“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!
At which point the inception was implanted in his mind. What was the truth? What was reality and what was dream? Was there any truth to what he had experienced, or was the implantation of the concept there to set the pace? Curiosity killed the cat (with the exception of the cats of Ulthar).
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This time we’re diving into the Dreamlands, a place where I’ve been interested in for quite some time, and dying to dive into. But low and behold! We’ve already read many stories that take place in the Dreamlands and were just unaware that that’s what they were!
This story, much like “At the Mountains of Madness”, seem to be a world building exercise for Lovecraft. This is a bit of a departure from the weird stories that I’ve been devouring. This one is more of an adventure, that incorporated elements of some of the other stories. Because of this correlation, it shines some new light on those other stories and what their meanings might have really been. I’ll get more into that in other posts, however, because that would be a post in and of itself. Here I’d like to talk a little about the story and the concept of Inception.
So we start the story with Randolph Carter, after just hearing his statement in the previous Blind Read. Here we find that Carter is a experienced “dreamer”, and through this lucid dreaming, has the ability to travel throughout the Dreamlands.
The story starts with our intrepid traveler dreaming about a beautiful sunset city:
“Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it. All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between delicate trees and blossom-laden urns and ivory statues in gleaming rows…and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory, the pain of lost things and the maddening need to place again what once had been an awesome and momentous place.”
OK, lets start with how many times Carter was able to see the fabled city. Three is an interesting choice, not only for the religious implications, but also in western Occultism (though I wonder how much of Western Occultism actually stems from Lovecraft). Knowing a little bit of Lovecraft’s religious views, however I proscribe that there are a few different things going on here. The first is that 3 is a prime number, whose only factors are one and itself. Once Carter viewed the city three times, he was unable to view it any more. Could this have something to do with the exclusivity of the city and that there are 3 levels of the Dreamlands? Could he have only viewed the city once (the first factor), but because there are three different layers of the Dreamlands, he was able to view it three times? One for each layer?
While you chew on that, thee is also an Odd number, truly the first Odd number. Where number 1 can be mixed into other equations, the number 3 throws a wrench into things. So this could be that Lovecraft is trying to make us feel on edge, through a subsumed psychosomatic response? Just like we talked about in the Blind Read of “At the Mountains of Madness” ( https://seanmmcbride.com/2018/03/23/blind-read-through-h-p-lovecraft-at-the-mountains-of-madness-conclusion/ ) Lovecraft uses Trypophobia (or the fear of small holes, as in a honeycomb) through his description of architecture. Something that nature made, that was not quite natural. Also his use of odd angles in “The Dreams in the Witch House”. He uses these slightly off themes to set the pace for the story.
Then we see some of the grand architecture through his description of the city. This hearkens back to stories like “The Tree”( Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft; The Tree ), where we get some grand beauty, with a yearning to be where it is so pristine and wonderful. Doubtless this is what Carter feels. He has a desire to reach this city, but there is something ominous about it. Just like there was in “The Tree”. It is off limits, unattainable, and in fact the visions were stripped from him, and every person he asks tells him to drop it. That the pursuit of the city is not one he should continue. Could this all be a ruse set about by Nyarlathotep to enslave Carter?
This brings me to my final point in the inception (see what I did there?) of the “Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” Blind Read. The last time we saw Carter he passed out as his friend was killed by some horrible monstrosity in a tomb. Could this have been the Inception of the Dream for Carter? Could whatever creature that was down in that tomb, have imprinted the idea of the Golden City into Carter’s mind? Could they have knowledge that Carter is an experienced Dreamer that is capable of actually getting to Kadath? We are told that only three travelers had gone to the outer reaches, and only one came back sane. Could this be a implanted call from the messenger god Nyarlathotep? Is that why the call is so strong that Carter can’t stop his search, even though he is told to stop at every turn, and nearly dies in his dreams many times?
What do YOU think?
