Lovecraft’s notable hatred of religion. I wonder if there is a piece of Lovecraft that said that if you let religion enter you, it would destroy your life. You would become beholden to the religion and lose a sense of your own creativity and end up killing yourself, who you are, and your very soul, by letting the religion take you over.
If this is the case, that means the people in the attic are against religion too, and they worry that in the dark of night, when terrors abound, the narrator (as many in the past have as well) might turn to religion.
There are two instances which could make this reality. The first is the description of the room contains strange geometry, much the same as in The Dreams in the Witch House. This strange geometry is a conduit for connecting one world to another. The second, is the people who stopped the Evil Clergyman in the past were “That abominable society.” Why would an abominable society be trying to stop something evil cross over? Could it be that the abominable society were in fact Cthulhu cultists, or something of that sort and they were trying to stop religion from coming into the world?
What do you think?
“But at this time it was all horribly real, and nothing can ever efface the memory of those nighted crypts, those titan arcades, and those half-formed shapes of hell that strode gigantically in silence holding half-eaten things whose still surviving portions screamed for mercy or laughed with madness.”
Wow, what a wild ride this story was. This was probably the scariest and most classic horror of any H.P. Lovecraft that I’ve read up to date.
As the story begins we are introduced to detective Thomas F. Malone who is on extended medical leave for trauma. The first portion of the story describes how he’s living and dealing with this trauma, of which we are still ignorant.
The second portion of the story covers Red Hook. We get a call back to HE, as there is a similar tenement structure our narrator experienced there. This story also takes place in New York, which is absolutely unique for Lovecraft. It does not hold the same atmosphere as much of his work, but from the start of this story the tone has a much darker and sinister feel. The basis in New York gives Lovecraft the ability to explore different themes than the usual fantasy/cosmic horror that he frames in New England.
The third portion of the story is the introduction to Malone’s quarry, Robert Suydam. “Suydam was a lettered recluse of an ancient Dutch family,” and he purchased a space in the run down, twisting alleyways of Red Hook. After a strange trip to Europe, Suydam began to deteriorate. His personal hygiene took a hit, he lost friends, and “When he spoke it was to babble of unlimited powers almost within his grasp, and to repeat with knowing leers such mystical words or names as ‘Sephiroth’, ‘Ashmodai’ and Samael’.” And there it is. We have three demons from the Kabbalah and Christian religions. The text has gone beyond the normal Lovecraft, no longer in the world of the cosmic horror. We are no longer in the dreamlands (though there is a little bit of dream stuff to come), we have now crossed over into religious horror. To me this raised my hackles. I find this subject matter far more terrifying that anything I have yet come by within Lovecraft’s oeuvre.
The fourth section of the story delves into the police work. Trying to uncover just what strange dealings that Suydam has been up to. They raid his home, which is empty, and they come across blasphemous art work and things that Malone simply “did not like”. They also found an inscription:
O friend and companion of night, thou who rejoices in the baying of dogs and spilt blood, who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs, who longest for blood and bringest terror to mortals, Gorgo, Mormo, thousand-faced moon, look favourably on our sacrifices!
I had no idea what this meant. Though obviously a atmospheric quote, I believed it had deeper meaning. Lovecraft infuses lots of Greek mythology and heritage within his work. There is a certain amount of admiration he obviously felt for the culture and the artwork. He loves the idea of marble structures and busts and even includes some of that iconography in this story as well. So when I came across this quote, it was no surprise to me that it was about Hecate, the Greek Goddess of the underworld, ghosts, and magic. This story was not going to deal with cosmic horror, it was going to deal with something closer to home. It was about Hell.
The next short section of the story tells of a journey Suydam takes across the sea, where he dies. He instructs that his body be conveyed to the bearer of the note provided.
Then we move into the Horror. Malone goes to Red Hook and investigates, noticing a melee. He goes to allay the fight and finds strange sounds and smells while all the participants of the battle flee. Malone suspects something nefarious behind a large door, so he takes a stool and breaks the door open, “whence poured a howling tumult of ice-cold wind with all the stenches of the bottomless pit, and whence reached a sucking force not of earth or heaven, which, coiling sentiently about the paralysed detective, dragged him through the aperture and down unmeasured spaces filled with whispers and wails, and gusts of mocking laughter.“
Malone is sucked into Hell. He experiences some truly horrific scenes, perfect for any fan of this type of fiction, and much more evocative than anything I’ve experienced from Lovecraft. We see Suydam giving himself over to a demon, finally getting what he was after, and becoming one with hell.
The final section explains how the mysterious group brought Suydam’s body back to that experience and how Malone could hear that same refrain from some “hag” speaking to young children about Hecate. The knowledge of the fate of Suydam and that whatever devious magic caused it is still alive and well in Red Hook is what truly throws Malone over the edge.
When I think of Lovecraft I don’t generally think “disturbing”, but I have to say that this one was up there. That penultimate chapter covering Malone’s experiences in Hell were truly unsettling.
What do you think?
