Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Thingol and Melian
“In after days, he became a king renowned, and his people were all the Eldar of Beleriand; the Sindar they were named, the Grey-elves, the Elves of Twilight, and King Greymantle was he, Elu Thingol in the tongue of that land.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we have a concise chapter, so I thought it would be the perfect time to review and dig into theories about what we’ve read so far in The Silmarillion.
This chapter follows Melian, a Maiar (the servants of the Valar), and Elwë, the Lord of the Teleri, whom we saw in the last chapter.
Melian “dwelt in the gardens of Lórien, and among all his people there were none more beautiful than Melian, nor wiser, nor more skilled in songs of enchantment.” She came to middle-earth at the same time as Yavanna, “and there she filled the silence of Middle-earth before the dawn with her voice and the voices of her birds.”
The Teleri who “tarried on the road.” across Middle-earth to Valinor were led by Elwë and Olwë, two brothers. Elwë Singollo, which surname we found in the previous chapter signifies Greymantle, heard the song of the lómelindi (the Nightingales), and in that song he heard the beautiful voice of Melian.
He set out to follow that song, and in doing so, “He forgot then utterly all his people and all the purposes of his mind,” and he was lost in the forest. He met Melian there, lost under the twilight stars, “and straightaway, a spell was laid on him.” He had fallen deeply in love with her and stayed with her in eastern Beleriand, starting their own faction of Eldar, which is what we see in the opening quote of this essay. He became Elu Thingol, King Greymantle of the Sindar, where Olwë, his brother, assumed kingship of the Teleri in his absence and took them to Valinor.
“And of the love of Thingol and Melian there came into the world the fairest of all the Children of Ilùvatar that was or shall ever be.” Namely the Sindar, or Grey-elves.
That is the chapter; not a lot to it, but there are some key points here to latch onto and I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on them. First, we are currently discovering the creation of the peoples of Middle-earth at this point known as Beleriand (from my basic knowledge, Beleriand was sundered in the wars of the first age, which I’m sure will be covered in the remaining text of the Silmarillion.)
The first point I’d like to discuss is song. There was much made of music and song in Peter Jackson’s seminal trilogy and even more in the text of the books. There were characters like Tom Bombadil who basically spoke in music (and I’m inquisitive to see if we get a glimpse of where he came from), poems, and songs sung throughout the books, culminating in Pippin’s song near the end of Return fo the King.
Song and music are rampant throughout Tolkien’s world, and it wasn’t until I began this journey into The Silmarillion that I began to notice that there is a reason behind this. Music is the cornerstone of life; it’s what brings the people of Middle-earth life and happiness and sorrow. Indeed the entire world was built by song…The song of the Valar and Ilùvatar. The music that we’ve all experienced while traversing this incredible creation is an offspring of this idea. The old themes are sung to elicit feeling and emotion and give a glimpse of the past and the future. There is a theory that all music is derivative; all music comes from just a few early and core songs. This shows more gloriously here than anything else because all music portrayed echoes past, an echo of the songs sung by the Valar as the world was being created. One must assume that they all have their own tone and theme incorporated into their song, as varied as a love of nature to the agony of war. The pieces of this music are what create the world and the destination of those within it. I’m so excited to see what other music or song is incorporated moving forward.
The second point I wanted to touch on was language. Tolkien famously created this world based on language, and everything else came from that. This is what makes The Silmarillion so hard to read because there are multiple names for each character and sobriquets based upon whom they interact with. However, the more I dig into the history, the more I’m beginning to understand the language (with the help of the index, of course). Once you come across a name (like Beleriand, the land beyond the bay of Balar), if you’ve paid attention to the core of the word, there’s a good chance you’ll understand where the story is going to go surrounding that character.
The best example of this I can imagine is the introduction of Elwë Singollo. Immediately we are told that Singollo indicates the Greymantle, then everything that follows points towards the creation of the Grey Elves. The Nightingales sing at Twilight, the grey mist when Thingol and Melian meet, right down to their children and followers tribe name…Sindar, which is a derivative of Singollo. They are the Grey Elves, not because of their skin color, but because they were not of the light, meaning that they never went to Valinor, nor are the Sindar from the Dark; they are Elves of Twilight, both of time and location. It is these nuggets I’ll work to uncover as we continue on throughout this blind read.
What will we uncover next?
Join me next week as we move into “Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië!”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor
“Yet be sure of this: the hour approaches, and within this age our hope shall be revealed, and the Children shall awake. Shall we then leave the lands of their dwelling desolate and full of evil? Shall they walk in darkness while we have light? Shall they call Melkor lord while Manwë sits upon Taniquetil?“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week the First of Ilùvatar’s Children (Elves) awaken, Melkor is thwarted, and we get some in-depth understanding of the creation of Middle-Earth, its peoples, and its antagonists.
We begin this chapter of the history of Middle-earth by finding that the Valar grew comfortable with their creations. Melkor was defeated, and they put him out of their minds, staying away from his lands and “the evil things that he had perverted.” Melkor created a stronghold, commanded by his lieutenant, Sauron (sound familiar?), named Angband. It was here we find the perverted things including the Maiar who followed him: “those spirits who first adhered to him in the days of his splendour, and became most like him in his corruption: their hearts were of fire, but they were cloaked in darkness, and terror went before them; they had whips of flame. Balrogs they were named in Middle-earth in later days.”
This is where we get the opening quote of this essay. The Valar, on their seats in Valinor, had a great debate on what to do with Middle-earth and the impending Awakening of the first Children of Ilùvatar, the Elves.
Varda, Manwë’s spouse, decided that the Elves should not be born into the darkness that blanketed Middle-earth, so she created the stars (which is why the Elves then called her Elentári in their tongue means ‘Queen of Stars’). I’ll leave the passage for this in the postscript because several names aren’t pertinent to this portion, but I have a sneaking suspicion they will be later!
Anyway, the Elves woke next to Cuiviénen (a lake in Middle-earth, otherwise known as “The Water of Awakening“), and the first thing they saw were the beautiful stars and “Long they dwelt in their first home by the water under the stars...” They even developed their own speech, then naming themselves the Quendi, “signifying those that speak with voices” as the Valar had no need for voice.
These Children of Ilùvatar were “stronger and greater than they have since become;” and the Valar decided that they needed to get these children to join them in Valinor, so Oromë had them follow him back, and those that did he named the Eldar, or the people of the stars.
But why didn’t they all follow Oromë, you ask? Melkor put stories into their heads to scare them off from the great hunter. Reports of “a dark Rider upon his wild horse that pursued those that wandered to take and devour them.” Melkor was able to ensnare some of these unfortunate Elves by this deception, and “those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes.“
So Melkor created Orcs from the Elves, but not just from the Elves… from the Quendi, who were stronger and greater than what the Elves later became. So it makes sense why the Orcs are thought of as so terrifying.
Understanding that Melkor was gaining in power the Valar decided that they must do something about it, so they decided to ride out against Melkor and capture him; to save the Quendi from the spread of his darkness. Apparently little is known of this battle because it didn’t take place in the view of the Quendi, except that “the Earth shook and groaned beneath them, and the water moved, and in the north there were lights as of mighty fires.”
The battle was so savage that the shape of the land itself was altered permanently, but eventually Melkor “was bound with the chain Angainor that Aulë had wrought, and led captive; and the world had peace for a long age.” The Valar discovered and defeated many of the ranks of Melkor, but they never did find his lieutenant, Sauron.
The world was at peace, and after long years of discussion, the Valar decided that the Quendi should join the Valar in Valinor far to the west. They sent for Ingwë, Finwë, and Elwë, who were ambassadors of the Elves and later became their kings, but free will got in the way.
“Then befell the first sundering of the Elves.”
The kindreds of these ambassadors followed Oromë to the west and became known as the Eldar. The ones who stayed behind loved their home of Middle-earth, the seas, the trees, and the stars and they refused the summons. These Elves became known as the Avari, or the Unwilling.
But beyond this first sundering, even the Eldar split as well. The three different ambassadors had their own followers, each with their own predilections. The followers of Ingwë were known as the Vanyar, or the Fair Elves, who are closest to the Valar and few men have ever seen.
Then there are the Noldor, the people of Finwë, otherwise known as the Deep Elves, who were known as great fighters and laborers.
Lastly there were the followers of Elwë Singollo (Singollo signifies Greymantle. I have a feeling we’ll find more out about that next week!), who were named the Teleri, who “tarried” on the roads and were the last to appear in Valinor. They are known as the Sea Elves, or Falmari, because of their love for the sea and making music beside the breaking waves.
These three kindreds of Elves who made it to Valinor are called the Calaquendi, or Elves of the Light (or a very literal translation, “Those who speak of the light“)
These Elves do not take much part in the story of the Silmarillion, but rather those they left behind, those that the “Calaquendi call the Umanyar, since they came never to the land of Aman and the Blessed Realm.” These Umanyar and the Moriquendi (or the Elves of Darkness who came later and “never beheld the Light that was before the Sun and Moon.” are who the remaining history of Middle-earth pertains to.
The Nandor, who were led by Lenwë and “forsook the westward march, and led away numerous people, southwards down the great river, and they passed out of the knowledge of their kin for long years were past.” until years later Denethor (not to be confused with Denethor II the steward of Gondor from the Third Age. Aka, father to Boromir and Faramir), son of Lenwë, decided to lead his people west over the mountains and into Beleriand (the westernmost land of Middle-earth).
We have finally gotten past the rich history of gods and angels and are getting into the creation of Middle-earth as we know it. I’m most curious to see where the coming of men, the second of the Children of Ilùvatar, come into play as the Elves begin to build their roots in the land. Do you have an idea of where we’re headed?
Let’s find out next week as we discover “Of Thingol and Melian.“
As promised, here is your passage…
“Then Varda went forth from the council, and she looked out from the height of Taniquetil, and beheld the darkness of Middle-earth beneath the innumerable stars, faint and far. Then she began a great labor, greatest of all the works of the Valar since their coming into Arda. She took the silver dews from the vats of Telperion, and there-with she made new stars and brighter against the coming of the First-born; wherefore she whose name out of the Deeps of Time and the labours of Eä was Tintallë, the Kindler, was called after by the Elves Elentári, Queen of the Stars. Carnil and Luinil, Nénar and Lumbar, Alcarinquë and Elemmírë she wrought in that time, and many other of the ancient stars she gathered together and set as signs in the heavens of Arda: Wilwarin, Telumendil, Soronúmë, and Anarríma; and Menelmacar with his shining belt, that forbodes the Last Battle that shall be at the end of days. And high in the North as a challenge to Melkor she set the crown of seven mighty stars to swing, Valacirca, the Sickle of the Valar and sign of doom.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Aulë and Yavanna
“But I will not suffer this: that these should come before the Firstborn of my design, nor that thy impatience should be rewarded. They shall sleep now in the darkness under stone, and shall not come forth until the Firstborn have awakened upon Earth; and until that time thou and they shall wait, though long it seem. But when the time comes I will awaken them, and they shall be to thee as children; and often strife shall arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we continue on the journey through the Quenta Silmarillion, learn about a few new races of beings, and discover the evolution of life in Middle-earth!
This second chapter is short and answers a question I’d been wondering since we started the journey through this history: Where did Dwarves come from?
Through the first few chapters as we got to know the beginning of Middle-earth we came to understand that Ilùvatar created his own children, the Elves and Men. There were so many other races not represented here which had me questioning their origins, none more than Dwarves. The Dwarves of Middle-earth are a prideful and powerful bunch and knowing just a bit about their history with Elves, I wondered where and how they came into the story.
Well this chapter starts us off in the first sentence: “It is told that in their beginning the Dwarves were made by Aulë in the darkness of Middle-earth; for so greatly did Aulë desire the coming of the Children, to have learners to whom he could teach his lore and his crafts, that he was unwilling to await the fulfillment of the designs of Ilùvatar.“
So Aulë created the dwarves at the same time Elves and Man were being created, and “because the power of Melkor was yet upon the Earth” he made the Dwarves “stone-hard, stubborn, fast in friendship and in enmity.” He also made their lives long, longer than Men, but not eternal like the Elves.
When he created them (in the true fashion of Prometheus disobeying Zeus and giving humans fire), Ilùvatar was angered, because he had yet to finish creating his own children; but when Aulë showed that he was willing to smite them with his hammer, Ilùvatar took pity on them and we get the opening quote of this essay.
Aulë had promised the Dwarves they would sit at the End of the World with the Children of Ilùvatar, led by the Seven Father’s of Dwarves, “of whom Durin was the most renowned in after ages, father of that kindred most friendly to the Elves, whose mansions were at Khazad-dûm.” In case you don’t recognize this name from either the books or the movies, the better known name for Khazad-dûm is The Mines of Moria.
So now we know the Dwarves were created by Aulë as the “Second Born.” and were sequestered in Moria to await the coming of the First Born, aka the Children of Ilùvatar, aka Elves and Men.
But what of Yavanna? We’ve only spoken of Aulë and the chapter head has both of their names! Well, because Aulë kept his creations a secret even from Yavanna, the Dwarves ended up not caring much about her creations, instead, “they will love first the things made by their own hands, as doth their father. They will delve in the earth, and the things that grow and live upon the earth they will not heed.“
Yavanna was afraid for her great creation…nature. The bountiful trees and the beautiful forests were potentially in danger, because of the nature of Aulë, the smith, he instilled in his children that they should be desirous of making their own creations through industry. If Melkor got his desires into these industrial Dwarves, what was to stop them from cutting down Yavanna’s beautiful forests to use in their production?
Yavanna went to Manwë, the Valar of Wind and Sky and spoke her fears:
“Because my heart in anxious, thinking of the days to come. All my works are dear to me. Is it not enough that Melkor should have marred so many? Shall nothing that I have devised be free from the dominion of others?” They discussed it for a while until Manwë finally responded, “When the Children awake (the Dwarves), then the thought of Yavanna will awake also, and it will summon spirits from afar, and they will go among the kelvar (the fauna of Middle-earth) and the olvar (the flora of Middle-earth), and some will dwell therein, and be held in reverence, and their just anger shall be feared.”
This breath of spirits and life created two powerful and fascinating beings, The Great Eagles and the Ents. Yavanna was able to work with Manwë to build a defense system into her creations, thus bringing sentience to the Great Eagles (which you’ll remember from the end of The Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf speaks with them and gets them to assist in gathering up the Hobbits) and the Ents (Yay Treebeard!) as guardians, so that even if Melkor’s influence encroaches upon the Children (both first-born, Elves and Man, and Second Born, Dwarves) and they foster a desire to mar the land further than even Melkor was able to, these sentient beings would be there for protection.
We are finally getting a broader understanding of how the world came into being, but what transpired to bring the Children to wake into the world? Let’s find out next week as we unfurl “Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor.”
H.P. Lovecraft Final Thoughts
“It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.” – H.P. Lovecraft
Welcome back to another Blind Read! Well we’ve officially done it. We’ve read through every H.P. Lovecraft story I could find as well as all the August Derleth stories attributed to Lovecraft. I’ve already covered my final thoughts on August Derleth (which you can find here), so I wont be mentioning his work here, but I intend on covering Lovecraft’s writing style, touching on some of the work and making recommendations.
First and foremost, Lovecraft is a hard nut to crack. If you’re a casual reader his catalogue can be quite daunting. His language is archaic and complex, and his exposition is dense and verbose. I had no idea where to start when I began reading Lovecraft, and I dont think I started in the right place, but I intend on shining a light here in the dark places of Howard Phillips’ mind for the neophyte.
To me, the absolute best place to start to get into Lovecraft is the story “The Festival.” “Some fear had been gathering in me, perhaps because of the strangeness of my heritage, and the bleakness of the evening, and the queerness of the silence in that aged town of curious customs.”
The Festival holds all the elements you want in an introduction to Lovecraft. Ancestral ties, intense and submersed atmosphere, A classic Lovecraftian township, witchcraft, cosmic horror… you name it and this story has it. It follows our classic unreliable narrator as he heads to Kingsport for Yuletide whose, “fathers had called me to the old town...” There he finds himself involved in a nefarious ritual which includes the Necronomicon.
This wasn’t the first story I read of Lovecraft, but it was the turning point for me. Before reading this story I was on the fence, I really wasn’t sure if I liked the writing or not. I was upset because I thought there was going to be far more monsters and aliens and things like that interspersed within the text. What this story made me realize is that Lovecraft is all about the feel. His text is sneaky because as you read it it kind of just glazes over you, but the longer you read, and the longer you sit with the text, the more it sinks in and that familiar anxiety attributed to good horror is subsumed in your conscious. Lovecraft is at his best when he delivers atmosphere, and this story is dripping with it. Not only that, but this is also the most accessible story in terms of readability, which makes it one of the best jumping off points for all things Lovecraft.
If you’re not into the short stories and are looking for a novel, jump right into “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” “He bore the name of Charles Dexter Ward, and was placed under restraint most reluctantly by the grieving father who had watched his aberration grow from a mere eccentricity to a dark mania involving both a possibility of murderous tendencies and a profound and peculiar change in the apparent contents of his mind.” Not only is this novel cleaner and an easier plot line to follow, but it has some spectacular imagery and characterization… something which Lovecraft wasn’t known for.
Told in altering perspective form, this novel gets to the core of Lovecraftian horror without being overt, nor necessarily Cosmic, but with a grand backstory which brings historical witchcraft from Salem into Lovecraft’s own mythology. In case you hadn’t realized, witchcraft is at the core of Lovecraft’s fiction. Derleth made his fiction famous for the mythos, but even with those Cosmic deities, witchcraft was the unifying base. Characters over and over again utilize witchcraft as a means to an end, which more often than not ends up reversing course on them, just like you saw in the quote above. Many of these characters, including the titular Ward, use witchcraft in the guise of what they like to call “antiquarianism” where they study old books and genealogies, but it all comes down to a few books which ends up overpowering the narrator.