Join me next week as we talk about world building and how other short stories are in connection through the Dreamlands
“At the time, his shrieks were confined to the repetition of a single, mad word of all too obvious source: “Tekeli-li Tekeli-li”
A single enigmatic word that has such a huge meaning.
I had originally meant to only read two chapters and separate this blog into two different sections, but I just couldn’t stop reading, and there are so many ideas bouncing around that I decided to codify them all into this single blog.
Spoilers ahead, so if you don’t want to read them stop here.
We follow our narrator and Danforth out of the horrible city built by the Shoggoth for the Great Old Ones, and when they make it out they find the lost dog and the young Missing Gedney.
They catch a strange stench and they find a cave down to what the narrator calls the abyss. They follow it down and they find some strange blind albino penguins, and continue past them…until they find some more of the specimens that Lake found, these ones alive. Terrified they run, and they can tell that something large and terrible is following after them. They turn and see that they are being chased by a Shoggoth. Danforth ostensibly goes mad, but they eventually get out.
There are a few points I want to focus on here:
- The Poe connection
- The Blind Albino penguins and evolution
- Anthropomorphism of Star Spawn
- Physiognomy (or lack there of) of the Shoggoth
First lets talk the Poe connection. Tekeli-li is taken from The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, which Poe references when the narrator hears the cry echo in the abyss.
1.First and foremost, We know that Poe had a large influence on Lovecraft in general, but what is interesting about this is how the entire novella of At the Mountains of Madness is modeled after this story. Poe set out to write a “realistic” story about a sea voyage gone wrong. Poe being Poe, some really crazy things happen. We have Lovecraft here, who is writing the story from the perspective of a scientific expedition. Everything is very logical and adhering to the scientific method throughout, until the end which takes a creepy turn…the same way Poe did in Pym. On top of that, Poe wrote about a connection with the theory of the Hollow Earth. Basically the theory that the earth is hollow and there are vast spaces and potentially civilizations in the middle of the earth. Sound familiar? In Lovecraft’s story we actually see one of these massive civilizations, and it goes way farther than that when the narrator and Danforth go into what is called the abyss. Oh did I mention that both stories take place in Antarctica?
2.Next we have the blind albino penguins. When I started reading this section I wondered what the point was. Why involve these creatures? Was it just a creepy factor to try and scare? A large creature comes out of the cave! Oh…wait…its a blind penguin. It seemed almost laughable at first. Then the more I thought about it the more brilliant it seemed. These penguins were the foreshadowing of something horrible coming. They have lived here for centuries, and down here in the abyss. That accounts for the fact that they are albino, for they very rarely see the sun. Why are they so large? The Shoggoth are huge, so if the penguins never evolved they would just get crushed (which they do anyway when a Shoggoth was incensed). Ok so we can intuit why the penguins are large and albino, but why blind? Is it just because they live in the caves? That could be, but they would probably just have evolved to be able to see in the dark. I think there is a much more sinister reason. We’ll discuss this in the last section.
3.Next Trypophobia, otherwise known as the fear of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps, or honeycomb holes. Lovecraft describes the architecture and the creation of the tunnels to be honeycombed, and he’s doing this for a multitude of reasons. The first is that he wants to give a little preamble to what the Shoggoth are. What kind of nightmare creatures create that type of pattern on purpose? Why is that the aesthetic that they want to look at? Which leads into the second reason, it gives the reader unease. This strange, abnormal pattern leaves many people on edge, and I would purport that Lovecraft suffered from trypophobia as well, which is why he was inclined to include it. The last is that it solidifies these creatures as being cosmic, or otherworldly. That is the kind of shape that one would not want around, but it may be something that makes the Great Old Ones long for home. Yet another reason to instill madness.
