“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.
Lewis turned the key in the lock to the main doors and waved off Dr. Whemple. The darkened museum was always his favorite place to be. It was quiet, there were things to be learned from the exhibits, and there were always books.
He’d been looking forward to this week for months. This was the week they brought in the treasures from the Egyptian dig. He’d been following it closely. Dr. Whemple and his associates finally discovered the long lost burial site of Imhotep.
It was all very exciting for Lewis. He didn’t know much about Egypt or its history, but he thought he could use the information. He had another date with Elizabeth on Tuesday and she had even mentioned how much she loved Egyptian history and was excited to hear about the exhibit of the high priest Imhotep coming to their town. He was planning on learning everything there was to know about Imhotep to impress her. She was beautiful and smart and maybe, just maybe, he could trick her into falling in love with him.
He whistled as he opened the door to the curating room. He knew he wasn’t allowed in the room without supervision, Dr. Whemple made sure that no one went into the room without him but what was the harm? Lewis only wanted to get some firsthand experience to show off for Elizabeth.
The room was incredible. It was dusty, sure, but all the artifacts came from Egypt. What else could he expect coming from all that sand?
The first thing he noticed was the sarcophagus. It was stone and had the shape of a man carved into the lid. The carving had crossed arms was holding a flail and maybe a hook. He hoped those things had a name. He would love to regale Elizabeth with that knowledge.
He turned to the table and saw an old parchment underneath a heavy glass. It was in a language he couldn’t understand, but he gave it a shot anyway. The words stumbled over his tongue, but he finished and shrugged. Maybe he could regurgitate that and say it was some kind of prayer to impress Elizabeth. He tried it again.
A moment later a large crash came from behind him. He twisted just as the candles blew out and the room was plunged into darkness.
“Damn,” he said under his breath and patted his uniform until he found a box of matches. He lit one and held it high and blood instantly drained from his face. The lid of the sarcophagus had fallen off and smashed on the ground. That was it. He was going to get fired. There was no way Dr. Whemple would forgive something like this!
Then he heard something move behind him. It almost sounded like someone dragging a sheet over the ground.
He turned and held the match high. He thought he saw movement for a second but the match burned his finger and he dropped it, cursing. He got another match and struck it on the box. The light bloomed and illuminated a figure standing before him. It had old rotten cloth wrapped around it, covering the entirety of its body. It lifted an arm out to him, cloth hanging loose, showing a brown, wrinkled skeletal hand with long twisted and yellowed nails.
Lewis screamed and jumped back, swiping his hand at the thing. His finger caught on a strand of the rotted cloth covering the thing’s face. The cloth pulled free, taking with it a part of the creatures dehydrated skin. The cloth began to unravel as the second match burned Lewis’ finger.
He cursed and fell backwards. He struck another match. It bloomed and he immediately wished it hadn’t. The wrappings had fallen free of the face of the creature. Its skin was rotten and twisted, with intermittent holes, showing bone and blackness of its mouth. The eyeballs were gone, replaced with some kind of beetles crawling in and out of the empty sockets. Its teeth were long and yellow and pointed.
Lewis was sure it laughed at him. He screamed as it grasped his arm with its rotten hand. Its grip was stronger than anything he’d ever felt before and it snapped one of the bones in his forearm.
The creature lifted him up by his ruined arm, bringing him face to face with its horrible rotten visage. Its breath smelt like decay and hot sand. It opened its mouth wider than Lewis thought possible and one of those beetles began to crawl out.
Lewis screamed again and when he opened his mouth, the beetle flew into it. He could feel it crawl down his throat. He tried to scream, but no sound came out. Two more beetles crawled out of the creature’s eyes. They landed on Lewis’ nose and forced their way into his nostrils…
Dr. Whemple stood outside the door, waiting for Lewis to unlock it for him.
“About time Lewis!” Whemple cried as Lewis swung the door wide for him. “My lord man, you look terrible. Maybe you should head home and get some rest!”
Lewis didn’t respond, but Whemple could see a beetle crawl over the back of Lewis’ hand.
“Lewis! Wipe that off! Why, that looked suspiciously like a scarab! You weren’t bitten were you? Those can be terribly poisonous!” Whemple asked.
Lewis pointed behind Whemple into the Museum. The doctor, confused, turned to see what Lewis was pointing at. A large figure limped towards them.
“Who…” Whemple began, but Lewis grabbed him in a bear hug trapping his arms to his sides.
“Lewis! What is the meaning of this!”
The Mummy opened its rotten mouth and a scarab crawled out of it. Whemple screamed.
“It’s alright Claude, it’s just the wind,” Larry Talbot told his son. Larry was your typical heartthrob. He dressed like Carey Grant and looked like Marlon Brando. Claude was eight going on forty and scared of everything. That was part of the reason Larry brought him out to the woods. He wanted to expand his son’s horizons.
