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

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

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

Robert Bloch with one of his most popular books

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

The original cover of an amazing collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A recreation of the Seventh Book of Moses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The un-assuming visage of August Derleth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artist’s rendition of a Deep One

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

From the pages of the Pnakotic Manuscripts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Illustration of the Great Race of Yith

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

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

Erich Zann communicating with the Great Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Mystery of the Graveyard, The Mysterious Ship

In the spring of 1847, the little village of Ruralville was thrown into a state of excitement by the landing of a strange Brig is the harbour. It carried no flag, and no name was painted on its side, and everything about it was such as would excite suspicion. It was from Tripoli, Africa, and the captain was named Manuel Ruello. The Excitement increased, however; when John Griggs, (The magnate of the village) suddenly disappeared from his home. This was the night of October 4th – On October 5th the Brig left.

Welcome to another Blind Read! This week we work to find the threads which link the Mystery of the Graveyard and The Mysterious Ship to Lovecraft’s larger works, all the while uncovering the enigma of his mind and…potentially…how the mythos came into being. Both of these stories have their beginnings firmly in the dime and nickel novels of the time, pulling from their pulpy plots and over the top protagonists.

A few of the most popular Agatha Christie Poirot novels

“The Mystery of the Graveyard” also goes by the alternate title “A Dead Man’s Revenge” and has remarkable plot twists for the length of the story. Agatha Christie could have had a run for her money if Lovecraft made the turn towards mystery instead of the darker pivot towards horror. He even has a hero detective protagonist to rival Hercule Poirot in King John.

The story begins with the funeral of Joseph Burns. Burns gave some very strange and specific requirements during his funeral. He asked the rector, Mr. Dobson, “Before you put my body in the the tomb, drop this ball onto the floor, at a spot marked ‘A.‘” Dobson goes down to the tomb and does so, but never returns. The mystery follows. The second chapter begins as Dobson’s daughter gets a letter from a mysterious Mr. Bell insisting he knows where her father is and extends a demand of a ransom to get him back. Flustered, she goes to the police and asks for King John who is “a famous western detective.”

The story runs around and around as King John strives to find Bell and figure out the mystery of where the rector went until, finally, he finds that the “A” in the tomb is a trap door that activates with pressure. Dobson fell into a sub-tomb and was hidden away there until he finally escaped. After the trial it was found that all along it was a revenge plot against the rector because Joseph Burns and his brother Francis Burns had a vendetta and hired Mr. Bell to trap and hold Dobson.

The story is told in twelve very short chapters…so short that in fact they are each only a few sentences long and every chapter has a title letting the reader know what to expect. This also strikes me as Lovecraft’s way of structuring his thoughts. When we look forward to other works like “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” as a long example and my more recently reviewed “The Thing on the Doorstep” as a shorter example, Lovecraft has a certain structure in his writing in which is easier to elucidate with these stories. In both “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” and “The Thing on the Doorstep” Lovecraft breaks his writing up into chapters, but instead of having a single narrative flow, those chapters are almost single distinct stories in and of themselves. For example in both stories the first chapter is about the protagonist of the story (other than the narrator of course). It gives the reader the background and the perspective of the (supposed) “hero” of the story. The second chapter of these stories gives background to the antagonist (Curwen in “Ward” and Asenath in “Doorstep”), then each subsequent chapter has an event which drives the narrative forward. “The Mystery of the Grave-Yard” is the same type of structure, though Lovecraft breaks this down even further, presumably so he can keep the narration on track…a common tool for very young, or beginning writers. Notice how he begins the plotting the same way (Chapter 1 is about the main focal point of the story, Dobson, and chapter two introduces Bell, the main antagonist), and then has each chapter surrounds an individual event. In his later years he does a better job at painting a bigger, more lush picture by expounding on detail and experience. Tone and atmosphere are what Lovecraft is missing in his Juvenilia, but it’s what he perfects later in life and makes him the legend of horror and supernatural that he is. This point is proven even more when we move onto the next story, “The Mysterious Ship.”

The Del Rey editions illustrated by Michael Whelan

This second short is told two different times in the collection I have (I’ve actually gone through a number of different collections, starting off with the Del Rey books. Where the artwork in those books are excellent, the collections themselves aren’t that great. Language was changed and in the process, meaning seems to have changed. I’m currently working of the most recent Barnes and Noble edition which seems to be far superior), the first is an earlier shorter edition and the second is a more fleshed out atmospheric piece, where each chapter is just a few sentences longer and gives a clearer understanding and better atmosphere than the shorter one before it. These two vignettes give a better glimpse of the growth of the writer than nearly anything else I’ve seen. Lovecraft is devoid of the pomposity of literature of someone like Pynchon because Lovecraft’s first love was adventure. He wanted to tell stories that were weird and fun and wild, which led to his unique “serious, but pulpy” tales. He chose his archaic and complex writing style to compliment the wild stories he wanted to tell, not the other way around. It may seem like a small distinction, but it’s an important one.

The BN edition with an introduction by S.T. Joshi

Back to the adventure! The second story follows the titular ship which you can see in a little bit of detail in the opening quote to this essay (which is in fact the opening chapter of the longer version). It’s about a ship which journeys around and kidnaps people. The Captain and crew are eventually caught and the purloined victims are returned, bringing the story to a nice ending all tied up in a bow. The tale doesn’t have much in the way of satisfaction, but it does show Lovecraft’s love for adventure.

excellent early stories by Thomas Pynchon

Between the two of these stories you can see the natural divergence of the path in which Lovecraft took. We have the standard horror or cosmic horror element with the Mystery of the Grave-Yard, in that atmosphere and the darker places he normalizes as just standard backdrops for the story…complete with sneaky plotters and nefarious acts. Then we have the adventurous bend we take with The Mysterious Ship, which feels like the beginnings of the dreams lands and such stories as “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” These tales aren’t so much focused on the horror elements as they are on the adventurous journeys the protagonists (well really just Randolph Carter) take.

I kept these Juvenilia for the end because I wanted to have something to call back on while discussing them, and I can’t say how glad I am that I did. To be able to see the growth is tremendous and its always fun to see how a writer that I’ve become this involved in began.

Next week we dive into the last story Lovecraft wrote on his own. It means this series is rapidly coming to an end, but we still have a bunch of the stories which August Derleth wrote with Lovecraft’s notes and I plan on ending this series with Lovecraft’s essay on Horror.

Join me next week as we view the “Shadow out of Time.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popular concept art for Asenath

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

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

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

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

Is this book inspired by this story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Thing on the Doorstep by Paul Carrick

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

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

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

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

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

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


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Little Glass Bottle / The Secret Cave

The Funeral of alice occupied so much time that John quite forgot about the box – but when they did open it they found it to be a solid gold chunk worth about $10,000 enough to pay for any thing but the death of his sister.