4.The anthropomorphism of the Star Spawn in the bas-reliefs. The Shoggoth make these statues almost in a recognizable theme. Except why is that? The Great Old Ones created the Shoggoth on our world. Whenever something is created, the idea of how it looks is relegated to the mind of the creator. Thus when things are created they are generally created in the image of the creator. The Shoggoths are no different. At the end of the story, Danforth, who read The Necronomicon to completion, mentions Yog-Sothoth. Now this is the first mention of this name in any story I have thus read, but just before he mentions this name (which I know is some sort of god in the Lovecraftian pantheon) he mentions proto-Shoggoth. This makes me believe that Yog-Sothoth actually created the Shoggoth in it’s image. Switching to the Shoggoth themselves, they lived as servants for many years, until they finally rose up against the Great Old Ones. As they lived as servants the Shoggoth watched the evolution of the planet, and how the creatures of the land actually became human from primordial ooze. I propose that this is why the Shoggoth rose up, they saw how humanity grew and took out on their own, and they saw what they could be, instead of servants. They thus created the images on the massive underground city based around their uprising. That’s why such an alien culture was legible and understandable from a couple of scientists.
5.Shoggoths are these horrible creatures. What Lovecraft does so well is that he never actually describes the creatures. He mentions that the star spawn have tentacle mouths, and that the Shoggoth have many eyes and are spherical but that’s really it. One of the most interesting descriptions came when the two are running away from their Shoggoth pursuer. Danforth has started to go mad, and is mentioning subway stations. The narrator finally understands and says that the reason is, the Shoggoth looked like a passing train. The shoggoth looked like a blur of steel and windows. The thing that sticks the most here is the world blur. Despite the fact that the Shoggoth wasn’t moving particullarly fast (they were able to out run it), it still looked like a blur. Was this because it was so hideous that our minds couldn’t comprehend it? Or is it because their features move so quickly that they are completely amorphous? This is the true Lovecraft horror. This is why Lovecraft works so well. You have these creatures that if they are described, then we can begin to understand them. When you keep it a mystery, and our minds have trouble categorizing things then unease bleeds in and the horror begins.
What do you think?
Talk about a revelation! Chapter 7 of this story gives so much of what I was looking for! It’s like a primer for Lovecraft.
Our brave explorers continue on their trek through the ancient cosmic city and through the frescoes and sculptures they tell a story of the Great Old Ones who once lived in the city. I will eventually have to go back and read through this chapter because there was so much here to consume.
First off, lets talk Shoggoth. I had thought that this was an actual god, or species of god, or something along those lines. What we find here is that the Shoggoths are actually creations of the Great Old Ones. They were “protoplasmic masses” that were brought together by the Great Old Ones to have slave labor. They were used to create the amazing city that the narrator and Danforth are exploring. The Shoggoths eventually rise up against the Great Old Ones, but were eventually put back down.
We also see a little about Cthulhu and it’s minions. They come down from the cosmos and attack the Great Old Ones. The narrator mentions these creatures as the humanoid Cthulhu spawn. There was a great war, and eventually peace broke out and the Cthulhu spawn was given the land, and the Great Old Ones and the Shoggoth took to the Ocean floor. That is until the Pacific waters rose and the great cities of the Cthulhu spawn were swallowed by the sea. From what I’ve gathered from other stories, the great city R’lyeh, where “all the cosmic octopi” lived is also the prison of Cthulhu itself (from info from the Shadow over Innsmouth). So here we have the origin (at least origin from our worldly perspective) of Cthulhu.
Then, much later, after the war with the Cthulhu spawn and the uprising of the Shoggoth, there came the Mi-go, partially fungoid, partially crustacean creatures. They also came down from the cosmos, and it seems as though they defeated the Great Old Ones, because the Great Old Ones tried to flee, but found that after so long, they could not leave the earth’s atmosphere. They thus fled to all portions of the world.
What is significant to this, is that now we have an understanding of the Great Old One’s reach and some of their capabilities. We also have now two different races besides these creatures, the Cthulhu spawn, and the Mi-go.
