“I assured him I had never heard of Nahum Wentworth before, though I admitted privately to some curiosity about the object of my host’s preoccupation, insofar as he had been given to reading the Seventh Book of Moses, which was a kind of Bible for the supposed hexes, since it purported to offer all manner of spells, incantations, and charms to those readers who were gullible enough to believe in them.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we tread the back roads beyond the wastrel excuse for a farming town known as Dunwich to find horrors unknown in the magical ether of Lovecraft’s universe.
So I immediately have to print a retraction (but that’s kind of the point of a blind read isn’t it? To conjecture?). Last week I said I expected Derleth to work pretty much exclusively on expanding Lovecraft’s mythos. To clarify the unclear, and to streamline the vague. I said I didn’t think he would write a straight horror story. I’m happy to say that in the very next story, “Wentworth’s Day,” which we’ll be digesting shortly, he’s proved me wrong. There have actually been many stories which are allegedly inspired by Lovecraft (By authors such as Brian Lumley and Robert Bloch), but I’ve never really understood exactly how Lovecraft supposedly inspired them because they never really felt like they truly fit in his world. Weird of course, but not really Lovecraftian. Now I understand. This story, which again is just a straight horror story with only a slant connection to the cosmic (which you’d only catch if you were well versed in Lovecraft), is the direct antecedent to such books as “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.”
The story begins as our narrator is driving through the backwoods beyond the previously mentioned Dunwich. There seems to be nothing habitable out there except for “…reclusive dwellers on some broken-down farms.” The narrator even mentions that the area, “Once, long ago, it had the reputation of being a country in which Hexerei – the witch beliefs of superstitious people – was practiced…” and that which we know as readers has the potential for Shoggoth (disappointingly, none appear). I thought this may be a call back, but as we’ll see, there are a few things in this story which are only call backs… they’re only prompts meant to entice the reader to keep going.
Derleth spends some decent time setting the scene as the narrator tells us he gets stuck because the highway was blocked off. He goes on a detour late in the evening, trying to push through and instantly regretting it.
A storm soon blossoms and he passes what seems to be a more habitable property. It’s a house and a barn and “The headlamps’ glow swept the face of the dwelling there…” He sees a mail box with the name “Amos Stark” (which really has no reference lineage, but I mention is because it seems remarkably familiar to a Stephen King story you may be familiar with…). The narrator takes the liberty of parking in the mans barn (how rude is that? I know these stories were written in the 50’s, but imagine the gaul… ‘I’m just going to drive my car into your barn without asking. I’m owed that because this place is so run down, I bet they wont even notice!’ Well, the people of the backwoods New England must be nicer, because when “a wizened old man with a scraggly beard half covering his scrawny neck” came to the door, he didn’t bat an eye, just ushered the narrator into his house.
Then the weird stuff starts to happen and not the weird stuff you’d expect from this kind of horror story. Stark offhandedly says today “is Wentworth’s day. I thought yew might be Nahum.” Now I’m not an expert on New England names from the early 20th Century, but I don’t think Nahum is a popular one, so immediately I’m excited because I’m thinking, “Yes, here’s ‘The Colour out of Space’ character directly in a Derleth tale (Nahum Gardener was the farmer whose family’s misfortune it was to have the meteor land on their property), but then the more I read I realize that it’s just a bad call back, a poorly misplaced fan service. This new character is Nahum Wentworth, not Gardener, and Derleth only named him that to keep readers reading… to keep the references to Lovecraft, no matter how thin, while forging his own path. I understand this predilection but it makes me sad because this story is good, but this erroneous and desperate grab for an audience feels dirty.
After that we get the tale of Stark and Wentworth. Apparently Wentworth was pretty rich and gave Stark a loan. The loan was set to come due this night: “Five years, an’ this is the day, this is Wentworth’s Day.” Wentworth had until midnight, that very night our narrator came knocking to collect on his money… the only problem is… Wentworth is dead. Stark “accidently” shot him in the back of his head:
“‘I fell,’ he muttered, and there followed a sentence or two of inanities. ‘All they was to it.’ And again many indistinguishable words. ‘Went off – quick-like.” Once more a round of meaningless or inaudible words. ‘Didn’t know ’twas aimed at Nahum.'”
So all of that put together seems like it shouldn’t be a big deal right? Well, then we remember that this is an area which historically practices what Derleth calls the Hexerei. Stark shows our narrator (still don’t really know why he’s being so forthwith with our narrator. This seems like a plot convenience, but at the same time, this was backwoods New England in the 50’s, set in the 30’s. Maybe, nay probably, people were a bit more equitable back then) some of Wentworth’s books he had taken and our attention is immediately drawn to The Seventh Book of Moses.
“…the Seventh Book of Moses, which, I soon found, was a curious rigmarole of chants and incantations to such “princes” of the nether world of Aziel, Mephistopheles, Marbuel, Barbuel, Aniquel, and others.”
Yet another reason why we know this is emphatically not Lovecraft (besides the fact that Derleth was actually much better at dialogue). The Seventh Book of Moses is a real historical book which talks of magical and spiritual arts as well as Christian demons and devils and such and is commonly mentioned in occult circles. This is nothing like the Pnakotic Manuscripts or the Necronomicon. It’s a bit disappointing that we aren’t getting more of Lovecraft’s world, because Derleth claimed these stories were actually written by Howard Phillips and only cleaned up by Derleth. Like I said earlier, the stories (so far at least) stand on their own, but to put Lovecraft’s name on it gives the first tinges of stigma against Derleth. I still enjoyed the tale, but for these reasons it feels a bit like a cash grab instead of honest inspiration.
We then get another “Colour out of Space” reference when a Whippoorwill calls. If you recall from that tale, the whippoorwill cries as an omen for ill to come. Shortly there after the deadly call there’s a knock at the door.
Stark goes to answer, but waits the few minutes until after the clock strikes midnight… or at least he thinks he does:
“I heard Stark’s exclamation of triumph. ‘Past midnight!’ He had looked at his clock, and at the same time I looked at my watch. His clock was ten minutes fast.“
And retribution come right quick. Wentworth had come back for Stark.
“Amos Stark was spread on the floor on his back, and sitting astride him was a mouldering skeleton, its bony arms bowed above his throat, it’s fingers at his neck.“
Once the deed is done and Stark is dead the skeleton withdraws, leaving our narrator aghast in horror, and we get our moment of Scary Stories to tell in the Dark:
“For as I bent above Amos Stark, ascertaining that he was indeed dead, I saw sticking into the discolored flesh of his neck the whitened finger bones of a human skeleton, and, even as I looked upon them, the individual bones detached themselves, and went bounding away from the corpse, down the hall, and out into the night to rejoin that ghastly visitor who had come from the grave to keep his appointment with Amos Stark!”
Join me next week as we dive deeper into Derleth with hopeful curiosity in “The Peabody Heritage.”
“The Funeral of alice occupied so much time that John quite forgot about the box – but when they did open it they found it to be a solid gold chunk worth about $10,000 enough to pay for any thing but the death of his sister.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we go even further back in time to discover Lovecraft’s beginnings and tackle concepts of trauma, loss, desire, and adventure in two Juvenilia tales that are anything but polished.
I debated for a while whether I really wanted to cover these after reading them, but in the end I decided to hold my promise. I said I would read as much Lovecraft as I could get my hands on, so I’m holding to my word. The question is, how would I deconstruct these stories? They reminded me of my own work when I was young…and when I mean young I mean ten or eleven (which probably means that Howard was about six when we equate talent). The writing is subpar with grammar errors abounding and the stories themselves are just little ditties which any youth could come up with.
What I eventually found more interesting, however is that instead of taking a look at the story itself, I decided to take apart the themes to get a deeper glimpse into the man and what would eventually make his writing the legend that it became.
The first story “The Little Glass Bottle” seems to be an effort at humor biting off of “Treasure Island” which was published about ten to fifteen years prior to Lovecraft writing this story. It follows a group of sailors who find the titular bottle floating on the sea. The bottle had a letter inside:
Jan 1 1864 I am John Jones who writes this letter my ship is fast sinking with a treasure on board I am where it is marked * on the enclosed chart…dotted lines represent course we took
Enclosed is a drawing of a dotted line through the Indian Ocean just off of Australia. Captain Jones gets so excited that he decides to go after it: “in 4 weeks the(y) reached the place where directed & the divers went down and came up with an iron bottle…“
Inside of the bottle they find a note:
Dec 3 1880 Dear Searcher excuse me for the practical joke I have played on you but it serves you right to find nothing for your foolish act – However I will defray your expenses to & from the place you found your bottle I think it will be $25.0.00 so that amount you will find in an Iron box I know where you found the bottle because I put this bottle here & the iron box & then found a good place to put the second bottle hoping the enclosed money will defray your expenses some I close – Anonymous
They dive down and get the money and we end with a little meta story telling: “...I hardly think that they will ever go to a mysterious place as directed by a mysterious bottle.”