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we go even further back in time to discover Lovecraft’s beginnings and tackle concepts of trauma, loss, desire, and adventure in two Juvenilia tales that are anything but polished.

I debated for a while whether I really wanted to cover these after reading them, but in the end I decided to hold my promise. I said I would read as much Lovecraft as I could get my hands on, so I’m holding to my word. The question is, how would I deconstruct these stories? They reminded me of my own work when I was young…and when I mean young I mean ten or eleven (which probably means that Howard was about six when we equate talent). The writing is subpar with grammar errors abounding and the stories themselves are just little ditties which any youth could come up with.

What I eventually found more interesting, however is that instead of taking a look at the story itself, I decided to take apart the themes to get a deeper glimpse into the man and what would eventually make his writing the legend that it became.

The Robert Louis Stevenson Classic

The first story “The Little Glass Bottle” seems to be an effort at humor biting off of “Treasure Island” which was published about ten to fifteen years prior to Lovecraft writing this story. It follows a group of sailors who find the titular bottle floating on the sea. The bottle had a letter inside:

Jan 1 1864 I am John Jones who writes this letter my ship is fast sinking with a treasure on board I am where it is marked * on the enclosed chart…dotted lines represent course we took

Enclosed is a drawing of a dotted line through the Indian Ocean just off of Australia. Captain Jones gets so excited that he decides to go after it: “in 4 weeks the(y) reached the place where directed & the divers went down and came up with an iron bottle…

Inside of the bottle they find a note:

Dec 3 1880 Dear Searcher excuse me for the practical joke I have played on you but it serves you right to find nothing for your foolish act – However I will defray your expenses to & from the place you found your bottle I think it will be $25.0.00 so that amount you will find in an Iron box I know where you found the bottle because I put this bottle here & the iron box & then found a good place to put the second bottle hoping the enclosed money will defray your expenses some I close – Anonymous

They dive down and get the money and we end with a little meta story telling: “...I hardly think that they will ever go to a mysterious place as directed by a mysterious bottle.”

This absolutely has a childish feeling and a fear of taking things too far. So really not much to it. But lets take a deeper look…

R’lyeh as envisioned by Francois Baranger

From an early age it’s obvious that Lovecraft is fascinated with the Ocean. There must be a correlation in his mind with something important being there, or somewhere in the area surrounding Australia. This, one of his first stories, leads some intrepid adventurers there to discover a treasure which turns out to be a fraud. Many years later in basically the same area, in a tale named “The Call of Cthulhu” some explorers go in search for answers and come across R’lyeh and the Elder God Himself. This is a similar journey in a similar area. A group of men looking for fortune and power and find out they vastly underestimated what they were looking for.

The difference come with age. In this story the person who sent them on the wild goose chase is contrite, a sentiment I don’t think I’ve seen in Lovecraft. We know Howard becomes jaded as he gets older and that absolutely shows through in his stories, because the characters are just too far gone down the rabbit hole to turn back. Here we see that, for Lovecraft himself, it is not yet too far. He hasn’t yet had the heart ache…he hadn’t yet survived the trauma. He still believed that though there is a darker side to humanity, the inherent goodness can come through. That is noticeably absent in the second tale.

“The Secret Cave” is like a Grimm’s Fairy tale. It’s a simple story about a horrible tragedy. It dives into grief in such a complex way, and in so much more of a profound way beyond any of his other stories, that as a reader it feels as though we are getting a glimpse into mental walls he put up to block out the horrors of his life.

The story begins with two young children, John and Alice, getting left alone in their house as their parents go away, presumably on a date. The two children go into the cellar to play, and Alice accidentally does something to cause a wall to cave in. John goes back upstairs and grabs some candles to light their way as they go exploring behind the collapsed wall.

The story takes a strange turn here and the reader gets the feeling that it’s something that’s in John’s head, a fantasy of an adventure prevalent in young children. Here is the disjointed passage:

“…the(y) walked on farther & pretty soon the plastering left off & they were in a cave Little alice was frightened at first but at her brothers assurance that it was “all right” she allayed her fears, soon they came to a small box which John took up & carried within pretty soon they came on a boat in it were two oars he dragged it with difficulty along with him soon they found the passage came to an abrupt stop he pulled the obstacle away & to his dismay water rushed in in torrents...”

Later something occurs to him “…he can shut off the water...”, which he does, but then finds that his sister had drowned. The last paragraph is the opening quote of this essay.

It’s a gruesome little tale, but there is SO much packed into the passage of their “adventure.” It’s here we get the first indication something is off in the story. We go from a normal cellar to a strange, almost other worldly cave, something that fits the adventure theme because it seems like this cave would be right at home on Treasure Island. Why is it mysterious you ask? Because it’s a dry cave…but it has a boat and oars in it as well as a mysterious box that when opened contains a solid gold bar worth $10,000. The cave goes no where, it just dead ends, but John finds an “obstacle” which when removed creates a deluge. Once he saves himself with the edge of the boat the boat is never mentioned again, but suddenly he realizes he can shut off the water.

How could you use a valve to shut off water? Why, you can if there’s a water main!

The whole story is a fabrication. John Lee was going on an adventure in his head, when in reality he was just hanging out in his basement and a wall which held their water heater broke open and flooded the cellar. John was never scared like his little sister, because he knew they were only in the safety of their own basement the whole time.

But still his sister died, which brings me to my next point. Why was John capitalized the whole story and Alice in lower case? Was this some sort of sexism Lovecraft was practicing subconsciously? I really don’t think so.

This story is absolutely part of his early writings. The plotting is truncated and hazy, the grammar is atrocious, the writing is simple, but this story is a clear representation of how Lovecraft dealt with his own grief and how he dealt with the outside world.

The story is told in past tense, but the POV is muddled. It goes from 3rd person omniscient to 3rd person personal pretty fluidly. When the action is taking place, we are inside of John’s head, but when the scene is being described we are looking at the action as a fly on the wall. One gets the feeling that this was an unconscious effort to say that when bad things are happening to us, things become disjointed and too close to really understand what’s happening, it’s only in hindsight when we have a better understanding of what happened. So what does this have to do with the capitalization of Alice?

John goes on an Adventure, and the spoils of that adventure are $10,000, but the cost is his sister’s life. Like the last line says it was a “solid gold chunk worth about $10,000 enough to pay for any thing but the death of his sister.”

Worth any thing. He has come to an early realization that nothing can cover up the grief, and blames himself for causing the death of his sister. There is a feeling to this piece of tremendous sadness and uncontrollable self doubt and self hate. Alice isn’t capitalized in this story because to capitalize her would make her a person. To keep her lower case means she can just be a thing, and maybe, just maybe, that 10K can do something about it.

Join me next week as we take a glimpse at “The Thing on the Doorstep.”