“The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” follows in this tradition, but there are enough pages for Lovecraft to build some really incredible atmosphere. We go through two chapters of introductions and then Lovecraft takes his time building tension and dread until we get to the ultimate conclusion. It’s a wonderful novel and a very good introduction to longform Lovecraft.
Don’t expect campfire tales when you read these stories. Don’t expect to be scared out of your gourd. There’s not much in these tales that will scare you while you’re reading them. Lovecraft’s genius is his precision. Every word chosen means something. Every reference is purposeful. Even the length of a story has meaning. These are the types of stories which dig into your subconscious and stick with you far longer than you’d anticipate. These are the types of stories which so surreptitiously describe a surface that all the sudden I developed trypophobia. These are the types of stories that make you second guess the glance that stranger gave you. They aren’t going to jump off the page and yelp with fright, but like all great horror does, they settle down into your mind like a parasite and feed on deep rooted fears you didn’t even know you had…but somehow Howard Phillips Lovecraft did.
There are many other tales I cut from this list, but some amazing notables are, “Dreams in the Witch House,” “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Music of Erich Zann,” “Pickman’s Model,” and the ultimate horror short story which delivers the most visceral and terrifying text… “The Rats in the Walls.”
Pick up these stories and take them slow. Analyze the text and let the master take you for a ride!
Join me next week as we take a brand new journey, and begin with The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien!
I would like to thank everyone who has joined the conversation and read along with me over these past few years. I used this convention as an excuse to read through H.P. Lovecraft’s tales, and as most times you take on a long project, it changes you through the process. This series of essays has made me a better writer and reader (you can tell by reading the first few of this series), but it has also tempered my angst over other’s opinions. I never experienced any kind of negativity I would expect through a Social Media (though there were absolutely differing opinions!) endeavor like this. That’s the main reason I want to keep going and move onto another Author whom people have trouble getting into past a few of his stories. Let’s continue the conversation and continue the positivity, and continue the opposing views.
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft / August Derleth; The Lurker at the Threshold, Conclusion
“After a long enough time to allow for the assimilating of this rapidly narrated series of curious facts, I asked, ‘Conceding that the data in these rare books does offer the solution of the events which have taken place in this corner of the State during the past two hundred years and more, what then, in your opinion, is it – which particular manifestation, that is – that lurks at the threshold, which is presumably the opening in the roof of that stone tower?”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we not only conclude this novel, but bring our August Derleth journey to an end as well. Derleth has brought clarity to the mystery of Lovecraft, but whether that’s a good thing or not I’ll leave that up to you to decide!
We jump into the final section of the novel leaving the mystery open as to what happened to Stephen Bates. Instead there is a jump in narrative to the perspective of Winfield Phillips who was the understudy of Dr. Seneca Lapham of Miskatonic University. We find that at the urging of Dr. Harper, apparently “late of the library staff,” Stephen Bates delivered a manuscript to Dr. Lapham and “urged Dr. Lapham to read it at once.”
The stupidity which runs rampant in this story apparently effected the previously forward thinking Bates as well, because in an effort to ameliorate his cousin he decides to perform a task asked of him by Dewart and the ersatz companion Misquamicus. They ask him to move the strange stone with the strange markings, of which Dewart previously removed from the peak of the tower, only because “…it seemed that neither he nor the Indian nor the two of them together could manage that marked stone which my cousin had dislodged from the roof of the tower.” So, naturally, Stephen does it and removes the very last vestige of protection from the area by removing the Elder Sign.
They speak for a while, and Dr. Lapham shows him a Bas-relief with a cephalopod looking creature with long tentacles, to which Bates replies “‘It looks like the things that flew about near the tower – that might have made the clawprints – but it’s also like the thing to which my cousin was talking.“
Dr. Lapham nods and shakes his hand and Bates takes his leave. The majority of the remainder of the book is a rumination on the mythos and clarification of what the mythos is. It seems obvious to me at this point (without reading the correspondence between Lovecraft and Derleth) that this novel has a direct point, beyond just being a fun horror story. This last chapter, alongside events which happened earlier in the tale, feel like Derleth sat around and decided that Lovecraft’s Yog-Sothothery was just too complicated. It was too vague for the modern reader. Derleth took it upon himself to clarify the mythos and put the various gods into specific categories because, in general, that’s how humans work…we need to put things in buckets. Lovecraft’s insidious horror was so pervasive because of how vague it was. Lovecraft relied on the brief description and let your mind do the rest of the work. This tactic ends up making for more difficult reading, but then your mind takes over and rather than letting the imagery go, it builds upon it and seethes into your unconscious. It’s like watching the original “The Haunting” movie from the sixties and then watching the 1999 remake. It’s what you don’t see that scares you. The moment you put a face to something you are suddenly able to identify it and the point of Lovecraftian horror is removed. Derleth, in trying to make the mythos more accessible, has ostensibly removed the fear from the god like characters and made them anthropomorphic. They are no longer apathetic, but now nefarious.
What Derleth does in this last portion which I did find fascinating was tying together our history through anthropology with these Elder Gods. He speaks of mysterious things like “The strange sculptures and carvings of Easter Island and Peru.” and mythological creatures such as Wendigo. We even get one of the first “almost” scientific references to ghost hunting…a precursor to books and movies such as “Hell House;” “I…will propound a theory of psychic residue, but I think it is far more than that – far, far more…” except Lapham is saying that this residue is from the outsiders, not ghosts.
To work out what their next steps are the two men then spend pages and pages of text clarifying and demystifying the mythology. We find that the Great Old Ones, “had some correspondence to the elements – as of earth, water, air, fire-” and had followers who effected certain ‘openings’ through which the Great Old Ones and their extra-terrestrial minions might enter.” who are these Great Old Ones? To Derleth, they are:
“The first among them is Cthulhu, who lies supposedly “dead but dreaming” in the unknown sunken city of R’lyeh, which some writers have thought to be in Atlantis, some in Mu, and some few in the sea not far off the coast of Massachusetts. Second among them is Hastur, sometimes called Him Who Is Not To Be Named and Hastur the Unspeakable, who supposedly resides in Hali in the Hyades. Third is Shub-Niggurath, a horrible travesty on a god or goddess of fertility. Next comes one who is described as the ‘Messenger of the Gods”-Nyarlathotep – and particularly of the most powerful extension of the Great Old Ones, the noxious Yog-Sothoth, who shares the dominion of Azathoth, the blind and idiot chaos at the centre of infinity.”
The two men then tell us, “...that without Alijah Billington was engaged in some kind of nefarious practice which may or may not have been akin to sorcery.” as they correlate what the Necronomicon says and tie it together with the history. So apparently I was wrong about Alijah not being involved, but what’s interesting is that he was the one who sealed everything up. One has to wonder if this were not just another case of an ancestor possessing his offspring for a longer life, like we’ve seen so many times before in both Lovecraft and Derleth, and when Alijah realized what was happening, he sealed off the tower with the help of the Elder sign and fled the country.
Winfield and Lapham speak of the “rules” and how they’ve all been broken.
- “The water ceased to flow of itself“
- “Dewart molested this (the stone block with the elder sign) in precisely the way Alijah hoped it would not be disturbed.
- “Finally, the entreaty to which reference is made in order to effect the primary stage of contact with the forces beyond the threshold.”
Each and every one, with the help of Stephen Bates being stupid, has been effected and Richard, in the body of Dewart, is ready to bring forth his outsider.
In an effort to tie everything together they speak about the window: “I suggest the window is not a window at all, but a lens or prism or mirror reflecting vision from another dimension or dimensions – in short, from time or space.” and it was only when looking through this window and getting a strange vision that Dewart “felt the compulsion to dislodge the block set into the roof.”
They even get into what these outsiders are. If I’m being honest this was the story I was looking for the entire time I read Lovecraft and I’m only getting it now, here at the end of all things. We get the history of the war between the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones and the distinction between them (I’ll put this passage in the post script), but now that I’m reading it in this context I’m a little let down, which I find curious.
I love playing board and role playing games, and have played Call of Cthulhu many times. Every time there’s a scene almost exactly like this last chapter, where the atmosphere is stuffy but cozy, as your characters uncover eldritch truths in hidden rooms or libraries. Obviously Chaosium, the company who created the games, took quite a bit of narrative out of Derleth. But there’s something missing. The depth and visceral emotional realness that is Lovecraft is missing, and that makes this feel like watching “The Librarian” instead of watching “Indiana Jones,” both you have to suspend disbelief, but somehow through character and setting and plot, Indiana just feels that much more realistic and relatable. But I digress…
Dr. Lapham tells us the way the Elder Gods were able to defeat and lock away the Great Old Ones was by the use of the Elder Sign (See? Elder Gods used their sign, which was powerful enough to lock up these alien Titans) which turns out to be “‘Armor against witches and daemons, against the Deep Ones, the Dholes, the Voormis, the Tcho-Tcho, the Abominable Mi-Go, the Shoggoths, the Ghasts, the Valusians and all such peoples and beings who serve the Great Old Ones and their spawn…carven out of grey stone from ancient Mnar…‘”
Armed with this knowledge they decide to go out and confront Richard Billington and his assistant Quamicus. They get out to the stone tower and find Billington in Dewarts body up on the tower doing the incantation to bring forth the Lurker at the Threshold:
“Iä! Iä!N’ghaa, n’n’ghai-ghai! Iä! Iä! N’ghai, n-yah, n-yah, shoggog, phthaghn! Iä! Iä! N’ghai, y-nyah, y-nyah! N’ghaa, n’n’ghai, waf’l pthaghn – Yog-Sothoth! Yog-Sothoth...”
Finally we have our Big Bad! Yog-Sothoth! The creature so pervasive on our world in Lovecraft’s opinion that he called his mythos Yog -Sothothery! This is a pretty brilliant move by Derleth to have the Lurker at the Threshold be Yog-Sothoth because that’s the diety who is closest to our world. Not floating through the ether like Azathoth, not dead and dreaming under the sea like Cthulhu, or Dagon. Not lost to space and time like Nyarlathotep (though I really want to see something with him in it! I have “Khai of Khem” by Brian Lumley another Lovecraftian antecedent, in hopes that it’s about Nyarlathotep!). This whole novel, less so the short stories I read first, seem to be a nod towards Lovecraft and a hope to bring his strange and wonderful mind to the masses, and he proves it here by bringing forward Yog-Sothoth. Or does he?
Dewart trails off at the end of the incantation because Dr. Lapham brings out a firearm, and in the most anti-climactic ending, merely shoots the man. But then! Quamicus gets up onto the tower and continues the spell! We might finally see a Great Old One…nope Lapham shoots Quamicus too, and thus ends our tale.
At least that’s how I thought it was going to end. Derleth slaps on one final paragraph right there at the end…it’s a vision of what Winfield, our narrator, thinks he sees:
“great globes of light massing towards the opening, and not alone among these, but the breaking apart of the nearest globes, and the protoplasmic flesh that flowed blackly outward to join together and form that eldritch, hideous horror from outer space, that spawn of the blankness of primal time, that tentacled amorphous monster which was the lurker at the threshold, whose mask was a congeries of iridescent globes, the noxious Yog-Sothoth, who froths as primal slime in nuclear chaos forever beyond the nethermost outposts of space and time!“
So we may not have gotten a good look at any of the Great old Ones, but we got some great insight into what they and who they are. The story itself as a total for the novel isn’t very complete, but it was interesting to see things from different characters perspectives.
The novel itself is a bit bland, and difficult to get through, not for the same reasons that Lovecraft is hard to get through, but because Derleth has a penchant for meandering. It does feel like this was the appropriate send off to this/these author/authors, because, like I said earlier, we finally got what we were initially intending on getting when I started this project those four plus years ago. A understanding about the difference between The Great Old Ones and the Elder Gods.
Is this something that’s interested you? Do you want to read Lovecraft, but are daunted by his complexity? Join me next week as we review favorite stories and final thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft!
As promised, here is the passage about the conflict between the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones…
“Ubbo-Sathla is that unforgotten source whence came those daring to oppose the Elder Gods who ruled from Betelgueze; the Great Old Ones who fought against the Elder Gods; and these Old Ones were instructed by Azathoth, who is the blind, idiot god, and by Yog-Sothoth, who is the All-in-One and One-in-All, and upon whom are no strictures of time and space, and whose aspects on earth are ‘Umr At-Tawil and the Ancient Ones. The Great Old Ones dream forever of that coming time when they shall once more rule Earth and all the Universe of which it is part…Great Cthulhu shall rise from R’lyeh; Hastur, who is Him Who Is Not To Be Named, shall come again from the dark star near Aldebaran in the Hyades; Nyarlathotep shall howl forever in darkness where he abideth; Shub-Niggurath, who is the Black Goat With a Thousand Young, shall spawn and spawn again, and shall have dominion over all wood nymphs, satyrs, leprechauns, and the Little People; Lloigor, Zhar, and Ithaqua shall ride the spaces among the stars and shall ennoble those who are their followers, who are the Tcho-Tcho; Cthugha shall encompass his dominion from Fomalhaut; Tsathoggua shall come from N’kai…They wait forever at the Gates, for the time draws near, the hour is soon at hand, while the Elder Gods sleep, dreaming, unknowing there are those who know the spells put upon the Great Old Ones by the Elder Gods, and shall learn how to break them, as already they can command the followers waiting beyond the doors from Outside.”
August Derleth, Final thoughts
“There was something about him where he stood all by himself under the trees and the stars, on the edge of the streetlight’s glow in the darkness, that was symbolic of many men and women, not alone in this Sac Prairie, but in all the Sac Prairies of the world, something which spoke, out of that pathetic, ludicrous figure, of the spiritual isolation of so many people, something which made the thoughtful onlooker to wonder what thin line divided him from that other, knowing perhaps that the distance of chance or Providence was less great than the few steps separating one from the other in that darkness.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re switching gears with only one more week left in the Lovecraft series, I reflect back on the time we’ve spent talking about and analyzing August Derleth, the self imposed protégé of Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
To be brutally honest, I’ve not been a huge fan of August Derleth’s work. On the surface it seems like he hits all the bullet points, however his writing style is not conducive to the style of horror in which Lovecraft wrote. I’d actually be much more interested in reading some of his other works…in fact the quote from the introduction to this essay comes from a different story he wrote entitled, “Walden West.”
Derleth is one of the earlier instances of what I would consider calling the “story smith,” or campfire story teller. What I mean by that, is a few things… the text is very general and basic. The plot is straightforward and direct. The story is a direct line. Think about authors such as Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, and Stephen King. These are not authors who spend time worrying about their word selection. These are not authors you would consider to be necessarily literary. This is not a bad thing, it’s just a different style of writing.
Lovecraft was something all together different. He was incredibly perfidious, and every word was placed in just the right place. Looking back on his stories they were difficult and complicated and, sometimes, hard to process. But that’s what made him so perfect for this kind of horror. Lovecraft’s description is written in a such a way that at first glace (or first read as it were) it doesn’t seem particularly scary, but the more it sits with you, those little turns of phrase bloom like fungus in your brain and you begin to think about the stories when you least expect them.
Derleth isn’t like that. He tries to alter his writing style to match Lovecraft’s, but instead of being insidious, it just becomes more drawn out. He uses run-on sentences and labyrinthine verbiage, but instead of feeling more like Lovecraft he ends up just sounding pretentious.
It’s a bit unfortunate that Derleth decided to publish these stories as H.P. Lovecraft instead of himself, because, quite frankly, the stories would have been far greater had he just not tried to copy Howard’s style. A very specific story I can reference is “Witches Hollow” which was an utterly unique tale; told in an entirely different voice from the rest of his Lovecraft knock offs. In my opinion this was his best story because it wasn’t trying to clarify what Lovecraft had done before. It wasn’t trying to prove that it was a part of the Lovecraft ethos, it was just a great story that used elements created by Howard Phillips and moved out onto it’s own. This is what Lovecraft wanted his created world to be anyway. Other authors like Clark Ashton Smith and Robert Bloch, and later like Brian Lumley and Thomas Ligotti utilized the mythos as a unique genre rather than an homage to Lovecraft himself. Stories like this always turn out better because you can be yourself without being beholden to what the previous author wanted.
The other downfall with Derleth is his preference for quantity. He was known to have said that he could sit down and write a “quality story” every day. The issue is that he never checked his facts, nor did he care overly much about grammar and spelling errors (this is an assumption on my part because of all the syntax, grammar, and Lovecraft facts which were incorrect. He may be very happy with the outcomes here). You could say the same about Carroll and Graf (the publisher of the books I read by Derleth…which I probably wouldn’t recommend if you could find another version), and it’s possible that it’s their oversight here and not his. But the larger issue is Derleth changing facts of Lovecraft to fit his story.
Let me clarify here. If Derleth were writing these stories as he should have been, using his own name, then I’d have zero problem with him changing facts or bending the narrative, but the moment he uses the name Lovecraft and doesn’t use his own name, that sullys the name of Lovecraft. You’ll see people online saying they hate Derleth for what he did. They hate him for using Lovecraft’s name and producing the stories he did, and there is some validity to thier argument.
I’m a little torn, because I truly believe that Lovecraft would not be in the public consciousness like he is now had it not been for Derleth creating Arkham House Publishing and continuing to produce stories in Lovecraft’s name all the way into the 70’s. Even companies such as Chaosium who produced multiple board games and the role playing game Call of Cthulhu, utilized more elements of gameplay from Derleth (The Investigator trope, and the Elder Sign) than they did from Lovecraft. Derleth is forever entrenched into this sub-culture, whether you like it or not.
Which proves that his stories had something to show off. Derleth is basically Lovecraft lite. I’d highly recommend starting with Derleth if you’ve been having difficulty breaking through the language barrier Lovecraft presents. Derleth’s stories are simpler and considerably less nuanced, which makes them easier to digest. One can get a feel for the world Lovecraft created without taking a deep dive – then once you feel the hook, you can jump into Lovecraft proper and get the real experience.