This absolutely has a childish feeling and a fear of taking things too far. So really not much to it. But lets take a deeper look…
From an early age it’s obvious that Lovecraft is fascinated with the Ocean. There must be a correlation in his mind with something important being there, or somewhere in the area surrounding Australia. This, one of his first stories, leads some intrepid adventurers there to discover a treasure which turns out to be a fraud. Many years later in basically the same area, in a tale named “The Call of Cthulhu” some explorers go in search for answers and come across R’lyeh and the Elder God Himself. This is a similar journey in a similar area. A group of men looking for fortune and power and find out they vastly underestimated what they were looking for.
The difference come with age. In this story the person who sent them on the wild goose chase is contrite, a sentiment I don’t think I’ve seen in Lovecraft. We know Howard becomes jaded as he gets older and that absolutely shows through in his stories, because the characters are just too far gone down the rabbit hole to turn back. Here we see that, for Lovecraft himself, it is not yet too far. He hasn’t yet had the heart ache…he hadn’t yet survived the trauma. He still believed that though there is a darker side to humanity, the inherent goodness can come through. That is noticeably absent in the second tale.
“The Secret Cave” is like a Grimm’s Fairy tale. It’s a simple story about a horrible tragedy. It dives into grief in such a complex way, and in so much more of a profound way beyond any of his other stories, that as a reader it feels as though we are getting a glimpse into mental walls he put up to block out the horrors of his life.
The story begins with two young children, John and Alice, getting left alone in their house as their parents go away, presumably on a date. The two children go into the cellar to play, and Alice accidentally does something to cause a wall to cave in. John goes back upstairs and grabs some candles to light their way as they go exploring behind the collapsed wall.
The story takes a strange turn here and the reader gets the feeling that it’s something that’s in John’s head, a fantasy of an adventure prevalent in young children. Here is the disjointed passage:
“…the(y) walked on farther & pretty soon the plastering left off & they were in a cave Little alice was frightened at first but at her brothers assurance that it was “all right” she allayed her fears, soon they came to a small box which John took up & carried within pretty soon they came on a boat in it were two oars he dragged it with difficulty along with him soon they found the passage came to an abrupt stop he pulled the obstacle away & to his dismay water rushed in in torrents...”
Later something occurs to him “…he can shut off the water...”, which he does, but then finds that his sister had drowned. The last paragraph is the opening quote of this essay.
It’s a gruesome little tale, but there is SO much packed into the passage of their “adventure.” It’s here we get the first indication something is off in the story. We go from a normal cellar to a strange, almost other worldly cave, something that fits the adventure theme because it seems like this cave would be right at home on Treasure Island. Why is it mysterious you ask? Because it’s a dry cave…but it has a boat and oars in it as well as a mysterious box that when opened contains a solid gold bar worth $10,000. The cave goes no where, it just dead ends, but John finds an “obstacle” which when removed creates a deluge. Once he saves himself with the edge of the boat the boat is never mentioned again, but suddenly he realizes he can shut off the water.
How could you use a valve to shut off water? Why, you can if there’s a water main!
The whole story is a fabrication. John Lee was going on an adventure in his head, when in reality he was just hanging out in his basement and a wall which held their water heater broke open and flooded the cellar. John was never scared like his little sister, because he knew they were only in the safety of their own basement the whole time.
But still his sister died, which brings me to my next point. Why was John capitalized the whole story and Alice in lower case? Was this some sort of sexism Lovecraft was practicing subconsciously? I really don’t think so.
This story is absolutely part of his early writings. The plotting is truncated and hazy, the grammar is atrocious, the writing is simple, but this story is a clear representation of how Lovecraft dealt with his own grief and how he dealt with the outside world.
The story is told in past tense, but the POV is muddled. It goes from 3rd person omniscient to 3rd person personal pretty fluidly. When the action is taking place, we are inside of John’s head, but when the scene is being described we are looking at the action as a fly on the wall. One gets the feeling that this was an unconscious effort to say that when bad things are happening to us, things become disjointed and too close to really understand what’s happening, it’s only in hindsight when we have a better understanding of what happened. So what does this have to do with the capitalization of Alice?
John goes on an Adventure, and the spoils of that adventure are $10,000, but the cost is his sister’s life. Like the last line says it was a “solid gold chunk worth about $10,000 enough to pay for any thing but the death of his sister.”
Worth any thing. He has come to an early realization that nothing can cover up the grief, and blames himself for causing the death of his sister. There is a feeling to this piece of tremendous sadness and uncontrollable self doubt and self hate. Alice isn’t capitalized in this story because to capitalize her would make her a person. To keep her lower case means she can just be a thing, and maybe, just maybe, that 10K can do something about it.
Join me next week as we take a glimpse at “The Thing on the Doorstep.”
“What happened then is scarcely to be described in words. It is full of those paradoxes, contradictions, and anomolies which have no place in waking life, but which fill our more fantastic dreams, and are taken as matters of course till we return to our narrow, rigid, objective world of limited causation and tri-dimensional logic.”
Welcome back to another mind bending Blind Read! We’ve learned about Randolph Carter in the past, including the indominable Silver Key, but this time we traverse through the doorway this magical talisman produces. Lets dive into a treatise on traversing space, time, dimension, and existence as we traverse through the gates of the Silver Key.
The opening few chapters is basically a rehash of the stories “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” “The Silver Key” and “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” The story is unique in it’s narration because most of Lovecraft is told from the perspective of a single narrator, but this story begins omniscient and doesn’t more into narration until Swami Chandraputra directly relates the events surrounding Randolph Carter.
“In a vast room hung with strangely figured arras and carpeted with Bokhara rugs of impressive age and workmanship four men were sitting around a document-strown table.” These four men were Etienne-Laurent de Marigny (Later to be a mainstay in Brian Lumley’s Titus Crow Series), the aforementioned Swami, Ward Phillips, and Ernest B. Apinwall, whom is an executor of Carter’s estate and is trying to sell it all off.
Apinwall tells the other three his goal is selling off the Carter estate, because Carter himself has been gone nearly four years and it’s time to move on. The Swami objects and tells the group he has proof that Carter is alive and needs to make sure that Aspinwall doesn’t sell anything. Once we have the abridgement of Carter’s history we jump right into new territory with the quote which opens this essay.
The actual story is too complicated and intricate to tell in short form here, heck, Lovecraft could barely get it out in long form of the story itself, but the basics are that just beyond where Carter had already gone using the Silver Key, there are more gates, and these gates had only been transcended by a few mortals…ever. Carter traversed these gates and gained an understanding far deeper than any human could ever comprehend.
The story covers what we consider to be Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, so we’re not dealing with a horror story as it is, but something that goes so much farther than that. Serendipity comes to mind because I’ve recently been following Marvel and all that they have been working through, with perceptions of thought and reality and multiverse, which makes reading this story at this time seem so very apt. We’ll dig into what I’m talking about in a moment here, but first I would like to discuss the perception of gods and Gods in Lovecraft.
To open it up, I’d like to give you some straight text from this story:
Carter guessed what they were, whence they came, and Whom they served; and guessed, too, the price of their service. But he was still content, for at one mighty venture he was to learn all. Damnation, he reflected, is but a word bandied about by those whose blindness leads them to condemn all who can see, even with a single eye. He wondered at the vast conceit of those who had babbled of the malignant Ancient Ones, as if They could pause from their ever lasting dreams to wreak wrath upon mankind. As well, he thought, might a mammoth pause to visit frantic vengeance on an angleworm. Now the whole assemblage on the vaguely hexagonal pillars was greeting him with a gesture of those oddly carven scepters, and radiating a message which he understood…
There is a whole lot of theology and thought packed into that one little paragraph!