“That sure didn’t sound like no wind, I ever heard of,” Evelyn Ankers said. She was gorgeous, a perfect blonde bombshell, but the only reason she was there in the cabin was to gain notoriety. She had been invited for the weekend, free of charge, if she would only tell her famous Hollywood friends about how wonderful it was up here.
“Max,” Gwen prompted her husband. “Max, would you go out and check on that? Our guests want be comfortable here after all.”
“Of course, mother,” Max responded. Max was an old man with only one leg. His hair was long, stringy, and gray, and his clothes were tattered and torn. He was one of those old men who called their wives mother as a term of endearment.
Max waddled out of the door, rifle in hand, and winked at his guests before closing the door.
“You see Claude? Nothing to worry about!” Larry said.
He got up and walked over to the window, excited to see what the one legged older mountain man could do with that rifle. He cupped his hands around his eyes to cut the glare and pressed his face to the window.
“What do you see out there, Larry?” Evelyn asked. She held her hands prim in her lap, but there was an eager look to her eyes as she stared at Larry.
“Why, it’s just darkness and snow!” Larry turned and winked at Evelyn before turning to his son. “You see Claude? It was just the wind after all!”
Just then the window exploded inward, glass flying into the room. Larry instinctually covered his head as a huge wolf snapped at him, it’s teeth tearing a mouthful from his shoulder.
Larry screamed and twisted. He lashed out with his fist, landing a roundhouse blow to the Wolf’s snout. The snarling beast disappeared out of the window and Larry collapsed onto the ground.
“Everyone get away from the window!” Larry cried, but a moment later a rifle blast echoed through the night.
Claude and Evelyn sat in shock as Larry crawled over to them.
“That must have been Max, shooting the beast. I think we’re safe now, let’s just stay away from the window,” Larry said.
“Dada, I’m scared!” Claude cried.
“Oh my god, are you ok?” Evelyn asked. She hugged him, and held his head to her shoulder. Larry let her.
“I’m alright, it’s just a scratch! Nothing a bandage wouldn’t fix!” Larry said, projecting masculinity.
“You were bit, weren’t you?” Gwen asked. Her thick Romani accent commanded attention.
“Well, yeah. Yeah he did,” Larry responded. A brief moment of panic touched his words, before he caught it and stabilized.
“Then you are beyond help,” Gwen said.
“Dad?” Claude’s voice was small.
“Now you wait just a minute! What do you mean scaring my kid like that?” Larry scolded.
“Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night. May become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright,” Gwen said.
“Now, what in blazes is that supposed to mean?” Larry said. He stood and loomed over Gwen.
“You were bitten by a werewolf Mr. Talbot, and tonight is a full moon,” Gwen said. She held up a bundle of herbs in Larry’s face. He twisted away crying out.
“Uhhh! Those smell terrible! What is that?” Larry cried.
“It is too late for all of you,” Gwen said and threw the bundle out of the window. “You should not have come.”
“Now wait just a minute,” Evelyn cried. “a Werewolf? Why, there’s no such thing!”
“Claude!” Larry cried. He was hunched over, holding his stomach.
“Larry are you alright?” Evelyn asked. She didn’t notice the click of the kitchen door, nor the thwack of the dead lock as it slid into place, as Gwen disappeared.
“Get Claude out of here!” Larry cried and fell to all fours. His fingernails began to grow into sharp points, and he howled in pain as his mouth elongated and new teeth pushed through his gums.
“Dada?” Claude cried.
“Larry?” Evelyn asked, hugging Claude to her.
“It’s too late!” Larry’s voice was more of a growl than speech.
He turned and looked out the window. There above the trees was the moon. Full, bright, and yellow. In the distance a wolf bayed and Larry responded.
He felt joints pop into place, and his tongue flicked out of his snout and licked his chops. He hadn’t eaten in quite some time and there were two morsels right in front of him.
“There’s someone at the window! Please God, there’s someone at the window!” She was thrashing in her bed when I got into the room. My beautiful, gentle fiancée. She had been so sick the last few days, and now it seemed as though the fever was transitioning into hallucinations.
“My love! There’s nothing at the window but a tree branch! Look! I will open it for you,” I didn’t know what to do. My friends were in the drawing room. I’m sure they were nervous and abashed at the noises coming from my dear loved one’s bed chambers, but there was nothing I could do about that. I had to just worry about my poor sick fiancée.
“NO! Stay clear of the window! I saw him! He was so pale, and terrible. His eyes were red, he looked at me, Jonathan. He looked right into me. I felt his gaze to my core. I feel so very cold!”