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; IBID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kenneth Branagh in the best version of Hamlet

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

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

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

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

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

Many cultures used Skulls as bowls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

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

Madman’s Knowledge item from Bloodborne

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

With the memory of the roadside claw-print fresh in my mind, Akeley’s whispered paragraphs had affected me queerly; and the hints of familiarity with this unknown world of fungous life – forbidden Yuggoth – made my flesh creep more than I cared to own. I was tremendously sorry about Akeley’s illness, but had to confess that his hoarse whisper had a hateful as well as pitiful quality. If only he wouldn’t gloat so about Yuggoth and it’s black secrets!”

Welcome back for another Blind Read! This week we conclude our dive into the strangely fungoid world of the Mi-Go and talk about the last half of The Whisperer in Darkness.

So the first half of the story was our narrator gathering information about what happened to Akeley and the strange other-worldly beings who turned out to be harbingers for the remainder of the tale. In this second half we have the narrator’s (Wilmarth) trip to Vermont and the subsequent confrontation with Akeley.

As we begin this second half Lovecraft infuses a strange feeling of a descent by describing the trip from the city to the “more primitive New England.” We get the visuals of the Industrial revolution with “foreigners and factory smoke, billboards and concrete roads” as we descend and “As I did so it seemed to me that I was likewise turning the calendar back a century.

This is a lengthy (in page number) traverse through the country on our way to find Akeley’s farm and it actually feels as though this is an intended technique. Lovecraft is giving us time, as readers, to transcend the modernity of which the story had been taking place, and supplanting that with this metaphorical descent into the old and unknown. We even get introduced to a new and unnerving character, one Mr. Noyes, a particularly put together but aloof young man with a faint Bostonian accent whom serves as Wilmarth’s driver. If this seems strange to you you’re not alone, our narrator felt it as well, “Remembering what a hermit Akeley had been, I was a trifle surprised at the ready availability of such a friend” (to come down and pick the narrator up and bring him to the farm). There is the mention of Akeley having “a sudden attack of some asthmatic trouble.” which is curious because throughout this tale, even in the quote which opens this essay, we have mention that these creatures are a fungi. Fungus are a spectacular way to develop asthma or allergic reactions and it seems as though Akeley is having those more and more frequently of late. In fact even a few pages later when our narrator finally gets to the farm he tells us “They were the hellish tracks of the living fungi from Yuggoth.

Noyes tells our narrator that Akeley would love to see him, but he is in a difficult state. His “Asthma” is so bad that he’s incredibly sick and cannot get up. It’s so bad in fact that he must spend his time recovering in the dark heavily blanketed. Yeah…that’s some gnarly Asthma.

The narrator gets to the room and immediately wants to leave…”Perhaps it was a certain odd odour which I thought I noticed – though I well know how common musty odours are in even the best of old farmhouses.

I highlight this because throughout this series I have notated many times Lovecraft has mentioned the strange odors and they always revolve around these outer gods or their subservients. I’ve always assumed that there was some kind of sulphuric smell, indicating a connection with the Devil or the underground (in fact if memory serves, there was a single mention of this specific olfactory note), but I wonder if all along it was actually the musty, slightly vegetative rottenness of fungi which these characters have been notating as the funk. If these Yoggothians are parallel or even ubiquitous with great gods such as Azathoth (which this tale seems to indicate), then the strange odors which these characters smell in almost every Lovecraft work is fungus.

This makes Lovecraft’s works powerful on so many levels! Even now, modern science is looking for extraterrestrial life, but so far all that we can find which could exist in the chemicals of our galaxy is but single cell organisms and fungus. Lovecraft is contending that these creatures come from Pluto (read Yuggoth), and though we know that planet is covered in ice, it does not preclude the possibility of fungus. The fact that these ancient creatures are fungous made sentient and have been around since the dawn of time is just so intriguing, when you contrast that with the evolution of mankind beside them.

There is so much of this we could dig into, but I’m going to save that for a later post…anyway, back to the story…

The narrator sits down with Akeley in the dark and they begin to discuss what’s been going on. Akeley jumps right into the hard science:

Do you know that Einstein is wrong, and that certain objects and forces can move with a velocity greater than that of light? With proper aid I expect to go backward and forward in time, and actually see and feel the earth of remote past and future epochs. You cant imagine the degree to which those beings have carried science. There is nothing they cant do with the mind and body of living organisms. I expect to visit other planets, and even other stars and galaxies. The first trip will be to Yuggoth, the nearest world fully peopled by beings

Yet I am going there.”

We spend nearly the entire rest of the story going over the logistics of what these outer beings do to gather humans to travel faster than light or time. The problem is our corporeal selves…at least that’s what Akeley was told. They have a specific method of extracting the brain and setting it in a tube. This metal tube is what would make the transition through space and time and thus give the consciousness of an individual being greater knowledge and understanding…all they have to sacrifice is their own body.

Akeley, cloaked in darkness, makes a motion to the tubes in the room and one of them begins to speak to our narrator. The disembodied consciousness describes to Wilmarth of the great expanse which he has seen (the brain in the tube…not Wilmarth) and will soon see again. The knowledge of the larger world and that these fungoid creatures mean us no harm, but that they indeed want to increase our knowledge of the wider world.

They spend the night trying to make our narrator believe that their intentions are honest. That they are not trying to hurt him and all of this begins to make a little sense. The letters from Akeley going from concern, to fear, to understanding, and when you’re reading it (as you can tell from the previous essay I posted last week) you get the distinct feeling that there is something off about the whole scenario. That these creatures are only putting up a front. That Akeley is being tricked and he’s not really going to be able to go off and do these things.

But nothing actually happens. The narrator just goes to sleep and leaves Akeley to converse with the strange brains in the tubes and with Noyes… and when he wakes Akeley is gone. So in the end this doesn’t actually turn out to be a horror story because Akeley gets to go out to the stars and experience the strange like very few humans have ever before.

Record scratch…

Let’s back this up shall we?

When the narrator first gets to the farmhouse he notices a strange vibration in the air that immediately makes him feel off, then there was Akeley himself:

For a moment the closed blinds allowed me to see very little, but then a kind of apologetic hacking or whispering sound drew my attention to a great easy chair in the farther, darker corer of the room. Within it’s shadowy depths I saw the white blur of a man’s face and hands.

There was a touch of the pitiful in the limp, lifeless way his leans hands rested in his lap. He had on a loose dressing-gown, and was swathed around the head and high around the neck with a vivid yellow scarf or hood.

It was a hard whisper to catch at first, since the grey mustache concealed the moment of his lips, and something in its timbre disturbed me greatly;”

And our narrator was given a coffee: “My first spoonful revealed a faintly unpleasant acrid taste, so that I did not take more.”

The characters also mention the Necronomicon again and again, and as we know from Lovecraft’s previous works this is not a tome of the Other Gods, but instead it’s a tome of necromantic magic that uses (sparsely) the powers of the cosmos.