The first portion is the concept of damnation. If you’ve been following along with this blog then you know Lovecraft didn’t adhere to any specific religion; in the sense that the dogma of the church just didn’t make any kind of rational sense to him. This paragraph is the perfect example of that. People who are either willfully ignorant, or just plain blind to reality as Lovecraft saw it, didn’t understand that if there was a God or gods, then they really dont care about you. Rationally it doesn’t make sense for a supreme being to care about lesser beings, thus indicating that these “gods” were mammoths and we were angleworms. Because these beings dont really care about us, then damnation itself must be a construct of religion to keep people in line. Religion, like governance, is about control and comfort. Humans crave structure despite how we act and react sometimes, and to know that there is a heaven and a hell makes people more at ease. If they go to church on Sunday and say their prayers by night, they wont become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright. Damnation (at least what this story is trying to convey) is a construct of the mind, and for Carter, it isn’t until he breaks the barrier held in check by the Silver Key that he comes to this realization. He moves beyond one universe into multiple and lives countless lives and endless consciousness’ all at once; giving him a greater understanding than that of even the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred and his ravings in the Necronomicon. Damnation is a state of mind, not a place.
To piggy back on that we have the conception of the gods in Lovecraft’s mythos. It has been played around with in stories such as “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”, but not elucidated with such clarity as it is right here in this paragraph. With the notable exception of Nyarlathotep, the gods of Lovecraft are omnipotent, they are not malignant. These gods transcended space, time, and universe, occupying all and none at the same time. They have lived for eternities and will live for eternities more. Their consciousness has developed for hundreds of thousands of millennia, and because of this, their scope is so much larger than the few thousand years humans have existed. In fact, the only reason Nyarlathotep has any kind of vengeance is because humans keep trying to invade and go beyond their bubble. He is a god who believes we are a stain on the beautiful tapestry of consciousness and wants to be rid of our parasitic species. When Cthulhu comes out of the sea at the end of “The Call of Cthulhu” he is not trying to destroy the world, but his simple visage shows the magnitude of what we dont know, and that in-and-of itself is enough to drive everyone, with the notable exception of Randolph Carter, insane. Damnation is tied so closely to the malevolence of gods and the insanity caused by them, but that’s just a construct so that mere mortals can understand. This whole story is all about how the life we live is an illusion of our own construct, and there is so much more beyond our ken.
So lets dig into that multiverse, shall we?
“The man of Truth is beyond good and evil…The man of Truth had ridden to All-Is-One. The man of Truth las learnt that Illusion is the only reality, and that substance is an impostor.”
Carter goes through the first Gateway of existence:
“Even the First Gateway had taken something of stability from him, leaving him uncertain about his bodily form and about his relationship to the mistily defined objects around him, but it had not disturbed his sense of unity. He had still been Randoplh Carter , a fixed point in the dimensional seething. now, beyond the Ultimate Gateway, he realized in a moment of consuming fright that he was not one person but many persons.”
I mentioned Marvel earlier, and I’ve just started watching WandaVision, like many of you may have as well. This show seems to be of a similar set up to Carter’s story. We have Wanda living in a dream world of her own construct (or maybe caused by another to keep her under control with those calls of “Who’s doing this to you Wanda?”) The layers are slowly being peeled back to revel a reality that may just be too difficult for her to comprehend, thus fracturing her mind. Or maybe she has already been through the gates of which Carter speaks of, and what we view every Friday night is a perception of her fractured mind? The idea of a multiverse is complicated, and Lovecraft here barely scratches the surface (hopefully, with the help of Rick and Morty writers, we’ll see a bit more cohesion in the Marvel Multi-Verse). Carter has lived many lives and we’ve seen that in previous stories (in “The Silver Key” Carter was both his adult self and his ten year old self), but when he goes beyond the ultimate door we find that there are many worlds which hold his consciousness. There are countless alien beings which have been “Randolph Carter”, just not in human form. These are not parallel universes, but unique and individual universes with single threads of consciousness which hold things together. Deja Vu? Strange memories of places and things you shouldn’t have? Sudden empathy or hate for a creature or thing? These are all because we have lived these experiences either concurrently or in the past…or even in the future.
Think of a cupcake stand. The saucers are the different universes of which there could be infinite, the pole holding them together is your consciouness and on each infinte saucer there is a different being with different experiences, but with your soul as the connector. Lovecraft describes it here as:
They told him that every figure of space is but the result of the intersection by a place of some corresponding figure of one more dimension – as a square is cut from a cube or a circle from a sphere. The cube and sphere, of three dimensions, are thus cut from corresponding forms of four dimensions that men known only through guesses and dreams; and these in turn are cut from forms of five dimensions, and so on up to the dizzy and reachless heights of archetypal infinity.
A slight change of angle could turn the student of today into the child of yesterday; could turn Randolph Carter into that wizard Edmund Carter who fled from Salem to the hills behind Arkham in 1692, or that Pickman Carter who in the year 2169 would use strange means in repelling the Mongol hordes from Australia; could turn a human Carter into one of those earlier entities which had dwelt in primal Hyperborea and worshipped black, plastic Tsathoggua after flying down from Kythanil, the double planet that once revolved around Arcturus; could turn a terrestrial Carter to a remotely ancestral and doubtfully shaped dweller on Kythanil itself, or a still remoter creature of trans-galactic Shonhi; or a four-dimensioned gaseous consciousness in an older space-time continuum, or a vegetable brain of the future on a dark radio-active comet of inconceivable orbit – and so on, in the endless cosmic circle.
In fact Carter did this. He transcended through the Ultimate Gate into Zkauba, the wizard of Yaddith, a strange bird-insect like creature and lived for years in this being, until he found his way to travel in a “thin envelope of electron-activated metal” (early TARDIS?) back to earth.
And then we find ourselves back in the room from the beginning of the story with Swami finishing his story and the group realizing that Swami’s accent was fake. That Swami’s face was a mask. The Swami himself…was not a Swami. To reveal the truth Carter pulls the mask off releveling the physiognomy of the bird-insect Zkauba as he never moved beyond that bodily form. Between everyone in the group only Apinwall, the lawyer, sees and in his madness at seeing beyond the gates of the Silver Key, flees the scene and doesn’t foreclose on Carter’s estate.
It’s a long strange ride and this being a Blind Read (The first time I’ve read it) I’m sure I missed volumes which others could fill in. As I get closer to completing the entire oeuvre of Lovecraft I’m constantly mystified at how intellectual all of the stories are and now fully understand the praise as one of the early incredible horror authors.
What do you think??
Join me next week as we delve into “The Whisperer in Darkness”
I’m going to be diving into the Titus Crow series now that I’ve gotten the Carter books under my belt. They follow Titus Crow and Etienne-Laurent de Marigny from this story (follow me on Goodreads if you want updates). That tale centers around the strange clock which is the center piece of Carter’s house which the four men discussed Carter’s fate.
The reason I bring this up here is because it ties together the dream Lands and the waking world so perfectly, where I thought previously that they were two separate, mutually exclusive things. The strange clock has strange hieroglyphics on it instead of numbers:
To him let me say that the language of those hieroglyphics is not Naacal but R’Lyehian, which was brought to earth by the spawn of Cthulhu countless ages ago.
And in sunken R’lyeah sleeping Cthulhu lie…and with strange aeons even death may die.
“We spent the rest of the night in the brilliantly lighted study, nervously discussing what we should do next. The discovery that some vault deeper than the deepest known masonry of the Romans underlay this accursed pile – some vault unsuspected by the curious antiquarians of three centuries – would have been sufficient to excite us without any background of the sinister.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we dive down into the depths of Gothic Romanesque castles to find the truth behind The Rats in the Walls. This story is lauded as one of Lovecraft’s best of his first decade of writing, and though the imagery it elicits created one of the absolute best illustrations of Lovecraft’s work to date (in my opinion at least), the story is a bit plodding. It isn’t until the last five pages or so that we really get into the gruesome reality of the story and it’s understandable that it was turned down by so many publications early on (notably rejected by Argosy)… this is one vivid and gory tale.
I contend that the reason it’s said to be the best of his early work is because so much of what he strove to do early on was focus on detail to elucidate setting… in that case this story truly is one of the best he wrote early on. In addition to that factoid, we also have his early theme of family. Specifically revolving around genetic madness. So many of his stories have to do with the narrator slowly realizing that he’s odd, or at least his impulses are, but it’s not really his fault. It’s because there is some kind of hereditary defect which creates a strain of corruption.