The Cthulhu spawn seems to be in the pacific ocean, with their few cities, including the fantastic R’lyeh. So the stories containing them, have to be in the south towards the Antarctic.
Then we have the Mi-go, who began in the Antarctic, but are known in the Himalayas, so they must have migrated during the ice age. Since the only information we have about them is that they flourish in cold environs, we must guess that any mention of the Mi-go to be surrounded by sub-zero temperatures. I imagine this information will be important for investigation later.
SO ultimately, we have people being born from the Great Old Ones. It is implied that our race may have started in this Antarctic city that the expedition has found. However we still have those transformation ideas. Transforming into a fish person. Transforming into an Ape. And transforming into a beast.
Since the Great Old Ones have relegated themselves to the Depths, then it is apparent that they have a direct correlation to the Fish transformation. As of right now I would argue that they also have the Ape transformation under their wing as well. I’m not sure where the beast transformation comes from.
Also we know that Cthulhu is empirically, NOT a Great Old One. This was something I was hazy on. Though I’m assuming that Dagon is one of the children, or lesser Great Old Ones, I have not gotten a name for any others as of yet.
Loving the story thus far, and can’t wait to see if there is any more Mythos in here.
Is there anything I missed?
What do you think?
Continuing the journey into the mountains of madness (chapters five and six). Our narrator and his cohort Danforth head out over the mountains to search out the mysteries of this strange antarctic world. There are sprawling descriptions of the landscape as they fly over it, but they eventually turn the corner and come across a terrible “Cyclopean city”. In this meaning that it is a huge city, all made from stones laid together, not using mortar. This adds to the mystery of the strange civilization, now abandoned. They eventually land down where they can and head into this strange and massive city.
They take samples of the stones, showing that the city is incredibly old, older than any known civilization. Older than the dinosaurs even. This is an interesting perspective for a geologist like our narrator is. If we take out all the horror aspect of this notion, it means an incredible find. Somehow there was a civilization of intelligent creatures, long before we have known to be evolved from apes.
This brings up an interesting notion of transformation to me. There have been many stories where the people in the stories have transformed into fish people, and ape people. A strange juxtaposition. As a writer, Lovecraft is probably trying to find transformative creatures that are terrifying, but if this is indeed the case why not transform people into crabs or some such? Or even Octopus people to give the tentacle nightmares of Cthulhu?
I think there is something deeper that Lovecraft is going for, which is coming to light through the reading of this story. People are descendants from apes, and even farther back, all life has developed from one celled organisms that transformed into amphibious creatures. Is Lovecraft saying with this story that we are all descendant from the Old Ones? Or is it that the Old Ones are transforming people back to the known quantity of what they knew when they had prevalence on our world?
If it’s the latter than there are potentially two different influences. Which of these beings were around during the time we were amphibious and which of them were around when we were Apes?
This story seems to be about the “Great Old Ones” (of which I’m sure will come to light the farther I get in the story, though there is already mention of them), and this was their city before us. Thus the Great Old Ones are beings like Dagon, and Cthulhu, because they are sea dwelling and such.
The strange thing is, this city is huge, but most of the rooms are small. Which means that despite the fact that the narrator talks about how the Great Old Ones came from the stars and the moon, there were other beings here as well. The beings that would house the 30 by 30 rooms that were no larger than 20 feet (Lovecraft goes into specific detail describing the layout of the city)…beings our size. Is it possible that in that ancient civilization there were mortal beings from another planet? Is the end game of this story to presuppose how Human’s came to be on the planet?
I’m over half way through the story with six chapters left, which means three more blogs (unless I get crazy into it and ignore work for a while). I’m excited to see if any of these theories come to light.
What do you think?
This is the first of the novellas by Lovecraft, that I’ve gone into. The organization and tentative handling of the pacing is an interesting elongation of what the short stories experience. This blind read recap comes from chapters 3 and 4, which basically covers the insinuation of something happening.