So then what the devil is going on here? As it turns out the Akeley we meet is not who he says he is. That final letter we get from Akeley is actually not Akeley either, but an impostor and the really terrified letter the narrator received was the last communication Akeley sent before he was taken by these creatures. The form in the shadows…the titular Whisperer…is a creature from beyond, whom is covered up and disguised so that Wilmarth, our narrator, doesn’t notice that it’s not him. The horror doesn’t really come until the last line of the story, when the confusion of the events begins to unfold:

For the things in the chair, perfect to the last, subtle detail of the microscopic resemblance – or identity – were the face and hands of Henry Wentworth Akeley.

When we look back at the last phonograph Wilmarth hears, we know that Akeley was taken against his will:

“...brought it on myself…sent back the letters and the record…end on it…taken in…seeing and hearing…damn you…impersonal force, after all…fresh, shiny cylinder…great God…

Between this recording and the hidden Akeley we know that whomever is at play…possibly the nefarious Nyarlathotep (whose name is uttered in one of the recordings), does not have philanthropy at heart. They are harvesting something. To me, all of these things happening at a farm indicates a brutal and corrupted sense of humor…one that is right at home in Lovecraft.

Join me next week as we seek out the Haunter in the Dark!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So lets dig into that multiverse, shall we?

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

Carter goes through the first Gateway of existence:

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Who TARDIS

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

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

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

What do you think??

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

Post Script:

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

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

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

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


Blind Read Through; H.P. Lovecraft: The Very Old Folk

Frank Frazetta

One seldom saw them; but a few times a year they sent down little yellow, squint-eyed messengers (who look like Scythians) to trade with merchants by means of gestures, and every spring and autumn they held the infamous rites on the peaks, their howlings and altar-fires throwing terror into the villages.

Welcome back for another Blind Read! This week will be in a slightly different format as the story we cover is a unique entry for Lovecraft as well.

The tale is told through the frame of an epistle recalling a dream; and undoubtedly it’s a recollection of a dream that Lovecraft himself had. There isn’t much to the story in and of itself – it tells of a group in a Roman Legion who are investigating a disturbance outside of a town – but the text itself informs us more as to the man and his incorporation of history than anything else.

The story begins with the salutation of the letter, “Dear Melmoth.”

Without a doubt this is a reference to Charles Maturin’s 1820 gothic novel “Melmoth the Wanderer” which centers around a man who sells his soul to the devil in trade for an extra 150 years of life. This is a common theme in Lovecraft – the pursuit of knowledge and the desire for an elongated life to gather such knowledge. Invariably the contract ends up corrupting the soulless character and they end up seeking Eldritch magic to make their lives even longer. In stories such as “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” we have a sample character of Curwen who has a coven of three. These men have done much the same as Malmoth, where they basically have denied their morals so they may live longer. One has to consider that the narrator of this tale, (whom signs in Latin) is indeed a contemporary of Melmoth and has partaken in a similar deal…perhaps directly relating to the circumstances of this story.

The narrator tells us that he thinks the dream which is the basis of this tale is a product of reading the Aeneid on Halloween, “This Virgilian diversion, together with the spectral thoughts incident to All Hallows’ Eve with its Witch-Sabbaths on the hills, produced in me last Monday night a Roman dream of such supernatural clearness and vividness, and such titanic adumbrations of hidden horror, that I verily believe I shall some day employ it in fiction.”

And clear and vivid it was. We have a six page, single paragraph story which details life in a Roman culture. The story is fairly simple, though with a few Lovecraft flourishes, but what I find fascinating about this is how much Lovecraft was enamored with two ancient civilizations. The Romans and the Egyptians.

Nearly every story of his has some kind of connection to one or the other of these societies, and I have to wonder if it’s because of their accumulation of knowledge. These two cultures were known as two of the most learned early dynasties, both with questionable roots hidden beneath their outward collective togetherness, in fact there is a passage here which brings this to light:

I, however, who seemed to be a close friend of Balbutius, had disagreed with him; averring that I had studied deeply in the black forbidden lore, and that I believed the very old folk capable of visiting amongst any nameless doom upon the town, which after all was a Roman settlement and contained a great number of our citizens.

This group was well within the borders of the empire, and yet still they had “mountain folk” who delved into deep forbidden lore. Obviously Lovecraft is speaking about these “very old folk” of the mountains praying to the Outer Gods or at least the Great Old Ones. This idea brings to mind some of the old cults of Crete and I have to wonder if the origination of the idea of the Eldritch Gods came from the Eleusinian Mysteries.

These Mysteries were one of those hidden cults within the Roman legions who were based on an old agrarian Grecian religion who prayed to Persephone. The Mysteries were heady rituals which often prayed directly to Hades and frequently divulged in psychotropic drugs so that members may have a “vision quest” to the underworld and back…the same journey as Persephone.

Yet another reason to believe this comes in the last line, “Of the fate of that cohort no record exists, but the town at least was saved – for encyclopedias tell of the survival of Pompelo to this day, under the modern Spanish name of Pampelona...” Pampelona is known as a flourishing agricultural center and seeing as the Eleusinian Mysteries were based around Ag, one has to wonder…

The central dogma of the mysteries come from a dialog from Homer and echoed in Virgil. Could there be a correlation with Lovecraft reading Virgil then relating these Mysteries to modern day Salem, Mass. and witchdom?

There were shocking dooms that might be called out of the hills on the Sabbaths; doom which ought not to exist within the territories of the Roman People; and to permit orgies of the kind known to prevail at Sabbaths would be but little in consonance with the customs of those whose forefathers…had executed so many Roman citizens in the practice of Bacchanalia – a matter kept ever in memory…graven upon bronze and set open to every eye.”

Lovecraft would be the one to tell you, as he had such a high, nearly narcissistic view of himself. Much like our narrator here: “That the danger to the town and inhabitants of Pompelo was a real one, I could not from my studies doubt.” He here’s the only one in a Roman Legion who has the knowledge that the “very old folk” in the hills are a danger to the town, and the record he puts forth here is that he is the main reason why the town was saved…not because he could defeat whatever was out there that the very old folk summoned…but because he knew well enough to avoid it.

This strange dichotomy, that Lovecraft was agoraphobic and xenophobic, but still he felt he was the only one that could help people, shines here. The narrator knows that there are strange things in the hills, and the only person with first hand knowledge of what could possibly be there cant deal with it, “Looking for the youth Vercellius, our guide, we found only a crumpled heap weltering in a pool of blood…He had killed himself when the horses screamed.” The legion is faced with what the guide knew to be true:

And the torches died out altogether, there remained above the stricken and shrieking cohort only the noxious and horrible altar-flames on the towering peaks; hellish and red, and now silhouetting the mad, leaping, and colossal forms of such nameless beasts as had never a Phrygian priest or Campanian grandam whispered of in the wildest of furtive tales.