She was raving. I knew it to be nothing but fever dreams. I could clearly see there was nothing at the window. It was cold and windy though, and I thought maybe it would be wrong of me to introduce a chill into the room of someone so sick, by opening the window.
“Jonathan,” My friend Quincey called from the doorway.
He was a gruff man, but his demeanor was gentle towards me, almost apologetic. I could tell in his face that he didn’t expect my love to live through this terrible sickness.
“BEHIND HIM!” She screamed form the bed. She held up a pale emaciated hand that looked more like a claw, and pointed at my friend. “MY GOD, THE TEETH!”
“Shhhhhh,” I said and stroked her hair. I felt tears well in my eyes, so I bent and kissed her hot forehead in an effort to hide my emotion.
“Sorry for intruding,” Quincey said. “But I called the doctor earlier. I know you said not to, but well, I couldn’t stand to sit by and do nothing. He’s here now and would like to see her.”
“Alright,” I wanted to berate him. Mina had such a terrible fear of doctors. I held my tongue. I knew what he had done was right.
“Please, let me through,” A gruff voice said.
“You see, my love? It was just the doctor. That was who was behind Quincey,” I said to her.
Her eyes flittered back to the window, wide with horror. She pointed to the window. My lord, her nails were so long and ragged. How had I not noticed that?
“What is going on here?” The doctor said. He face was weathered and brown. His beard was long and unruly and white as snow. His hair, buried under a stained brown hat, sprang to his shoulders with the same coarseness as his beard.
“She’s had a fever doctor. We don’t know why,” I said and looked at disgust to Quincey. How could he invite such a man here, knowing Mina’s fear of doctors? A regular doctor would be bad enough; this…unorthodox man…was so much worse.
“NO!” Mina screamed at the sight of him.
“Mina! It’s ok! He’s a doctor!” I tried to sooth her to no avail. Her eyes were locked on the window and her breath heaved so rapidly that her chest began to heave.
“It’s far worse than I thought,” The doctor said. He turned to Quincy. “Quick! Get me as much garlic as you can.”
“IT’S TOO LATE!” Mina screamed. She scratched at me and her skin turned cold.
“Be gone!” The doctor said while producing an old wooden cross and thrusting it in Mina’s face.
The window exploded inwards making the men in the room dive to the ground. I heard Mina moan and when I lifted my head a figure was bent over her. A large black cloak occluded their bodies.
“Quickly!” The doctor said, pulling a long wooden stake from his satchel.
The figure turned to me and hissed. Its visage will forever haunt my dreams. Its skin had the gray tones of slate, contrasted by bright splashes of blood from my poor Mina’s neck. Its eyes, as red as that blood, bore into me. It had two incisors, as long as coffin nails. It stared into my soul. I felt reality shift. It was death and, lord help me, I cannot help but think it was beautiful.
It was gone a moment later and so was my Mina. Dead. Her face returned to peace and beauty that it held before the sickness took hold of her.
The doctor told me that I had to cremate her body. He told me he was on the hunt for that creature and we must hunt it down. That we must kill it.
I prepared to cremate my Mina. But when I lay her down, I dreamed of her opening her eyes. I dreamed of her kissing me. I dreamed of her telling me everything was ok. That we could now be together forever. She kissed my neck and I felt death approach. It was beautiful.
“Presently I heard a swishing in the sparse grass toward the left, and saw the dark forms of two men looming up in the moonlight.”
Welcome back to a very strange blind read!
This wasn’t really a story and in fact when I researched Lovecraft’s bibliography it isn’t represented at anywhere. As it turns out, this is actually a letter that Lovecraft once sent about a dream he had to a colleague. The letter was then taken and a beginning and end was tacked onto it. It’s curious why someone would do this, because the text doesn’t make sense and doesn’t sound ANYTHING like Lovecraft. Let’s break it down a little. Here’s the opening, obviously not written by Lovecraft:
“Morgan is not a literary man; in fact he cannot speak English with any degree of coherency. That is what makes me wonder about the words he wrote, though others have laughed.
“He was alone the evening it happened. Suddenly an unconquerable urge to write came over him, and taking pen in hand he wrote the following:”
So, so many things wrong here. First of all why name him Morgan? Without any characterization this is just a failed attempt to change something that doesn’t need to be changed. The very next line starts “My name is Howard Phillips.” so there is no reason to adjust it, other than either an attempt to make it their own (which I don’t believe because it’s published in a Lovecraft book), or they wanted it to seem more like a story rather than a letter. It’s an uninspired and useless tactic.
Next “he cannot speak English with any degree of coherency.” What? If you read the following letter, the man writing it obviously has an expert’s grasp of the language; as it’s written far better than this opening salvo. I mean, the writer (I refuse to say author here for this anonymous hack job) tacks on a fragment to end the sentence that makes zero sense in the context!