We’ve come a long way in the past four years. I started out not really knowing where to go with this project and it’s been so rewarding and fun to get the full experience of two different authors in one. I’ve also come to a brand new group of people and have met some great folks discussing the nuances of these authors. I really wasn’t sure if I was going to keep going, but the experience has been so great that I’m going to move onto a new author whom I’ve always wanted to dig deeper into but have been too scared to.
When I was a kid I read “The Hobbit” and I loved it. I tried to read “The Lord of the Rings,” but I had difficulty getting past the language. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I finally read those stories, but there were so many loose threads in that book that left me wanting more. There’s an entire history beyond the novels of those worlds and that’s what I intend on jumping into next. We have the last installment of “The Lurker at the Threshold” next week, then one final “last thoughts” on Lovecraft himself, before we switch genres and head straight into “The Silmarillion” by J.R.R. Tolkien. Join me and let me know your thoughts!
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft / August Derleth; The Lurker at the Threshold, pt. 4
“I saw my cousin far more clearly, as I later realized, than I should have seen him by all the laws of perspective and sight applied to the distance, the time, and the setting, but at the moment this did not occur to me as forcefully as it might otherwise have done for a very vivid reason – because I saw far more than these fundamentals of the setting, which seemed, as it were, little more than a frame for the utterly horrible and frightful visions which presented themselves to my view from the study window.
“For my cousin Ambrose was not alone.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we progress into a crescendo of information, solidify Derleth’s legacy in Cosmic horror, and bring Stephen Bates’ manuscript to a close.
We start this section with Stephen and Ambrose returning “‘home,’ where he (Ambrose) ‘belonged.‘” But we find that while the two men were in Boston there were two mysterious deaths which sound remarkable familiar. The “bodies of two victims…both appeared to have been dropped from a height, varying between them, both were badly mangled and torn, however recognizable...”
This strikes me as reminiscent to either “The Haunter in the Dark” or the flying Mi-Go from far reaching space (These may actually be the same creatures. The descriptions for both are vague enough that I truly think one of the Mi-Go was called out and was the titular Haunter.), called out of space and time by Ambrose’s calls and killed the two people as sacrifices necessary to complete the ritual and bring forth, whichever deity Ambrose (or Richard Billington taking over his body) is working to summon.
As soon as they get there, Ambrose “began to act in a manner completely antipodal to his conduct as my (Stephen’s) winter-guest in the city.” But one other thing went terribly wrong as soon as they arrived.
“The frogs – do you hear them? Listen to them sing!” Ambrose cries out to Stephen. It’s remarkable that Stephen doesn’t get it even after reading all the documents of correspondence, because the batrachian crying is the last line of defense…and we find out a few pages later, the Whippoorwills are crying out in song.
Derleth works on building the tension by reiterating the rules and even going so far as recalling a portion from the Necronomicon: “…that writer described only as the ‘mad Arab,’ because the amphibia were of the same primal relationship as the sect of followers of the Sea-Being known as the ‘Deep-Ones.'”
Derleth describes the noises for a few pages, ramping the unease, until he steps up his game by stating that “there was an old woman in Dunwich who had several times been awakened in the night by the voice of Jason Osborn…and decided finally that it came from somewhere ‘beside her, or out of the space or the sky overhead.“
Don’t know who Jason Osborn is? He’s one of those victims who “appeared to ‘have been dropped from a height.'”
Stephen thinks about this for a while and decides that he needs to go speak with Mrs. Bishop based upon the notes from his cousin.
Immediately she invites him inside because of his car. “‘Tis the same car the Master come in – yew come from the master!” It’s an odd reply because she thinks of Ambrose as her “Master” or rather she knows that Richard has taken back over Ambrose’s body, specifically because of the music of the frogs, “I been a-hearin’ ’em a-callin’ steady, an’ I know they’re a-callin’ fer Them from Outside.”
Stephen asks her what actually happened before. Why did Alijah leave? What is actually going down here?
“It never got Alijah. Alijah shut It up an’ got away. Alijah shut It up – an’ he shut up the Master, too, out there, Outside, when the Master was ready tew come back again after thet long a time. Ain’t many as knows it, but Misquamicus fer one.” But who is the Master? “He wore a Whateley face an’ he wore a Doten face an’ he wore a Giles face an’ he wore a Corey face...”
She never gives a clear understanding of who the Master really is, although obviously he’s either a priest of one of the Great Old Ones, or he’s one of the Great Race of Yith (In Lovecraft they were observers, in Derleth they are interferers with a nefarious bent). The Master is not one of these individual humans she speaks about, but rather some sort of Outsider who has the ability to jump into others bodies and control them. So when she calls Ambrose “Master” she ain’t speaking about Ambrose, she’s speaking about this Outsider who has invaded and taken over his personality and body.
As Mrs. Bishop and Stephen are speaking, he remembers the correspondence between Alijah and someone named Jonathan Bishop, who in those letters speaks of Alijah as Master as well. We find out that he was Mrs. Bishop’s grandfather who “come on tew some uv the secrets an’ he thought he knew it all.” He brought his own unfortunate end by trying to call “It” down.
She tells Stephen he should have a “sign uv perteckshun” which will stop them from being able to hear what’s happening on this side of the multiverse. We also know from previous Derleth that this sign of protection, otherwise known as the Elder Sign, can also be used to imprison outsiders. In fact that’s what Ambrose carved out of the stone tower at the beginning of this novel which was holding a Outer God in prison, but it’s also what keep Cthulhu imprisoned and sleeping in R’lyeh.
Mrs. Bishop continues to speak of the sign and how it will protect him and what the outsiders can do, using Jason Osborn as an example, and ends with this: “An’ the wust uv it is, yew doan’t see Them a-tall – but yew can tell when They’re near by the smell, the wust smell ever – like suthin’ straight aout uv Hell!”
I bring this up, not only because it’s notable that you can tell the Outsiders by their smell, but also because of what the smell means for each author. In Lovecraft the smell was a fruiting fungous smell. Earthy and putrid and nauseating. It was supposed to indicate something odd, something not of this world all the while eliciting disgust about what the fungus of space would do. Fugus it self can grow on anything, and generally overruns it’s host body which is the feeling Lovecraft wanted his readers to feel as they read his works. That slow insidious crawl.
Derleth took all that Lovecraft did and layered on his religious tendency over top of it. Thus the smell was out of Hell, it became a sulfurous smell rather than a fungoid smell, still eliciting innate fears, but, to me, Lovecraft’s is far more powerful, because a sulfur smell just brings about images of demons, which are in the image of man, whereas the outsiders are something we cant even fathom. Something that can break your mind just by looking at them. Something beyond comprehension.
Eventually Stephen goes back to the house and he finds that he’s alone. He passes the strange leaden window and decides to take a look through it, only to find that it’s become a sort of magnifying glass which shows the tower and circle of stones in perfect clarity. We get the opening quote of this essay, and find out whom is with Ambrose:
“On the roof, as it were one on each side of him, were two toad-like creatures which seemed constantly to be changing shape and appearance…And in the air about him were great viperine creatures, which had curiously distorted heads, and grotesquely great clawed appendages, supporting themselves with ease by the aid of black rubbery wings of singularly monsterous dimensions…the things I saw had an existence quite apart from my imagination.”
The space around Ambrose becomes “In Flux” popping into existence and vanishing, as if another dimension were trying to enter into our world and something even more insane happens:
“…the Thing, which first appeared before me as an angular extension into space, with its focal point before my cousin Ambrose at the tower, became in succession a great amorphous mass of changing flesh, squamous as certain snakes, and putting forth and drawing back constantly and without cessation innumerable tentacular appendages of all lengths and shapes; a horrible, blackly furred thing with great red eyes that opened from all portions of its body; a hellish monstrosity which was octopoid in seeming to have become a small, shrivelled mass of torso with tentacles hundreds of times its size and weight which whipped backward in a fanning motion into space, and the ends of which were literally sloughed or melted away into distance, while the empurpled body opened a great eye to look upon my cousin, and disclosed beneath it a great pit of mouth from which issued a terrible, if muted, screaming...”
This visage only lasts a few moments before suddenly Ambrose is alone on the tower, but it’s a significant moment in literature. This is truly the first time one of the Great Old Ones is described in such detail. This is undoubtedly Yog-Sothoth, whom I believe Derleth has decided to make his big bad for this novel (Poor Nyarlathotep…maybe next time). Lovecraft has previously given short descriptions, but nothing definitive, this is the first time we get such detail and it’s this description, I believe, which fuels the fire for all the future art to come out which visualize the Great Old Ones.
Stephen says he doesn’t sleep that night, but promises himself the next morning he’ll leave. So when he wakes he sees Ambrose who “seemed very cheerful” and he mentions that he has acquired help. “In fact, he is an Indian…his name is Quamis.”
I think I was previously incorrect about who and what Quamis really was. If you remember in part 2, I spoke of him being innocent and fighting against the evils. I think that maybe our shaman just might have something to do with the whole craziness to begin with!
What do you think? Let’s find out next week in the conclusion as we begin the last chapter entitled “Narrative of Winfield Phillips.”
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft / August Derleth; The Lurker at the Threshold, pt. 2
“The Fourth letter was in some was the most frightening. A kind of pall of astonished horror had been laid upon Dewart by the first three letters; but in the fourth there lay an incredible suggestion of shuddersome terror, though this was not so much evident in the words as in the implications.“
Welcome back to another blind read! This week we slide into foreshadow with the potential for much more nefarious events on the horizon as we delve deeper into what or who the Lurker is.
This conclusion of part 1, “Billington’s Wood” set’s up a very exciting story – probably the most exciting of any I’ve seen in Derleth. Last week we established that Dewart, our main protagonist, inherited a house in the back woods of Massachusetts outside of a little town called Dunwich. He finds a strange colored glass window with strange designs, lots of books and history of his ancestors, and an odd tower surrounded by stone rings. When he heads to the tower he carves out a stone with an Elder Sign on it to get a view of the area.
There was much talk of naming conventions, as Derleth tried his best to fool us as to which character he was introducing (I’m still hoping the main antagonist is Nyarlathotep!), but this week we join our protagonist Dewart with a quest for more information.
He heads out into Dunwich in an effort to discover the truth of Misquamacus, a native mystic and Laban Billington’s companion, but “when he arrived at the cluster of houses which was Dunwich, though no sign survived to identify it, most of the dwellings being deserted and in various stages of ruin.”
He looks around until he finds a “mercantile establishment” with “Two shabby old men (who) leaned up against the building, and, taking in their appearance of mental and physical degeneracy and inbreeding, Dewart addressed himself to them.”
This passage is so endemic in Lovecraft and Derleth, that I’ve been ruminating over it for quite some time. So much of horror is the fear of the unknown, and none do that theme better than Lovecraft. The general population at the time of this novel’s publication however (and quite honestly still to this day) fear what would make a person live out off the grid and only with a few kin. That fear that they would have to live in squalor and the only possibility of affection or twisted love would be inbreeding translates into monstrous intent. If they’re willing to do that to themselves just imagine what they would do to a normal person! This is echoed in movies like “The Hills Have Eyes” and James Dickey’s haunting novel (and the movie they made of it) “Deliverance.”
Both Lovecraft and Derleth use this internal fear to set up the unease of their plots. In this story Dewart feels at home and does stupid things (like carving out an Elder Sign) because of his comfort, but the tone changes when he heads out into these remote locals. There is tension in the interactions and the writing. Dewart still hasn’t chosen to believe in the magic or the otherworldly nastiness that he could potentially unleash. At this point in the story he’s only worried about the human horror which could blossom in these back country yokels if they get their ire up.
The two “shabby old men” are just as weary of outsiders as Dewart is of the down home Dunwich folks, and when he asks if either of them know of any Indians around he merely gets, “‘Hain’t no Injuns left.'” but the other companion notices something peculiar about Dewart’s look and asks him straight out if he’s a Billington. Dewart, feeling emboldened relays his bloodline… that he’s the great-great-grandson of Alijah.
“He had no sooner identified himself than both the old men underwent a complete change in manner; from simply curious individuals, they became almost fawning and subservient.” They tell him to go see Mrs. Bishop for more information, but why would they become fawning and subservient? Historically in Lovecraft (and pretty much every Derleth story) it’s because of a tainted bloodline, and the down home folk have been through so much horror already that they’re weary of people from these bloodlines…but why subservient? Could Derleth be implying that the whole town has become complicit in the outsider cult? Let’s find out…
Dewart heads off to meet her Mrs. Bishop. You might remember that the Bishops are very closely connected with the Marshes of Innsmouth fame that there is a good chance Dewart is about to go out and meet with a descendant of a Deep One, but an old woman answers the door with “rather a conviction of hidden knowledge, and in addition, a most disturbing sense of secret, almost contemptuous superiority…”
She asks him right out of he’s looking for Quamis, and lets him know that Quamis “ain’t never coming back.” She gives him all kinds of information about Alijah, telling him “‘ye’ll not do like Alijah did, an’ mind – yew leave the stone an’ keep the door sealed an’ locked so thet them from Outside can’t git back.‘” Oops.
But she tells him that the information he’s looking for is in Alijah’s old books. He gets ready to leave and the old woman mumbles to herself in some strange language, which Dewart tries to decipher: “N’gai, n’ga’ghaa, shoggog, y’hah, Nyarla-to, Nyarla-totep, Yog-Sotot, n-yah, n-yah.” He thinks it’s strange, but nothing else. He then goes off to meet a Mrs. Giles in hopes to find a picture and discovers that she and her son are scared of Dewart from his ancestral appearance, holding a Kewpie Doll as if it were a talisman to ward off evil. He leaves mourning these people because their poverty and depravity was “infinitely more terrible because it carried with it implication of self-choice” showing off his hubris and ignorance before heading home.
But there is something strange going on here. It could just be Derleth trying to throw us off the track again, but why in the world would the two old men be subservient, Mrs. Bishop be so willing to help, and Mrs. Giles so scared of what’s going on? and what’s up with Mrs. Bishop intoning the Great Old Ones under her breath? We’ll have to wait because we never find out in the first section of the book.
Getting back to the story, the next day Dewart’s cousin Stephen Bates (whom the next section of the book is named after) “summons” Dewart to Boston to collect some documents. In said documents are Alijah Billington’s rules for taking over the Dunwich property:
“He is not to cause the water to cease flowing about the island of the tower, nor to molest the tower in any way, nor to entreat the stones.” Oops agian.
“He is not to open the door which leads to strange time and place, nor invite Him Who lurks at the threshold, nor to call out to the hills.” Could that be Nyarlathotep? Yog-Sothoth?
“He is not to disturb the frogs, particularly the bullfrogs of the marshland between the tower and the house, nor the fire-flies, nor the birds known as whippoor-wills, lest he abandon his locks and his guards.” Well at least he’s been good on that front…so far at least!
“He is not to touch upon the window, seeking to change it in any way.” We’ve had notice of the window, but we don’t truly know what it is yet, nor have we seen it close up.
Otherwise the last rule is just keep the land or destroy it, don’t sell it.
Dewart hems and haws over these rules, trying to figure out what the big deal is, then he decides to go get a closer look at the window. This is the first point in the story where things start to get a bit…otherworldly.
“By some trick or arrangement of moonlight on the leaded panes, the window gave the unmistakable appearance of a grotesquely malformed head…with a vast dome-like forehead…and the nebulous outline trailed off in a hideous representation of what seemed to be tentacles.”
He moves a chair over to get a closer look, “when the entire window seemed to become animated, as if the moonlight had turned to witchfire, as if the outline, spectral as it was, had come to malign life.” But then suddenly it stopped and became just a window again, a window which aimed his view out to the mysterious tower and circle of stones, where he saw “something flaffing darkly around the tower.“
He’s upset about what he experienced, but decides to go for a walk because, surely, all of those things were put into his mind because of the message from his great-great-grandfather. It’s dusk, but he saw a strange glow and heard voices raised in fright coming from Dunwich. Weirded out, he went back to the house and decides to give it a rest for the night.
The next day he wakes and listens to the radio to hear of a corpse found, “but the body is so mangled and torn t would seem as if the waves had beaten it up along the rocks for a long time.”
Derleth briefly misdirects us as Dewart worries that there may be a Massachusetts version of Jack the Ripper or a copy cat of the Troppmann murders, although one really has to wonder why he even discusses this up seeing as a body “beaten against rocks” is a far cry from being dissected like those two murderers… but this is what Derelth does. He works his misdirections in, to both build suspense (now he has you thinking about serial killers in conjunction with the cosmic horror), and to try and keep you guessing about what’s going to happen. In fact the next few pages in the book are Dewart ruminating on what Alijah’s “rules” are all about and giving reasons for what they could possibly mean, obviously with his conjectures all being false or just half truths, until he comes across a few letters between Alijah and some correspondent named Jonathan B.
These letters have all mention of cosmic entities. Jonathan B. mentions on many occasions that he is a faithful servant to Alijah, and despite the normal ancestral degradation you would expect from Lovecraft or Derleth, these letters seem to exonerate Alijah. It seems as though Alijah was a fighter against “servts. of N. or of Yog-Sothothe” and is indeed the one who sealed the Lurker with the Elder Sign.
There is also mention of another “Him who is not to be named.” No this is not Voldemort, but very potentially a precursor to him. This, I believe, is the nefarious King in Yellow, better known as the Unspeakable…better known as Hastur. But how does he fit in the Cthulhu Mythos?
Remember that it wasn’t until Derleth that the Cthulhu Mythos were called the Cthulhu Mythos…Lovecraft actually described them as Yog-Sothothery, based around his favorite of his otherworldy gods. This novel was published in 1945 which was significantly earlier than nearly all of Derleth’s stories, and thus far, with the exception of “Witches’ Hollow,” this has been the best. Derleth seems to be at the top of his game here, where later in his career he seemed to phone it in, relying on the same old story line again and again. This very well may have been the first time he created this often repeated ancestral story line, and if it was published in ’45 you have to imagine that he was writing it in either the late 30’s or the early 40’s where the influence of Lovecraft’s correspondence was the most fresh.