This is the hidden allegory of which I’m not even Lovecraft was conscious of. The legion was heading off to confront a group of “very old folk” of unknown origin in the great mountains. The alien ranges fed into Lovecraft’s agoraphobia, and the unknown people, the people who had strange beliefs unknown and off-putting to him, fuel his xenophobia. The physical manifestation of these fears are the creatures which are so massive and aged that they block the stars. This fear of Lovecraft’s is so overwhelming that the terror it brings is Eldritch and Ancient and Unfathomable.

If you have any theories, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Join me next week as we delve into the mystery “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”


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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, lets get into the text…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; Cool Air

For his part, he was afflicted with a complication of maladies requiring a very exact regimen which included constant cold. Any marked rise in temperature might, if prolonged, affect him fatally; and the frigidity of his habitation – some 55 or 56 degrees Fahrenheit – was maintained by an absorbption system of ammonia cooling, the gasoline engine of whose pumps I had often heard in my own room below.

Welcome back to another Blind Read! I’ve nearly read all of Lovecraft thus far (I think this series will only take me as far as March!) and I’ve seen many of his stories stated as influenced by Edgar Allen Poe; although Lovecraft himself states this story is more a homage to Arthur Machen, Poe bleeds off the page in this tale.

Because of this influence there is much lauding that this is a straight supernatural tale (no mythos involved). While it’s structure is exactly like “The Picture in the House” or “The Music of Erich Zann” (let’s be real, this story is the exact formula that many Lovecraft stories take), it’s hard to actually find the threat of Cosmic horror in this one, and for a casual reader, that thread would be lost. I contend that it’s there, however, as well as the influence of one of the most nefarious characters in all of Lovecraft’s Mythos.

Let’s get started shall we?

The first line, if you’ve read much Lovecraft, makes you roll your eyes:

You ask me to explain why I am afraid of a draught of cool air; why I shiver more than others upon entering a cold room, and seem nauseated and repelled when the chill of evening creeps through the heat of a mild autumn day.”

It’s a classic entrance to many of his stories, setting us up with what we’re supposed to be expecting while giving a mild redirection of the action and concurrently establishing the unreliable narrator.

The action is pretty straightforward. We have a man who is down on his luck, but at the same time extremely perfidious. He was looking for a place to live, but unable to find anywhere clean enough for him. “It soon developed that I had only a choice between different evils, but after a time I came upon a house in West Fourteenth Street which disgusted me much less than the others I had sampled.”

What I find so interesting and a little ridiculous about this revelation is this narrator cared more for the cleanliness of the place and didn’t seem to mind so much about the loud machines running and a smell coming from the room above him from “an absorption system of ammonia cooling, the gasoline engine of whose pumps I had often heard in my own room below.”

The man in the room above, The Spanish Doctor Munoz, who “…most certainly was a man of birth, cultivation, and discrimination.” but then in the very next paragraph describes Munoz as having a physiognomy with a “Moorish touch.” This is our first clue that something is off about the man (well, at least in Lovecraft’s world). I’ve read enough Lovecraft to know that if we have a man of mysterious background and has a tinge of pigment in his skin, he more than likely some kind of ulterior motives. He is either directly a bad actor, or he’s working with someone who is.

Our narrator goes to visit with him and immediately gets a bad feeling from him: “Nevertheless, as I saw Dr. Munoz in that blast of cool air, I felt a repugnance which nothing in his aspect could justify.” We spend the next few paragraphs discussing Munoz, and how “...repugnance was soon replaced with admiration,” as we learn that Munoz has a strange affliction (which we learn a bit of in the opening quote of this essay). The admiration comes because Munoz, instead of letting his affliction run his life (there is a very good reason which we will find out later), he has designed a spectacular contraption to keep his temperature at 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

The narrator reviews some strange ministrations of which he has seen and been through and marvels at how well Munoz’s method works for him, despite the fact that “He developed strange caprices, acquiring a fondness for exotic spices and Egyptian incense till his room smelled like the vault of a sepulchered Pharaoh in the Valley of the Kings.

Woah there. Wait a minute, wait just one minute. Here now we have two aspects of this story now relating to the Mythos in general. The first is that Munoz has a bunch of bottles in his apartment, both on tables and hanging, the second was that he developed a taste for Egyptian Incense. We know that Munoz “...talked of death incessantly, but laughed hollowly when such things as burial or funeral arrangements were gently suggested.”

If you remember, in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” the essential “Saltes” of people were kept in bottles which Curwen used to bring them back from the dead and make them slaves. Likewise in “The Terrible Old Man” similar bottles were hung about the old sailors house. Having these bottles is a sure sign that Munoz has had some kind of witchcraft in his past…or he is regularly practicing it.

Then we move onto the Egyptian Incense and which is a sly reference to the most nefarious being in Lovecraft’s oeuvre… Nyarlathotep. A cosmic entity who posed as an Egyptian Pharaoh who was heavily scented with said olfaction.

Rendition of Nyarlathotep without his masks…

The majority of the Gods in the Mythos aren’t evil. They are just so all powerful and other-worldy that they tend to drive people insane… or smash them as a human would a bug. Nyarlathotep is different. Nyarlathotep is one of those absolute evil beings who would take over the world given the chance. In fact the prose poem Lovecraft wrote about this being shows just how terrible he really is.. Knowing that, everytime Lovecraft makes this kind of reference…to Egypt, Pharoahs, or spices, it immediately calls back to Nyarlathotep.

So what is Munoz doing? What is his connection? Well, we’re about to find out.

Dr. Munoz’s contraption to keep the room cool and to keep him healthy breaks. Our narrator runs out to find parts to replace it, while he has a young man run for ice to keep Munoz chilled.

The narrator comes back to find “The house was in utter turmoil, and above the shatter of awed voices I heard a man praying in a deep basso. Fiendish things were in the air, and lodgers told over the beads of their rosaries as they caught the odour from beneath the doctor’s closed door.

The young man who was fetching ice had fled after the second load was brought in. He left screaming. Our narrator enters and finds “A kind of dark, slimy trail led from the open bathroom door to the hall door, and thence the desk, where a terrible little pool had accumulated.”

On the desk is a letter which ends our little tale of horror, but rather than have me describe it, you should read it for yourself:

The end…is here. No more ice – the man looked and ran away. Warmer every minute, and the tissues can’t last. I fancy you know – what I said about the will and the nerves and the preserved body after the organs ceased to work. It was a good theory, but couldn’t keep up indefinitely. There was a gradual deterioration I had not foreseen. Dr. Torres knew, but the shock killed him. He couldn’t stand what he had to do – he had to get me in a strange, dark place when he minded my letter and nursed me back. And the organs never would work again. It had to be done my way – artificial preservation – for you see I dies that time eighteen years ago.”

Join me next week as we analyze “The Rats in the Walls.”