Then we get into Lovecraft’s actual (letter) writing. This letter is brilliant and terrifying (it might be some of the scariest he’s written), and packs so much into just two pages that I would consider it a must read for any fan (just ignore the two opening paragraphs and the closing paragraph).
The narrator describes finding a strange aged trolley car on a plateau. The narrator goes inside and sees two figures approaching. One screeches and the other goes to all fours and runs around wolf-like. The description of the screamer is terrifying, and now I understand why people say “Silent Hill” is Lovecraftian: “…but because the face of the motorman was a mere white cone tapered to one blood-red-tentacle…”
The scene repeats itself with a feeling of foreboding and anxiety that the dreamer will eventually be caught by this mysterious motorman. The story ends with the ominous, “God! When will I awaken?”
This letter was written in the last few years of Lovecraft’s life, and I wonder if this was almost a cry for help. He created this verdant field of wonder and fear, and one has to wonder if drugs (laudinam or opium) caused some of this nightmare fuel to seep into his head.
Then again what if this was a metaphor? The bestial nature had left him (the conductor was the one who went wolf-like and ran around; ostensibly away. Cone-head was the real nemesis) as the conductor ran off, and he was left being haunted by the strange and otherworldly motorman. I find it interesting that the conductor, the one who was meant to drive the vehicle (or in this case drive the consciousness?) went feral and directionless, whereas the motorman – the one who powers and builds the craft – became the staying force. The motorman whom changed and became something otherworldly. It almost feels like this is Lovecraft’s ID and this letter is the realization that maybe there is something off about him internally. Something otherworldly?
Much like many of his narrators he sees this truism and is terrified by it, and we as readers have to wonder… How much time did Lovecraft spend dreaming, and in the end did he succumb and transcend into his own dreamlands?
Join me and read along next week where we’ll cover the first chapter of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward!”
“It was a key – a guide – to certain gateways and transitions of which mystics have dreamed and whispered since the race was young, and which lead to freedoms and discoveries beyond three dimensions and realms of life and matter that we know.”
Welcome back to another blind read! I was excited to read this one because I thought it might have to do with the Necronomicon, but soon found out that the eponymous book was yet another tome of outlandish sorcery – but more on that later.
This fragment starts out with the old Lovecraft standby – the unreliable narrator. This one doesn’t mince words though, our narrator comes right out and says, “wow this is crazy, I don’t even know where I am, or even who I am half the time!”
Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s the beginning: “My memories are confused…I am not even certain how I am communicating this message…My identity, too, is bewilderingly cloudy.”
I’ve been debating on where to put this critique, but every other story is pretty jam packed with content, whereas this is a shorter fragment, so I think I’ll talk about this here…
I’m not thrilled about this unreliable narrator that Lovecraft loves to use. It’s fine every once and a while, but when you consistently re-use the same themes, it feels more like bad writing than a trend. I understand it for sure. Lovecraft is trying to set the stage and each unreliable narrator tends to have a different reason for their unreliableness (totally a word). This narrator is confused because of “… that worm riddled book…” he discovered. He delved so deep into it’s mysteries that it has altered his reality so that he’s not sure as to which reality he’s actually in.
The issue this creates is that the story is now forever stuck in the fantasy realm. The wonderful nature of Lovecraft is the creepy realism he develops with his mythology. He takes us to real places with dirty people (literally and figuratively) who are just trying to make a living, and these extraordinary things happen to them. By telling the story by an unreliable narrator it takes away some of the stakes. Could all of this insanity all be in their head? Could they just be lying? Are they under the influence of something like Opium of Peyote? All of these choices are fine for a story or two, but when we start out nearly every story with the narrator saying something along the lines of “I don’t even know where I am right now!” It becomes more about fantasy than horror and the stakes are lowered for the reader. Lovecraft dances this line superbly in most of his works, but it would be a better choice had the narrator understood what was happening, rather than telling us at the beginning of each story that it might not be true.
Just had to get that off my chest, but back to the story…
The narrator finds the old “wormy” book in some old book store and the shop keep is grateful to be rid of it (or is this some ploy? Could the shop keep with his “curious sign with his hand” be in on it?). When the narrator reads it he finds that, as the starting quote says, it is a key; a gateway to other worlds. I thought for sure this was the classic Grimoire I mentioned earlier but, “… the hand of some half-crazed monk, had traced these ominous Latin phrases in unicals of awesome antiquity.” So we know it’s not the Necronomicon because that tome was written by the Mad Arab Alhazred and he’d be writing it in either Arabic or Aramaic, so it must be something else. The first few pages are burned away, so no one really knows what the book is, however there are references to many other things within: “But still I read more – in hidden, forgotten books and scrolls to which my new vision led me…” So we know there is more to Lovecraft’s old forgotten mystery tomes than the Necronomicon and the Pnakotic Manuscripts.