This leads me to believe that there must have been something in his own life… some drive or impulse that he (Lovecraft) felt nagging at the back of his skull which he felt was directly a cause of his genes. Or could he have been of the mindset that all humans are inherently good and the only reason someone would turn bad, or even evil, is if they had some kind of genetic interference with their ancestors who in turn passed on the defect? I’m sure there is some Lovecraft scholar out there that knows the answer to this. If you do, leave a comment for discussion!
Anyway, lets get into the text…
We start off with place. The narrator tells us, “On July 16, 1923, I moved into Exham Priory after the last workman had finished his labors.” So the first sentence tells us that there’s some religious undertones to the story. The fact that the narrator is moving into a Priory gives us that immediate understanding of a vast array of history surrounding place…and religion in Lovecraft is rarely good. The reason the place is laid bare is in the next sentence:
“...a tragedy of intensely hideous, though largely unexplained, nature had struck down the master, five of his children, and several servants; and driven forth under a cloud of suspicion and terror the third son, my lineal progenitor and the only survivor of the abhorred line.”
This is our first indication that something is wrong. Why would our narrator call his genetic line abhorred? There’s a bit of contextualization, but we as readers are supposed to pick up that there is something not quite right with the family. However the narrator tells us right up front, “Had I suspected their nature, how gladly I would have left Exham Priory to it’s moss, bats, and cobwebs!”
The narrator gets flack for rebuilding this monument to the past, specifically from the people who live in the nearby town: “When the people could not forgive, perhaps, was that I had come to restore a symbol so abhorrent to them; for, rationally nor not, they viewed Exham Priory as nothing less than a haunt of fiends and werewolves.“
Why werewolves? Lycanthropy, in all of my forays into Lovecraft, has not been a trope that he is prone to focus on. There is primate mating, but no specific virus or disease which causes a person to become an animal. What is it about this, “prehistoric temple, a Druidical or ante-Druidical thing which must have been contemporary with Stonehenge“?
Why had the locals “…represented my ancestors as a race of hereditary daemons beside whom Gilles de Retz and Marquis de Sade would seem veriest tyros, and hinted whisperingly at their responsibility for the occasional disappearances of villagers through several generations“?
Was it because he had an ancestor who “performed nameless ceremonies at the bidding of a Phrygian priest.” or the “young Randolph Delapore of Carfax, who went among the negroes and became a voodoo priest after he returned from the Mexican War” or potentially even “…the hideous tale of Lady Mary de la Poer, who shortly after her marriage to the Earl of Shrewsfield was killed by him and his mother, both of the slayers being absolved and blessed by the priest to whom they confessed what they dared not repeat to the world.“
Well, for the purposes of this story and for the intention of our narrator, (dont forget the lycanthropy thread) it’s probably “…most vivid of all, there was the dramatic epic of the rats – the scampering army of obscene vermin which had burst forth from the castle three months after the tragedy that doomed it to desertion – the lean, filthy, ravenous army which had swept all before it and devoured fowl, cats, dogs, hogs, sheep, and even two hapless human beings before its fury was spent.”
Here we have our explanation more than anything else. The titular rats have made their entrance into the story and they are causing all the havoc. So the priory was burned down. Years later, our narrator rebuilds the house and moves in. Obviously people are not happy, but why? Everything happened so far in the past and the real reason why people disliked his family was because of the rats…well that and the…werewolves.
Shortly after moving in, our narrator immediately finds that something isn’t right with the newly built house. “I told the man there must be some singular odour or emanation from the old stonework, imperceptible to human senses, but affecting the delicate organs of cats even through new woodwork. This I truly believed, and when the fellow suggested the presence of mice or rats, I mentioned that there had been no rats there for three thousand years…“
The narrator’s cat (who’s name I will not repeat here) was pawing at tapestries and walls where nothing presented itself. It was curious to our narrator, but nothing to be alramed about. I will, however, call your attention to the line, “imperceptable to human senses,” and remind you one more time of the strange mention of lycanthropy earlier in the story.
Later that night he has a dream which foreshadows everything else and gives a precursor to the great artwork of Michael Whelan: “I seemed to be looking down from an immense height upon a twilit grotto, knee-deep with filth, where a white-bearded daemon swineheard drove about his staff a flock of fungous, flabby beasts whose appearance filled me with unutterable loathing.“
Strange happenings continue into the next day and eventually our narrator finds a sub-basement. Too scared to proceed alone he calls on a friend, Captain Norrys, and beneath the Roman construction they found a vault:
“The Vault was very deep in the foundations of the priory, and undoubtedly far down on the face of the beetling limestone cliff overlooking the waste valley.”
The quote which opens this essay comes next, with our intrepid explorers trying to figure out what to do. They eventually decide to go through the sub-cellar and go into the vault…where nothing good could ever come.
“There now lay revealed such a horror as would have overwhelmed us had we not been prepared. Through a nearly square opening in the tiled floor, sprawling on the flight of stone steps so prodigiously worn that it was little more than an inclined place at the centre, was a ghastly array of human or semi-human bones. Those which retained their collocation as skeletons shewed attitudes of panic fear, and over all were the marks of rodent gnawing. The skulls denoted nothing short of utter idiocy, cretinism, or primitive semi-apedom.”
What I find truly intriguing about this part of the story is that all of these men are following our narrator down into this pit without any kind of inclination as to what they’re doing. The only person to hear the critters was our narrator (“imperceptible to human senses“), so it must just be the high of the discovery itself that kept them going.
Beyond that we have another mention of “apedom.” This calls back to “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” where, again, one of Jermyn’s ancestors went to the Congo and wed a She-Ape who was considered a demi-god. Arthur Jermyn finds out that his ancestor is a white ape. Could our narrator here have much the same ancestral line? Or could there be a streak of rodent lycanthropy in his past?
Our group keeps going down until we get to this incredible passage. It is here that Lovecraft starts to really pour it on thick:
It was a twilit grotto of enormous height, stretching away farther than any eye could see; a subterraneous world of limitless mystery and horrible suggestion. There were buildings and other architectural remains – in one terrified glace I saw a weird pattern of tumuli, a savage circle of monoliths, a low-domed Roman ruin, a sprawling Saxon pile, and an early English edifice of wood – but all these were dwarfed by the ghoulish spectacle presented by the general surface of the ground. For yards about the steps extended an insane tangle of human bones, or bones at least as human as those on the steps. Like a foamy sea they stretched, some fallen apart, but others wholly or partly articulated as skeletons; these latter invariably in postures of daemoniac frenzy, either fighting off some menace of clutching other forms with cannibal intent.
I’ve been dancing around it, but this has to be the inspiration for the classic Michael Whelan cover. This is the Lovecraft that I had always been looking for as a young man growing up. For me it was always about the imagery and the feel of what he was writing, rather than the actual themes that he was exploiting. I would sit and look at the Michael Whelan covers and marvel at their gothic surrealist nature, but whenever I picked Lovecraft up the language was too daunting for me to overcome.
Now that I’m older and more well read and capable of the mental bandwidth it takes to analyze his language, I felt it was the perfect time to dissect his works, which is why this blog came into being. Hopefully it will give others the ability to enjoy his stories, despite the language, or in some cases, maybe even because of it.
But I digress.
“It was the antechamber of hell, and poor Thornton fainted again when Trask told him that some skeleton things must have descended as quadrupeds through the last twenty or more generations.”
Our narrator had taken his fellows into some hellish nightmare with “prehistoric tumuli” and “skulls which were slightly more human than a gorilla’s…” All this in some massive vault underneath the priory and was so tumescent that “We shall never know what sightless Stygian worlds yawn beyond the little distance we went…“
The group traverses this nightmare realm, built upon centuries of bodies and bones, until the narrator finally hears what he was dreading:
“It was the eldritch scurrying of those fiend-born rats, always questing for new horrors, and determined to lead me on even unto those grinning caverns of earth’s centre where Nyarlathotep, the mad faceless god, howls blindly in the darkness to the piping of two amorphous idiot flute players.”
This is where the theories of the narrative diverge, as no one else in the party sees or hears the rats other than our narrator, who incidentally spouts off some phrase in Gaelic:
“That is what they say I said when they found me in the blackness after three hours; found me crouching in the blackness over the plump, half-eaten body of Capt. Norrys, with my own cat leaping and tearing at my throat.“
Two theories jump out at me as the narrator is put away raving that he didn’t kill Captain Norrys, the rats did. The first is what I like to believe because of all the seeds planted earlier in the story. We had the mention of werewolves, which is merely a reference for us to understand that there is Lycanthropy in the possibility of this story, but instead of it being a werewolf, it’s a wererat.