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; In the Vault

As his hammer blows began to fall, the horse outside whinnied in a tone which may have been encouraging and may have been mocking. In either case it would have been appropriate; for the unexpected tenacity of the easy-looking brickwork was surely a sardonic commentary on the vanity of mortal hopes, and the use of a task whose performance deserved every possible stimulus.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re covering a story with all the mental veracity of Ambrose Bierce coupled with the Gothic beauty of Edgar Allan Poe. We have a very supernatural tale (a slight divergence from Lovecraft’s norm) which is perfect for this post because of the overtones matching Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (well, that is as perfect as any Lovecraft tale could be for Christmas!), because of it’s themes of repentance, and the almost anthropomorphizing of the horse in the story.

Well…It’s Christmas! Let’s get started!

Lovecraft let’s you know the tone right from the get go: “Mention a bucolic Yankee setting, a bungling and thick-fibred village undertaker, and a careless mishap in a tomb, and no average reader can be brought to expect more than a hearty albeit grotesque phase of comedy.”

We follow George Birch, the aforementioned undertaker in this tale, but Lovecraft does something unique right from the get go. He describes what happens in the story, holding back only the denouement, letting the reader’s mind run wild.

It was generally stated that the affliction and shock were results of an unlucky slip whereby Birch had locked himself for nine hours in the receiving tomb of Peck Valley Cemetery, escaping only by crude and disasterous mechanical means; but while this much was undoubtably true, there were other and blacker things which the man used to whisper to me in his drunken delirium toward the last.”

So Birch, get’s locked in a tomb by accident and something happens to him there. Sure. My mind immedaitly turns to tales much like “The Tomb” where we get some of the strange Lovecraftian otherworldliness and I began trying to figure out what type of story I was getting my self into…was it a dreamlands? No, the tone was too straightforward. lovecraft has a tendency to give a slightly whimsical, or mystical cadence to his Dream Lands stories… so this must be a Mythos story… right?

Well the tone of this story is different from even those stories. Much like we saw last week, Lovecraft tends to spend quite a bit of time on setting the scene, because the power in much of the magic in “his world” comes from words and smells and architecture. This story spends pages talking about Birch himself. , “I suppose one should start in the cold December of 1880, when the ground froze and the cemetery delvers found they could dig no more graves till spring… The undertaker grew doubly lethargic in the bitter weather, and seemed to outdo even himself in carelessness.”

So Birch is a poor Scrooge, or Grinch like character. He is “bucolic” and a grouch, but what’s more he’s lazy. “Birch decided that he would begin the next day with little old Matthew Fenner, whose grave was also nearby; but actually postponed the matter for three days…” and adding to his procrastination: “He had, indeed, made that coffin for Matthew Fenner; but had cast it aside at last as too awkward and flimsy, in a fit of curious sentimentality aroused by recalling how kindly and generous the little old man had been to him during his bankruptcy five years before.” so the diminutive Fenner got one of the better coffins, while Asaph Sawyer who was not “a loveable man” got the terrible cast off coffin that Fenner was supposed to have received …all because Birch was just too lazy to build the correct sized coffin for Sawyer.

Fast forward to Birch inside the tomb, we get another indication of his laziness: “For the long-neglected latch was obviously broken, leaving the careless undertaker trapped in the vault, a victim of his own oversight.”

Birch, through his own laziness has become a victim of his own negligence. Here is the first indication of the Scrooge theme, Birch is sowing his own oats. He created a situation where he has now trapped himself because he couldn’t bother with doing a little work. The “Ghosts” of his past are coming back to haunt him here, but this is just the beginning.

He cant get the door opened, so he decides to take the morbid child approach and stack all the caskets in the tomb up like some sort of macabre ladder: And so the prisoner toiled in the twilight, heaving the unresponsive remnants of mortality with little ceremony as his miniature Tower of Babel rose course by course.”

We get the quote which opens the essay where Birch decides that he wants to chizel his way out of an aperture at the apex of his corpse stair, but …”As he remounted the splitting coffins he felt his weight very poignantly; especially when, upon reaching the topmost one, he heard that aggravated crackle which bespeaks the wholesale rending of wood.”

Dalton Trumbo’s masterpiece

Because of his carelessness in constructing the coffins, he was now standing upon a tower of breaking timber and corpses, until “...no sooner was his full bulk again upon it than the rotting lid gave way, jouncing him two feet down on a surface which even he did not care to imagine.” That line right there gave publishers a pause. Lovecraft very rarely goes for the gross out, focusing instead on much higher end psychological scare tactics. Here he went full “Johnny Got his Gun” (there is a terrible scene where the main character gets caught in barbed wire and falls on and through a rotten and fetid corpse…this scene and story pales in comparison to the horror that Dalton Trumbo creates in that novel) as Birch’s feet go into the corpse of Asaph Sawyer.

This being a Lovecraft tale you would expect something strange to happen, something unexpected, something otherworldly, but this story is the exception to the rule. This story is a straight supernatural tale, and because of it’s difference it comes off all the stronger because of it. The corpse grabs his leg.

“In another moment he knew fear for the first time that night; for struggle as he would, he could not shake clear of the unknown grasp which held his feet in relentless captivity. Horrible pains, as of savage wounds, shot through his calves; and in his mind was a vortex of fright mixed with an unquenchable materialism that suggested splinters, loose nails, or some other attribute of a breaking wooden box.”

I felt the same way. I didn’t believe that Lovecraft would take a flat out supernatural approach, but I am kept on my toes. Birch gets free and runs away, liping along until he gets to ghis doctor. Once inspected and unloads his story off his conscience, Dr. Davis is horrified because he comes to understand exactly what happened.

Birch gave Sawyer Matthew Fenner’s coffin because Fenner’s coffin was poorly made and Sawyer’s coffin was well constructed. Dr. Davis comes to the realization that Fenner is extremely short, whereas Sawyer is extremely tall. Dr. Davis goes to the tomb and finds the corpse and finds the ultimate betrayal of the undertaker…

The skull turned my stomach, but the other was worse – those ankles cut neraly off to fit Matt Fenner’s cast-aside coffin!”

The final nail in the coffin!

Birch actually cut off Sawyer’s feet to make sure he fit in the coffin and Davis verified that the teeth markes on Birch’s ankle were indeed from the rotten teeth of Sawyer.

To me this is the ghost coming down to show Scrooge the right path. This was the wake up call to stop being lazy and to start doing right by people. Whether you believe that Birch’s foot just happened to land on the corpse’s mouth, or that the corpse animated itself out of anger at it’s slight beyond the grave, this was Birch’s call, much like Scrooge being showed his possible future.

To me the story is perfect for the season (at least as perfect a story as Lovecraft can get), and I hope you all had a blast reading it!

Join me next week as we evaluate “Cold Air”

Post Script:

To me these Post Scripts have started to become a little bit of an inside joke, but truly they are all here just to get one last point across which doesn’t quite fit into the narrative of the essay. Here I would love to talk a little about the anthropomorphosizing of Birch’s horse.