“And because mere walls and windows must soon drive to madness a man who dreams and reads much, the dweller in that room used night after night to lean out and peer aloft to glimpse some fragments of things beyond the waking world and the greyness of tall cities.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! We’re going to be tackling a fragment from later in Lovecraft’s career, that gives indication for the expansion of the Dream Lands and his pantheon of gods. This short was thought to be the beginnings of a novel that never truly came to fruition, and instead became what we know as “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”https://seanmmcbride.com/2018/05/11/blind-read-through-h-p-lovecraft-the-dream-quest-of-unknown-kadath-pt-1/ (check out my Blind read of that story here). Azathoth is mentioned in a few other stories as well, but is basically known as the chaos at the center of the universe. A god of gods, something that the narrator of “The Dream Quest” knows that if he views Azathoth straight on, he will lose his sanity. A quavering mass of teeth and eyes and malevolence. He is also known as the Dream God. Some think that Azathoth creates dreams, or at least created the dream lands. He is, however, ignorant of this. Also known as the Blind Ignorant god, Azathoth himself is not actually malevolent in his intentions. He may be a force of chaos, but he is not truly evil. He’s just dreaming and moving through existence, but because he is beyond the understanding of humans, a view of Azathoth means a view of the entirety of the universe, which is too much for a mere moral to withstand. Thus madness.
This short was the first time in the oeuvre of Lovecraft that we get to hear of Azathoth and there is one really interesting mention. Opiates.
Lovecraft was rumored to either use Opium or some such subsidiary, and some say that many of his stories were opium dreams. I prefer to believe that he may have dabbled early on and had some crazy visions. This led him to believe that Opium may be a drug to alter existence. Lovecraft at his core was a terrified man. I don’t believe by the indications of his writing that he would give himself over to an addiction of a drug this powerful; he’d be too scared to lose himself. He was a well known recluse and a well known bigot. These things developed (of course he must have had an early life redolent with them), out of fear of the unknown. If you’re scared of something, you’re going to vilify it, instead of trying to understand it.
I believe this is why he wrote about the subject matter that he did. Writing about fears and horrors was an outlet for him. He was unable to deal with these types of fears in real life, so he fought them in his dreams and with his pen. Fears do not always have to be about monsters.
The loss of innocence was big for him. He believed that the world had moved on, and the drive for the 9 to 5 (or at this time in our history, more like 7-9) took something away from you. Took away part of your soul.
“It is enough to know that he dwelt in a city of high walls where sterile twilight reigned, and that he toiled all day among shadow and turmoil, coming home at evening to a room whose one window opened not on the fields and groves but on a dim court where others windows stared in despair.”
Lovecraft lived in a world of fantasy. As we saw in “He” https://seanmmcbride.com/2020/05/08/blind-read-through-h-p-lovecraft-he/ Lovecraft’s narrator hates New York because it has lost its whimsy. Lost it’s fantasy, and become a “city with high walls where sterile twilight reigned”. Twilight, the mystery and magic of it, is sterile there. He believed that to have emotion, to have a reason, you needed that fantasy, and that’s what he gained from New England. He was scared of the loss of innocence. He was scared of losing his fantasy. His fear of the sterility of life in the city is what drove him to such excess in his fiction.
Many of Lovecraft’s stories are about the search for this lost innocence. The search for this lost magic. What Lovecraft realized from his own isolation, was that the search could be a fine line. The creation of the Outer Gods, was an example of going too far in the wrong direction. As in “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath” the journey is the key. If you become too incessant about uncovering the whole truth, you’ll find that there is horror there. The horror may just be that there is no point. The horror may just be, that if you get to the answer you were desperate for, you find that you are only in a …”dim court where other windows stared in despair.”
They key to avoiding this? Live in your dreams. Live your dreams.
…”and for days not counted in men’s calendars the tides of far spheres bore him gently to join the dreams for which he longed; the dreams that men have lost.”
I’d love to hear what you think!
Join me next week for another Blind Read!
“For a full three seconds I could glimpse that pandemoniac sight, and in those seconds I saw a vista which will ever afterward torment me in dreams.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! I had to take the series on hiatus for a little while for work reasons, but we’re back and I’m determined to finish with the rest of H.P. Lovecraft!
This is the story He, written in 1925 at the height of his “fame” (it’s in quotation marks because Lovecraft was not popular while he was alive. The majority of his fame came from August Derleth, continuing on his legacy after he died). Despite his vast vistas explored in such stories as At the Mountains of Madness, this, for me, was his most atmospheric piece. It is also his first work in a city that takes place outside of New England.
We follow our intrepid narrator who is excited to go to New York. It is a place he’s heard a lot about and has read about extensively, and he has an expectation in his head. An image of New York of yesteryear. He imagines walking through the boroughs and seeing the history first hand. He wants to be inspired by the muse of New York, by the poetry of the city. When he gets there he is disappointed because the world has moved on. New York is, well, new. Buildings are built up, there is no nostalgia. There is only the bustle of the city, the history is dead and gone.