The second notion is that the narrator is the only one to ever hear the rats in the walls; with the exception of his cat, but I’d contend that the cat was trying to say that something was there in the walls. Some vast power the cat was trying to get to. Cats have power in Lovecraft, just look at “The Cats of Ulthar.”
The unique take on this however, is that the narrator doesn’t take on the appearance of a rat, but the mental capacity of the rat. That’s the power of the lycanthrope here and that’s probably the storm of rats which happened all those years previous. What was built underneath the priory is a temple to the horrible god Nyarlathotep and the people tied to the priory, the people who practiced the rituals and built the horrible vault, were the people inflicted with the curse of the lycanthrope. That’s why so many of the townsfolk are scared of the priory…years ago it was a group of cannibals who imagined they were rats who stormed the village and killed and ate and ravaged. Thus when the narrator discovers the horrible truth, his genetic disposition is to turn feral and become one with the rat…poor Captain Norrys was just in the way as the rodent appetite took hold of the narrator.
We were also given a hint to the cannibalism earlier as well, which could also be considered part of Nyarlathotep’s influence.
The other theory is that everything was normal until they got to the vault and Nyarlathotep’s influence robbed the crew of their senses, but I this theory is all conjecture. The real evidence comes from what I’ve discussed prior and I tend to believe that Lovecraft puts in hints, buried underneath detail, and we just have to dig a bit to get to it.
This story touches on a number of tropes classic to Lovecraft as well. Genetic madness, place triggering memory and sanity, the haunted/possession trope, and architecture which develops a tone for the story. What I love about it (and probably why it’s lauded as his best) is that it puts all these themes together in one place, but doesn’t focus on any individual theme, which just enhances the overall feel of the whole story.
Let me know what you think in the comments! Were there mystical rats? Or was it really our narrator all along?
Join me next week as we dissect “The Very Old Folk”!
“As his hammer blows began to fall, the horse outside whinnied in a tone which may have been encouraging and may have been mocking. In either case it would have been appropriate; for the unexpected tenacity of the easy-looking brickwork was surely a sardonic commentary on the vanity of mortal hopes, and the use of a task whose performance deserved every possible stimulus.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re covering a story with all the mental veracity of Ambrose Bierce coupled with the Gothic beauty of Edgar Allan Poe. We have a very supernatural tale (a slight divergence from Lovecraft’s norm) which is perfect for this post because of the overtones matching Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (well, that is as perfect as any Lovecraft tale could be for Christmas!), because of it’s themes of repentance, and the almost anthropomorphizing of the horse in the story.
Well…It’s Christmas! Let’s get started!
Lovecraft let’s you know the tone right from the get go: “Mention a bucolic Yankee setting, a bungling and thick-fibred village undertaker, and a careless mishap in a tomb, and no average reader can be brought to expect more than a hearty albeit grotesque phase of comedy.”
We follow George Birch, the aforementioned undertaker in this tale, but Lovecraft does something unique right from the get go. He describes what happens in the story, holding back only the denouement, letting the reader’s mind run wild.
“It was generally stated that the affliction and shock were results of an unlucky slip whereby Birch had locked himself for nine hours in the receiving tomb of Peck Valley Cemetery, escaping only by crude and disasterous mechanical means; but while this much was undoubtably true, there were other and blacker things which the man used to whisper to me in his drunken delirium toward the last.”
So Birch, get’s locked in a tomb by accident and something happens to him there. Sure. My mind immedaitly turns to tales much like “The Tomb” where we get some of the strange Lovecraftian otherworldliness and I began trying to figure out what type of story I was getting my self into…was it a dreamlands? No, the tone was too straightforward. lovecraft has a tendency to give a slightly whimsical, or mystical cadence to his Dream Lands stories… so this must be a Mythos story… right?
Well the tone of this story is different from even those stories. Much like we saw last week, Lovecraft tends to spend quite a bit of time on setting the scene, because the power in much of the magic in “his world” comes from words and smells and architecture. This story spends pages talking about Birch himself. , “I suppose one should start in the cold December of 1880, when the ground froze and the cemetery delvers found they could dig no more graves till spring… The undertaker grew doubly lethargic in the bitter weather, and seemed to outdo even himself in carelessness.”
So Birch is a poor Scrooge, or Grinch like character. He is “bucolic” and a grouch, but what’s more he’s lazy. “Birch decided that he would begin the next day with little old Matthew Fenner, whose grave was also nearby; but actually postponed the matter for three days…” and adding to his procrastination: “He had, indeed, made that coffin for Matthew Fenner; but had cast it aside at last as too awkward and flimsy, in a fit of curious sentimentality aroused by recalling how kindly and generous the little old man had been to him during his bankruptcy five years before.” so the diminutive Fenner got one of the better coffins, while Asaph Sawyer who was not “a loveable man” got the terrible cast off coffin that Fenner was supposed to have received …all because Birch was just too lazy to build the correct sized coffin for Sawyer.
Fast forward to Birch inside the tomb, we get another indication of his laziness: “For the long-neglected latch was obviously broken, leaving the careless undertaker trapped in the vault, a victim of his own oversight.”
Birch, through his own laziness has become a victim of his own negligence. Here is the first indication of the Scrooge theme, Birch is sowing his own oats. He created a situation where he has now trapped himself because he couldn’t bother with doing a little work. The “Ghosts” of his past are coming back to haunt him here, but this is just the beginning.
He cant get the door opened, so he decides to take the morbid child approach and stack all the caskets in the tomb up like some sort of macabre ladder: And so the prisoner toiled in the twilight, heaving the unresponsive remnants of mortality with little ceremony as his miniature Tower of Babel rose course by course.”
We get the quote which opens the essay where Birch decides that he wants to chizel his way out of an aperture at the apex of his corpse stair, but …”As he remounted the splitting coffins he felt his weight very poignantly; especially when, upon reaching the topmost one, he heard that aggravated crackle which bespeaks the wholesale rending of wood.”
Because of his carelessness in constructing the coffins, he was now standing upon a tower of breaking timber and corpses, until “...no sooner was his full bulk again upon it than the rotting lid gave way, jouncing him two feet down on a surface which even he did not care to imagine.” That line right there gave publishers a pause. Lovecraft very rarely goes for the gross out, focusing instead on much higher end psychological scare tactics. Here he went full “Johnny Got his Gun” (there is a terrible scene where the main character gets caught in barbed wire and falls on and through a rotten and fetid corpse…this scene and story pales in comparison to the horror that Dalton Trumbo creates in that novel) as Birch’s feet go into the corpse of Asaph Sawyer.
This being a Lovecraft tale you would expect something strange to happen, something unexpected, something otherworldly, but this story is the exception to the rule. This story is a straight supernatural tale, and because of it’s difference it comes off all the stronger because of it. The corpse grabs his leg.
“In another moment he knew fear for the first time that night; for struggle as he would, he could not shake clear of the unknown grasp which held his feet in relentless captivity. Horrible pains, as of savage wounds, shot through his calves; and in his mind was a vortex of fright mixed with an unquenchable materialism that suggested splinters, loose nails, or some other attribute of a breaking wooden box.”
I felt the same way. I didn’t believe that Lovecraft would take a flat out supernatural approach, but I am kept on my toes. Birch gets free and runs away, liping along until he gets to ghis doctor. Once inspected and unloads his story off his conscience, Dr. Davis is horrified because he comes to understand exactly what happened.
Birch gave Sawyer Matthew Fenner’s coffin because Fenner’s coffin was poorly made and Sawyer’s coffin was well constructed. Dr. Davis comes to the realization that Fenner is extremely short, whereas Sawyer is extremely tall. Dr. Davis goes to the tomb and finds the corpse and finds the ultimate betrayal of the undertaker…
“The skull turned my stomach, but the other was worse – those ankles cut neraly off to fit Matt Fenner’s cast-aside coffin!”
The final nail in the coffin!
Birch actually cut off Sawyer’s feet to make sure he fit in the coffin and Davis verified that the teeth markes on Birch’s ankle were indeed from the rotten teeth of Sawyer.
To me this is the ghost coming down to show Scrooge the right path. This was the wake up call to stop being lazy and to start doing right by people. Whether you believe that Birch’s foot just happened to land on the corpse’s mouth, or that the corpse animated itself out of anger at it’s slight beyond the grave, this was Birch’s call, much like Scrooge being showed his possible future.