In these four letters from Alijah Derleth begins to tighten his storyline a bit, by bringing in the Native American mythology and tying it to the mythos, while also giving us the back story of why the tower was built…to seal away the Lurker at the Threshold. The seal which Dewart has already broken. There are only a few more guards which he hasn’t messed with, and he’s already begun to play with the window, so he’s going to be reliant on the birds and the frogs to stop Nyarlathotep or Yog-Sothoth, and potentially Hastur, and their minions from entreating upon our world.
But there are other forces moving against him. He has a dream that night where he heads to the tower, beneath “great birds that fought and tore, birds with horribly distorted human aspects” and because it’s a dream, he just keeps going to the tower. He looks up through the hole he made when he carved out the Elder Sign stone, and, in a “hideous distortion of the Latin tongue…He recited a formula thrice and made designs in the sand.”
He “dreamed” of a hideous aspect apparating, “squid-like or octopoid, passing among the trees as air…”
As it floated away he headed back to his room and got back to bed..in his dream. But when he woke the next morning he found sandy foot prints in the room and his clothes disheveled.
He decides he’s been too wound up, and he needs help with everything going on, so he makes a decision:
“It took great physical and mental effort for him to drive into Arkham and deposit the letter to Stephen Bates beyond recall in the post-office of that city, whose ancient gambrel roofs and shuttered windows seemed to crouch and leer at him with ghastly camaraderie as he went by.”
It’s here that Dewart leaves us in anticipation of Part 2 of the novel “Manuscript by Stephen Bates.” Derleth may just be using the epistolary style which Lovecraft had perfected to cover some back story, to fill out this novel. Lovecraft did that so well in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” as he focused each section of that novel on different people to give different perspectives as to what was actually going on in the tale.
Join me next week as we dive into the Manuscript and see where Derleth is taking us!
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft / August Derleth; The Lurker at the Threshold pt. 1
“So, then, Old Billington was ‘feared’ or disliked and everyone connected with him in any way likewise. This additional discovery put Dewart almost into a fever of anticipation; his quest was so different from the usual genealogical adventure that it delighted him; here was mystery, here was something deep, unfathomable, something out of the routine ken; and, fed by this taste of the mystery, Dewart was stirred and stimulated with the excitement of the chase.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we begin down the journey of Derleth’s longest Lovecraftian story along tried and true lines, while delving into what differentiates the two authors.
Once again we begin with a man going back to his ancestral home to restore it. Nearly every single Derleth story has this opening salvo and it just really shows the difference in imaginative capabilities between the two men. We’ll get into writing ability and imagination a bit more later, but to do so I need to introduce you to the story.
Our “Protagonist” is Ambrose Dewart. He’s a British gentleman who has come to the back water of Massachusetts “...towards the strange, lonely Dunwich country beyond Dean’s Corners” to a strange and forbidden place called Billington’s Wood, “and all that property around, including the great house which could not be seen but was none the less there, deep in that wood, on a pleasant knoll, it was said ‘near the tower and the circle of stones.’“
Again, much like in other stories the house was upkept by “a firm of solicitors” because the last of the Billingtons, Alijah and his son Laban, fled the area. No information is given as to why they fled other than the notorious sounds coming from the woods such as “a piping and croaking of frogs” and a “chorus of whippoorwills” but we know from previous stories that the batrachian croaking indicates that Deep Ones are near and the whippoorwill is an indication to deep and dark foreshadowing and warning, and yet as soon as the Billingtons left, the noises stopped.
Ambrose finally gets to the house and notices that it’s devoid of all modernity, “such as electricity…” which might indicate a foreshadowing for something to come ahead, but I believe it’s just Derleth’s effort to show the atmosphere of the place. Another one of those red herrings he’s so apt to do.
It’s mentioned numerous times in the first few pages that this area is full into the “portion of Dunwich country where the Whateleys and the Bishops...” lived which tells us immediately that something is going to happen surrounding Cthulhu, Dagon, or the Deep Ones (Derleth pretty much ignored the Shoggoth which is unfortunate because they are some of the most intense and fearful creatures), because, well, all Derleth has something to do with Cthulhu, Dagon, or the Deep Ones.
But then there’s a very interesting bit of information which arises when Ambrose is searching through the house and finds Laban’s journal. “The child, Laban, who was, Dewert determined, his own grandfather…” Laban is motherless and has a Narragansett Indian named Quamus (or Quamis) as a companion (no doubt a slave or indentured servant, but such is never mentioned). Until one day when Alijah gets angry with them and “has forbidden us to go, on the banks of the stream across from that place where the tower rises. He (Quamus) was on his hands and knees and had his arms raised up, and he was saying in a loud voice words in his own language which I could not understand…but had the sound of Narlato, or Narlatep.”
Ok two things. This book thus far (I’m only covering the first 40 pages of it so we may get to some surprises later!) has a penchant for giving things numerous names and Derleth uses it as a crutch to try and give the reader an inkling of what’s going to happen instead of really delving into the scene and layering in the details for us to find later. This is the first difference between the two authors… Derleth hits you over the head with a hammer, where Lovecraft would sew unease beneath your skin. The second thing is… Oh my god is Derleth separating himself from his safety net!!?? Is Nyarlathotep going to make an appearance in the story!? Or is this just another red herring Derleth is so quick to throw out to distract fans of Lovecraft. There’s no further mention other than the almost throw away of this line with the two misspellings, but I’m am extremely excited if this were to be the case.
Eventually in Laban’s journal there are “great noises” coming from the hills and suddenly Quamus is missing. There isn’t anything of else in the journal, so in an effort to broaden his knowledge, Dewart searches around the house and eventually finds a book called “Of Evill Sorceries done in New-England of Daemons in no Humane Shape.” The Book basically tells us of a Wampanaug Shaman named Misquamacus (does that name seem familiar? It should, it’s Derleth playing again…could it be Laban’s friend and confidant Quamus?) who summoned some kind of “Evill” and “there was no Way to send it back that Thing he summon’d, so ye Wampanaug wise Man had caught and prison’d it where the Ring of Stones had been.”
So obviously what he’s referring to here is the tower on the property and the ring of stones “reminiscent to Stonehenge.” How does one trap an outsider per Derleth’s rules? By placing a flat stone “with ye Elder Sign” on it.
Dewart is interested so he goes to the library and goes through several months of newspapers of both the “Arkham Advertiser” and the “Arkham Gazette.” We get story after story of which we’ve heard over and over again and which don’t particularly add to this tale, but instead are Derleth’s efforts at showing how scary the place is. This is a perfect time to hit on one more facet of the differences between these two writers.
Lovecraft spent much of his pages describing the scenery and atmosphere of the space. This is what conversely makes him a brilliant but difficult author. He’s very dense because he didn’t really care about character development, so each paragraph can span for pages as we get the feel for what’s going on in his story. They are also filled with psychological and philosophical diatribes meant to be the point of the story, but also illicit thought behind the horrors he’d placed in front of us. I’ve recently found something going around social media rounds which (paraphrasing) was that the person who read Lovecraft in their youth would read story after story back to back. They didn’t find each individual story very scary, but they were intrigued by his themes and atmosphere. It’s only a day or so later that those dark corners of your house start to seem menacing as the stories start to get under your skin. Because that’s what Lovecraft does and does so well. He focuses so much on atmosphere and philosophy that he surreptitiously digs down into our subconscious and broadens our way of looking at things.
Derleth, conversely, focuses more on the people and the shock factor. In fact, to prove that point, the vast majority of the stories I started out with Derleth finished the last few paragraphs in italics… because for some reason he thought that would drive home the shock ending that we’d seen coming all along. There is no philosophy in Derleth and there is no real atmosphere (except in The Watcher Out of Time. I really wish he’d gotten a chance to finish that before his death and redeem himself). Derleth instead spends his time giving us back story and red herrings in the shape of Lovecraftian fan offerings. The worst part about this fan service is that they very rarely pan out. I’m excited for the prospect of Nyarlathotep being in this book, but I’m not holding my breath, because that’s what Derleth does. He says hey look at this! You know what it is and I’m going to make you think this story is going to be about something else, but I’m only putting that in the story to distract you from the Deep Ones that will yet again be my antagonists.
This type of background is what we get for page after page. We hear about the Billingtons, about John Druven, a man who jibbed the Billingtons because he saw evidence of evil deeds…and ended up dead for it. There’s even mention of Reverend Ward Phillips (who is the character in the meta-fictional story “The Lamp of Alhazred“) and a letter he received talking about magic happening to both wipe memory and to create a cosmic stir at the “circle of stones.“
After all this information Dewart decides he’s going to go out the tower and the circle of stones and investigate it. He enters the tower and finds a spiral staircase up with a “decoration in the nature of a bas-relief, which he soon saw was a single design repeated as a chain for the entire length of the stair.” This Bas-relief also “appeared on the platform, and he bend to scrutinize it more closely, thus discovering it to be an intricate pattern of concentric circles and radiating lines, which, the more attentively it was gazed at, offered a perplexing maze to the eye in that it seemed at one moment to be of such an appearance, and in the next appeared to change inexplicably.”
He eventually got to the top platform which was hedged in with a large limestone rock, which “It’s decoration, however, did not follow the motif of the bas-relief figures, but was, rather, in the rough shape of a star, in the centre of which there appeared to be a caricature of a single giant eye.“
Oof. Here’s that Elder Sign! Is this where Misquamicus trapped the outsider? Right here in this tower? Man after all of that Dewart must be starting to kind of freak out. All that text which led him here to find that there is a bit of truth to it all. What does he do?
He carves the rock with the Elder Sign out so he can see the land from the top of the tower.
Ok it’s now time to talk about how absolutely and outright STUPID Derleth’s protagonists are.
The worst part is it’s not just stupidity. Carving out the Elder Sign was something Derleth thought had to happen for the storyline to progress (well he did just let out some kind of outsider which I’m really hoping is Nyarlathotep), but there’s no motivation to do so. This happens again and again in Derleth, where the plot drives the characters motives rather than the characters motives driving plot. In past stories like “The Shadow in the Attic” I’d roll my eyes when the main character would stay in a place obviously corrupted for no particular reason, but when Dewart carves out his only protection I actually said out loud, “You Dumbass!” I’m not sure if I was talking about Dewart or Derleth, but with Derleth’s propensity for giving alternatives for names, maybe Dewart is Derleth. Maybe he’s writing about himself!
And that’s where we call it after the first 5th of this novel! Join me next week as we find out what other secrets Billington’s Woods hold, which outsider is released into said woods, and what other stupid things Dewart is going to do while battling that outsider!
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft / August Derleth; The Watchers out of Time
“At the same time, his thoughts took an amazing turn; he was less concerned with the glass and its properties, and more with an ambiguous, ill-defined concept of vast dimensions and spaces beyond the terrestrial scenes familiar to him; and he felt himself being drawn into some vortex of dream and speculation that profoundly disturbed him. It was as if he were falling into a bottomless pit.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we cover Derleth’s most promising, though incomplete, tale and take some time to analyze and speculate on the man’s intentions.
This weeks story is a strange one, but not in a Lovecraftian…or dare I say it, Derlethian way. It’s the longest story in the collection I have (The Watchers out of Time, Carroll & Graf 1991), but it’s also incomplete, and not even in a first draft kind of way. There are grammatical errors in it sure (of which I believe the publisher decided to keep in for purity reasons), but after about 30 pages the story just stops. It apparently was never finished and included in this collection posthumously.
This fact actually makes this a perfect transition because were going to finish up this series by deconstructing “The Lurker at the Threshold” which is one of Derelth’s novels (which he published under Lovecraft’s name), and this story feels more like a novella, or the beginning of a novel, than a short story. Derleth isn’t known for his atmosphere as Lovecraft was, but this novel gives you a great feel for the Dunwich environs in a way that not even Lovecraft established. He takes his time to give the reader a visual of what the country actually looks like. The reader can also tell that this was a story to make an effort to collect all the disparate strands of lineage and place and mythos and tie them all together. I truly get the feeling that this story was supposed to be his Magnum Opus…it’s really a shame he never got a chance to complete it.
Alright, enough waxing…lets get into the story!
The story begins as so many of Derleth’s stories have. Nick Walters is a man living in Surrey, England who received a letter, “couched in rather old-fashioned legal terminology” informing him that he is the recipient of an “Ancestral Property” in Massachusetts backwaters.
We also get a brief description of Walters physiognomy, he has a “wide mouth…curious lobeless ears, or the large pale blue slightly bulging eyes.” This is a dead giveaway that Walters is on the branch of the Marshes and the Whateleys, so when we find out later that the house he inherited is actually the old house of Cyrus Whateley, it’s no surprise.
We’re introduced to the place by Boyle, Walter’s lawyer, who speaks about “Whateley Country” which includes Dunwich. Make no mistake there’s nothing but ridicule and derision as he speaks about the place: “It’ll be like turning into the American past...”
That statement is the transition to a great chapter of Derleth describing place. This is something Lovecraft did so well, and something Derleth just hasn’t spent the time to do thus far in any of his stories. That makes me believe that his novels must be so much better than any of his shorter work, because he slows down and spends the time to bring the reader viscerally into the story.
As Walters drives into the region “many brier-bordered stone walls made their appearance, pressing upon the road; most of these were broken down in places, with field stones scattered along the foot of the walls. The road wound into hills past great old trees, bramble-covered fences, and barren fields and pastures in country that was only sparsely settled.”
I could go on and on with quotes of the section. There’s even a passage where Derleth points out what’s really happening. “He drove slowly.” It’s actually a double entendre because Derleth is talking about Walters driving, but he’s also talking about himself writing. His tales are generally breakneck speed compared to Lovecraft, and this chapter describing place and atmosphere is something so heartachingly absent from his other stories. This meta-fictional phrase feels as though he’s telling us and himself to slow down, so we can get a visual of what this place actually looks and feels like. The payoff is huge. It really does feel like “turning into the American past.”
There are even call backs to his previous stories like “The Horror from the Middle Span” with passages such as: “A quaint covered bridge crossed the river, a relic of that distant past to which the settlement itself obviously belonged.”
This is important because, as I mentioned earlier, it really feels as though Derleth is trying to bring his corner of Lovecraft (namely Dunwich and Innsmouth) together into a cohesive narrative. There are pages and pages with Walters at the library going over genealogy and history of the Whateleys and their cousins. We even get introduced to our favorite grumpy old shop keep, Tobias Whateley, who has shown up in multiple Derleth tales. Always warning foolish “cousins” away from their ancestral estates tended to by the “eddicated” Whateleys (we’ll talk about this more later).
When Walters finally gets to the house there are fun little Easter eggs like, ” Nothing more recent than Dickens stood among the leather-bound tomes, and many of them were in Latin and other languages.” There is even a telescope. But my favorite aspect, and one which you might remember from “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” is the infamous grandfather clock:
“…a curious, obviously hand-carved clock standing almost three feet tall, its face covered with strange designs – of serpentine coils and primitive creatures belonging clearly to some pre-human era, he thought, utterly alien.” which was “intended to tell more than time.“
Walters goes back to get supplies and speak to Tobias who mentioned Increase Brown, who apparently kept up the house, but because the story was never finished, and he isn’t really spoken of again.
We transition to night and get the most supernatural chapter right before the story ends. The night air is filled with strange sounds which seem to come from either “avian or batrachian throats.” but then he noticed that there was something more than that. Out up on a hill (it could it be Sentinel hill where witchcraft was once done?) “He heard voices, which were surely of men crying out…and on the crest of round hill behind Dunwich there was a glow in the now dark heavens, as of a bonfire burning there.”
He decides to ignore this strange fact and goes on studying. He finds a photograph, and within that photo is a carving in the wall with a glass eye which was “strangely clouded.” As he looked closer, “the clouding he had seen was the unmistakable outline of two human faces – the one, of an old man, bearded, looked directly out of the glass; the other, a lean hawklike face, with the skin drawn tight over its bones, looked out from behind the first, his face slightly tilted as if he were deferring to the older man…“
This is obviously supposed to indicate Cyrus and Aberath Whateley. But undeterred by the oddity he decides to research further and heads to the study, where a curious light is glowing. He opens the doors and “he was further surprised to see light flickering in the room as if he had left a lamp burning there...” but in fact “The source of the glow he had seen was the glass eye in the carved triangle above the fireplace.”
He climbs closer and finds some strange Eye of Sauron info…”The carving which framed it was fully as baffling. The eye appeared in what was almost its optical center. The outer frame was a triangular pediment. At first glance, the carving appeared to be classically conventional design. But now, in the light of the lamp Walters held, it bore a disquieting resemblance to a huge octopus-like being, yet unearthly to look upon; in the convex circle of glass lay a huge, central eye, opaque to sight now, but still cloudy with pale light that shifted oddly even now.“
Well hello Cthulhu. It’s like an eye to watch over the place, and to gather any souls necessary for it’s nefarious nature. As he looks into the eye he gets the feeling which is the opening quote of this essay, and the reason I call it the eye of Sauron. It seems to give him a strange compulsion on just the single look. The light goes out and he stands there like Ray from Ghostbusters II looking at Vigo, but eventually he breaks the connection and leaves the room.
He decides he’s going to go back to Springfield in the morning and do more research at the library, but he can’t get over the feeling that the house is somehow occupied with a presence… other than himself.
The final chapter has Walters going to the library and researching more about genealogy. There’s a fascinating section where he finds that a preacher named Hoag talked out against the Whateleys only to go missing, as well as a Reverend Hoadley who did the same thing with the same outcome, yet somehow both of those men had some kind of connection with the Whateleys. He mentions all the last names of the characters he’s used in connection to the area and even goes over Dr. Armitage’s dealings from the original Lovecraft tale “The Dunwich Horror.”
Then right before the end of the story he finds a letter addressed “For Him Who Will Come,”
“Read, that you may know, that you may prepare to wait for Those Who Watch, and fulfill that which is meant to be.”