Our narrator goes into a depression, desperate to leave the city, but decides to take one more excursion. He tries to go as deep into the heart of the city as he can, escaping down alleyways, and travelling through slums. He soon becomes lost and meets up with a strange man. The man takes him even further into the depths of the city and they end up in a room the man (the titular He) leads them to. The man knows what our narrator is looking for. The man becomes the muse.
The room is decorated as an 18th century library, and the man takes our narrator to a window with a yellow curtain (I cant help but think of the short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman The Yellow Wallpaper) . He peels the curtain aside and shows the narrator various vistas. They start off small and verdant field, followed by cities. Our narrator asks the man if he can take him further. The man, properly egged on, uses his magic to take them to a far off place…but something goes wrong. The man takes in too much of the other world energy and it instantly transforms him into a blubbering creature, eventually nothing but a ball with eyes and arms. Our narrator flees, and lives to tell the story.
This is the story of Lovecraft getting the most out of a difficult situation. Lovecraft was a homebody, nearly a hermit. I truly believe that when he went to New York (which I’m sure he did), he had much the same experience. He went for the nostalgia, he went for the muse, he went to write poetry, but instead found a cinderblock and steel city, devoid of the wonder he craved. This story was his effort to extract that wonder. The world had moved on from him and his mythos, so he needed to create a character to bring that back. He wanted a way to bring that wonder back to New York.
But New York had already moved on. The narrator accepted it, as Lovecraft had. So this elegiac tale was about dreams. He dreamed that there was someone strong enough to take him backwards. Take him back through the nostalgia. No one, however is strong enough to take him forward. No one can withstand the steady, unrelenting march of time. not even this incredibly old magician. He too succumbed to time, and was reduced to nothing more than a ball with eyes. Something that had no power, except to watch as the world moved on.
I’d love to hear what you think!
Join me next week as we do a blind read of The Horror At Red Hook!
“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars.” – Walt Whitman
“If youth knew, if age could.” – Sigmund Freud
“Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”
Ah the origin story. The tales where we uncover the history of the characters we follow, and find out what makes them tick; why they are the way they are. Here we have the dreamlands. What brings King Kuranes and Randolph Carter to the dreamlands? What made King Kuranes a king??
Welcome back to another blind read! Sorry for the limited blogs, but I’ve been extremely busy with writing and vacations (hey! Vacations are work too!). To make up for my truancy, I’ll be covering two short stories this week. Celephais and The Silver Key. But first, a brief synopsis:
Celephais: Kuranes creates the city of Celephais while being a child dreamer. Then as he grows old, he goes to the dreamlands and becomes a King over the city that he created (keeping it simple, but this is pretty much it!)
The Silver Key: Randolph Carter used to dream all the time as a child. He would travel constantly, but as the story begins Carter is 30 and has been unable to get to the dreams that he once had. That is until he meets a man at Miskatonic University (there is a brief description of the events of “The Statement of Randolph Carter” [ Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Statement of Randolph Carter ]) which opens his eyes to the world that he once knew. He starts to dream again and has a dream about his grandfather who tells him to go back to his childhood home, and look for a box in the attic. He goes and finds a box with arabesque designs. When he opens it he finds a parchment with symbols reminiscent to what he saw in the Necronomicon, and inside of the parchment is the eponymous key. His dreams become more vivid and more reminiscent to what they once were. He goes to the place of his childhood, and there he goes into a crevice, holding the key. He then enters a dream state. The story ends how Carter, beginning at the age of ten, when he found the crevice, knew glimpses of the future that he could not possibly know. We also find that a narrator has been telling us this story, a narrator who is a king of a city that he hopes to see Carter in one day.
So there you have it! The origin stories of Kuranes and Carter! Celephais seems more like a fragment from “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”, than an actual story, just a little more illumination of Kuranes, whereas The Silver Key seems much more like a full story, not to mention, it looks like it’s continued on in the next story of the book “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, even though that’s a collaboration.
There are some major links between these two stories, that both seem to link with Lovecraft’s personal life and ideals, and to the evolving dreamlands. Take youth for example. There is a romanticizing of what it means to be young in both of these stories. The innocence, the ignorance. It reminds me of all those horror stories back in the eighties (yes I know they continue on now, but that’s because it’s a trope. I would be interested in researching this and finding out where it actually stems from), where the child could see or interact with the supernatural element, but the parent could not. Seemingly because of the lost innocence, and lost open mindedness. The stories deal with this in two different ways:
Celephais is a lamentation of the innocence. Kuranes moves forward with his life, but regrets his decisions, and thus in “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” he reverts Celephais to a version of Cornwall, so that he may re-live his past experiences.
The Silver Key is an effort to spurn the vagaries of everyday life and get back the mystical nature of youth. In fact Carter actually goes back in time and becomes himself as a 10 year old, to re-establish those experiences and memories.