To me the story is perfect for the season (at least as perfect a story as Lovecraft can get), and I hope you all had a blast reading it!
Join me next week as we evaluate “Cold Air”
To me these Post Scripts have started to become a little bit of an inside joke, but truly they are all here just to get one last point across which doesn’t quite fit into the narrative of the essay. Here I would love to talk a little about the anthropomorphosizing of Birch’s horse.
The entire story the horse felt like something Walt Disney would create. The horse was tryign to tell Birch what he was doing was a mistake. You could almost feel the horse rolling it’s eyes at the laxy way Birch held the reigns. To me the horse was the true indicator that we were in a Lovecraft story. Doesn’t make sense does it? Let me explain.
Normally we would have an unreliable narrator teloing us a story. At some point in the story we get information that doesn’t quite add up right, but Lovecraft forcuses so much on subtlety that we wil never get an outright statement from the narrator saying something was off. We just need to infer based upon the surroundings.
In this story everything is fairly normal, except for the horse (a kind of macabre parrallel to The Grinch’s dog Max). The horse gives indication at every stage that Birch isn’t doing the right things with it’s outragous personality.
When Birch finally gets to teh tomb the horse neighs and stamps and paws, and soon leaves Birch to his fate as the man ventures in. It isn’t until this point that the narrator can take leave of reality. It isn’t until the horse leaves that we start to get something far beyond normal, and the horse doesn’t leave until the very end of the story.
In every tale Lovecraft tells he has a gatekeeper or a key-master. If they cause a rift they are a key-master, if they stop a rift from happening they are a gatekeeper. It is these characters, human or not, that keep things normal. In this story we dont know for sure if what happened to Birch was supernatural or not, but what leaves that open for question is that the gatekeeper is gone. It’s once this horse leaves that the crazy happens, and if you’ll notice…all of Lovecraft happens in the shadows when you’ve turned to look at something in the light.
“Hello. I’m Vincent Price, and you’re invited to my Carnival this evening. So far the ghosts have only murdered seven people. So won’t you come to make it 8? You’ll find creatures beyond imagination, murderers, ghouls, vampires and other…blood sucking things. You’d better hurry, your ticket…expires…at midnight. Your Carnival is at Hubert’s Grove.”
Oscar pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it, as if its screen would divulge more information.
The call’s number was (000)000-0000, so Oscar didn’t answer. He turned to Olivia.
“What is it babe?”
“I just go this really weird call,” he held the phone out to her. “Listen to the message.” He half thought it was a joke. Olivia loved that horror shit. Oscar didn’t have a clue who Vincent Price was, but he was sure Olivia would. Besides that, every year at Halloween she begged Oscar to take her to Hubert’s Grove. It was one of those places where they build a haunted maze in the woods and then charge a crazy admission price to go in and have idiots in costumes jump out at you.
He realized he made a mistake handing the phone over a second before he did it.
“OH MY GOD WE HAVE TO GO!” Olivia squealed when she finished the message.
“No! That was really Vincent Price’s voice! They must have spliced it from old movies!”
“Babe…” Oscar repeated.
She looked at him, then firmly planted a fist on her hip. “You wanna get lucky tonight, you’re taking me.”
A few minutes later they were in the car on the way to Hubert’s Grove.
The marquee said “Carnival of Souls” and they parked right in front of it. The carnival was desolate and run down. There were no people about and the tarp which encompassed the tents was stained and torn. Dust blew on a hidden zephyr through the central concourse where a solo ticket booth stood. Behind the glass of the booth was an old mechanical Zoltar, which had an abyssal stare and teeth that were just a little too white.
The full moon was the only illumination in the carnival, but it was enough to show the way to through the park. Directly on the other side of the carnival was an old house of horrors dark ride with the title “The Tingler” and a large cutout of Vincent Price’s head under the arched name.
“Oh my God this is spectacular!” Olivia screamed and ran to the Zoltar ticket booth.
“For access to the carnival please place your tickets in the slot below,” the mechanical soothsayer intoned.
“Ah, damn babe, I don’t know about this,” Oscar said. “This thing ‘aint looking like it’s been running for years.”
“Oh stop it, you big baby! I seen the squash festival here last week,” Olivia came back at him.
Oscar looked up to the rusty ferris wheel. “That enough time to build all this stuff?”
“Totally! They build that shit in a few hours. Where are the tickets?” She asked.
“Serious? You were there, we ‘aint got no tickets. We just got that phone call.”
A bright flash came from Zoltar’s eyes that briefly blinded them before Vincent Price’s dulcet tones echoed through its voice box.
“Welcome to your carnival. We accept your ticket,” The voice paused and a loud boom echoed over the grounds followed by a shower of sparks. There was a soft baby’s cry and the rides burst to life. Oscar was sure he could still hear the baby’s lament behind the screeching of rusted gears, but he was distracted by the voice coming from the Ticket Booth.
“Your first tickets are for “The Tingler,” so named because of the parasite in your spine that gives you tingles every time you’re frightened. If you can survive The Tingler you will receive your ticket to the next attraction at the conclusion of the dark ride.”
Two tickets popped out of a metal disc at waist height on the Ticket Booth. The voice laughed a terrifying but familiar guffaw before it faded to the ambiance of the grinding gears and soft baby cry.
“This is so fucking cool,” Olivia said already running toward the haunted house dark ride.
Oscar looked down at his arms and could see goose flesh and hair standing on end.
“Hold up!” He said running after her.
The Tingler had a long ramp with switchbacks leading up to the entrance, where a track carried cars barely large enough for two people to sit in. Olivia jumped in one of the cars and slid to the side gently slapping the seat next to her, beckoning Oscar to join her. Her smile hit each ear. He squeezed in and lowered the safety bar to cover their laps.
“The more scared you are, the larger the Tingler grows,” a voice projected from the car’s speakers behind their head.
The car sped up, then jerkily slowed and slammed a 90 degree turn into the attraction, snapping their heads to the side. Oscar let out a little “uh” as they were suddenly faced with a realistic wax figure on a hydraulic piston shooting out at their car. With a hiss, the piston moved the figure away from the car, revealing how fake the set up was. It was dark inside of the first room, which looked like a laboratory with faint glowing red lights. There were dollar store props, including rubber bats hanging from the ceiling with twine. There were other wax figurines in the room as well, all in various poses of horror but none of them moving. On what looked to be an operating table was a wax figure working on what looked to be a giant rubber centipede.
“Your first experience of the Tingler is past! Don’t let it get too strong or it could take over!” Vincent Price’s voice echoed in their ears.
The car moved slowly through the room before snapping again to the left. A sound track of a scream blasted from the speakers behind their heads and the wax figure of a woman with long nails and sharp teeth jumped out at them. Oscar jumped, but Olivia squealed in delight. The hiss sounded and the hydraulics brought the wax doll back into the shadows.
The next scene had even worse décor. There were more wax dolls in a scene that looked like a scientist fighting off vampire, but the supposed house they were in was just canvas that covered the walls with a painted scene and a jarring green lightbulb which lit the room from the ceiling. Vampires were painted on the canvas to look like they were swarming the painted windows and there was a Paper Mache dog attached to a metal pole moving back and forth as though it was attacking one of the vampires. The wax figures looked fairly realistic, though the running wax was evident. Everything else looked like it was produced for an eight year old’s diorama.
“Oh, come on! This is…ooof!” Oscar started as the car made another sharp turn.
This time he closed his eyes as to not get the jump scare but volume of the scream in the speaker system still made him jump.
This room was another painted canvas, however this one depicted a large Victorian mansion. There was a wax figure with a knife attached to a pneumatic track in the middle of the room. It was moving back and forth so that every time it moved forward it stabbed another wax figure.
“The only way to stop the Tingler from taking over,” the voice echoed behind their heads again, “is to kill the host!”
Oscar rolled his eyes and searched for more fake decorations when he saw something strange. The wax figure getting stabbed was missing one of its eyes and beneath the wax veneer was a real eye, open wide and staring at him. Olivia was laughing beside him.
“Yo, what the fuck?” He said as the car jerked them around another corner.
Another figure jumped out at them, but this one had a knife in its hand. The knife slid into his shoulder and his cry of pain echoed the tinny voice over the speaker.
With a hydraulic hiss the wax figure moved backwards. As it did the figure’s the head slumped.
“Oscar?” Olivia wasn’t laughing anymore.