The crew goes to the destroyed encampment of Lake and they find that it has been completely devastated. It seems like it may have been from a weather event, but things are stranger than they seem. Plus there is a missing expedition member, Gedney, and a missing dog as well. Everyone else was killed, some in what looked like weather, though the circumstances are suspect, but there are some far greater horrors in store.
Many of the expedition members and dogs, were cut up with strange and horrible precision. Doctor precision.
The group makes a search for Gedney, and fly over the strange igneous rock, which doesn’t seem quite normal. In fact Lovecraft describes them as being like paintings of Nicholas Roerich. There is a strange feeling in the air.
Danforth and our narrator eventually go out over these peaks, frequently referred to as Mountains of Madness, and they come upon an “elder and utterly alien earth”.
To the best of my knowledge, these are the first real cliffhanger endings. Every chapter so far has left the reader with something to chew on, and come back to. This type of cliffhanger chapter end, has come into more prominence in writers like Dan Brown and James Patterson, and it’s interesting to see Lovecraft developing something like a 1930’s movie ending. It almost seems like when Flash Gordon is in the car and goes over the cliff, just to find next week, that he jumped out of the car at the last second. Lovecraft is just using his weird horror to elicit those feelings. Truly a master of atmosphere.
The chapters at times feel a bit plodding, but they slowly develop into one serious and terrifying event to end them. It almost feels like each chapter is a book to itself, and the whole novella is part of a series.
It is also interesting to see the narrator be an archaeologist, because the utterly alien horrors that are inherent to Lovecraft are coming from a place of empirical thought, which gives the horror a little more credence when it happens.
I’m going to read through two more chapters on Friday which will take me over halfway through the novella, so if you want to join me feel free!
Also a great way to get through this if you’re new to Lovecraft is to listen to Will Hart’s podcast of it:
Welcome back to another blind read. I’m tearing into “At The Mountains of Madness”, and have come across some interesting pieces that hook into the mythos, but there is one lingering question that I have as I get farther and farther into the cannon. How strictly are the stories connected to the Dreamlands, and what are in the mythos, and what are just weird tales? Thus far I have not come across anything that might be considered connected to the Dreamlands, except maybe “The White Ship”. I have one very obvious story that is coming up with “The Dream-Quest of unknown Kadath”, and one of the mythos with “Call of Cthulhu”. I am really going to enjoy reading some Derleth, to try and get a better understanding of how these are both connected and separated once I have finished the Blind Reads (as I understand that August Derleth is the one who truly created what is now considered the cannon).
This story surrounds the Miskatonic expedition, as it searches an unknown mountain range in Antarctica. There are some fun call backs so far with the ship called Arkham and our narrator mentioning that The Necronomicon is in the library of Miskatonic University.
Basically the first two sections of the story revolve around the findings of the mountains, and then within the mountains of some strange fossils. The fossils seem to come from 600 million years ago, but they are far more advanced than your average trilobite. They seem to be amphibious (another call back?) with gills, but they also have wings with strange striations.
The crew gets called up to the mountain range, with it’s strange rock striations and strange petroglyphs in areas so deep that they have to be hundreds of millions of years old.
If it weren’t for the tone of the novella, and the consistent call backs to how the fossils look like something described in The Necronomicon, this could just be a scientific journal about the findings of a paleontologist expedition.
There is also an interesting call back when Lake, one of the crew, calls the specimens they find “The Elder Ones”, based upon descriptions in The Necronomicon. There is great, hit you over the head with a hammer foreshadowing here.
But there is also great writing that brings you back for more. I’ll leave you with this example: “No wonder Gedney ran back to the camp shouting, and no wonder everyone else dropped work and rushed headlong through the biting cold to where the tall derrick marked a new-found gateway to secrets of inner earth and vanished aeons.”
What do you think?
I’ll be back next week for the next section of “At The Mountains of Madness”.