This seems allegorical to Lovecraft himself (There is even a portion of “The Silver Key” where the narrator tells us that writing helps get back the mystery, through opening of one’s mind). Both of these stories show that at some point, there was belief in wonder, belief in the mystical, that came from Lovecraft’s youth. But then, like with many of us, life happens. You grow up. You have responsibilities that take away time and energy from the mysteries of life, making it easy to become bitter, hardened, or ignorant of the fantasy that can be apparent in life. I really felt as though Lovecraft was saying in these two stories that writing saved his life. He was getting bogged down with the stresses of everyday life, bills, housing, love and intimacy, but when he was able to sneak away into the worlds that he created he no longer feared about these mundane issues. He freed his mind in his fantastic worlds, just like Kuranes and Carter did in their dreaming.
Another interesting factor is drugs. There is a finite stigma against all drugs, but there is a certain amount of research that proves that in controlled environments that drugs can be helpful. For example LSD, and marijuana (or Hashish in Kuranes’ case). In modern medicine, these drugs are used as a better alternative for treating things like PTSD and anxiety disorders, and at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, they would be far more prevalent if Big Pharma didn’t get their hands into government pockets and stymie their progression. In Lovecraft there is countless mentions of drugs helping dreamers get back to their “dream state”, of characters opening their eyes to the actual world that is around them, instead of believing and trusting in the veil. I think this subject is probably better suited for an entire post later on, but I think it very worth noting here, because of the content of these stories and the stigma of drugs. Is it considered juvenile? Irresponsible, to take these drugs to try and open up your consciousness? Is it ignoring your responsibilities or reverting, to try and recover youth? Or is there in fact a veil, that needs to be punctured, and we must attempt this in any way possible?
What do you think?
Join me next time for a blind read of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”!
“If you say int he first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off…” – Anton Chekhov
“But oh God, under the weight of life, things seem brighter on the other side. No way out of here…” – Dave Matthews Band “Big Eyed Fish”
“Just as anyone who listens to the muse will hear, you can write out of your own intention or out of inspiration. There is such a thing. It comes up and talks. And those who have heard deeply the rhythms and hymns of the gods, can recite those hymns in such a way that the gods will be attracted.” – Joseph Campbell “The Hero’s Journey”
In literature when we go on a journey with a character, there is always a mental journey as well as a physical journey. Why is our hero, our hero? Why is it he/she that has been chosen to do this task? If they chose it, then why? These are the questions asked from any good protagonist on a hero’s journey, so what did Randolph Carter learn?
Welcome back to another Blind Read! We’ll be talking about the epic conclusion of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, and some theories that i have from reading it. Again these are all my own theories, but feel free to give me some of your own!
The last time we saw Carter her was at the gates of Sarkomand and the great abyss. He finds some Ghouls who are trapped by the same evil merchants and helps them escape. Then calls upon the remainder of the ghouls to fight against these horrible minions. With the help of Nodens he gains the help of the night-gaunts. With these night-gaunts (whom “even the Great Ones fear”) and the Ghouls, they have an epic battle against the Shantak birds and moon-beasts and the fish like creatures (of which one can only assume are off shoots of Dagon). Once they win the fight, mainly because of the vastly superior night-gaunts, they all go back to Sarkomand and the ghouls go back down to the abyss and Carter, again with the help of the night-gaunts, flies to Kadath.
Upon reaching Kadath he finds that the castle is empty, all except for a Pharaoh like man, who gives him directions to the sunset city, and tells Carter that he must get the Great Ones (Earth’s Gods) back to their homes on Kadath. He tells Carter that they got the glimpse of the Sunset City from him, for it is a recreation of New England, Boston and Providence specifically, and the earth gods loved it so much that they went there.
Carter leaves, flying out on a Shantak, but realizes that he has been tricked. The Pharaoh like man was actually Nyarlathotep and he is having the Shantak take Carter to the center of the universe and the seat of Azathoth to be devoured (I think this means both physical and mental). Carter realizes the ploy, and leaps from the Shantak, and creates a kick, to bring him out of the dream. He finds himself back in Boston, and revels in his sunset city.
In a brief epilogue, Nyarlathotep is bitter that Carter escaped, but he has been able to bring the Great Ones back to Kadath and mocks them as they brood.
This is without a doubt the most uplifting story that I’ve read by Lovecraft, and that has me wondering. I understand that this story was published posthumously by August Derleth, and where I’ve not seen information to state that Lovecraft didn’t finish this story, it does seem, from the battle scene on, like a different type of story. I wonder if Derleth took over this story and finished it, to have the dreamlands be a thing. But I digress.
I have three main points for the end of this story and they all revolve around the quote’s up at the top of the page. The first is Chekhov.
There are many call backs throughout this story. We have Pickman coming back at the end. We have the slant-eyed merchant continuing to re-emerge as a sinister being (no doubt spurned on by Nyarlathotep). Finally, we have the duplication of New England as the sunset city, in the same way that King Kuranes created Cornwall to be the place of his dreamland life. This was the foreshadowing of where Lovecraft was going to take the story. Kuranes goes to great lengths to describe how he created the land that he wanted, and that he had been chasing for all these years, while he’s speaking with Carter. Then when we go back to the beginning of the story:
“…and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory…”
Lovecraft is saying right here that what he is chasing after is a memory. it wasn’t until the end that I remembered that line, and the whole story was brought full circle. That cyclical journey.