The entire story the horse felt like something Walt Disney would create. The horse was tryign to tell Birch what he was doing was a mistake. You could almost feel the horse rolling it’s eyes at the laxy way Birch held the reigns. To me the horse was the true indicator that we were in a Lovecraft story. Doesn’t make sense does it? Let me explain.

Normally we would have an unreliable narrator teloing us a story. At some point in the story we get information that doesn’t quite add up right, but Lovecraft forcuses so much on subtlety that we wil never get an outright statement from the narrator saying something was off. We just need to infer based upon the surroundings.

In this story everything is fairly normal, except for the horse (a kind of macabre parrallel to The Grinch’s dog Max). The horse gives indication at every stage that Birch isn’t doing the right things with it’s outragous personality.

When Birch finally gets to teh tomb the horse neighs and stamps and paws, and soon leaves Birch to his fate as the man ventures in. It isn’t until this point that the narrator can take leave of reality. It isn’t until the horse leaves that we start to get something far beyond normal, and the horse doesn’t leave until the very end of the story.

The Key-master and Gatekeeper for Gozer the Gozarian

In every tale Lovecraft tells he has a gatekeeper or a key-master. If they cause a rift they are a key-master, if they stop a rift from happening they are a gatekeeper. It is these characters, human or not, that keep things normal. In this story we dont know for sure if what happened to Birch was supernatural or not, but what leaves that open for question is that the gatekeeper is gone. It’s once this horse leaves that the crazy happens, and if you’ll notice…all of Lovecraft happens in the shadows when you’ve turned to look at something in the light.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Regnum Congo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

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

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

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


The Spot

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

THE SPOT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The parallels are deep with this one.

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

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

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

A Possible basis of Lovecraft’s Sweet Ermengarde

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

One of Shakespeare’s most popular absurd comedies

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

The old Collins estate in Collinsport, Maine

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dreams in the Witch House by Arkham Angst!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

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

The popular role playing game

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

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

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

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

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


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

Cthulhu by Andree Wallin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well hello Cthulhu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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


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

FUSELI: NIGHTMARE, 1781.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gustave Dore “Satan in Council”

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

Sidney Sime “Slid”

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

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

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

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

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

Clark Ashton Smith “The Forbidden Barrier”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Script:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; Herbert West – Reanimator

celebrating the campy horror of Herbert West – Reaminator

It is uncommon to fire all six shots of a revolver with great suddenness when one would probably be sufficient, but many things in the life of Herbert West were uncommon.”

Welcome back for another Blind Read! We’re tackling Reanimator this week and yowza, there is a heck of a lot going on here in a story that is absolutely not a typical Lovecraftian story.

Lovecraft was commissioned to write an episodic tale, in which each segment was published subsequently in each issue of the magazine. I have to admit, that after reading the story I did a tiny bit of research into the story, because of how… well… unlike his other stories it was and found that Lovecraft himself called the process of writing for the magazine “manifestly inartistic” because of how the magazine editor wanted it structured. You can feel Lovecraft’s disdain as he writes the story and the further you get into it, there is an aspect of camp that can absolutely be considered Lovecraft’s subtle dig at how much he hated the project. Ironically that bit of camp invigorated film makers from (obviously) Stuart Gordon to Sam Raimi.

But we’ll get to all that soon. Let’s dive in, shall we?

We start the story with a very strange statement which sets up the unreliable narrator right off the bat: “Of Herbert West, who was my friend in college and in after life, I can speak only with extreme terror.”

Excuse me, what?

He was your friend in college and… in after life? Is the narrator trying to say that they are friends still after death, or does he just mean that they were friends after college? This is a strange statement because immediately after it we find that West disappears in a “sinister manner.” Lovecraft isn’t one to mince words like this… he tends to be vague, but very precise. So what is our narrator telling us here? Well we wont get the answer to that until the very last sentence of the story.

The narrator states that he can only speak of West in terror because of the “wonder and diabolism of his experiments…” and instantly we understand that West was enamored by the dual nature of life and death. West believes that there could be developed, a method to delay death, or “overcome it artificially” by a “calculated chemical reaction.

West immersed himself in these experiments during college using his home brew formulas on animals with varying levels of success, but “since the same solution never worked alike on different organic species, he would require human subjects for further and more specialised progress.”

Ridiculed by Miskatonic University staff and students, he is soon told that he cannot continue this line of study by their dean, “the learned and benevolent Dr. Allen Halsey.”

While the narrator describes this rejection from the Dean, we get our first philosophical rumination. “Holding with Haeckel that all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called ‘soul’ is a myth...” (We’ll talk more about Haeckel later) Relying on this thesis West looks for fresh human bodies in an effort to re-animate them. He knows that if the flesh deteriorates too much then the process wont work, so the two men (narrator and West) “followed the local death-notices like ghouls...” and moved out to a farm house for its remoteness. The idea being that they can grave rob and bring the bodies to the house without being seen.

It takes a while, but they finally procure a body with enough freshness so they try the formula. They wait far longer than they think they should and nothing happens. Disappointed, they move into the next room and continue to work, while “…from the pitch black room we had left there burst the most appalling and daemonic succession of cries that either of us had ever heard.”

The two men are so terrified by the ululations and the crashes of destruction coming from that room that they tear from the place and head home, only to hear the next day that the house burned down with nary a glimpse of their reanimated corpse.

And this is all in the first chapter.

There are one or two exceptions, but this first chapter reads like a standard Lovecraftian story. The descriptions, the prose, the tone, it could basically be all out of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, but then we move into the second chapter and find the story stalls.

From the first sentence we understand a plague of typhoid has devastated the town, and we rehash the theory behind the freshness of the bodies. We hear again from Dr. Halsey, who tells West in no uncertain terms that he must stop his research.

Then the story devolves for a page or so. From the perspective of the narrator we get into a rant about religion and ethics. He calls the “professor-doctor” type “the product of generations of puritanism...” and “whose worst real vice is timidity” with “…sins like Ptolemaism, Calvinism, anti-Darwinism, anti-Nietzscheism, and every sort of Sabbatarianism and sumptuary legislation.”

The narrator is railing against morals with an almost Ayn Rand fanaticism. You remember the scientist which we mentioned earlier? Haeckel? Without a doubt a brilliant man who created our classifications for families of living creatures (phylum, kingdom, etc,), BUT was a proponent of scientific racism and eugenics. Yeah, you heard that right. The man the narrator (and probably Lovecraft) is lauding as a genius, believes that there are scientific reasons why some races and creeds are better than others and that we should use eugenics to resolve the problem. You want to know who else got his main ideas from this man? Adolph Hitler. Also a German fanatic who was coming into power as this was being written. One has to wonder if the magazine Lovecraft was writing for had “specific leanings” and that’s why these elements are in this story and so prevalent (seriously, like the whole story), as opposed to his other stories. I wont mention it beyond this but there are some horribly racist things stated in the next chapter, worse than anything I’ve read in Lovecraft so far. Suffice it to say that there are some really interesting things in this story with plotting and style (and perhaps, just maybe, Lovecraft was using this hate as a device, but we’ll see that later), but if these themes are triggers IN ANY WAY, never read this story. It’s not even in the top 50% of Lovecraft anyway, and if it weren’t for the 1985 movie, I don’t think this story would have any historical longevity.

