I’m going to start this one with a little rant. This is a blurb about this story from the back of the book: A crazed murderer blames his crime on beings from another dimension. Wild ravings from an insane man turn to prophecy when the Truth is revealed.
This is the problem with most writing. It isn’t the writing itself, but it’s marketing. The only thing about the above sentence that is true is the fact that the man (Joe Slater) is a murderer. Nothing else is true, and it begs the question if the person who wrote the blurb actually read the story. If they had, then it is a much greater crime to purposefully mislead the reader to try and get more sales, by outright fabricating the plot.
Slater never blames his crimes on beings of another dimension (in fact there are never beings, in plural, but ever only one being who “did him great wrong”). Then the author of the blurb deigns to use the buzz word “prophesy”. There is no prophesy. The ravings of the mad Joe Slater are heard by the narrator and the narrator has an interest in dreams, so to see what Joe is seeing, he hooks them both up with a skullcap to see what he is seeing. Which he does. That’s it.
Ok sorry. Now to the nitty gritty of the story.
This is one of Lovecraft’s earliest stories and supposedly has no correlation to the later works. I see quite a bit here that would lead to that however. Again we have these strange green northern lights. Again we have madness derived from exposure to a cosmic deity. Again we have the unreliable narrator. Again we have the remote local. And to top it all off we have Lovecraft’s trademark superiority complex (He names the madman’s neighbor Peter Slader, where the madman’s name is Joe Slater. He mentions many times that they are all backwoods yokels who have no knowledge and intimates that they inbreed. Only to verify that claim by naming the characters of the mountains with such close names as to subliminally castigate them).
Where this shows as an early work is that he actually shows his god. The narrator goes “Beyond the walls of sleep”, and into the cosmic realm that drove the simple Slater mad. the Narrator himself (though it is never discussed what he actually does, or how he acts) is offered a leave of absence, because he is “working too hard” after the experience he gained from Slater’s mind.
But perhaps the most provocative aspect of the story, is why the cosmic deity would come down and inhabit a backwards “white trash” (Yes. Lovecraft actually wrote the words “White Trash” in 1919) yokel, who doesn’t have any brains. Maybe because the idea was to make a transformation?
“His gross body could not undergo the needed adjustments between ethereal life and planet life.”
Meaning he was not intelligent enough to understand how to make the transition. But the narrator can ascend and we are left feeling slightly off kilter, as if this were not a choice, but now that the cosmic deity has found an appropriate zygote he will being his proliferation.