He’s waiting for those who watch, namely the Ancient Ones. Cthulhu is sleeping and dreaming from his prison in R’lyeh, watching through the golden eye in that carving…and it obviously isn’t the only one. He entraps souls, hence the two previous Whateley’s trapped within the eye… which coincidentally glowed when there was some kind of ritual happening on Sentinel Hill…when the last time we saw that happen Lavinia was pregnant from some Outsider, and a Shoggoth rampaged over the town.
Obviously, since this was published posthumously and not even finished, this was supposed to be Derleth consolidating the pantheon of whom he considered the most important of the Ancient Ones and solidifying his presence in the mythos. Of all the tales, I’ve been the most interested in this one. It’s the most readable (even with it’s grammatical mistakes) and the closest to a Lovecraft tale in feel than anything else he’s written.
It is possible that this closeness is because this tale was meant to be a novel or at least a novella, so maybe his Lovecraftian novel will hold up to the same standards?
Lets find out next week as we begin “The Lurker at the Threshold!”
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft / August Derleth; Innsmouth Clay
“He suddenly fixed widening eyes on my companion, his jaw dropped, his hands began to shake; for a moment or two he was frozen into that position; then he shrugged himself up and off the barstool, turned, and in a stumbling run burst out of the building into the street, a long, despairing cry shuddering back through the wintry air.”
Welcome back to another Blind read! This week we break down an entirely trite tale which merely rehashes older material while we conjecture the past’s future of the legacy of Lovecraft.
This story was an immense let down. There was incredible potential for developing something unique and elaborate out of the minute change Derleth layers into the story, but unfortunately he doesn’t do anything with it. We fall back into the same trite patterns which, quite frankly, Lovecraft was leaps and bounds beyond Derleth because of writing ability. Don’t really understand what I mean? Let’s break this down.
The story begins with a bit of promise, though I have to admit I was dreading it a bit when I began. Derleth has a penchant for using Deep Ones as his main antagonists, which is fine, but he doesn’t give them anything beyond what Lovecraft already created. Derleth’s stories of magic, occult, and the strange, were all far more interesting than his Innsmouth based stories.
To start, we are introduced to the focus of the story: “The facts relating to the fate of my friend, the late sculptor, Jeffrey Corey – if indeed “late” is the correct reference…”
Here we have another potentially “unreliable narrator” who is doing the campfire thing and telling us a story. What piqued my interest here was that Corey was a sculptor, that tied with the fact that the title has “clay” in it, made me excited for a possible twist. Derleth even begins taking us to a unique space, but then pulls it back and falls into his old safe trends.
The narrator immediately tells us that Corey’s “distant relatives” are the “reclusive Marshes who still lived in that Massachusetts seaport town (Innsmouth)” and in the next paragraph gives a description of Corey:
“He had very strong blue eyes, and his lantern-jawed face would have stood out in any assemblage of people, not alone for the piercing quality of his gaze, but as much for the rather strange, wattled appearance of the skin back from his jaws, under his ears and down his neck a little way below his ears.”
If you’ve read “The Shadow over Innsmouth” you know what this means. Obed Marsh was a sailor for the East India Company and he took a bride from a remote South Pacific Island. It turns out that the bride was either a Deep One, or a human offspring of a Deep One, so when they came back to Innsmouth, they created “The Order of Dagon” and it was believed they held services to their dark god just off the coast at a place called “Devils Reef.” They did nefarious things until the U.S. Government came and set off depth charges off Devil’s Reef and arrested the Marsh clan.
In Lovecraft this was a unique and creepy tale with some wonderful imagery. We also got a sub-context of paranoia because of the outcome of the story…we understand the government knows more about the goings on in Innsmouth and decides then to snuff it out. Kind of a Big Brother oversight conspiracy theory.
Derleth does his best in the next few pages to recount what happened in “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” but, rightly so, he doesn’t cover any of the contextualization of what was actually going on there because it doesn’t really pertain to his narrator. This is however where we get the only interesting twist, and incidentally we got the direction I was really hoping the story would go.
The depth charges “set off such turmoil in the depths that a subsequent storm washed ashore all manner of debris, of which a peculiar blue clay came in along the waters edge…”
Using that clay, Corey begins work on a new sculpture he entitles “Sea Goddess.”
Predictable things begin to happen. As he begins the sculpture he gives the “Sea Goddess” webbed toes. When asked why, he tells the narrator, “I don’t really know…The fact is I hadn’t planned to do it. It just happened.” Then when the narrator asks about the “disfiguring marks on the neck…” Corey just laughs it off and says “Perhaps a ‘Sea Goddess’ ought to have gills.” Yeah…Ok Corey.
The narrator tells us that after Corey went missing he found his notebooks which normally held notes about his art, but around this time they became more of a journal of his downfall.
Corey talks about his “Compulsion” to “baptize the Sea Goddess” and he begins to have strange dreams. They start innocuous enough, “A dream of swimming accompanied by shadowy men and women.” Then he has erotic dreams of “a woman, naked, slipped into my bed after I had gone to sleep, and remained there all night.” Scandalous!
There is even an entry which is frankly the most eye rolling thing I’ve read in Derleth. “The dream of swimming again. In the sea-depths. A sort of city far below. Ryeh or R’lyeh? Something named ‘Great Thooloo’?”
That passage gives me a visceral reaction. Now to be fair, if I had read this story first, it may have been gripping, but because I’ve gone through Lovecraft’s entire catalog, it just didn’t hold the same gravity as everything else. To top that off this is probably the first time anyone who’d ever read these stories got a phonetic interpretation of Cthulhu, so that potentially could have been very groundbreaking, but ultimately at this point I can tell you exactly what’s going to happen, line for line, with the rest of the story.
In some of the other recent stories, Like “Witches’ Hollow” or “The Shadow in the Attic” Derleth subverted my expectations and gave me a pleasant surprise. Not so here.
The rest of the story follows as you would expect. The narrator and Corey try to do some research into why Corey keeps having these dreams. They find out a bit more about his distant relatives, until they find the drunk at the bar… you know… the absolute best source for any strange knowledge. They wake him up from his drunken stupor and give him more liquor to get the most trustworthy story. They speak for a while discovering new things for the characters, but nothing new for any reader whom is familiar with the Innsmouth story, until eventually Corey’s scarf falls a bit and we get the opening quote for this essay.
Those “curious corrugations” on Corey’s neck begin to hurt, “it isn’t the pain one associates with stiffness or friction or a bruise. It’s as if the skin were about to break outward…” which happens about the same time as, gasp, The sculpture of the Sea Goddess goes missing! Then shortly there after so does Corey!
The narrator wonders about them, until he is out on a boat and sees a couple of fish creatures swimming together. One which was absolutely female and the other which…gasp… looked just like Corey!
The story comes off as droll and tired. There was really no uniqueness to the tale at all, as even in the last few Derleth stories, he re-uses the same themes and ideas without giving us much of anything new to go off of, or even the atmospheric writing which Lovecraft used.
In one final example of Derleth’s forced writing I give you this passage:
“There was some evidence to show that he had gone down to the Atlantic and walked in – whether with the intention of swimming or of taking his life could not be ascertained. The prints of his bare feet were discovered in what remained of that odd clay thrown up by the sea in February, but there were no returning prints.”
Derleth is full of these little phantasms. There is really no way anyone would be able to identify that “evidence” that Corey walked into the Ocean. This is just Derleth trying to give the reader the impact of what’s going on, but it’s lazy writing. I’ve mentioned it many times before, but this is specifically what I’m talking about. Instead of spending the time to get some really well thought out story lines, Derleth focused more on production. He apparently was famous for saying that he could write a “quality” story every week.
Don’t let me scare you away from him. These stories are fun and unique… if you haven’t read Lovecraft. Derleth is actually like a Lovecraft light. Lovecraft himself has unique and fairly difficult language, but once you’re able to break it all down and digest it, they are some of the most unique and terrifying stories written. Derleth’s language is far more accessible, and if I’d have to recommend a pathway, I’d say to read Derleth first. That will give you a sampling of what you can expect in Lovecraft without a worry about the language. Then when you get to Lovecraft, you can understand how wonderful and dense and unique those stories truly are.
We’re at the end of the short stories. We only have one last short story and one novel to dissect, and the next story is technically “unfinished.” Could that be Derleth’s swan song?
Let’s find out next week as we read “The Watchers Out Of Time!”
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft / August Derleth; The Horror from the Middle Span
“In perhaps three quarters of a mile I came to a great wooden door, barred on the inside. I put down the lamp and lifted the bar. Opening the door, I found myself looking into a tangle of growth that effectively concealed the opening into the tunnel from anyone outside. I pushed through this tangle sufficiently to find myself looking down the hill toward the countryside below, where I could see the Miskatonic some distance away, and a stone bridge across it – but nowhere a dwelling of any kind, only the ruins of what had once been isolated farms.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we tie together some of Lovecraft’s classics while solidifying Derleth’s legacy in the mythos.
We start off our story much the same way as we did in “The Dark Brotherhood,” with a statement. We learn about a document which was found written by one Ambrose Bishop, which turns out the story is the said document:
“The Bishop Manuscript was found by authorities investigating the disappearance of Ambrose Bishop. It was enclosed in a bottle evidently thrown wide into the woods at the rear of the burning house. It is still being held in the office of the sheriff in Arkham, Massachusetts.”
This again is Derleth falling back into his comfortable role. We again know there’s going to be a house burned down. We again are introduced to a disappearance and a mystery. The last few tales have been nice because he’s made a drastic twist towards the end which give us as readers a new experience through his tired tropes. But he has let us down within the pages of this book. Lets find out what he does here, shall we?
The “manuscript” begins as Ambrose approaches his ancestor, Septimus Bishop’s, house. He finds a run down old house, but decides he needs to go into town to get provisions before digging into the old place, so he heads to the general store. There, he speaks to the proprietor Tobias Whateley. They make niceties for a little while until Tobias realizes Ambrose is a Bishop:
“At the mention of the name, Whateley went a shade paler than his normal pallor. Then he made a move to sweep the articles I had brought back from the counter.“
This seems to be an odd thing for a Whateley to do to anyone, knowing what we know about their corrupted family, but, he refuses service to Ambrose. Spurned on by derision Ambrose decides to head to Arkham, to find the local newspaper, The Arkham Advertiser, and try to understand why he was treated in such an abrupt fashion. What did Septimus do?
“Nothing has been heard of Septimus Bishop, who apparently vanished from his home in the country above Dunwich ten days ago. Mr. Bishop was a recluse and a bachelor, to whom the folk of Dunwich were in the habit of ascribing many superstitious abilities, calling him at various times, a ‘healer’ and a ‘warlock.’ Mr. Bishop was a tall, spare man, aged about 57 at the time of his disappearance.“
He also sees an article which gives quite a bit of information regarding a broken down old bridge which leads over the Miskatonic river. It seems as though there was an effort to repair the…middle span…of the bridge years before, even though the bridge is no longer in use.
This is just one of the styles Derleth uses. It’s lazy writing to be sure, because he’s basically just sticking some sort of foreshadowing in the story to lead the reader along. He needed to read more Agatha Christie before he could perfect his red herring work, but it seems as though the only red herrings he’s willing to throw around are to trick the people looking for the Lovecraft connections (I.E. throwing in a Whateley as a good guy), which is incidentally what I’m doing here, so it’s an enjoyable offshoot of the project. I feel like I’m involved in a little mental Tet-a-Tet with Derleth.
Anyway the story progesses and Ambrose finds books about astronomy and astrology and finds a telescope and various other such books. As he keeps digging around he finds a trap door which leads downward into a sub-cellar.
“A brick floor had been erected in it – something very much like an altar, of stone, for one, and benches, also of stone. And on the floor there were those crude drawings similar to the cupola of the house…”
It’s remarkably like the cellar from “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” except for here, there’s a tunnel offshoot which seems to go for miles. Ambrose follows it all the way to the end which you can read in the beginning quote of this essay.
Ambrose heads back to the house deciding to try to dig into some of those letters. Here Derleth endeavors to bring together the mythos in a clunky, and ineffective way. He finds a letter with a title (who titles a letter?):
“In the name of Azathoth, by the sign of the Shining Trapezohedron, all things will be known to you when the Haunter of the Dark is summoned. There must be no light, but He who comes by darkness goes unseen and flees the light. All secrets of Heaven and Hell will be made known.”
The signature is blotched but he thinks it said “Asenath Bowen.”
Ok, a few things here in a sentence which on the surface seems to be loaded with Lovecraftian goodness. In Lovecraft, Azathoth is called the “Blind Idiot God” because he’s so old and so apathetic toward the universe that he’s just a immense immovable force. I imagine he causes madness because he’s so large and strange, that it boggles our puny human minds, kind of like when you sit down to contemplate how massive the universe actually is, it’s almost impossible to comprehend. Another example is trying to imagine what a trillion dollars would look like. It might drive you a little mad knowing it exists.
So Azathoth didn’t bring about the Trapezohedron, which is kind of like the Lament Configuration (or puzzle box) from Hellraiser, so connecting the two of them don’t really make sense. In the story “The Haunter of the Dark” a person needs to gaze upon the the Trapezohedron to gain knowledge of the world…knowledge beyond their own ken, not just the insignia of the talisman.
In addition to that, nothing is gained by summoning The Haunter. The Haunter, I believe, is just Mi-Go, one of the flying creatures from Yuggoth, where incidentally, the Shining Trapezohedron is supposedly created.
So to say that “all will be revealed” is either Derleth lazily adding horror elements, or the absolute worst “here drink the cool-aid” moments ever.
Then we finish off with two famous names in Lovecraft. The first is Asenath, who is a character from “The Thing on the Doorstep” where she uses mind control, telepathy, and astral projection to possess people. Bowen is the name of the archaeologist who discovered the Trapezohedron in “The Haunter in the Dark.”
This is, again, just Derleth throwing out fan service. This is the red herring we spoke of earlier that he’s so bad about creating, because as soon as he mentions Asenath, I believed there was going to be some sort of possession in the story…based upon the few previous paragraphs I think you can tell that there isn’t.
Derleth throws out a number of other names “Great Cthulhu” “Hastur the Un-speakable” “Shub-Niggurath” “Dho formula” even “Wilbur Whately” in the research. This is all Derleth trying to throw us off the trail of what’s really going on, but then he just tells us:
“The bridge was very old, and only the middle span stood, supported by two stone piers, one of them thickened with a large outcropping of concrete, upon which whoever had constructed it had etched a large five-pointed star in the center…”
We saw this a few different places but most recently in “Witches’ Hollow” where the star stones or “Elder Signs” were used to hold outsiders, to imprison them. It is no coincidence that the tunnel from the house exits right in front of the broken bridge with the Elder Sign on it.
But then, in a drastic and totally unforeseen event (wink, wink), there’s a terrible storm that destroys the bridge, and Ambrose finds bones that were hidden…or imprisoned underneath.
He takes the bones to turn into the authorities but when he goes to retrieve them after cleaning up…they’re gone! He has dreams which are realistic and potentially strangely prophetic:
“dreams in which I saw the bones I had brought reassemble themselves into a skeleton – and the skeleton clothe itself in flesh – and the whiplike bones grow into something not of this world that constantly changed shape…”
Ambrose wakes up and is startled to find a man in the house with him. A man “lean of face, saturnine in countenance….” with “a squamous thing with the face of a lovely woman.”
Hello Septimus and Asenath. Brought back to life because the Elder Sign barricading their tomb was destroyed.
Soon after, disappearances began to happen again in Dunwich, and the town got together to go after the risen warlocks. Septimus comes to Ambrose and takes him through the tunnels as the folks from Dunwich burn down the manor. There the manuscript ends, but we find right afterwards the middle span of the bridge was re-built, with an Elder Sign imprinted on it…
The ending of this essay might feel a bit rushed, but that’s how the story goes. We go through the whole thing, methodically describing every detail, until Septimus and Asenath are resurrected…then everything happens in a few paragraphs. It feels as though deadlines were rushing Derleth to get the story out, because it feels like such a lost opportunity to capitalize on. There’s so much wealth of character and history, but as we’ve seen in stories like “Witches’ Hollow” action isn’t one of Derleth’s strong suits, so it’s entirely possible he just didn’t know how to write the ending.
This isn’t one of Derleth’s best. The story is interesting, but it felt like he was bored with it and just wanted it to end. But for us, we’re running out of stories. With only two left where will Derleth take us?
Find out next week as we read “Innsmouth Clay.”
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft/August Derleth; Witches’ Hollow
“As a result, I became aware of a vaguely disquieting fact; from time to time, Andrew Potter responded to some stimulus beyond the apprehension of my senses, reacting precisely as if someone had called to him, sitting up, growing alert, and wearing the air of someone listening to sounds beyond my own hearing, in same attitude assumed by animals hearing sounds beyond the pitch levels of the human ear.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the back woods to the town of Witches’ Hollow and fully uncover an interesting cultural diaspora which seems to fuel both Lovecraft’s imagination as well as Derleth’s. This was also (so far at least!) Derleth’s most unique telling while at the same time adding to Lovecraft’s mythos. We’ll discuss this more later, but I have to say that this was the most enjoyable tale from Derleth, despite it’s faults.
The story starts with a unique twist: “District School Number Seven Stood on the very edge of that wild country which lies west of Arkham.” Believe it or not, in this story we’re following a grade school teacher. We find that “The school district has now been consolidated,” which changed the student body and his “charges added up to twenty-seven.” We even hear some familiar names; “There were Allens and Whateleys and Perkinses, Dunlocks and Abbots and Talbots – and there was Andrew Potter.“
The narrator tells us Andrew Potter “was a large boy for his age, very dark of mien, with haunting eyes and a shock of tousled black hair.” and that “he was in the fifth grade, and it did not take long…to discover that he could easily advance into the seventh of eighth...” right before we get the quote which opens this essay.
Our narrator decides that he needs to go speak to Andrew’s parents and see if he can possibly get them to allow the child to move up in grades because when he speaks to the boy, Andrew tells him “‘What I’m interested in doesn’t matter. It’s what my folks want that counts.”