Whew! Sorry, had to leave that disclaimer. Anyway…

There’s a wake at the end of this chapter for Dr. Halsey (he died of typhoid) and West and the narrator tie one on, “making a night of it” and are seen later, after midnight, walking home with a third man in their arms. There’s a kerfluffel in West’s boarding room that night and when the landlord comes to investigate, they find West and the narrator bloodied and the window broken.

There’s a trail of blood and “remnants of bodies left behind...” There is even evidence of these bodies being chewed on. The police follow the trail until they find the fiend, who bears a startling resemblance to Dr. Halsey. The beast is captured and put into Arkham Asylum and the two heroes take a breath of relief as the chapter ends. But before it does, we get the first evidence of camp that will carry through to the 1985 movie.

Stuart Gordon’s 1985 campy masterpiece.

To conclude the chapter West says: “Damn it, it wasn’t quite fresh enough!” Queue slight chuckle and eye roll.

The third chapter begins with the quote from the start of this essay and we spend over half of this chapter re-hashing the previous two. Then West and the narrator, because they are doctors, are asked to oversee an illegal boxing match. One of the pugilists is knocked unconscious and West declares him dead. They take the man and inject him with the formula, hoping that he is recently dead enough for it to work, but the man comes back as a monster, raging at them, and West puts it down with his revolver.

The next chapter is interesting if only because the prose is so simplistic as opposed to the majority of Lovecraft, and the plot so kooky, that it really feels as though Lovecraft is mentally done with the project, as if the only reason he is continuing it is for the money.

Three quarters of the chapter re-hashes the previous ones, until a travelling salesman comes around and “suddenly dies” on West’s porch. West uses the formula on him and when the man re-animates. We understand that West killed him because of his statement when he revives: “Help! Keep off, you cursed little tow-head fiend – keep that damned needle away from me!”

Then suddenly because WWI is going on, West decides he needs to go to the battle front to get fresh body parts to see if he can reanimate them. Some of the most atmospheric writing comes here and there is a bit more waxing poetic on the idea of the soul versus the mechanics of the body, but there isn’t much more to go on. The reader can feel Lovecraft’s disdain for the project bleeding through the text.

Then finally we get the last chapter where we get more re-hashing and a Halloween haunted house moment where one of the reanimated creatures is wearing a wax mask (check the very last quote in this essay). This triggers a campy moment where all the creatures West has reanimated come back and break through a plaster wall. The creatures are apparently angry at West for reanimating them so they “tore him to pieces before my eyes, bearing the fragments away into that subterranean vault of fabulous abominations.”

Servants find the narrator unconscious the next morning with West gone and an “unbroken plaster wall.” The servants state he was either mad or a murderer, and we get the last line which brings it all together: “But I might not be mad if those accursed tomb-legions had not been so silent.”

I sat for quite some time after reading this last line. He might not be mad if they had not been so silent. Meaning that he was mad as a hatter the entire time, and everything that we’ve experienced through his eyes were the ramblings of a potentially very dangerous madman. The perspectives on race, religion, science versus the soul, and all that malarkey that we spiraled into, was really just a madman capable of murder and probably much worse. Lovecraft is saying “nope, that was all from a crazy person, so you shouldn’t actually believe any of it.”

Don’t believe me? Lovecraft left us clues.

Remember the first line we talked about earlier? About how the narrator knows West “After Life?” The narrator tells us all along that West is the one reanimating everyone. West is the one killing people. But if the narrator knows West “after life,” then that means that he has killed West and reanimated him, making the narrator the real monster here, not West. In fact because of the unreliable narrator form, the entire story is subject to speculation, because it was probably the narrator who had been doing all the killing and reanimating all along.

We also know that from the very beginning the that West is missing. But in the last paragraph the narrator tells us that West was torn limb from limb. Throughout the story there are contradictions like this. For example: The narrator is a doctor but he doesn’t understand that Jewish, black, and white people (the only examples he gave) have the same internal organs.

There is also the fact that when they went to war and got to see the battle fields, the narrator, as a doctor felt that “Some of these things made me faint, others have convulsed me with devastating nausea, while others have made me tremble...” Really. You’re a field doctor who has killed creatures you brought back to life, done autopsies, looked at desiccated and chewed on corpses without a second thought… but a battlefield makes you faint. I at first thought this was a failing of the writing, but now because of other evidence I think it was a stylistic, unreliable narrator choice.

Throughout the story the narrator lovingly says that West, is “…a calm, blonde, blue-eyed scientific automaton...”, like, multiple times (I think I counted four times). In this exact same way. Yet we have a character call West a toe-head, a slang debasement for a blonde white person. It was odd at first that there would be a slang word against a white person in this story given the hate speech toward others, but what I realized is that the hate speech all came from the narrator, and the other characters in the story (Dr. Halsey, this salesman for example) didn’t hold these same views and railed against what the narrator thought. Those horrible racist, classist, and bigamous statements were from the perspective was an extremist insane psychotic.

The largest evidence of this? This story is too campy, too simplistic, too direct to be a serious Lovecraft story. I’ve spent the better part of two years reading and analyzing his work and I’ve not come across anything like this story. This was a very specific idea that was written for a very specific audience and he got paid $5 a chapter to do it. I get the feeling that he was asked to make it this direct, so the subversion of expectations was his way of sticking his middle finger to the proprietor and the audience.

Join me and read along as we cover “Pickman’s Model” next week!

Postscript:

I’ve stated that the prose in this story is much more simple than most Lovecraft (admittedly making it more accessible to a larger audience), but there were a few moments of brilliance here and there. My favorite examples are as follows:

A touch of colour came to cheeks hitherto chalk-white, and spread out under the curiously ample stubble of sandy beard. West, who had his hand on the pulse of the left wrist, suddenly nodded significantly; and almost simultaneously a mist appeared on the mirror inclined above the body’s mouth.

In a dark corner of the laboratory, over a queer incubating burner, he kept a large covered vat full of this reptilian cell-matter; which multiplied and grew puffily and hideously.”

I can still see Herbert West under the sinister electric light as he injected his reanimating solution into the arm of the headless body.”

His expressionless face was handsome to the point of radiant beauty, but had shocked the superintendent when the hall light fell on it – for it was a wax face with eyes of painted glass.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress. Back to the story!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yikes!

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

Double yikes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triple Yikes!

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

Post Script:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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