This fragment was written just a few years before Lovecraft died, so who knows what he would have created as he expanded his universe (I’m sure other authors, like Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth did, along with a multitude of others who followed, but I’m not there yet).
We even get a glimpse of some strange square building which terrifies the narrator into giving up his research and becoming a hermit. There’s mention that he has gone back in time, could this strange square building have been a Cthulhu temple in R’lyeh? The narrator doesn’t know, so we wont either.
But that’s all. This one is a fairly contained story, but there isn’t a whole lot to it. It feels like this is actually a character sketch for a future story, or that he was trying to work out what another old tome could be. Who knows? Maybe I’ll read another story during this blind read and come across a book which is a “key” somewhere else! Anyone out there, know which book this story is referencing?
I’ve purposely kept some of the better known Lovecraft stories for last. I wanted to try to get as much experience within the framework of his oeuvre before jumping into larger and more popular stories. To that end, I have just one more fragment to get to, “The Thing in the Moonlight” which will be next week (reading from the beautifully Michael Whelan illustrated Del Rey books), before heading into “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.”
Come join me! Lets read along!
“There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself, but I will tell of the Street.”
This is the best opening line I’ve seen from Lovecraft in all that I’ve read of him (Despite the weird piratey feel), and this even comes from one of his Juvenilia!
I wasn’t really sure where Lovecraft was headed with this one. This short story felt like a bit of a ramble; as if he had a basic idea of what he wanted to accomplish, but he wasn’t sure how he wanted to get there. The writing is much more sophomoric than much of his other writings, but the story itself is far more controlled and succinct than The Poetry of the Gods was (which I’ve since been told the majority of which not actually written by Lovecraft).
In this story we follow the history of a street from the dawn of time when magic ruled, to the present day. The “soul” that Lovecraft is talking about is the Street’s history; the mystery and magic that’s inherent to an individual location. This is such a through line with all of Lovecraft’s writings, but I don’t think I’ve seen it so blatant in any other story than it is here.
The Street has a soul. Through time events happen. People coalesce around the Street and form it into a community. They build it into a town. The nation forms around the Street. There are wars to defend locations and ideals, including skirmishes with “natives” and battles with soldiers wandering the streets. There is even mention of the Declaration of Independence as the world changes around the Street.
The Street, however, never loses its core. It never loses it’s spirit. Things around it can change, “the air was not quite so pure as before, but the spirit of the place had not changed.”
Lovecraft believed that the way the world was headed was a detriment to the human mind. I think that’s why he ultimately wrote about what he wrote about. It was his goal to keep things unchanged and his Yog-Sothothery was that old magic that was too powerful (both in good and evil and ambivalence) to change. Many of the people in his stories are trying to bring back those old gods…trying to bring back that old magic…to a time before humans gradually destroyed the world. That’s why he loved New England, because it held onto the traditions of old, unlike places like New York which thrived on change (See the stories HE and The Horror at Red Hook).
Overall there isn’t much to this story but that theme. That theme is such a powerful one in his writings, however, that this is an incredible addition to his works because we can gain a greater understanding of his oeuvre as a whole.
One last thing before I let you go. I noticed something strange in this story, and where it is a blind read (meaning that it’s the first time I’ve read it, so I could have easily missed some context), I think that there may be more to his legacy than I previously thought.
I’ve always heard that Lovecraft was a notorious racist. Now, because of the day and age that he lived in, I’m sure that this was true (not to mention some of the wording he uses to describe minorities, also not using this as an excuse to forgive racism), but reading his works in such a bulk and analyzing them like I have, I think that he’s a bit more of a Xenophobe and an Agorophobe. I think he equally was scared of and disliked any people who were different, or had differing cultures than he did. It actually makes me pity him more than vilify him because fears drove him as we see in his literature. (Qualifier: I am not giving him a pass. I am not saying racism in any form is ok, in fact I think treating anyone different because of melanin or cultural differences is pretty abhorrent. I’m not saying that we should look past it. It’s just an observation that it seems like he fears everyone outside of his comfort zone, not just minorities. In fact in The Horror at Red Hook the evil person is dutch. He does have terrible language which is detrimental to the world as a whole.)
Lines like; “But it felt a stir of pride one day when again marched forth young men, some of whom never came back. These young men were clad in blue.”
It seems as though he’s talking about the Civil War here. If he is, then he was firmly in the Union side (which makes sense because he lived in Providence). I want to hope that he was pro Union because of the slavery issue, that he was still a humanist, but it could be that I love his writing and I’m looking for an excuse.