On the surface level this makes sense and it also brings me to the thematic point I mentioned earlier. Much of Lovecraft and Derleth seem to take place in rural or back woods regions, and because of the poverty level in these areas, there’s quite often an adherence to family and familial ideals over your own best interest. I’ve seen this in real life in the central valley of California, where farming families prefer their children to work with them in the fields picking instead of going to school. If someone from the school gets involved they generally shun that person, because the poverty is so intense that the need for immediate money (picking that day instead of going to school) is more important than some vague promise of a better life in the future… if you don’t work now and spend your time wasting away in a class that doesn’t pertain to your life…then your wasting potential. So this choice both builds the characters and because it’s a horror story, this theme becomes low hanging fruit because all the sudden you can have a family who has nefarious inclinations hiding among the poor.
This also fits in with the theme of the familial bond which occurs so much in Lovecraft’s style of fiction. There are so many stories (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Ancestor, Arthur Jermyn, The Dunwich Horror, et. all) where an ancestor of the folk in the story got into dark magic and caused a ripple that would effect all generations within his lineage. In this story, we have old Wizard Potter (yes really. I don’t think there’s a connection with the notorious Harry, though some of the darker elements of Rowling’s work may have in a slight way been informed by Lovecraft or Derleth, but ultimately this has to be a coincidence) who is considered “a bad lot.” Derleth ties him to evil magic by saying that he was a cousin to Wizard Whateley (who apparently had quite a big family because he’s now connections in multiple Derleth stories with different cousins) of Dunwich, and the two of them “called something down from the sky, and it lived with him until he died.” Except we know now that whatever he called down, lived beyond old Wizard Potter.
When our industrious teacher goes to confront the Potters he finds that they deny him immediately by telling him that young Andrew will be stopping school as soon as the law allows. Then, while they’re standing there being awkward, something strange happens.
“The moment the father stopped talking, there was a singular harmony of attitude – all four of them seemed to be listening to some inner voice...”
This calls back to an earlier Lovecraft story “The Thing on the Doorstep.” In that tale Asenath, the primary antagonist, was able to project herself into other’s bodies, imposing her mind and suppressing theirs. We also have the idea of the Yith from stories such as “The Shadow out of Space” and “The Shadow out of Time” where they would do the same, take over the body of a host. The Potter family seems to have some kind of telepathic bond where they are either listening to each other, or listening to some higher being which is giving them directions. It goes beyond their own kin as well, however, as we find when our narrator speaks to one of his students about them.
“‘You shouldn’t a told Andrew Potter we talked about him,’ he said with a kind of unhappy resignation.
‘I didn’t, Wilbur.’
‘I know I didn’t. So you must have,’ he said. And then, ‘Six of our cows got killed last night, and the shed where they were was crushed down on ’em.’“
The Potter’s have Telepathy and bore into people’s minds. Derleth is striving to make the connection that these Ancient Ones have plans on Earth, but there is some force keeping them out, so they need to use these strange tools and spells and books to help seem into susceptible human brains. The teacher narrator suspects something more than natural (maybe not wholly supernatural) is going on and decides to head to local Miskatonic University to do some research. There he comes across one of these forbidden texts… The Necronomicon. While he’s reading it a Professor of the University notices him and tells him that he knows about the Potters and he knows what to do with them.
This Professor Keane shows the narrator, “...objects of stone, roughly in the shape of five-pointed stars. He put five of them in my hand.”
Then he tells the narrator the crux of the story and all the events run downhill at breakneck pace towards the climax:
“You must keep one of these at least on your person at all times, and you must keep all thought of the stone and what you are about to do out of your mind. These beings have a telepathic sense – an ability to read your thoughts.” and after discussing them for a moment Keane tells our narrator, “These stones are among the thousands bearing the Sea of R’lyeh which closed the prisons of the Ancient Ones. They are the seals of the Elder Gods.”
Ok so beyond the fact that he directly contradicts Lovecraft here (R’lyeh is the city where Cthulhu sleeps, not a sea) he is single handedly building the legacy of what would hold Lovecraft’s mythos forever entombed in popular culture. He is creating the basis for the gaming community.
If you’ve ever played the board game “Manisions of Madness” or one of the bevy of video games, or even the role playing game “The Call of Cthulhu” you’ve seen all of these elements. The librarian, or professor, who surreptitiously knows more than they should and helps the investigator. The Elder Signs which the narrator uses to hold the Ancient Ones in place, the action packed rollercoaster ending after a slow burn build to find the truth. These are what made Lovecraft truly popular in the last four decades and what continues to build his legacy. Derleth lays the basis for all that gaming culture right here in this story published in 1962.
It also deepens what he would come to call “The Cthulhu Mythos.” These Elder Signs were extremely sparingly used in Lovecraft (I think only twice mentioned) and in Lovecraft their usage wasn’t specifically spelled out as they are here. This is probably the best thing Derleth has done to the legacy of Lovecraft (because in the preceding stories there hasn’t been much), because we have quite a bit of evidence of what these powerful deities are, but before this, there have been no tools in which to battle them. By telling us that these Elder Signs were what was used to imprison them, we now have an inkling that there can be a chance to beat them.
The rest of the story unfolds as you would expect. The narrator builds a wall in his mind, striving to keep it blank so the Potter’s wont know what he’s planning, then tracks them all down and places the stones on them one by one, shunning the outsider whom was “called down from the sky.“
The story, unlike any by Lovecraft, ends with a super happy ending, where the Potter family is returned their humanity and they all remain whole after they move away from the little village of Witches’ Hollow. The narrator decides he wants to forget, or at least not look any further into the mysteries which seemed to surround that family there in that backwoods burg.
It’s a completely different feel from Lovecraft, but it’s fun and adventurous and totally worth the read.
Can Derleth keep it up? Can we move beyond that poor rehashing of Lovecraft’s tales and get into more adventurous stories like this one?
Join me to fid out next week as we try out “The Shadow in the Attic!”
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!”
Just a few more thoughts if you’ll indulge me. While reading about the section on the raid I had a conceptual thought about Lovecraft in general. In the story Lovecraft uses a thematic approach that describes the action in a single line, then when recalling the events Legrasse goes into much greater detail. After reading as much Lovecraft as I have, I can say that he did this because he’s not great at writing action, however his strength is in the feel of the piece. Legrasse is able to go far more into detail and flush out his feelings at the time and his disgust with the cultists, but during the raid all he could muster was direct and emotionless fact.
Our human brains work this way. When we look back on a time frame or an event, it almost always comes out more emotional that it was during the event. If it was traumatic, the events are colored much darker when you recall them. If it was inconsequential or happy, the events usually are colored much brighter and happier while recalling them. This is known in psychology terms as the reminiscence bump.
I’ve been reading Lovecraft now for nearly two years. I do a critique and analysis on a story every week (or, as in this case, over multiple weeks). I saw a thread on Twitter asking people what their favorite Lovecraft story was and I couldn’t come up with one. I thought back on nearly every story with fond memories, even though I know for a fact that I didn’t always like the stories that much while I was reading them. That’s the reminiscence bump.
Lovecraft is a master of atmosphere, despite his terrible action sequences and dialog. But atmosphere is what you truly remember when thinking back on a story. How the story made you feel. Individual action sequences and dialog are no longer aren’t what stick in long term memory, so what bubbles to the surface is the atmosphere you experienced while reading. When I think back on Lovecraft’s works I feel almost universal love. That’s a really strange thing to say, because about six months into this project it felt like a slog and I remember feeling bored, but now I cant remember which story I was bored with because I liked them all so much!
The more you read Lovecraft the more you like it. He’s insidious in that way. At first the language is a bit of a barrier, but once it starts to flow, your mind creates and atmosphere and experience greater than you read on the page.
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, pt. 4
“Important sections of Charles Ward’s store of mental images, mainly those touching modern times and his own personal life, had been unaccountably expunged; whilst all the massed antiquarianism of his youth had welled up from some profound consciousness to engulf the contemporary and the individual.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve even deeper into the mystery of Charles Dexter Ward as we take a look at chapter four, “A Mutation and a Madness.”
This penultimate chapter gives us some much needed information, and sets us up for the final chapter “A Nightmare and a Cataclysm.” I have a feeling because of the direction the text is taking, and the title of the last chapter we are going to get a much more intimate view of what that attack on Curwen’s farm house looked like; with Ward taking place of the antagonist, but that’s for next week.
This week we continue to follow Ward down the rabbit hole. What Lovecraft does so well in this novel is heighten the mystery and suspense by not fully showing us what’s actually happening. He’s brought in all these other horror tropes (as mentioned last week), so the reader is left wondering what’s going on. Is this magic? Are Curwen and his fellows actually witches? Are they vampires? Did they tap into some eldritch energy? Based upon my reading so far in Lovecraft’s oeuvre it could be any of these options. We don’t get a specific answer in this chapter, but things are certainly clarifying, so lets dig into it as much as we can!
We start, right off the bat, with Ward acting subdued after the event on Good Friday where his mother collapsed. Ward seemed to regress back to the antiquarian activities of his youth. He was subdued for months. What was he doing during this time? We know he was dabbling in Curwen’s personal documents, so was Curwen biding his time before coming into being? Or was Ward trying to fight him off?
Those few months go by and it seems as though we have the answer: “The youth was arguing or remonstrating hotly with himself, for there suddenly burst forth a perfectly distinguishable series of clashing shouts in differentiated tones like alternate demands and denials…” then a curious statement was overheard from Mrs. Ward: “…must have it red for three months…”
Curwen had been biding his time. There was something they were working on which took time, some incantation, and Ward was either an unwilling or reluctant participant in it. We know this because Ward’s mother listened all night and “...as long as she had remained awake she had heard faint sounds from the laboratory above, sounds as if of sobbing and pacing, and of a sighing which told only of despair’s profoundest depths.”
Ward was being compelled and I think that something happened during the “Good Friday” kerfluffle that ended the last chapter which took hold of Ward. It’s almost as if a part of Curwen had been injected into Ward’s subconsciousness and they were two beings fighting for one body. That would certainly explain “clashing shouts in differentiated tones.”
The next day we find there had been more body snatching from the cemetery the night before Ward’s lamentations. The body of Ezra Weeden, the young man who courted Eliza Tillinghast who became Curwen’s wife and then led the charge on the farm house, was exhumed and then shortly there after there were “…shrieks of a man in mortal terror and agony.” followed by, “strange and unpleasant odours…”
This entire novel there has been grave robbing. In previous chapters, I assumed it was because Curwen was trying to gain access to the knowledge of his ancestors. What I now am coming to realize is the reason Curwen (and by extension Ward) needs the “Saltes” of the past, is not to resurrect them (although I do believe that they do resurrect the bodies, which makes the hypothesis all the more gruesome), but to feed on them. Curwen and his coven have abnormally long life and to do that you must have a source to fuel you.
This makes exhuming Weeden seem cruel and vicious, as though Curwen is exacting revenge on the man for storming his farmhouse all those years ago, but maybe there is something deeper going on here. If they in fact do gain the knowledge from these poor souls they bring back, maybe Curwen is trying to figure out how Weeden succeeded in convincing the townsfolk to attack. Maybe Curwen is trying to stop that from happening again, against Ward.
This still doesn’t change that they seem to not only be feeding on the dead but also the living, because vampirism begins taking place concurrently, and we already know that Hutchinson has survived thus far as a “Transylvanian Count” who lives off blood. Around this time there is also stories of people being attacked by …”a lean, lithe, leaping monster with burning eyes which fastened its teeth in the throat or upper arm and feasted ravenously.”
Enter Dr. Allen, a mysterious man who suddenly appears and has become Ward’s companion. This companion, along with a man servant, move into a new house…the center of the vampiristic attacks…and they become reclusive with each other.
Ward “grew steadily paler and more emaciated even than before, and lacked some of his former assurance when repeating to Dr. Willett his old, old story of vital research and future revelations.”
Could it be that Dr. Allen is the vampire and he is actually feeding on Ward? Or is it Curwen, through Ward’s body that is effecting the exsanguinating attacks?
The answer is unclear, but at this time Ward makes a deal with a local abattoir and has abnormal amounts of blood and meat sent to him. There is concurrently a caravan headed to Ward’s abode that is hijacked by thieves. Thieves who promptly drop the cache in horror as they realize it’s grisly (dead bodies) contents.
The small coven of three is slowly building power. Power in blood and power in knowledge. The three men move into the old Farm House complete with it’s hidden catacombs of Curwen’s making. It does not seem strange to me that they had to find a “man servant” to join Dr. Allen and Ward, because years before Curwen had to be joined with Orne and Hutchinson to be a coven of three. What did Allen and Ward promise this young man to join them?
Once at the farmhouse Ward realizes that he’s in over his head and decides to take a last stand. He sends a letter to his Alienist (Psychiatrist) Dr. Willett which states, “Instead of triumph I have found terror, and my talk with you will not be a boast of victory but a plea for help and advice in saving both myself and the world from a horror beyond all human conception or calculation.” Yikes. It’s here that Lovecraft begins to transcend the run of the mill horror. He has conceded that things like zombies, witches, and vampires exist in the world, but they are a means to an end for a deeper and more horrible truth to come. They are mosquito’s pecking at someones skin, when the whole time there is something deeper, insidious, and ruthless, like a virus which will do much more damage, just waiting to be let free.
As if to emphasize this, the post script is a desperate attempt at redemption, “Shoot Dr. Allen on sight and dissolve his body in acid. Don’t burn it.”
What a strange and horrifying thought. Ward is so scared of Dr. Allen coming back from the grave, that he knows you must absolutely destroy the body; that way the “Saltes” cannot be restored. This also makes sense because in previous letters, Orne told Curwen not to bring up what you cant put down, which coincides with Curwen’s collecting acids. He must have used those acids to “put down” whatever horrible thing he “brought up.”
Soon after this letter, Charles Dexter Ward goes absent. His nefarious companions state that he is just out and about and must not be disturbed. They say he is OK and just doing very important research. Charles’ dad calls, inquiring after his son and hears Dr. Allen for the first time and “…it seemed to excite some vague and elusive memory which could not be actually placed…” It stands to reason that the voice was one he heard Ward utter in a different tone while he argued with himself on that infamous Good Friday. Then we get into the last and probably most important question of this chapter.
Who is Curwen and how is Dr. Allen involved?
Dr. Willett and Ward’s father visit and Ward himself tells them, “I am grown phthisical,” (I had to look it up too) which means that he’s become consumptive, that his speech is hoarse and gravelly. Ward has become a shell of who he formerly was.
We call back to the beginning of the chapter and remember that Ward had stopped being his normal self. His memory was wiped and any knowledge of anything current was cleared for items of antiquity. His speech had even changed cadence to represent a previous dialectical time. He even makes statements like this one:
There is no evil to any in what I do, so long as I do it rightly.
I believe Curwen has taken over Ward. The text leads to some question of that, in fact the last few paragraphs actually seem to state that Dr. Allen was Curwen. What if that was true? What if Allen was Curwen? Allen disappears about the time Ward makes this transition, so it may well be that Allen was Curwen (they even slant rhyme) in Ezra Weeden’s expired body. When the body began to give out (because it required too much blood for upkeep) Curwen began the transition into Ward’s body. That was why Ward was absent for those few days, because it took that much time to make the transition.
The conflict will come because Willett and the elder Ward believe that Allen is Curwen, so we’ll have to to just wait for the final chapter to see how it all pans out!
Will Ward make it through? Will Curwen summon something he can’t put down? Will Hutchinson and Orne re-appear?
Join me next week for the finale of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward!
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Descendant
“There rose within him the tantalizing faith that somewhere an easy gate existed, which if one found would admit him freely to those outer deeps whose echoes rattled so dimly at the back of his memory.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! I’ve finally finished with the Juvenilina and I can’t say how happy I am to be back with the fragments. These are some of his later story ideas and, well, fragments of stories that Lovecraft never got to finish and oh my lord what a wealth they are.
These fragments contain more Yog-Sothothery than any of the individual short stories that I’ve read so far and I wonder if these works were his way of organizing his thoughts. He packs so much information into these few pages, while the rest of his short stories are vague and only hold a little indication of where he wanted his mythos to progress. I wonder if this is how all of his stories started and then he pared back on the lore, so that he might be able to focus more on the. After all, to me, the greatest strength of Lovecraft is how he lets the reader develop the horror in their own minds.
Anyway, back to the story. This story starts out like many of his other stories where the narrator tells us of a man (here in London instead of New England) who walls himself off from friends and family. He has been traumatized by something in his past and we get a page or two glimpse of how he lives his current life, then we peel back the onion to stare directly into the trauma.
The man strives to stay away from anything that makes him think. In fact the only books he has are brain candy: “His room is filled with books of the tamest and most puerile kind, and hour after hour he tries to lose himself in their feeble pages.” No! Lovecraft wasn’t elitist, I swear! (as a side note, I’m really curious to see who he thought was “puerile.” That would be an interesting post in and of itself!)
The point is, something happened to the man and he wants to make sure his brain doesn’t delve deeper into whatever past experiences he had. That’s either a coping mechanism not to relive the trauma, or it’s because he has something hidden in his brain that he’s scared to bring back out.
Eventually a young man named Williams enters his life. This young man is a scholar and has a feeling that the old man knows something more than he tells. He picks and prods and eventually gets a bit of information out of the old man about his past.
Seemingly unprompted, though one might believe that he inferred about the terrible book from the conversations he had with the old man, Williams brings home the Necronomicon. “…the infamous Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.” which he sought out from a local rare bookseller.
The old man sees the book and, “…one glimpse he had had of the title was enough to send him into transports, and some of the diagrams set in the vague Latin text excited the tensest and most disquieting recollections in his brain.”
We learn that the old man is Lord Northam, whose lineage goes back to Roman times. In fact, one of his Roman ancestors actually found evidence of the Old Ones; “Gabinius had, the rumour ran, come upon the cliffside cavern where strange folk met together and made the Elder Sign in the dark…”
During the Hellenistic period and slightly before there were cave dwelling hierophants who practiced something called the Eleusinian Mysteries, which were basically rituals to Hades and Demeter. We already know that Lovecraft gets much of his inspiration from Greek and Roman culture and it seems as though he is adopting these Hierophants as his own to represent his Cthulhu cult (I.E. praying over the ocean). He also infers R’lyeh, “a great land in the west that had sunken, leaving only the islands with the roths and circles and shrines of which Stonehenge was the greatest.”