The figure that jumped out at them wasn’t wax. It was a dead woman with her hands tied together around the knife. She had enough wax coating her that it made her body slightly stiff.
The room they entered was entirely metal illuminated by a red light. A figure hunched over a large cauldron in the corner of the room. It was facing away from them, but it was tall and gaunt and absolutely alive.
“The Tingler gets stronger! We must kill its source before it gets out of control!” The voice echoed behind them. There was a click and a grinding noise coming from the speakers as if a record had completed and continued to spin on its pin.
“Oscar?” Fear laced Olivia’s voice.
Oscar tried to turn to see what made the noise and felt a needle slide into the back of his neck.
“Oww!” Olivia wailed.
Immediately Oscar’s vision blurred.
The figure leaning over the cauldron turned around. It was wearing a melting wax mask and underneath Oscar thought he saw burnt skin.
“Welcome to your carnival,” the figure said. “Where you’ll be an attraction for all eternity.”
The figure pulled a lever and the last thing Oscar saw was a body falling from the ceiling into the cauldron of wax.
I’m taking the week off from the Blind Read series to catch up on work, so I’ll leave you with a Lovecraft inspired story. Here’s a horror short based in the madness of the mind…
The black spot was still there. How many times have I scrubbed that damn thing? It’s always there, in the corner, next to the refrigerator, just above the counter in the kitchen. I used to put my knife block there to cover it. It was a large spot, but there were a lot of knifes in the set. It’s such an embarrassing spot. It makes me feel like people would look at it and think I didn’t clean. I mean, how can I ever have anyone over?
Who am I kidding? It’s not like I know anyone who would come over. Not like I have any friends. I can’t have friends. They might want to come over and then they would see the spot and then they would judge me. I have to get rid of it. Cleaning doesn’t seem to help, so I decide that the best thing that I can do is cut it out. Cut it out of the wall, cut it out of my life.
Ah it worked! I got it out of the wall! I went to the hardware store and I bought a drill and cut the embarrassing stain out of the wall. I bought drywall to cover it up and repainted it. It finally looks like the rest of the wall! I can be a normal person now. I can invite people over, I can have friends. This is the best day of my life!
The best day followed by the worst day. When I woke up today, I found a new spot and it’s larger than the last one. It’s in my living room this time. It’s large and ugly. It looks kind of black, but if you get closer to it, it almost looks brown. Where are these stains coming from? I have to go get the drill.
That one was much harder to get out. It ended up being a much larger hole than I anticipated. I started to cut and red liquid came out from the wall. For a moment I thought it was blood. It can’t be blood. Walls don’t bleed. But the liquid spread the stain. I had to cut out half of the wall. I didn’t have enough dry wall to cover it the spot I cut so I had to go back to the hardware store. The clerks there are friendly. Maybe they could be my friends. Maybe. But I have to get that spot out of the wall first.
It’s gotten worse. There is a human sized spot in my room. It’s deep brown. I’m not fooled by thinking its black anymore. The moment I put the drill to it, blood comes out. I know, I know. It can’t be blood, because walls don’t bleed. But it really seems like it. What’s even stranger is that when I cut, the house seems to groan. You know how old houses shift and they make noises? Creaks, cracks, pops? That’s what happens when I cut. I wish I had a friend who could come over and tell me that it’s just the creaks in the house. That it’s not something more strange. That it’s not blood.
I cut into the wall. I ignore the wall’s cries. I ignore the blood. Behind the drywall is something I can’t ignore though. The house has bones. Bloody bones in the walls. Bones where studs should be.
I got back to the hardware store. I need to get more dry wall. I need to get more paint. I’m so embarrassed though. They are nice to me there. I think they can be friends, but something has changed now. It is as though they know about my house, with its blood and its bones. They ask me why I’m wearing sunglasses and a hat and a large trench coat with the collar turned up. They say it’s good to see me, but I can tell that they’re lying.
I put up the drywall when I got home. I spackled it perfectly, then painted it over. No one would ever guess that there are bones and blood behind the wall.
There’s another spot. Another one! It’s in the shower. The brown spot almost makes it look like the wall is skin. Like it has texture. Like it has movement. I repeat the process. I ignore the groans. I ignore the blood. I ignore the bones. I act like nothing is there. I act like I have a normal house. I act like I’m normal.
There’s a new spot today. I don’t know how they keep appearing. I know how to fix it. I’ve done it so many times before. I know I just need to do it again. This must be what my life is. Just getting rid of these dark spots. Erasing anything that doesn’t seem normal. I will make sure that people think I’m normal.
I grab the drill. I run my hand over the spot. I wonder how I’m going to find the materials to fix the hole I create as I cut out this abnormality. I put the drill to my chest. Once I cut this spot out of me, I’ll be normal. I’ll be able to have friends.
“It’s a beautiful place,” I said, looking out over the bow of the ship at the Amazonian jungle as it passed us by. I wasn’t lying. Such an untouched place brought a warmth to my heart, more so than any city ever could.
“It’s a dangerous place, Kay,” My boyfriend David said, “full of deadly creatures, deadly flora, and superstitious and territorial natives.”
“Which is why you brought me along,” Mark said, cocking his rifle and kicking a box of C4 housed under the windows of the boat. “Now hold on, while I dock this thing.”
We were headed to a sacred pool down in the Amazon jungle, following a lead to the find of the century. The missing link. For years my research kept hearing rumors of a fish man in the depths of the jungle, but it wasn’t until Mark and I found the skeletal hand with webbing on a tributary of the Amazon that brought some credence to those rumors.
“Did anyone else find it strange that those natives told us exactly where to look?” Edwin asked. He was our Anthropologist.
“Enough Edwin! We gave them more supplies than they could use in a year! Of course they were going to tell us where to go!” Mark said.
“I’m just saying. Native Amazonian’s historically aren’t too happy to work so well with others,” Edwin concluded.
“The natives are the last thing we have to worry about, Edwin. Let’s get camp set up, it’s starting to get dark. We don’t want to be caught outside with these deadly mosquitoes!” David laughed.
It didn’t take long to build camp, but David was right. The Mosquitoes were horrible. It was so nice to get inside the tent and block out the bugs.
“You hear that Kay? Sounds like laughter,” David said after we had settled down to sleep.
“David, get away from the side,” I cried.
“But I really think I heard laughter. It was strange, kind of gurgling. I’m gonna to take a look,” He said and left the tent. I sat there with my sleeping bag pulled tight under my chin, I mean I know that’s a stupid childish protective safety thing, but I really couldn’t help myself.
I was right to be worried, because after a few minutes I heard him scream.
“David!” I cried and unzipped my tent. I saw a shadow of someone walking by and my skin went cold. There was a strange earthy, wet smell in the air. It was like ozone blended with moss.
“What’s going on?” Mark called. I let out a little yip, embarrassed at my reaction, because he must’ve been the figure I saw.
“David heard laughter and went out to check it out. I heard him scream,” I said.
“Stay with me,” Mark said. He lifted his rifle. “We’ll move to the edge of the water. That way we can’t get surrounded by anything in the woods.”
“What’s going on guys?” Edwin ran up to join us.
“Stay close,” Mark responded. I couldn’t open my mouth. David had better be kidding, but you’d better believe I was going to kill him whether he was or not.
“Woah!” Edwin cried. “Look at this!”
He was bent over something stuck in the muck at the forest edge. Stuck in the ground was an old wooden pendant, petrified by time. It portrayed some strange bipedal fish creature. I turned it in the moonlight when something out of the corner of my eye made me look up.
Mark was standing on the edge of the water line looking past us into the jungle. The something that caught my eye was walking out of the water towards him. The water was black reflecting moonlight making the water look like oil. I thought the figure was David at first, but it was just my mind wishing for something that wasn’t true. The figure opened its arms. It had a huge arm span and its hands were webbed, its skin was scaly, and its neck had gills.
“Look out!” I cried. I was too late. The creature’s arms wrapped around Mark and its nails dug into him. He screamed as the creature bit into his neck from behind. I could see blood as black as the oily Amazon roll down Mark’s body as the creature ripped a piece of his neck free. He collapsed into the water.
“Run!” I cried.
We ran back to the metal safety of the ship. My heart was pounding and I was having trouble getting breath. Did I really just see that? I had to have imagined it, right? But, God the metallic stink of blood surrounded me, I couldn’t focus, I just wanted to be with David. I wanted him to hold me.
When Edwin and I approached the ship, I saw David on the other side of some bushes. My heart soared!