I guess I’d have to read his letters to get a better understanding of the man himself.
What do you think?
“It was only a bit of vers libre, that pitiful compromise of the poet who overleaps prose yet falls short of the divine melody of numbers; but it had in it all the unstudied music of a bard who lives and feels, who gropes ecstatically for unveiled beauty.”
Welcome back for another Blind Read! This time we’re diving into a co-op between Lovecraft and Anna Helen Crofts. This story is a divergence from what we have seen so far in Lovecraft’s fiction so if you’re looking for a horror story, look elsewhere. What we do get to see here is an interesting genesis of Lovecraft as an author and potentially his position, much like Marcia in the story, as a herald to the gods.
The story follows the aforementioned Marcia, who lives in an austere mansion and suffers from general malaise because of, “…some greater and less explicable misplacement in time and space, whereby she had been born too late, too early, or too far away from the haunts of her spirit ever to harmonize with the unbeautiful things of contemporary reality…” This quote strikes me. It feels almost as if Lovecraft is using Marcia to be a stand in for himself (or potentially Ms. Crofts).
He was not born at the right time.
Lovecraft craved mystery, and the strange, and mysticism. Contemporary culture of the time just didn’t fit with these amorphous constructs. We see this time and again (especially in the stories such as HE or Shadow over Innsmouth) Lovecraft wanted magic in the world of technology.
We go along with Marcia as she’s approached by Hermes and brought before Zeus. Zeus is looking for a mortal to herald the coming of the gods and brings Marcia there to do so.
The text itself is interesting because the exposition is cut up by poetry, as if to expose how brilliant Marcia is, but it also displays how bad poetry can halt magic from happening.
This is pretty much everything you get out of the story. It’s disjointed and strange, but it tries to hover between the mega weird of Lovecraft and softer, more realistic fiction. It doesn’t hit the nail on the head. It leaves you with the feeling that either one, or both of the authors were trying to show off how important and how amazing they were, but the self aggrandizement comes off as cheap and smarmy. It makes the story feel useless.
Where my interest in this story lies is how similar the Greek gods of the story were with Lovecraft’s original cannon. I’ve mentioned before that Greek gods and culture were a heavy influence on Lovecraft in general, and this story solidifies this.
There is a bit of the Dream-Quest as Marcia is brought to Olympus and sits before Zeus, as he tells her, “..the time approaches when our voices shall not be silent. It is a time of awakening and change.”
There is even evidence of the Pnakotic Manuscripts or the Necronomicon with “…reading from a manuscript words which none has ever heard before, but which when heard will bring to men the dreams and fancies they lost so many centuries ago, when Pan lay down to doze in Arcady, and the great Gods withdrew to sleep in lotos-gardens beyond the lands of the Hesperides.”
So much correlation that it’s hard not to read into it. From stories such as The Tree, The Tomb and What the Moon Brings, we catch such a huge influence from Greek culture that I now truly believe that his Yog-Sothothery is based upon these gods. He just puts a slightly more nefarious tint to them.
What do you think??
“At this time, my belief in the supernatural was firm and deep-seated, else I should have dismissed with scorn the incredible narrative unfolded before my eyes.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! We’re diving back into another one of H.P. Lovecraft’s Juvenilia… The Alchemist. This was the first story I’ve read from Lovecraft that I truly feel that he had not gained his writing chops before starting. The narrative is obviously unpracticed and the plot is loose, with a number of issues.
The major thing that jumps out at me is that, unlike his other stories where he relies on inference for horror and terror, in this one he goes right to it and calls a spade a spade. The antagonists are father and son and they are evil. Flat out. Lovecraft even goes so far as to state that the father “…burnt his wife alive as a sacrifice to the Devil, and the unaccountable disappearance of many small peasant children were laid at the dreaded door of these two.” OK. That’s bad enough. We can probably leave it there. We know that these two are corrupt and irredeemable. We know they are the antagonists, but Lovecraft takes it a step further.
“…the evil old man loved his offspring with fierce intensity, whilst the youth had for his parent a more than filial affection.”
I hope I misunderstand this quote, and I hope it means something other than physical love, though I don’t know what else would be more than filial. Even more bothersome, Lovecraft states “…through the dark natures of father and son ran one redeeming ray of humanity,” meaning that their “more than filial love” is seen as a redeeming quality. Hmm. Mayhaps we’ve seen a little into why Lovecraft became such a recluse.
But let’s dig into the story, shall we?
A young man is locked away in a tower because the “…restriction was imposed upon me because my noble birth placed me above association with such plebeian company.” (though really it was because of the curse, but more on that later) Because of this isolation our narrator spends the majority of his time reading over old archaic tomes, but “Those studies and pursuits which partake of the dark and occult in nature most strongly claimed my attention.”