The story abruptly ends while telling about Lord Northam’s childhood, and one gets the feeling that if Lovecraft was able to actually finish it, this story would be one of the most complete and comprehensive histories of his Mythology.
We get so much of the origins of the cult that surrounds the mythos, including a great understanding of where in our world much of these places are and the events that happened within them. Lovecraft was absolutely anglified, making the majority of his major events happen in England, New England, and in the sea between, but he also holds a special place in his heart for the mysteries of Greece and Arabia. There is much that he didn’t understand about those worlds and I think he was drawn to culture mainly because of the desert. It was something that he couldn’t have imagined being in, or being around (whether that be because the of the temperature, the vast miles of nothingness, or the emptiness of humanity) and thus it grew in mystery within his brain. I believe that’s why he posed the people of the mysteries as cultists and why artifacts of the Old Ones power (The infamous Mad Arab, and even the narrator from The Transition of Juan Romero) seem to come from there. Because the culture was so vastly different, that in a way he vilified it.
Once again we are shown brightly Lovecraft’s xenophobia, as he subsumes it within the mythos he created. Transposing real world people and events into horrors which we don’t understand and cannot contemplate.
Come back next week for another Blind Read! We’ll be covering the fragment, “The Book.”
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Beast in the Cave
“Cautiously advancing, we gave vent to a simultaneous ejaculation of wonderment, for of all the unnatural monsters either of us had in our lifetimes beheld, this was in surpassing degree the strangest.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week, we’ll be diving into some of Lovecraft’s “juvenilia,” as it’s called. This is one of the last stories he wrote as a young man (The Alchemist being the last), before taking a break from writing these types of fictions. He returned to fiction years later and wrote the rest of his better known bibliography
This is a good story with echoes of future works tucked inside of it. Now, where there isn’t much in terms of cosmic horror or a Mythos connection, there is a slight thread (though far fetched) that we’ll be examining in a bit.
The story is a simple one and very straight forward. Lovecraft doesn’t leave much to the imagination, but he does create a great little horror story. The story begins with our narrator taking a tour through some strange caverns. He gets separated from his group and ends up fighting (really just throwing rocks at) some kind of creature that rose up from the depths of the cavern system.
He thinks he kills the creature with the rocks and tries to inspect it. He finds that it’s a white haired ape like creature, but it’s too hard to see because his torch extinguished in the time he wandered, lost. When the tour guide eventually finds him, flashlight en tow, they see that the creature was actually a man, assumed to be down here so long that he has mutated (I wonder if Gollum comes from this story).
It’s fun and short, and what you’d expect from a young man’s fiction. But what if this were the seed for so much more?
So the obvious connection is The Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and his Family, because that is a story of a man intermarrying a Portuguese woman, who eventually turned out to be a Congan Ape Goddess. Arthur Jermyn and his family all had apish aspect because they were offspring of the Ape Goddess. Maybe the beast in the cave was actually a Jermyn?
But then we can go deeper. There are a few mentions of the people of Congo praying to this Ape Goddess “Under the Congan moon”, and inference that potentially the moon could have been where the Ape creatures came from (see What the Moon Brings and The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath). Could this be the mythos connection? Could these creatures have been somehow been connected with the moon-beasts?
Even in stories such as The Doom that Came to Sarnath have this moon connection, where it seems as though something has come down from the moon and taken over, or corrupted life on our planet. This could be the cosmic connection we’re looking for, because the vast majority of Lovecraft’s mythos come from the stars.
Of course, this is a tenuous connection to say the least, but I like to think that Lovecraft’s beginnings could have had this kind of influence, at least subconsciously, over his later work. His vague mythos (which from what I understand, he didn’t want to have much connectivity), may have actually been more connected than we really thought of previously.
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Evil Clergyman
“His build and lower facial features were like any other clergymen I had seen, but he had a vastly higher forehead, and was darker and more intelligent looking – also more subtly and concealedly evil-looking.”
Welcome back to another Blind read! This time we’re reviewing the very short and to the point, “The Evil Clergyman.”
There isn’t a whole lot to this one. It’s pretty straightforward, dealing with our classic un-reliable narrator, with themes of cosmic horror and sanity. This story doesn’t add to the cannon of mythos (unless there is something that I’ve missed, or something that I haven’t read yet), but it’s a fun little off shoot story.
We start off with our narrator looking an attic apartment. The man who is offering the apartment makes illusions to one of the previous tenants, and references what he did. We don’t know what it is, but we can tell that it is severe. It seems as though the narrator is not moving into the apartment, but he is rather there for research into “That abominable society…” whom he was a part of, and stayed there. I half wonder if this is the same he from the story with the name HE. They do have similar descriptions.
The man giving the apartment up (or perhaps the narrator is a working lodger) gives a number of requests: “I hope you wont stay till after dark. And I beg of you to let that thing on the table – the thing that looks like a match-box – alone.”
Whatever the previous tenant did we know it was terrible, and potentially had something to do with the thing that looks like a matchbox…which immediately made me think that the item could have potentially been a talisman with an elder sign on it. As far as I’ve seen so far, Lovecraft doesn’t have any elder signs in his fiction, so they are probably a creation of one of his acolytes, but this could have been the genesis of it.
Our narrator takes a “Flashlight” out. He delineates that this flashlight shines purple, not white light, so immediately we know that he’s either testing something, or hes doing his own nefarious experiments.
There is a familiar vacuum sound, a description that Lovecraft has used frequently to indicate summoning, and before the narrator a newcomer appears. The titular Evil Clergyman gets ready to hang himself and seems to peer into our narrator.
At first I wasn’t sure if this was a dream story, or reality, but as the Clergyman starts to hang himself he looks devilishly at our narrator, and our narrator is overcome with fear. He does the only thing that he can think of …”and drew out the peculiar ray-projector as a weapon of defense.”
This scares the Clergyman and breaks the spell. The man who offered the warnings at the beginning comes back and lets us know “Something very strange and terrible has happened to you, but it didn’t get far enough to hurt your mind and personality.”
We find that this is not the first time this has happened and that others have died in this room by their own hand. The Evil Clergyman was trying to take over our narrators body, and in fact, partially succeeds, “This is what I saw in the glass: A thin, dark man of medium stature attired in the clerical garb of the Anglican church, apparently about thirty, and with rimless, steel-bowed glasses glistening beneath a sallow, olive forehead of abnormal height.”
Our narrator had become the Evil Clergyman.
I read this story as two different meanings. The first is the purely horrific, Lovecraftian story where we have an outside being forcing his way into our world. A Clergyman who vied for more power and ended up being taken over, body and soul, by a malevolent cosmic horror being. It follows that their goal is to take over a new form and enter our world. That makes it a fun little story.
There could be deeper meaning here though. The specific mention of Anglican garb gives me a bit of pause, because of Lovecraft’s notable hatred of religion. I wonder if there is a piece of Lovecraft that said that if you let religion enter you, it would destroy your life. You would become beholden to the religion and lose a sense of your own creativity and end up killing yourself, who you are, and your very soul, by letting the religion take you over.
If this is the case, that means the people in the attic are against religion too, and they worry that in the dark of night, when terrors abound, the narrator (as many in the past have as well) might turn to religion.
There are two instances which could make this reality. The first is the description of the room contains strange geometry, much the same as in The Dreams in the Witch House. This strange geometry is a conduit for connecting one world to another. The second, is the people who stopped the Evil Clergyman in the past were “That abominable society.” Why would an abominable society be trying to stop something evil cross over? Could it be that the abominable society were in fact Cthulhu cultists, or something of that sort and they were trying to stop religion from coming into the world?
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; Azathoth
“And because mere walls and windows must soon drive to madness a man who dreams and reads much, the dweller in that room used night after night to lean out and peer aloft to glimpse some fragments of things beyond the waking world and the greyness of tall cities.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! We’re going to be tackling a fragment from later in Lovecraft’s career, that gives indication for the expansion of the Dream Lands and his pantheon of gods. This short was thought to be the beginnings of a novel that never truly came to fruition, and instead became what we know as “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”https://seanmmcbride.com/2018/05/11/blind-read-through-h-p-lovecraft-the-dream-quest-of-unknown-kadath-pt-1/ (check out my Blind read of that story here). Azathoth is mentioned in a few other stories as well, but is basically known as the chaos at the center of the universe. A god of gods, something that the narrator of “The Dream Quest” knows that if he views Azathoth straight on, he will lose his sanity. A quavering mass of teeth and eyes and malevolence. He is also known as the Dream God. Some think that Azathoth creates dreams, or at least created the dream lands. He is, however, ignorant of this. Also known as the Blind Ignorant god, Azathoth himself is not actually malevolent in his intentions. He may be a force of chaos, but he is not truly evil. He’s just dreaming and moving through existence, but because he is beyond the understanding of humans, a view of Azathoth means a view of the entirety of the universe, which is too much for a mere moral to withstand. Thus madness.
This short was the first time in the oeuvre of Lovecraft that we get to hear of Azathoth and there is one really interesting mention. Opiates.
Lovecraft was rumored to either use Opium or some such subsidiary, and some say that many of his stories were opium dreams. I prefer to believe that he may have dabbled early on and had some crazy visions. This led him to believe that Opium may be a drug to alter existence. Lovecraft at his core was a terrified man. I don’t believe by the indications of his writing that he would give himself over to an addiction of a drug this powerful; he’d be too scared to lose himself. He was a well known recluse and a well known bigot. These things developed (of course he must have had an early life redolent with them), out of fear of the unknown. If you’re scared of something, you’re going to vilify it, instead of trying to understand it.
I believe this is why he wrote about the subject matter that he did. Writing about fears and horrors was an outlet for him. He was unable to deal with these types of fears in real life, so he fought them in his dreams and with his pen. Fears do not always have to be about monsters.
The loss of innocence was big for him. He believed that the world had moved on, and the drive for the 9 to 5 (or at this time in our history, more like 7-9) took something away from you. Took away part of your soul.
“It is enough to know that he dwelt in a city of high walls where sterile twilight reigned, and that he toiled all day among shadow and turmoil, coming home at evening to a room whose one window opened not on the fields and groves but on a dim court where others windows stared in despair.”
Lovecraft lived in a world of fantasy. As we saw in “He” https://seanmmcbride.com/2020/05/08/blind-read-through-h-p-lovecraft-he/ Lovecraft’s narrator hates New York because it has lost its whimsy. Lost it’s fantasy, and become a “city with high walls where sterile twilight reigned”. Twilight, the mystery and magic of it, is sterile there. He believed that to have emotion, to have a reason, you needed that fantasy, and that’s what he gained from New England. He was scared of the loss of innocence. He was scared of losing his fantasy. His fear of the sterility of life in the city is what drove him to such excess in his fiction.
Many of Lovecraft’s stories are about the search for this lost innocence. The search for this lost magic. What Lovecraft realized from his own isolation, was that the search could be a fine line. The creation of the Outer Gods, was an example of going too far in the wrong direction. As in “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath” the journey is the key. If you become too incessant about uncovering the whole truth, you’ll find that there is horror there. The horror may just be that there is no point. The horror may just be, that if you get to the answer you were desperate for, you find that you are only in a …”dim court where other windows stared in despair.”
They key to avoiding this? Live in your dreams. Live your dreams.
…”and for days not counted in men’s calendars the tides of far spheres bore him gently to join the dreams for which he longed; the dreams that men have lost.”
I’d love to hear what you think!
Join me next week for another Blind Read!
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; He
“For a full three seconds I could glimpse that pandemoniac sight, and in those seconds I saw a vista which will ever afterward torment me in dreams.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! I had to take the series on hiatus for a little while for work reasons, but we’re back and I’m determined to finish with the rest of H.P. Lovecraft!
This is the story He, written in 1925 at the height of his “fame” (it’s in quotation marks because Lovecraft was not popular while he was alive. The majority of his fame came from August Derleth, continuing on his legacy after he died). Despite his vast vistas explored in such stories as At the Mountains of Madness, this, for me, was his most atmospheric piece. It is also his first work in a city that takes place outside of New England.
We follow our intrepid narrator who is excited to go to New York. It is a place he’s heard a lot about and has read about extensively, and he has an expectation in his head. An image of New York of yesteryear. He imagines walking through the boroughs and seeing the history first hand. He wants to be inspired by the muse of New York, by the poetry of the city. When he gets there he is disappointed because the world has moved on. New York is, well, new. Buildings are built up, there is no nostalgia. There is only the bustle of the city, the history is dead and gone.
Our narrator goes into a depression, desperate to leave the city, but decides to take one more excursion. He tries to go as deep into the heart of the city as he can, escaping down alleyways, and travelling through slums. He soon becomes lost and meets up with a strange man. The man takes him even further into the depths of the city and they end up in a room the man (the titular He) leads them to. The man knows what our narrator is looking for. The man becomes the muse.
The room is decorated as an 18th century library, and the man takes our narrator to a window with a yellow curtain (I cant help but think of the short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman The Yellow Wallpaper) . He peels the curtain aside and shows the narrator various vistas. They start off small and verdant field, followed by cities. Our narrator asks the man if he can take him further. The man, properly egged on, uses his magic to take them to a far off place…but something goes wrong. The man takes in too much of the other world energy and it instantly transforms him into a blubbering creature, eventually nothing but a ball with eyes and arms. Our narrator flees, and lives to tell the story.
This is the story of Lovecraft getting the most out of a difficult situation. Lovecraft was a homebody, nearly a hermit. I truly believe that when he went to New York (which I’m sure he did), he had much the same experience. He went for the nostalgia, he went for the muse, he went to write poetry, but instead found a cinderblock and steel city, devoid of the wonder he craved. This story was his effort to extract that wonder. The world had moved on from him and his mythos, so he needed to create a character to bring that back. He wanted a way to bring that wonder back to New York.
But New York had already moved on. The narrator accepted it, as Lovecraft had. So this elegiac tale was about dreams. He dreamed that there was someone strong enough to take him backwards. Take him back through the nostalgia. No one, however is strong enough to take him forward. No one can withstand the steady, unrelenting march of time. not even this incredibly old magician. He too succumbed to time, and was reduced to nothing more than a ball with eyes. Something that had no power, except to watch as the world moved on.
I’d love to hear what you think!
Join me next week as we do a blind read of The Horror At Red Hook!
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; Celephais, and The Silver Key
“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars.” – Walt Whitman
“If youth knew, if age could.” – Sigmund Freud
“Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”
Ah the origin story. The tales where we uncover the history of the characters we follow, and find out what makes them tick; why they are the way they are. Here we have the dreamlands. What brings King Kuranes and Randolph Carter to the dreamlands? What made King Kuranes a king??
Welcome back to another blind read! Sorry for the limited blogs, but I’ve been extremely busy with writing and vacations (hey! Vacations are work too!). To make up for my truancy, I’ll be covering two short stories this week. Celephais and The Silver Key. But first, a brief synopsis:
Celephais: Kuranes creates the city of Celephais while being a child dreamer. Then as he grows old, he goes to the dreamlands and becomes a King over the city that he created (keeping it simple, but this is pretty much it!)
The Silver Key: Randolph Carter used to dream all the time as a child. He would travel constantly, but as the story begins Carter is 30 and has been unable to get to the dreams that he once had. That is until he meets a man at Miskatonic University (there is a brief description of the events of “The Statement of Randolph Carter” [ Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Statement of Randolph Carter ]) which opens his eyes to the world that he once knew. He starts to dream again and has a dream about his grandfather who tells him to go back to his childhood home, and look for a box in the attic. He goes and finds a box with arabesque designs. When he opens it he finds a parchment with symbols reminiscent to what he saw in the Necronomicon, and inside of the parchment is the eponymous key. His dreams become more vivid and more reminiscent to what they once were. He goes to the place of his childhood, and there he goes into a crevice, holding the key. He then enters a dream state. The story ends how Carter, beginning at the age of ten, when he found the crevice, knew glimpses of the future that he could not possibly know. We also find that a narrator has been telling us this story, a narrator who is a king of a city that he hopes to see Carter in one day.
So there you have it! The origin stories of Kuranes and Carter! Celephais seems more like a fragment from “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”, than an actual story, just a little more illumination of Kuranes, whereas The Silver Key seems much more like a full story, not to mention, it looks like it’s continued on in the next story of the book “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, even though that’s a collaboration.
There are some major links between these two stories, that both seem to link with Lovecraft’s personal life and ideals, and to the evolving dreamlands. Take youth for example. There is a romanticizing of what it means to be young in both of these stories. The innocence, the ignorance. It reminds me of all those horror stories back in the eighties (yes I know they continue on now, but that’s because it’s a trope. I would be interested in researching this and finding out where it actually stems from), where the child could see or interact with the supernatural element, but the parent could not. Seemingly because of the lost innocence, and lost open mindedness. The stories deal with this in two different ways:
Celephais is a lamentation of the innocence. Kuranes moves forward with his life, but regrets his decisions, and thus in “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” he reverts Celephais to a version of Cornwall, so that he may re-live his past experiences.
The Silver Key is an effort to spurn the vagaries of everyday life and get back the mystical nature of youth. In fact Carter actually goes back in time and becomes himself as a 10 year old, to re-establish those experiences and memories.
This seems allegorical to Lovecraft himself (There is even a portion of “The Silver Key” where the narrator tells us that writing helps get back the mystery, through opening of one’s mind). Both of these stories show that at some point, there was belief in wonder, belief in the mystical, that came from Lovecraft’s youth. But then, like with many of us, life happens. You grow up. You have responsibilities that take away time and energy from the mysteries of life, making it easy to become bitter, hardened, or ignorant of the fantasy that can be apparent in life. I really felt as though Lovecraft was saying in these two stories that writing saved his life. He was getting bogged down with the stresses of everyday life, bills, housing, love and intimacy, but when he was able to sneak away into the worlds that he created he no longer feared about these mundane issues. He freed his mind in his fantastic worlds, just like Kuranes and Carter did in their dreaming.