If we continue in that line it brings me to my next point.
“…the pain of lost things and the maddening need to place again what once had been an awesome and momentous place.”
He is both trying to remember what the sunset city was in his dreams, but he is also trying to reconcile the memory of New England with what it is now. His memories were what built the sunset city, and it’s wonderful and glorious vision.
The way that Carter views his current situation is that New England is run down, and the city of his dreams is so beautiful that he wants to go there. “Oh god, under the weight of life, things seem so much brighter on the other side.” He thinks that by going to the sunset city he will find heaven, or at least some version of it that he can live in, in the dreamlands. This is merely a projection however, because the reality is that the sunset city is his own creation, just like King Kuranes created Cornwall. He is searching for an idyllic memory, when what he is truly looking for is right outside of his bedroom when he wakes up.
That’s the major irony of the story, because things aren’t better on the other side. They are only better once you come to realize that the world is what you make of it, and when Carter wakes, he realizes that he is in his Sunset City finally, and the journey to Kadath, while spectacular, was unnecessary.
The last point is one that is very interesting to me, particularly when it comes to the cannon of Gods. The Great Old ones are the “Earth Gods” as Nyarlathotep calls them. Carter has nearly transcended the gods, and has completed his mythological journey (quest), by creating something that the Great Ones want to experience. At the end of the story, the Great Ones actually go to the Sunset City in the dreamlands. They see all the glory that it beholds.
The dreamlands are of neither time, nor of space. We see that because of the things that the dreamers can do, create cities and such. Stay with me now, because I’m going to get a little crazy.
So back to Carters journey for a second. The Great Ones are the Gods of Earth and everything on Earth has to do with them, not directly, but in the Lovecraftian world, we developed from these moon creatures. So when Carter created the Sunset City based upon New England, there was a link between the Great Ones and the vision of the city. They saw something in it that called back to the time that they were here, and that was the point of his journey. To bring solace to the Great Ones, to lure them back into complacency and slumber, because they could experience the world, without having to come to our world.
The tragedy of the journey is that he ultimately fails. That is where the menace and horror of the story come in. Nyarlathotep tricks Carter, and instead of making sure that the Great Ones know about the city, he is taken elsewhere, and Nyarlathotep can collect the Great Ones and take them back to Kadath, where they don’t want to be. Nyarlathotep wants the Great Ones to long for Earth, he wants them to come to earth a sew destruction (just because of their nature, not because of malice). So he brings them away from their reverie in experiencing what the Earth is like, just having a small taste, and then brings them back to the cold wastes of Kadath, and taunting them, on their loss…until they get frustrated enough to escape and head back to New England.
What do you think?
Worlds converge and lands that were once thought to be unique are connected by the dream.
Welcome back to another blind read! It’s been a little while, and I apologize for the silence, but it’s been a really busy month! And that’s a good busy, because it’s been all surrounding writing.
Like I mentioned in the last edition of the Blind read, I’m taking a different tact for this story. There is a bit of fluidity in the story, however there is far more to analyze than there has been in previous stories. That being said lets get back into a little bit of a recap. I’ve read nearly half of the story of Randolph Carter journeying through the Dreamlands in his search for Kadath.
The last we saw Carter, he was just escaping the turbaned men, who were trying to take him in the Abyss to Nyarlathotep. The Cats of Ulthar helped him escape, and he boards another ship and sails away to Oriab. He travels across the land and finds a carving of the gods he is trying to find, and is surprised that they look much like the sailors in Celephais. He vows to head to Celephais, when he is captured by winged horrors called Night-Gaunts. The Night-Gaunts take him to the underworld, supposedly to die. There, in the underworld, he finds a former friend, Richard Pickman, who has become a Ghoul. Pickman and his Ghoul friends help Carter avoid the Ghasts (horrible creatures of the underworld), and ascend the staircase to get back to the Enchanted Wood, a higher level of the dreamlands. He then heads off to find Celephais.
There are a few concepts that I’d like to cover here that I find particularly prescient.
The first is completely meta, and touched upon a little in the last Blind Read ( https://seanmmcbride.com/2018/05/11/blind-read-through-h-p-lovecraft-the-dream-quest-of-unknown-kadath-pt-1/ ), but this is a story (which was published posthumously, so it may have never been intended for publication) where Lovecraft brings together many different stories he previously created. This is the story which establishes the dreamlands as we now know them. Despite what I’ve heard that Lovecraft wasn’t looking for cohesion or a “mythos” (forgive me, I forget where I read this, but I’ll do a little research and edit in the link if I find it), this book seems to disavow that concept. It seems as though Carter was to become his hero of dreams. The interesting part of this is that the dreamlands and the mythos are considered to be two separate collections, but it seems as though they are irrevocably intertwined. We have Nyarlathotep as a central being of insidiousness, and Azathoth as the ruler of all creation and destruction. These Outer Gods have a direct link through the dreamlands, where despite Nyarlathotep heading to earth in the story of his own name, it seems like the easiest way to contact these gods is through the dreamlands. On top of that We have the concept of the story itself. Carter is striving to find the gods, specifically by travelling through the dreamlands. This is a blind read, and I’m only about half way through the story, but that seems almost like incontrovertible evidence to me.