Through these tomes he reads of a man by the name of Michel Mauvais and his son Charles, also known as Le Sorcier. Mauvais, an evil sorcerer who strove for “such things as the Philosopher’s Stone or the Elixir of Eternal Life.” Meanwhile the Count, our narrator’s ancestor, finds one day that his son is missing and immediately goes to Michel Mauvais’ house and kills him for the murder Godfrey, his son. It is later found that Godfrey had just wandered off and eventually came back, though too late to save Mauvais. Le Sorcier curses the count and his ancestors, stating that every man in his lineage will die at the age of 32.
The tome tells how each ancestor of our narrator dies at that age. Eventually on the narrator’s 32nd birthday, Le Sorcier appears and says that it was actually he that had lived these past 600 years and had killed every one of the Narrators kin on their 32nd birthday to ensure the curse continues. He takes the Elixir of Life to help him in this capacity. Here the tale concludes.
We know the narrator wins the inferred scuffle, because he lives to tell the tale. We also know he steals the Elixir of Eternal Life from Charles Le Sorcier because the narrator tells us that the events he described were 90 years prior.
There are two possible outcomes here. The first is how the narrator tells it: he kills Le Sorcier, takes the drought, and lives forever in his tower. The second is that the narrator is none other than Le Sorcier himself, and the earlier story of being holed up was a hoax. Neither one of these are well thought out conclusions however. Either one of these outcomes leave a large number of plot holes, even in this seven page story. Unfortunately I felt this was Lovecraft’s weakest story of which I’ve read so far.
What do you think?
“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?
“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?
“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!
“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!
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?
What a beautifully dark and Gothic tale this was. Gorgeous in scope and so much more than a Poe tale. We follow along a couple of grave robbers who search the world for the best loot from their exhumations. Until they come across a seemingly great score in Holland. They take a medallion and are chased around the world by the specter of some supernatural hound.
The first thing that hits you with this story is the language. It is probably the most beautifully told stories I’ve read from Lovecraft yet. He takes his time and delicately lays the foundations slowly, unveiling the booty the grave robbers have purloined. Then he describes the need for further exploration. The desire and greed for more. Then once the medallion is revealed, we go on a roller coaster of horror, with danger in every step.
Particularly of interest to me was the fact that we get such a glimpse of the Necronomicon. We get a description of what the book looks like and a bit of it’s terrible contents, and what is more compelling is that these two gallants were using the Necronomicon to search out new items.
That being said, I have to think there is some meaning behind the name St. John, the narrators companion. He is one of the main drivers of the story as he is the one who actually takes the medallion and is the first in the Hound’s catastrophic path.
Another interesting aspect of this story is the Hound itself. We find out at the end of the story that when the narrator exhumes the grave again, that the skeleton that was originally buried in, he finds the medallion back around the skeletons neck, but now the skeleton has grown fangs and has a strange phosphorescent glow from its eyes. There is also hair and skin attached to the bones. Was this a grave of a priest to some great dog god?
Then we have the Jade connection. I can only assume that the phosphorescent glow was a green glow, which hearkens back to “The Doom that came to Sarnath”, and the strange green glow that was sent down from the moon. Did they awaken a moon god?
Then there is the Necronomicon to consider (not to mention it’s supposed immolation. Could this really be the end of the Necronomicon? I wonder where in the chronology this story fits in). This was written by the infamous mad Arab Alhazred, who was purportedly a demonologist. Could the demons be connected to the Great Old Ones? Is this a separate deific scale to worry about in the Lovecraftian ethos?
What do you think?
Here is another connecting thread, assuming that Lovecraft meant to have his stories in the same world (which I tend to think he did).
The story follows our nameless narrator as he treads to Ireland to join his friend at his new estate in Kilderry. Denys Berry wants to drain a bog next to his mansion (dare I say castle? Our narrator does stay in a tower, and this would feed into a much more gothic scene.), but the locals are worried about something, and they leave when he mentions his plans. Eventually we have some very strange happenings, and virtually everyone dies, with the exception of our narrator.
There are a few interesting connectors in this story. The narrator makes mention of Grecian architecture buried in the bog. Again we have this marbleized Greek architecture which has now shown up in many tales. Does this have a connection? Were the Greeks and Romans influenced by the Great Old Ones? Were in fact (in the Lovecraft world) the Greek and Roman gods the Cthulhu pantheon? Was that how they had so much power and stretched their influence all the way up to the Germanic tribes of the British Isles?