Another interesting factor is drugs. There is a finite stigma against all drugs, but there is a certain amount of research that proves that in controlled environments that drugs can be helpful. For example LSD, and marijuana (or Hashish in Kuranes’ case). In modern medicine, these drugs are used as a better alternative for treating things like PTSD and anxiety disorders, and at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, they would be far more prevalent if Big Pharma didn’t get their hands into government pockets and stymie their progression. In Lovecraft there is countless mentions of drugs helping dreamers get back to their “dream state”, of characters opening their eyes to the actual world that is around them, instead of believing and trusting in the veil. I think this subject is probably better suited for an entire post later on, but I think it very worth noting here, because of the content of these stories and the stigma of drugs. Is it considered juvenile? Irresponsible, to take these drugs to try and open up your consciousness? Is it ignoring your responsibilities or reverting, to try and recover youth? Or is there in fact a veil, that needs to be punctured, and we must attempt this in any way possible?
What do you think?
Join me next time for a blind read of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”!
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, conclusion
“If you say int he first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off…” – Anton Chekhov
“But oh God, under the weight of life, things seem brighter on the other side. No way out of here…” – Dave Matthews Band “Big Eyed Fish”
“Just as anyone who listens to the muse will hear, you can write out of your own intention or out of inspiration. There is such a thing. It comes up and talks. And those who have heard deeply the rhythms and hymns of the gods, can recite those hymns in such a way that the gods will be attracted.” – Joseph Campbell “The Hero’s Journey”
In literature when we go on a journey with a character, there is always a mental journey as well as a physical journey. Why is our hero, our hero? Why is it he/she that has been chosen to do this task? If they chose it, then why? These are the questions asked from any good protagonist on a hero’s journey, so what did Randolph Carter learn?
Welcome back to another Blind Read! We’ll be talking about the epic conclusion of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, and some theories that i have from reading it. Again these are all my own theories, but feel free to give me some of your own!
The last time we saw Carter her was at the gates of Sarkomand and the great abyss. He finds some Ghouls who are trapped by the same evil merchants and helps them escape. Then calls upon the remainder of the ghouls to fight against these horrible minions. With the help of Nodens he gains the help of the night-gaunts. With these night-gaunts (whom “even the Great Ones fear”) and the Ghouls, they have an epic battle against the Shantak birds and moon-beasts and the fish like creatures (of which one can only assume are off shoots of Dagon). Once they win the fight, mainly because of the vastly superior night-gaunts, they all go back to Sarkomand and the ghouls go back down to the abyss and Carter, again with the help of the night-gaunts, flies to Kadath.
Upon reaching Kadath he finds that the castle is empty, all except for a Pharaoh like man, who gives him directions to the sunset city, and tells Carter that he must get the Great Ones (Earth’s Gods) back to their homes on Kadath. He tells Carter that they got the glimpse of the Sunset City from him, for it is a recreation of New England, Boston and Providence specifically, and the earth gods loved it so much that they went there.
Carter leaves, flying out on a Shantak, but realizes that he has been tricked. The Pharaoh like man was actually Nyarlathotep and he is having the Shantak take Carter to the center of the universe and the seat of Azathoth to be devoured (I think this means both physical and mental). Carter realizes the ploy, and leaps from the Shantak, and creates a kick, to bring him out of the dream. He finds himself back in Boston, and revels in his sunset city.
In a brief epilogue, Nyarlathotep is bitter that Carter escaped, but he has been able to bring the Great Ones back to Kadath and mocks them as they brood.
This is without a doubt the most uplifting story that I’ve read by Lovecraft, and that has me wondering. I understand that this story was published posthumously by August Derleth, and where I’ve not seen information to state that Lovecraft didn’t finish this story, it does seem, from the battle scene on, like a different type of story. I wonder if Derleth took over this story and finished it, to have the dreamlands be a thing. But I digress.
I have three main points for the end of this story and they all revolve around the quote’s up at the top of the page. The first is Chekhov.
There are many call backs throughout this story. We have Pickman coming back at the end. We have the slant-eyed merchant continuing to re-emerge as a sinister being (no doubt spurned on by Nyarlathotep). Finally, we have the duplication of New England as the sunset city, in the same way that King Kuranes created Cornwall to be the place of his dreamland life. This was the foreshadowing of where Lovecraft was going to take the story. Kuranes goes to great lengths to describe how he created the land that he wanted, and that he had been chasing for all these years, while he’s speaking with Carter. Then when we go back to the beginning of the story:
“…and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory…”
Lovecraft is saying right here that what he is chasing after is a memory. it wasn’t until the end that I remembered that line, and the whole story was brought full circle. That cyclical journey.
If we continue in that line it brings me to my next point.
“…the pain of lost things and the maddening need to place again what once had been an awesome and momentous place.”
He is both trying to remember what the sunset city was in his dreams, but he is also trying to reconcile the memory of New England with what it is now. His memories were what built the sunset city, and it’s wonderful and glorious vision.
The way that Carter views his current situation is that New England is run down, and the city of his dreams is so beautiful that he wants to go there. “Oh god, under the weight of life, things seem so much brighter on the other side.” He thinks that by going to the sunset city he will find heaven, or at least some version of it that he can live in, in the dreamlands. This is merely a projection however, because the reality is that the sunset city is his own creation, just like King Kuranes created Cornwall. He is searching for an idyllic memory, when what he is truly looking for is right outside of his bedroom when he wakes up.
That’s the major irony of the story, because things aren’t better on the other side. They are only better once you come to realize that the world is what you make of it, and when Carter wakes, he realizes that he is in his Sunset City finally, and the journey to Kadath, while spectacular, was unnecessary.
The last point is one that is very interesting to me, particularly when it comes to the cannon of Gods. The Great Old ones are the “Earth Gods” as Nyarlathotep calls them. Carter has nearly transcended the gods, and has completed his mythological journey (quest), by creating something that the Great Ones want to experience. At the end of the story, the Great Ones actually go to the Sunset City in the dreamlands. They see all the glory that it beholds.
The dreamlands are of neither time, nor of space. We see that because of the things that the dreamers can do, create cities and such. Stay with me now, because I’m going to get a little crazy.
So back to Carters journey for a second. The Great Ones are the Gods of Earth and everything on Earth has to do with them, not directly, but in the Lovecraftian world, we developed from these moon creatures. So when Carter created the Sunset City based upon New England, there was a link between the Great Ones and the vision of the city. They saw something in it that called back to the time that they were here, and that was the point of his journey. To bring solace to the Great Ones, to lure them back into complacency and slumber, because they could experience the world, without having to come to our world.
The tragedy of the journey is that he ultimately fails. That is where the menace and horror of the story come in. Nyarlathotep tricks Carter, and instead of making sure that the Great Ones know about the city, he is taken elsewhere, and Nyarlathotep can collect the Great Ones and take them back to Kadath, where they don’t want to be. Nyarlathotep wants the Great Ones to long for Earth, he wants them to come to earth a sew destruction (just because of their nature, not because of malice). So he brings them away from their reverie in experiencing what the Earth is like, just having a small taste, and then brings them back to the cold wastes of Kadath, and taunting them, on their loss…until they get frustrated enough to escape and head back to New England.
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, Pt. 3
Dark tales told in a circle, with the only illumination coming from the campfire. The master storyteller, eliciting the terror from their subjects as they tell their story. Cadence and timing is paramount to the proper telling, and this story teller has it down to a science.
Welcome back to another Blind read! This time we delve deeper into the Dream Quest of Randolph Carter, and we get some new illumination on the cannon of gods prevalent in the world. But first, a recap…
We last left off when Carter got to Celephais, and we pick up this week with the introduction of King Kuranes. He is the king of Celephais and has died in real life, thus becoming a permanent denizen of the Dreamlands. King Kuranes has made Celephais look like Cornwall, because he had a longing for being in a land of his childhood. They speak for a while about the dreamlands in general, and Kuranes tries to talk Carter out of going on his trek to Kadath, but Carter is set in his path and he joins another ship, to head out to the plateau of Leng to find Kadath.
On this ship they find their way to Inquanok, a city made out of Onyx. The sailors tell Carter that the city was made from a number of quarries, where they mined the Onyx, but there is one Quarry farther on, that no one goes to any more, that quarry has larger and unknown quantities of Onyx. It is here that Carter wants to go because he has heard that the great city of Kadath is built of Onyx, much like Inquanok. There is temple to the Elder Ones here in Inquanok, and it is overseen by a “High Priest, with inner secrets”.
Carter continues on and goes to an old sea tavern, where he finds, again, the slant-eyed merchant. Who seems to have followed him on his journey.
The next day Carter purchases a yak to travel to the unknown quarry to find answers and hopefully get closer to Kadath. He is sure that he is very close, because of the Onyx connection.
He travels through the quarries, and eventually the yak gets spooked and runs away, and finally the Slant Eyed Merchant finds him and captures him with aid of the horrible Shantaks.
I have to say, I love getting a little more knowledge about the gods of Lovecraft. I know that this one was published after Lovecraft died and I wonder how much of the influence of this story comes from August Derleth. But I digress.
The most interesting thing I have come to realize about Lovecraft is his style of writing. I have always had a bit of trouble getting into his verbose style, but what i have come to realize is that Lovecraft is best read as though he were storyteller around a campfire. The tone and inflection are the same, and if you read anything, especially “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”, in this way, the story comes through so much more vividly and beautifully. Every author has their own voice, and once you have come to realize that voice the experience of reading that author becomes that much greater, and though I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all the Lovecraft I have, up to now, I know that with this understanding, I will absolutely love everything else! I just wish I hadn’t gotten through more than half of his works before coming to this realization!
Ok, back to the story…The first notable mention is the delving in to dream. King Kuranes is the ruler of Celephais, and he is dead in the waking world. It is not made clear in the story as to whether he died in the dream world or in the waking world, but he still has the power to change the landscape and make it that of the Cornwall of his childhood. There are a few interesting ti bits in this that we can examine. The first is that King Kuranes is a friend of Carters, even back in the waking world. Carter is an experienced dreamer, that we know from the description at the beginning of this story, and he has known Kuranes mainly through dream, but Carter has known him in the waking world. In fact “who in Carter’s latter dreams had reigned alternatively in the rose-crystal Palace of Seventy Delights at Celephais and in the turreted cloud-castle of sky-floating Serannian.” So the question is, how can Kuranes still be a living monarch in the dreamlands when his body is dead in the waking world. Did he die while dreaming? Is this why he can stay here? Are the dreamlands some sort of afterlife that we come to when we die? Or are only experienced dreamers able to come to the dreamlands after they die, their dreams tying them to the dreamlands?
I tend to cater more towards the latter, because the image of the “rose-crystal Palace of Seventy-Delights”, elicits an image of the 72 virgins from the Quran. We as humans tend to think of the afterlife as a reward for a life well lived here on earth. If the dreamlands are a vision of this afterlife, where you have alternative versions of heaven, hell and purgatory, then this could be an example. Kuranes is able to actually change the landscape and create the Cornish fields of his childhood after all. This seems as though this is his afterlife, based upon the life he lived in Cornwall as a child. I hope to have a better sense of what the dreamlands actually are once we get a little farther into the story.
Next set of business is the clarification to the cannon of gods. This is what I’ve been waiting for, for so long! While Carter is speaking to Kuranes, they discuss the danger of his quest, and Kuranes tells him what little he knows, as a way of warning Carter away from the quest. We find out that there are three different types of gods…Other Gods, Elder Ones and Great Ones. The whole point of this quest is to find the Great Ones, to find more information about that sun kissed city, but Kuranes warns him because, he says, the Other Gods had ways of protecting the Great Ones from “impertinent curiosity”. He made it sound as though the Other Gods would gather the Elder Ones, The truly malignant forces in the universe, to avert this curiosity. These Elder Ones were such as Azathoth and Nyarlathotep. We are as of yet unclear as to who the Great Ones are, and we know that the Other Gods (from both this story and the short story “The Other Gods) guard the outer Hells and barren space, “…especially where form does not exist…”. In fact when reading the short story “The Other Gods”, when Barzai the (not so) wise climbs Hatheg-Kla to do the same thing that Carter is trying to do here, (seek out the Great Ones), the Other Gods, do something horrible and Barzai is seen no more. The Other Gods guarded the Great Ones from “impertinent curiosity”.
The question is why is it so important for the Other Gods to protect the Great Ones, that they would pull in the malignant Elder Ones?
Hopefully we will gain an answer at the conclusion of this story!
Ok, one last little anecdotal note, which shows how pervasive Lovecraft is in our culture. The slant-eyed merchant is known to deal with a “High-priest, not to be described, which wears a yellow silken mask over it’s face and dwells all alone in a prehistoric stone monastery.” This seems to me to be the basis for the “King In Yellow”. which is a play in a book by Robert Chambers. The play is said to induce madness and despair for all who read it. Could it be that there is a correlation between worlds? Is the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, connected to the slant-eyed merchant in some way? Could that be where he got his information to write the Necronomicon?
What do you think?
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, pt 2
Worlds converge and lands that were once thought to be unique are connected by the dream.
Welcome back to another blind read! It’s been a little while, and I apologize for the silence, but it’s been a really busy month! And that’s a good busy, because it’s been all surrounding writing.
Like I mentioned in the last edition of the Blind read, I’m taking a different tact for this story. There is a bit of fluidity in the story, however there is far more to analyze than there has been in previous stories. That being said lets get back into a little bit of a recap. I’ve read nearly half of the story of Randolph Carter journeying through the Dreamlands in his search for Kadath.
The last we saw Carter, he was just escaping the turbaned men, who were trying to take him in the Abyss to Nyarlathotep. The Cats of Ulthar helped him escape, and he boards another ship and sails away to Oriab. He travels across the land and finds a carving of the gods he is trying to find, and is surprised that they look much like the sailors in Celephais. He vows to head to Celephais, when he is captured by winged horrors called Night-Gaunts. The Night-Gaunts take him to the underworld, supposedly to die. There, in the underworld, he finds a former friend, Richard Pickman, who has become a Ghoul. Pickman and his Ghoul friends help Carter avoid the Ghasts (horrible creatures of the underworld), and ascend the staircase to get back to the Enchanted Wood, a higher level of the dreamlands. He then heads off to find Celephais.
There are a few concepts that I’d like to cover here that I find particularly prescient.
The first is completely meta, and touched upon a little in the last Blind Read ( https://seanmmcbride.com/2018/05/11/blind-read-through-h-p-lovecraft-the-dream-quest-of-unknown-kadath-pt-1/ ), but this is a story (which was published posthumously, so it may have never been intended for publication) where Lovecraft brings together many different stories he previously created. This is the story which establishes the dreamlands as we now know them. Despite what I’ve heard that Lovecraft wasn’t looking for cohesion or a “mythos” (forgive me, I forget where I read this, but I’ll do a little research and edit in the link if I find it), this book seems to disavow that concept. It seems as though Carter was to become his hero of dreams. The interesting part of this is that the dreamlands and the mythos are considered to be two separate collections, but it seems as though they are irrevocably intertwined. We have Nyarlathotep as a central being of insidiousness, and Azathoth as the ruler of all creation and destruction. These Outer Gods have a direct link through the dreamlands, where despite Nyarlathotep heading to earth in the story of his own name, it seems like the easiest way to contact these gods is through the dreamlands. On top of that We have the concept of the story itself. Carter is striving to find the gods, specifically by travelling through the dreamlands. This is a blind read, and I’m only about half way through the story, but that seems almost like incontrovertible evidence to me.
Speaking of gods, there is a mention of a new one, I had never heard from before, which I’m pretty sure comes from Celtic mythology. Carter is taken by Night-Gaunts to the underworld to be left to die. The way the text is written it seems as though the underworld is a deeper level of the dreamlands, but more on that presently.
This new god’s name is Nodens, who in Celtic mythology is known as a Pan (the Roman god of mischief, amongst other things), and Nodens controls the Night-Gaunts. So here we have another god who is trying to stop Carter, or at least delay him from reaching Kadath to ask the gods about the golden city. If Pan is truly the inspiration for Nodens, then we know that he has more fun in playing with emotions, than with dealing in absolutes, like death. So Nodens has his servants the Night-Gaunts kidnap Carter and try to deliver him to the despair of the underworld and revel in his misery.
This now brings us to the final point. This portion of the story is a metaphor for depression.
The Night-Gaunts are a black winged, slightly humanoid creature, who does no harm, but delivers Carter to the underworld. Much like the demons and devils from medieval art are portrayed. These devils that speak half-truths into the subjects ears and put them on a downward spiral. In the dreamlands, the Night-Gaunts are much the same, but have a more active role in actually taking Carter to the underworld. He is not hurt, in fact he is gently placed and left alone to wallow in his despair. He is left to die, but he is in no way injured. He is just in the underworld.
Carter just never let go of his hope and his drive to find the golden city of his dreams. He then soon sees what happens when one does give up hope. He meets Richard Pickman, a former friend from Boston, who was a very talented painter. Pickman has become a Ghoul. A horrible former joke of the person he once was. Luckily Pickman retains enough of his former self to understand that Carter was once a friend and rallies the other Ghouls to help him escape the underworld. To escape the depression of what the underworld represents. It is already too late for Pickman, he cannot leave the underworld, and returns to his life of horrors once Carter is safely out.
This section is the first truly horrifying section of the story, because previously Carter is merely travelling. Now he had made a descent. He is taken deeper into the dreamlands, where he has trouble seeing the light, he has trouble seeing the point of his quest. So the deeper into the dreamlands you get, the depression takes over your mind, and derails you. Much like the afterlife dreams in Richard Matheson’s “What Dreams May Come”. Were these Ghouls sent here because of what they did in their lives? Is this their hell?
What do you think?
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