“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.”
Welcome back! We’re getting into it today! Thus far through the blind reads I have read a number of stories which were written before the Cthulhu Mythos truly began. I have enjoyed these stories for their literary merit, and for the genesis of Lovecraft as a writer. Then we get the The Festival and we finally get to the feel and nomenclature that I associate with Lovecraft. This is the first mention of The Necronomicon, the first mention of Miskatonic University, and the first mention of Arkham that I have come across in the readings.
Our story begins with the narrator heading back to “the ancient sea town where my people dwelt…” It is a horribly beautiful description, that portrays a town built centuries before and is somehow still standing. He is heading back there for a Yuletide celebration, as he got a message summoning him back to join his family for this celebration.
He heads through town to find his ancestors home and knocks on the door. He is met by an old man who’s face is so soft and un-moving that it looks like a wax mask instead of skin, and there is an old woman off spinning in the corner. The old man doesn’t speak, but tells our narrator to sit and wait for him (he writes it down on a tablet, I assume he doesn’t speak because the wax mask wouldn’t move and he doesn’t want to break the illusion yet). The narrator sits down and sees a number of books on the table in front of him, one of which is The Necronomicon. He picks it up and reads a bit while the old woman continues to spin in the corner. Eventually the old man comes back, dons a robe and beckons our narrator to follow him. They head out through the snow, in a congregation of hooded figures, until they get to an old church. They head down a trap door in the church to a tomb underneath. There is a flame that gives off no heat and a strange oily, putrid stream that flows through the tomb. The old man gets up and raises The Necronomicon, says a few words and horrible creatures come out of the flame. They are fetid and rotting and have wings. The group gets on and flies out of the church. The old man beckons our narrator to get on one, and gives him a watch that had been buried with his grandfather in the 1600’s. The narrator freaks out and jumps in the fetid stream. He wakes in the hospital and finds out that the town he was in has not existed for quite some time, and everything has been updated. He is then sent to Arkham for psychological surveillance.
We are led to believe that the old man is in fact his great-great-great-great grandfather, and that the narrator actually has ties to the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred who wrote The Necronomicon.
Though less literary than a number of his other stories; this straight forward horror tale is indicative of everything I’ve come to love about Lovecraft’s legacy. I’ts been amazingly fun to read through it, and I loved this one. Absolutely my favorite thus far in the cannon.
Next week there will be no Blind read through, because of a vacation, but join me September 7th for The Nameless City.