Wow, so much in such a short chapter. There is more in these last few pages than there had been in the previous 60, and truly, the majority of interest comes from the last two paragraphs of the story.
The narrator wakes from his faint, and headed back home. He continues on his investigation of his lineage when he finds that some of the story of old Obed Marsh, was actually his ancestors. The daughter who was married off to an Arkham man, was actually our Narrator’s great-Grandmother. He sees pictures and sees the “Innsmouth look”. He even finds out that an Uncle that he had committed suicide when he found out the truth. Our narrator buys a gun, thinking, that maybe he will do the same thing, but his heart isn’t in it. There is a strange draw back to the Innsmouth. Back to the Sea.
So earlier in the story, they were not trying to chase him. They did not tell him to go to the Gilman to trap him, they were bringing in one of their own.
The interesting point for the lore comes in the second to last paragraph. It is here that I have seen the first mention of Cthulhu being a “Deep One”, and that has to mean that Dagon is related in some way to Cthulhu. The narrator mentions that “the Deep Ones could never be destroyed, even through the palaeogean magic of the forgotten Old ones might sometimes check them.” So the Deep Ones are evil in some way, because another “forgotten power” is checking them.
In addition to this we have the first sight (through the narrators eyes) of a Shoggoth. I had previously thought these were a god in and of themselves, but the way they are described here, I think they are just a creature, as the narrator saw “a Shoggoth”. This probably has something to do with the third contract of the Order of Dagon, because the narrator says he saw the Shoggoth in a dream, then when he woke from the dream screaming, he had all of a sudden acquired the “Innsmouth Look”.
So there is transformation which can occur. There is also a distinct lineage connection, but I have to believe that there is still the ability for the transformation if there is no heritage of the Deep Ones. I’m sure more clarification will occur the more I read on, but that’s what my hypothesis is now.
And then there is the Shoggoth. From what I know of in the past, this is a creature that has many eyes and mouths (akin to a gibbering mouther in Dungeons and Dragons land), but apparently it also has some power. It seems to have transformed the narrator, both in body and in mind, as he had lost knowledge that he could not have gain otherwise. Either the Shoggoth is the method of transmutation, or it is the harbinger, just solidifying the knowledge that has already been transferred, by some ancient magic.
What do you think?
In any case, I cant wait to read on! I will be moving on to “At the Mountains of Madness” by Del Rey next. I will break the story up into approximately 25 page chunks so we can analyze each section, if you are reading along.
Join me tomorrow for the first 25!
We have now reached the denouement. The background of the story has lead our narrator to try and flee that horrible mind-bending mess that is Innsmouth.
When the chapter opens our narrator has decided to get out of dodge, and goes to get to the bus, only to be told by the odd bus driver, that despite travelling to Innsmouth without issue, there is suddenly a engine problem and the narrator will have to wait the night. Joe Sargent (the bus driver) tells our narrator to go to the Gilman to wait the night. He even tells our narrator that he will get a great room rate. They only charged him a dollar.
He waits the night away in his room and makes sure to lock and barricade the door. He even looks for an escape route, just because he is scared. Then late in the night there is a shuffling at the door, and someone knocks with increasing frequency when he doesn’t answer.
Our narrator gets scared and tries to flee through the hotel. There is a fairly large chase sequence which is a little jumbled (Lovecraft is a master of tone and atmosphere, not action), but the narrator flees out the window and through the streets to get out of Innsmouth.
He faints when he sees a large contingent of fish creatures gather in town, creatures nearly too abhorrent to describe.
There are a few interesting visuals in this portion of the book. The first is after he flees the Gilman, he tries to stay to the shadows, but he has to cross a street that has direct view of the waters, and he sees two different things of note. The first is a strange light, emanating from out over the sea of a color he cant quite pinpoint. And there is a churning of creatures coming to Innsmouth from the craggy rock that old Captain Obed frequented. This image of the churning waters with “bobbing heads and flailing arms” that “were alien and aberrant” in a way he could not conceive. This immediately brings about images of Cthulhu and the multi-tentacled beard. Though these are smaller creatures, and probably more related to Dagon.