Speaking of gods, there is a mention of a new one, I had never heard from before, which I’m pretty sure comes from Celtic mythology. Carter is taken by Night-Gaunts to the underworld to be left to die. The way the text is written it seems as though the underworld is a deeper level of the dreamlands, but more on that presently.
This new god’s name is Nodens, who in Celtic mythology is known as a Pan (the Roman god of mischief, amongst other things), and Nodens controls the Night-Gaunts. So here we have another god who is trying to stop Carter, or at least delay him from reaching Kadath to ask the gods about the golden city. If Pan is truly the inspiration for Nodens, then we know that he has more fun in playing with emotions, than with dealing in absolutes, like death. So Nodens has his servants the Night-Gaunts kidnap Carter and try to deliver him to the despair of the underworld and revel in his misery.
This now brings us to the final point. This portion of the story is a metaphor for depression.
The Night-Gaunts are a black winged, slightly humanoid creature, who does no harm, but delivers Carter to the underworld. Much like the demons and devils from medieval art are portrayed. These devils that speak half-truths into the subjects ears and put them on a downward spiral. In the dreamlands, the Night-Gaunts are much the same, but have a more active role in actually taking Carter to the underworld. He is not hurt, in fact he is gently placed and left alone to wallow in his despair. He is left to die, but he is in no way injured. He is just in the underworld.
Carter just never let go of his hope and his drive to find the golden city of his dreams. He then soon sees what happens when one does give up hope. He meets Richard Pickman, a former friend from Boston, who was a very talented painter. Pickman has become a Ghoul. A horrible former joke of the person he once was. Luckily Pickman retains enough of his former self to understand that Carter was once a friend and rallies the other Ghouls to help him escape the underworld. To escape the depression of what the underworld represents. It is already too late for Pickman, he cannot leave the underworld, and returns to his life of horrors once Carter is safely out.
This section is the first truly horrifying section of the story, because previously Carter is merely travelling. Now he had made a descent. He is taken deeper into the dreamlands, where he has trouble seeing the light, he has trouble seeing the point of his quest. So the deeper into the dreamlands you get, the depression takes over your mind, and derails you. Much like the afterlife dreams in Richard Matheson’s “What Dreams May Come”. Were these Ghouls sent here because of what they did in their lives? Is this their hell?
What do you think?
At which point the inception was implanted in his mind. What was the truth? What was reality and what was dream? Was there any truth to what he had experienced, or was the implantation of the concept there to set the pace? Curiosity killed the cat (with the exception of the cats of Ulthar).
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This time we’re diving into the Dreamlands, a place where I’ve been interested in for quite some time, and dying to dive into. But low and behold! We’ve already read many stories that take place in the Dreamlands and were just unaware that that’s what they were!
This story, much like “At the Mountains of Madness”, seem to be a world building exercise for Lovecraft. This is a bit of a departure from the weird stories that I’ve been devouring. This one is more of an adventure, that incorporated elements of some of the other stories. Because of this correlation, it shines some new light on those other stories and what their meanings might have really been. I’ll get more into that in other posts, however, because that would be a post in and of itself. Here I’d like to talk a little about the story and the concept of Inception.
So we start the story with Randolph Carter, after just hearing his statement in the previous Blind Read. Here we find that Carter is a experienced “dreamer”, and through this lucid dreaming, has the ability to travel throughout the Dreamlands.
The story starts with our intrepid traveler dreaming about a beautiful sunset city:
“Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it. All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between delicate trees and blossom-laden urns and ivory statues in gleaming rows…and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory, the pain of lost things and the maddening need to place again what once had been an awesome and momentous place.”
OK, lets start with how many times Carter was able to see the fabled city. Three is an interesting choice, not only for the religious implications, but also in western Occultism (though I wonder how much of Western Occultism actually stems from Lovecraft). Knowing a little bit of Lovecraft’s religious views, however I proscribe that there are a few different things going on here. The first is that 3 is a prime number, whose only factors are one and itself. Once Carter viewed the city three times, he was unable to view it any more. Could this have something to do with the exclusivity of the city and that there are 3 levels of the Dreamlands? Could he have only viewed the city once (the first factor), but because there are three different layers of the Dreamlands, he was able to view it three times? One for each layer?
While you chew on that, thee is also an Odd number, truly the first Odd number. Where number 1 can be mixed into other equations, the number 3 throws a wrench into things. So this could be that Lovecraft is trying to make us feel on edge, through a subsumed psychosomatic response? Just like we talked about in the Blind Read of “At the Mountains of Madness” ( https://seanmmcbride.com/2018/03/23/blind-read-through-h-p-lovecraft-at-the-mountains-of-madness-conclusion/ ) Lovecraft uses Trypophobia (or the fear of small holes, as in a honeycomb) through his description of architecture. Something that nature made, that was not quite natural. Also his use of odd angles in “The Dreams in the Witch House”. He uses these slightly off themes to set the pace for the story.