The second connector is the moon. I haven’t seen the moon referenced for a while yet, however it is present here and is a determining factor (it’s even in the title!). In past stories the moon was a location for some kind of deity that sent creatures down to earth (Think The Doom that came to Sarnath). Could it be that the titular bog is actually a placeholder for the moon? The action all happens under the moon light, and is gone in the light of day. The only think we’re missing is the mysterious green light, that floats down from the moon, but that could be because of the Grecian influence. The only time the green light flows down was in the North Americas which were beyond the Grecian influence. Hopefully we’ll get some light (see what I did there?) shown on this in future stories.
What do you think?
Join me next Tuesday for a Blind Read of “The Hound”
This was the last story in the Del Rey edition of The Doom That Came to Sarnath, and it was a surprising one. There is a disclaimer on the first page that this story was written in conjunction with Harry Houdini, and what makes that so intriguing is that now we finally have a face for a narrator.
The story begins innocuously enough, with Houdini and his wife exploring Cairo, but progressively getting more and more bored with the watering down of the Egyptian culture in the tourism culture (this story takes place in 1910…it’s good to know that things don’t change). They find a new guide, a man named Abdul Reis el Drogman, and immediately his moniker, and thus his plausibility is called into question. “Reis” is apparently a name for someone in power. “Drogman” is apparently a “clumsy modification” of the name for the leader of the tourist parties “Dragoman”. He also looks suspiciously like a Pharaoh (This in and of itself is suspicious. How does one look like a Pharaoh? This is just Lovecraft’s clumsy, whimsical, and adorable foreshadowing).
They go around town and go on a few adventures, then they make mention that they don’t trust magic. That that has been cast down as evil. So a group of Arabs tie Houdini up (presumably to see if he can escape) and throw him down into a tomb.
Thus far this has been the longest of the stories that I’ve gone through the blind read. Throughout this story, nothing untoward had happened, and even when they throw him down the tomb, there are some strange happenings, but Houdini is in and out of consciousness, so there is a little call to unreliable narrator. Then Lovecraft comes in full force, and we see more of the creatures that Lovecraft is so known for in the last few pages. We also see one huge deity, of which we only see one single paw.
This goes along with the whole cannon of Lovecraft, I’m not sure exactly where this deity fits in yet, but it is a Cthonic creature, which follows with the established world.
This story also gives a certain credence to Lovecrafts mythos, because now it is the famous Harry Houdini who is experiencing the cosmic horror, even though the very last line, denies such experiences, by telling the audience that it was only a dream. Oddly enough this is the one story that I truly believe the narrator experienced it, specifically because he presupposes that it was a dream.
Join me again next Tuesday as I start doing a Blind Read of The Lurking Fear, also by Del Rey. We’ll jump right into the story “The Lurking Fear”
This was such a spectacular escape from the classic Lovecraftian stories. This is a Science Fiction/Horror story, that deals all together with the concepts of despair, fear and claustrophobia. This is also the first story in which the narrator actually dies in the story. There is very little to connect with the cannon in the narrative, but it is totally worth it. The only possible connection would be the main residents of Venus (where the story takes place), which are reptilian creatures with tentacles. These could be a form of a descendant of one of the Elder Gods.
The story follows our narrator, Kenton Stanfield, as he is on a quest to find a crystal on the surface of Venus. He travels through a jungle and eventually gets through it, and in a big open marsh he sees a body with the crystal he is looking for. When he approaches the body he finds an invisible wall. Eventually he finds his way past the wall and gets the crystal from the body, only to find that it wasn’t a wall at all, but an invisible labyrinth.
The rest of the story is a psychological profile in fear, and a brilliant one at that. If you have no interest in Lovecraft, this is the story for you to read, and if you love Lovecraft, then you must devour it!
Quite an interesting and lore building story. From the preface to the story it seems as though Lovecraft was very proud of the language of this story, but what goes far beyond the language is the depth of character and world building.
The story follows a young man named Iranon who is looking for the city of his youth. He tells everyone he meets that he is a Prince of Aira, and he is trying to find that city once more. He travels around and sees all of the world, and even though he is young, he experiences much, that is until the twist at the end.
I would portend that Iranon is actually the narrator of most of Lovecraft’s stories. He tells of Sarnath, he tells of ancient cities in Egypt (the nameless city), and other strange locals. He strangely doesn’t remember when these visits happened or much about them, just that he has been there.
Then at the end of the story we find out that he is much, much older than we initially thought (in fact much older than he himself thinks), and that there is a certain amount of madness in his personality.
Then we couple that with the fact that we very nearly never hear a narrators name, they just tell the story. The narrators of the stories we see all are unreliable, which partners with the madness of Iranon.
The world of Lovecraft just keeps getting better and better.
Join me next Tuesday for “The Crawling Chaos” blind read through.