The unholy light however, of a hue unknown. The moon is full and bright throughout the story, could it be the moon’s call? The moon has called creatures in previous stories, could this be the call, and answer that we have seen in previous stories?
Beyond that there is one more aspect of the story which is really provocative. There seem to be three different creatures in Innsmouth. We have creatures that are simian based, which we have seen in many different stories , we have fish creatures which walk beside the simian creatures, and then we have something dog like, or what I like to establish as “beasts”. The beasts are called from the moon in every other story, with the exception of “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” and there there are fish creatures which are called by the moon.
Are the beasts and the simian creatures (think “Arthur Jermyn” and “The Outsider”) the same thing? Could Innsmouth be Sarnath in this age?
With the completion of chapter V of this story (which will probably be tomorrow) I have now read through two Del Rey Lovecraft books, and will get started into the third. I would like to begin to get a timeline, or at least get to understanding the mythos and how they are connected on my own (and with the help of you all) without doing any research and see how my theories stack up.
What do you think?
The ravings of an old madman fill our minds through the next chapter of this story. Our narrator gets some bootleg alcohol and gets the elderly Zodak Allen to follow him to a spot by the sea where they can talk out of prying eyes. Zodak confirms a number of suspisions that I had previously while reading through, however he expounds more than expected and we are posed with more questions than he ended up answering.
Zodak tells of how Captain Obed brought the people of the Order of Dagon to the mainland, because he wanted to promote a healthy community. The mills were dying out and the fish were getting fewer and fewer, but he remembered an island where the people had abundance.
The people of this Island mated with fish people. Then twice a year they would sacrifice their young to Dagon in the sea, and they never ran out of fish. The offspring that came from the human fish relations, started out as human, then began to transform as they got older, to the point of transitioning completely and leaving land and heading for the sea. If we are to believe Zodak completely, then my previous theory is (mostly) out the window.
The interesting part of Zodak monologue to me, is the three Oaths of Dagon. We never find out what these are, but we know that the many people in town took the first two (which had something to do with not telling anyone outside the cult of the cult inter-workings). Zodak was wholly against taking the third Oath, which seems to me an Oath of body, soul and spirit. This could be how, beyond interbreeding, the entire town of Innsmouth has begun to transform. That third Oath, could be inviting the change into you.
We do know that the previous two oaths did give Zodak some knowledge however. He knows of Shoggoth. The mentions Cthulhu R’lyeh, which I’m pretty sure is the sunken city which is Cthulhu’s prison. What is interesting about this is that Cthulhu is imprisoned under the water and Dagon is a god of the water. Which means there is a definite connection there, and there is a connection with the Order of Dagon, because Zodak obviously learned this through his Oaths.
So now we have three deities in the mythos, concretely linked. Shoggoth, Cthulhu, and Dagon. Let’s see where this story leads us…
What do you think?
Join me next week for the last two chapters of The Shadow over Innsmouth.
Back again with the second section of “The Shadow over Innsmouth”.
The second portion of the story is a slow burn and an introduction to the town itself. We see a few different portions of the town, and how it is split up, between the poorer, more inhabited part of town and the richer, barren part of town.
When our narrator first comes to town on the bus, we get a brief glimpse of the bus driver, who holds all those same fish qualities that were described in the first section. The driver is quiet and subdued, but obviously is reticent to take our narrator, and outsider, to Innsmouth.
While driving in, the narrator notices that the old Masonic hall has been transformed into “The Esoteric order of Dagon”, which he believes is a sort of cult. He looks to the other side of the street and sees the church, which has a basement door open. He sees a shambling figure of a priest wearing a diadem that looks nearly identical to the one he saw with Miss Tilton in the first section.