Then we see some of the grand architecture through his description of the city. This hearkens back to stories like “The Tree”( Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Tree ), where we get some grand beauty, with a yearning to be where it is so pristine and wonderful. Doubtless this is what Carter feels. He has a desire to reach this city, but there is something ominous about it. Just like there was in “The Tree”. It is off limits, unattainable, and in fact the visions were stripped from him, and every person he asks tells him to drop it. That the pursuit of the city is not one he should continue. Could this all be a ruse set about by Nyarlathotep to enslave Carter?
This brings me to my final point in the inception (see what I did there?) of the “Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” Blind Read. The last time we saw Carter he passed out as his friend was killed by some horrible monstrosity in a tomb. Could this have been the Inception of the Dream for Carter? Could whatever creature that was down in that tomb, have imprinted the idea of the Golden City into Carter’s mind? Could they have knowledge that Carter is an experienced Dreamer that is capable of actually getting to Kadath? We are told that only three travelers had gone to the outer reaches, and only one came back sane. Could this be a implanted call from the messenger god Nyarlathotep? Is that why the call is so strong that Carter can’t stop his search, even though he is told to stop at every turn, and nearly dies in his dreams many times?
What do YOU think?
Join me next week as we talk about world building and how other short stories are in connection through the Dreamlands
“To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,
for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
must give us pause.” – Hamlet Act III Scene 1
Aye, there’s the rub. What dreams come from death, but who’s death are we talking about? What brings about these dreams? and do the dreams have a steak in reality?
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This time we’re diving into a new level of Lovecraftian fiction. Welcome to the Dreamlands. I’ve been excited to look into this a little more (in fact I even mentioned it in a previous Blind Read), because we have already begun to tackle some of the Cannon of the Mythos, so beyond Lovecraft’s weird fiction, he has the Cthulhu mythos and the Dreamland stories.
The story follows along our protagonist, Walter Gilman, who is a student of Miskatonic University in Arkham, Mass. Gilman is interested in weird science, so much so that he studies the Necronomicon in the library of Miskatonic U and familiarizes himself with the lore behind it.
But that isn’t quite enough for him. He finds a local house that was known as a residence of a Witch by the name of Old Keziah and her pet Brown Jenkin (a strange animal like furball, with a humanistic face that looks strangely like Old Keziah, and also has anthropomorphic features).
He finds that he has strange dreams in this house. He goes into strange realities and sees Old Keziah and brown Jenkin nearly every time, but he also sees strange things like spheres and polyhedrons of light, which lead him around.
He eventually comes to the realization that there are odd angles in the house. Walls tilted at incomprehensible angles that twist the mind, and whenever something strange happens it comes from those angles.
The dreams continue to get stranger, and things follow him back into the real life. He wakes and finds his feet are muddy after dreaming about walking in a muddy field. He wakes and finds his ankle has dried blood on it, after he is bitten by Brown Jenkin in the dream. He assumes that a rat bit him, but can find no blood in the room at all.
He begins to wonder about his somnambulism, and borrows flour from his landlord and places it around his room and outside of it, to try and see his footsteps and figure out what he gets up to in his sleep walking fits, but when he wakes nothing is disturbed.
The dreams continue to darken as they get closer to May Eve.
“May Eve was Walpurgis night, when hell’s blackest evil roamed the earth and all the slaves of Satan gathered for nameless rites and deeds.”
Around this time and around Hallows eve children from the poorer neighborhoods seemed to disappear. They are well known in Arkham as dark days, and as the day nears the dreams get even stranger.
Gilman sees a “black man” in his dreams, who holds out a book to him and Old Keziah wants him to sign it and gain a new name (hers was Nahab). The story centers around this strange ritual of Walpurgis night and this strange “black man”.
A local child goes missing, which happens nearly every Walpurgis night, and in his dreams, Gilman sees Old Keziah holding a knife up, with the “black man” watching in the distance. She is obviously making a sacrifice of the child and attempting to drain it’s blood into a strange metal bowl with bunch of unrecognizable symbols.
There is much confusion, and Gilman finds himself struggling with Keziah. He for some reason wonders if he actually signed the book that the “black man” held. The book of Azathoth.
Gilman succeeds in stopping Keziah and strangles her with the cross that a fellow tenant gave him.
But Gilman never wakes. The same tenant hears him screaming and goes to him. Under the blanket there is a bunch of blood coming up, and eventually a creature looking like Brown Jenkin pops out from underneath the covers, but it has a strange resemblance to Gilman in the face, and it has hands instead of claws. The creature runs to the corner, where the inverted angles appear and disappears into the wall.
The landlord evacuates the house, and there is a fire. In the wreckage they find bones from across the ages. Old Keziah had been up to her terribleness for years.
This is without a doubt my favorite of anything I’ve read by Lovecraft thus far. Terrifying and, just perfectly Lovecraft.