“David!” I cried. “David, get on the ship!”
We turned the corner and my knees gave out beneath me. It wasn’t David. Or rather, it was only part of him. His head was stuck down on a pole that was thrust into the ground. His eyes bugged out of his head, and his tongue lolled. Bugs crawled in and out of his grotesque mouth. I saw a mosquito feeding on one of his bulging eye balls.
I think I cried out. I think I sobbed, but the next thing I knew, Edwin and I were inside the metal boat. Edwin must have put a mop across the handle of the door, blocking us in. Didn’t he see David outside? How did he think a mere mop would stop that thing? Especially with exposed windows?
“Let’s get out of here. We got what we came for,” Edwin said, he was sobbing. Tears and snot running down his face.
“What? What do you mean we got what we came for?” I cried. We didn’t got anything but death!
Edwin held up the idol he found on the beach.
“Get rid of that fucking thing!” I yelled.
“No!” Edwin wailed. “It’s what we were paid for!”
The mop handle cracked as the creature slammed on the other side of the door.
“It’s coming for the idol! Get rid of it!”
Edwin took a few steps back, nearing one of the many windows in the cabin.
“No! Let’s just get the boat moving… ” Edwin said.
The creature’s hands broke through the window and grasped Edwin’s head. Its claws dug into his cheeks and he was momentarily lifted before his skin gave way and the claws tore up and back, ripping skin from his face, piercing his eyes and spraying blood across the room.
I grabbed the idol from Edwin’s dead hands and threw it out the window. I grabbed the broken mop handle in a futile attempt to defend myself.
Then the creature stepped into the room. It smelled of earth and blood and swamp water. It looked like a piranha, if a piranha was six foot tall. Its teeth were razor sharp and its claws were long and dripping with blood. Its green skin shone in the moonlight and it cocked its head to the side like a dog when it saw me.
“I’m leaving. You can go now. I…I won’t cause you any problems,” I called. I took a step back and my foot hit a box. I glanced down. It was the explosives. I knelt down and grabbed a packet of explosives and the detonator. The creature didn’t like that.
It screeched and opened its arms wide. Blood dripped from its hands and its mouth.
My heart was pounding so hard I thought it was going to leap from my chest. The creature took a step toward me and I threw the explosives at it. Its reflexes were incredible. It caught the C4 in the air and immediately turned to look at it.
“Fuck you,” I said, and depressed the button a split second before diving behind a table.
The echo of the explosion resonated in my ears, but somehow I got up and got to the wheel. I thrust the throttle all the way to the maximum. Fuck this place. I was getting out of here.
I managed a glance at the body of the thing. Its arm was completely gone. Disintegrated. Its head was half gone, the rest a toasted black. I had to get the thing off the boat. There was no way I was going to keep going with its corpse there, but I couldn’t think of that right now. I was shaking too bad, I just had to focus on getting out of the jungle.
I heard distant chanting. It got louder and louder and I felt bile rise in my throat. I peered out the window and I saw Amazonians at the shore line. They were dancing and shaking something in the air. The chant was a dissonant sound that made my skin crawl. I squinted at what they held. It was the same as we saw on the beach. The fish idol.
I went back to the wheel when I heard clicking behind me. Nails on metal.
“Gabe! Oh God please get over here! I don’t know what to do. It’s horrible!”
It was Henry… I hadn’t heard from Henry for quite some time. We were flat mates back in college; the days of too much drinking and too many drugs. We’d grown apart over time, not because of any interpersonal issues, just time and space. He’d become a Chemist and I became a police detective. My policing skills made it all the more disturbing that he was calling me out of the blue.
“Henry, slow down. What’s going on?” I asked.
“My lab. It’s been destroyed and… my assistants… Gabe. They’re dead! Someone killed them!” Henry wailed.
“Call the police Henry, meaning right now. As soon as I get off the phone. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I grabbed my coat and exited my brownstone. Snow was coming down in droves which always seemed to make it harder to get a cab. When I finally flagged one down, I got in and the world was drowned out by Bruce Springsteen’s new hit blaring over the radio.
The cab made its way across town as slow as molasses, belying the song blaring on the radio. We apparently were not “Born to Run.”
My hackles rose as soon as we pulled up to Henry’s lab. The windows were smashed and the snow beneath them was spattered with red spots. I hoped it wasn’t blood, but as a detective I knew better.
I tossed the cabbie a tenner and knocked on the door to the lab. I checked to make sure my pistol was in its holster under my coat and took out my Moleskine.
The door flew open and Henry stood there looking frantic. His eyes were sunken and his skin was jaundiced. He looked like he hadn’t slept for days. Springsteen echoed behind him in his lab.
“Gabe! Thank God! Get in here! I don’t know what to do!”
“Slow it down Henry, tell me what’s going on,” I said entering the lab. It was a disaster. Broken glass everywhere. The ground was littered with viscous liquid, but what was worse was the bodies. Two people were dead on the ground. I didn’t even need to inspect them, their terrible wounds told me all I needed to know.
A woman had her head turned around backwards, her spine creating strange bluish-purple bulges in her neck where the bone was trying to break free.
A man was lying in a pool of blood with what looked to be a sword sticking out of his back. That must have been what created the blood spatter on the snow outside. I walked to the end of the room to switch off the radio. I couldn’t focus with that music blaring.
“They told me that a man named Edward came here looking for me. Looking for a new formula I’d created,” Henry said.
“Did they see him?” I started, then looked back at my disheveled friend, “wait, did you say they told you?”
“Yes! They told me he came in here and tore the place apart looking for more of my formula and when he couldn’t find it…” Henry trailed off.
“Henry,” I said. “How could they have told you if they were dead when you got there?”
His face looked surprised for a moment, then it twisted somehow. His skin rippled, his hair grew, his eye color changed. He was not the Henry I once knew.
“Oh you are so smart, Gabe!” His voice was not Henry’s. This voice was lower, rockier.
I reached for my pistol but he was faster than light. He was upon me before I could draw the revolver and his sharp teeth dug into my shoulder.
I screamed in agony and threw him away from me.
I managed a glance at him as I fumbled for my Smith and Wesson. What I saw was not human. His nails had grown long and sharp and his joints snapped and twisted into something more bestial. His eyes were bloodshot, matching my blood which covered his mouth and nose.
“Henry,” I cried, pulling the gun and pointing it. “What was in that formula?”
He laughed and sprung. I do not believe in the supernatural, but I swear he covered the fifteen feet between us with a single bound. His nails dug at my shoulders and his teeth snapped at my face. The pistol went off and he squealed like a rat.
I fell backward when he let go and fired another bullet off after him. I swear it hit him. I saw the blood spray off him but he didn’t stop moving.
The lights suddenly went out, plunging the lab into darkness. The only light in the room was the dim illumination of the lamp from the street.
“Henry!” I cried. “Henry, I don’t know what you’ve done, but we can reverse this! Did the formula make you become Edward?”
Laugher echoed through the laboratory. Springsteen came back on the radio.
“Henry! You called for help! I know you called for me to help you get rid of this Edward. Come out and let me help you!” I cried.
He sprang at me from my flank and I felt nails rake across my back.
I screamed and fired my pistol again.
At night, we ride through mansions of glory, in suicide machines…
“Is there an antidote, Henry?” I cried into the darkened room.
…this town rips the bones from your back…
I heard the laughter of the insane in the room.
“You really don’t understand, Gabe,” he laughed.
I could see his eyes reflecting through the darkness.
…it’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap…
“The serum wasn’t to help me control the urges.”
…we gotta get out of here…
I lost him. I couldn’t see where he was. I took a deep breath and braced my pistol in both hands.
“You see Gabe,” He began before singing along with The Boss “I gotta find out how it feels. Don’t you want to know how it feels?”
He was suddenly in front of me and I felt his nails claw into me again. I shot my gun, but it was errant. He was gone again before I could respond.
Laughter echoed in the darkness.
…Tramps like us, baby we were born to run…
“Once I took the serum there was no more Henry. There was only Edward,” his laughter echoed inside my head. I was suddenly dizzy. I felt consciousness retreating from me. I looked down to where he scratched me. There was no scratch. I saw a syringe sticking out of me.
…I want to die with you…
“I didn’t call you here to stop Edward,” His gravelly voice said.
…on the streets tonight…
“I called you here to have a partner.”
I felt intense anger. I leaned into the hate. It felt good.
…Tramps like us, baby we were born to run…
“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!