There is mention throughout the story that the children of Innsmouth look mainly like real children (at least the few that our narrator sees). He postulates that if it is a blood disorder or a virus that changes the folks of this town to become more fishlike, then it happens after puberty. This is yet another feather in the cap for the transformation theory, and nearly codifies the theory. The more time they have exposed to Dagon, the more transformation occurs within them. Thus the children don’t have much transformation because they haven’t had much time in the church, or on the island itself, thus they haven’t transformed very much.
As the chapter progresses we hear of an old man in his 90’s who knows much about the town, and when he gets drunk is liable to talk about it. His name is Zodek Allen, and the narrator finds him on a bench at the end of the chapter. This is probably going to lead to Zodek telling of a few of the mysteries of Innsmouth in the next chapter.
Join me next week for the next portion of “The Shadow over Innsmouth!”
This series is a blind read of H.P. Lovecraft’s works. The idea is that I will read through the entirety of his published works and probably move onto a few successors (which will absolutely include August Derleth). That being said, I have only rudimentary knowledge of the Gothic and cosmic world of Lovecraft. Because of this There will be some pretty crazy theories coming through this blog, but it’s something I love to do, so if you have a better theory, or a clashing theory, please respond!
The Shadow Over Innsmouth is cut into 5 parts, so I’m going to dedicate a blog post for each section. The first is merely the set up; our narrator is planning a trip in New England and wants to find cheaper transportation so a ticket agent tells him that he can take a bus through Innsmouth, a port town that is nearly deserted. This first portion is basically about our narrator getting information about this strange little shady town, but he comes across a few interesting nuggets. The first comes from the ticket agent. Though he is an unreliable source, he tells the narrator that the people of Innsmouth are strange. That they come from a lineage of a sea Captain, Obed Marsh. Apparently Obed’s son married a strange girl, “a South Sea Islander” of strange physiognomy. Then the son of these two is Old Man Marsh, who married a girl from nearby Ipswitch.
The people of Innsmouth have an oddly fish-like appearance. they seem to be mostly bald with narrow heads, flat noses and bulgy eyes that never seem to shut, their necks are shriveled and creased up (gills), and their skin has a rough, or scabby look and feel to them. This is probably stemming from the “South Sea Islander” mother of Old Man Marsh.
What is strange about this is an intermarriage theme, which is held over from “Arthur Jermyn”, though in this story is seems to be fish related (we’ll get to that later), rather than ape related. I am still unsure of where the ape beasts come from, (I.E. what god they are related to), but it is apparent that the fish theme comes from Dagon.
So The Old Captain goes out to an island, just off the mainland, where no one else has seemed to go, but there are rumors that he has made contracts with devils out on that small island. If we go back to the short story “Dagon”, we will remember a seaman who crashed on an island with a strange monolith, and on that monolith were drawings of fish-men worshiping some sort of creature under the sea. He makes contact with them an nearly goes insane. Could it be that this is a similar island, that worshipers of Dagon have formed? Are these the devils that Obed Marsh has been communicating with?
It seems so. As the story progresses, we find that a person from Innsmouth made thier way to state street and pawned a tiara, then he died shortly thereafter (intentionally? Or by curse?). Our Narrator was shown this tiara by a curator who had it under a case. There are strange reliefs on the tiara, similar to the images we saw on the monolith in the story “Dagon”.
I’m particularly interested in the lineage of these peoples. Are they gradually being changed? It is said that the town only has about 400 people now (at the time of the telling of the story) and that it was far bigger before that. It doesn’t seem possible that the entire town was populated by the inter-species breeding of the Marshes. Could their dealings with Dagon be transforming the townsfolk? Or have other piscatorial denizens come to the town through Marsh’s worshiping and interbred with other townsfolk? We might find more clues in part 2…
What do you think?
Join me tomorrow for “The Shadow over Innsmouth” part 2!