Lovecraft immediately puts you on edge with his mention of odd angles. What he does so well is bring the supernatural into our world so succinctly. There are alternate dimensions, but the fact that thee is a scientific way to get to those alternate dimensions…or to bring those dimensions to us, is utterly, and fantastically terrifying. In addition to that, the fact that one can indeed think of those angles and gain access to those dimensions is spectacular.
Which brings me (surreptitiously I know, but bear with me) to my next point. Walpurgis night is a brilliant temporal setting. The names of the people involved in the story are mainly Polish and Czech names, and Saint Walpurga is a Catholic saint who is known to have driven witches out of many Germanic provinces. So by making this about Walpurgis night, Lovecraft is basically retelling the story of Walpurga through his own lens. Gilman, ostensibly drives the witchcraft out of Arkham by destroying Old Keziah, and limiting the connection with our world to that of the Elder Gods.
There are a few gods mentioned in the story. There is much mention of Azathoth, who “rules from the bed of chaos”. There is Nyarlathotep, who we know has been to our plane, and lead people out of Egypt to supplicate themselves to his will (could there be an actual connection? Nyarlathotep is just a mention in this story, but does he have a reason why he can come to our world? is he a master of the angles?). Then there is Shub-Niggurath “The goat with a thousand young”.
We know that the book is Azathoth’s who is the master of chaos. Could Shub-Niggurath be Azathoth’s concubine? Is that where the thousand young came from? Then if we correlate to Christianity with the connection with Walpurgis night, we see the connection with Satan being sometimes correlated to a goat. Thus we have hell being another dimension led by Azathoth and Shub-Niggurath, with Nyarlathotep potentially being the “black man” trying to get Gilman to sign Azathoth’s book and “getting a new name”.
So Gilman actually did sign the book, and that’s why he had his transformation into a creature somewhat like Brown Jenkin, but, because he killed the only other human (old Keziah), and the Witch House was destroyed, there is a loss of connection with that hellish world.
Which brings us back to angles. In our culture good is the default. We have a thought that to be bad, or to do evil things means that you are off, that your brain does something different that other people’s brains. Lovecraft gives a reason here.
If you have the ability to see in different angles then you have access to hell. This is how you can have someone, who is structurally the same as every other human being, but their ability to see a way into another dimension, without the need of a loadstone (like the Witch House and it’s odd angles), is what leads them to evil deeds.
What do you think?
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This time we’re delving into a wonderfully classic haunted house story, with a Lovecraftian twist.
This is the story of the Shunned House, and Lovecraft finds yet another way to tell a story in a unique way. We know of the narrator’s experience there. Lovecraft tells that up front. A young man who is scared terribly by something that he cannot explain.
Then we delve into the history of the house, to try to garner a better explanation of what actually happened there. The reasoning jumps around from spirits, to demons, to vampires, to werewolves. Each person who had some kind of supernatural experience in the Shunned House have experienced something different.
The story gives some wonderfully Gothic imagery. I had a vivid image of Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher” in both visceral description, as well as tonality. We find a house with a history and delve into something altogether different than we possibly expected. Poe’s story is a Gothic tragedy, but Lovecraft’s is wonderfully cosmic.
Then the story evolves. It becomes much more like Richard Matheson’s “Hell House”, where we have a scientific study, instead of a supernatural study (Hell House is one of the singularly most terrifying stories I’ve ever read, just so you know).
“We were not, as I have said, in any sense childishly superstitious, but scientific study and reflection had taught us that the known universe of three dimensions embraces the merest fraction of the whole cosmos of substance and energy.” pp 128 “At The Mountains of Madness” Dey Rey 1982.
There is so much going on in this sentence. First, we know that the narrator and his uncle are not walking into anything with a superstitious bend. They intend on using facts to find the truth of the mystery of the Shunned House. However, they recognize that science has it’s limitations and the answer that they are looking for could potentially be beyond the walls of our known dimensional world.
Then we get down into the house and discover that the story has evolved again. Now we come to the realization that we are in a Lovecraftian cosmic horror. The narrator talks about the “fungus ridden earth” and how there is a green and yellow phosphorescent glow. Thus far in my blind reads I have found that this is the most consistently mentioned precursor to a cosmic horror. This green and yellow light shows that a cosmic creature is around. Immediately it becomes less about a ghost story, and into a completely different area.
Then we come upon the most horrible section (or should I say beautifully horrible?) of any Lovecraft story I have read thus far. The phosphorescent pile is actually part of a creature that is sucking the life force out of the humans it comes into contact with. This is the reasoning for the vampire and werewolf descriptions. The creature is taking on horrible visages of other creatures to both feed and to incapacitate its victims. It was suddenly at this point that I realized this could very well be Stephen King’s inspiration for “IT”. A cosmic alien who shows people what they fear and eats their life force.
This is without a doubt one of my favorite stories I’ve read thus far. I think only “In the Walls of Eryx” comes close to this one. It’s a bit longer than most of the stories, but it’s succinct, and it changes what you think it’ll be multiple times throughout the exposition. I think if I were to recommend any one story to someone looking to get into Lovecraft I would tell them to start on this story.
What do you think?