“Through the Gates of the Silver Key”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2006, 2016): “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, H. P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price, 1932 — 1933.277a820dd7a0f4d98d1dd010.L

I am curious as to how much Price contributed to this story.

There is a coherence here in tying this story and the cosmic voyages of Carter to not only the rationalistic background of the Cthulhu Mythos and also the Dunsanian dream stories of Lovecraft, much more coherence than the earlier “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath“.

To be sure, the links and explanation still are fairly loose though the story links pretty tightly to the other Carter stories making it quite clear that we’re talking about the same character. I suspect that the concept of a universe with stories set in different times with different characters yet featuring consistent geographies, histories, technologies, and concepts, came along after Lovecraft. Heinlein’s Future History may be the first. Continue reading

“The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”

While I slowly get a review of Henri Barbusse’s Under Fire, written, the Lovecraft series will continue.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1927.277a820dd7a0f4d98d1dd010.L

I had more tolerance for this story upon reading it a second time, after an interval of twenty-some years.

It’s obviously Lovecraft operating under the influence of Lord Dunsany in his themes, images, and language.

I’m also more patient with long passages of description which this style features.

But I can’t say I liked it all that much more. I did, though, find it more interesting.

First, given that the city Randolph Carter quests for turns out to be a transposed version of his childhood memories of Providence, Rhode Island, I’d be curious as to how long Lovecraft had this story in his head before he wrote it in 1927. I suspect that it was a metaphorical reaction to his return to Providence in 1926 after living in New York City. Continue reading

“The Dreams in the Witch House”

While I’m off writing up a new post, the Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Dreams in the Witch House“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1932.277a820dd7a0f4d98d1dd010.L

This story is too long, but it is perhaps the quintessential combination of the various strains of Lovecraft’s horror fiction.

We have the very traditional trappings of horror with Black Sabbats and witches mixed with the cutting edge science of quantum mechanics (including a physicist I’d never heard of named de Sitter) and “non-Euclidean geometry” and Reimann equations. There is even a rationalized, literal version of the dream journeys Lovecraft’s Randolph Carter goes on.

Protagonist Walter Gilman’s body really does journey to other dimensions and worlds and even seems to bring back a relic of the Old Ones. The story was written in 1932 but seems to take place in 1927 or 1930 — before the Miskatonic University expedition to the Antarctic covered (of course, Gilman is a student at Miskatonic U) in 1931’s “At the Mountains of Madness“).

 

More reviews of Lovecraft related period are at the Lovecraft page.

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

The Lovecraft series continues with a brief look at his only true novel.

He wrote it as an experiment, and it was posthumously published in 1941.

Raw Feed (2005): The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, H. P. Lovecraft, 1927.277a820dd7a0f4d98d1dd010.L

Tim Powers, a Lovecraft fan, has said that he took his method of plot construction from H. P. Lovecraft’s letters. I’m not sure what specific story Lovecraft was talking about when mentioning his method, but, re-reading this story, I noticed that, like Powers, Lovecraft inserts historical characters in his story. Specifically, the figure of Captain Abraham Whipple who leads the raiding party on Joseph Curwen. The first times I read this novel, over twenty years ago, I didn’t know he was an historical figure, but I’ve since heard him talked about in the Revolutionary-era folk song “The Yankee Privateer”.

There are probably other historical figures (besides Judge Hathorne — a relation to Nathaniel Hawthorne) I didn’t recognize.  Continue reading

“At the Mountains of Madness”

While I work on new stuff, I’m going to resume the Lovecraft series.

Some people consider this a novel. I don’t. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not quite long enough.

I haven’t read this one since 2005.

The first time I read it I was dressed in a parka in a college dorm room in January 1982. No, I wasn’t trying to get into the spirit of the thing. The heat wasn’t working and there was ice on the wall.

Raw Feed (2005): “At the Mountains of Madness“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1931.277a820dd7a0f4d98d1dd010.L

This is at least the second time I’ve read this Lovecraft effort from 1931.

On the first reading, I found it too long and, probably because of the impatience of youth, filled with too much description. I liked it far better this time.

In fact, while “The Colour Out of Space” may be Lovecraft’s best story (it was his favorite) in terms of building and sustaining, even upon successive readings, a feeling of horror, this may be, in terms of blending details from the real world with the details of his own imagination and sheer inventiveness, his greatest story, even better than the similar, science fiction-flavored discovery of ancient aliens on Earth — “The Shadow Out of Time”.

It is the closest thing to a bible for the Cthulhu Mythos that Lovecraft wrote. Continue reading

“The Shadow Out of Time”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005, 2013): “The Shadow Out of Time“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1935.Dunwich Horror and Others

This story has an even purer science fiction feeling than Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness“. Indeed, Weird Tales, the place Lovecraft usually sent his fiction, wouldn’t take this story, but it was the cover story for the June 1936 issue of Astounding Stories.

Like “The Thing on the Doorstep” from 1933, this 1934-1935 story features bodyswitching. That bodyswitching is effected by the Great Race which predates man on Earth by a billion years.

Lovecraft not only does his usual connecting his aliens to occult tomes, but he describes the Great Ones in detail — not only their anatomy, but their history and their society and art as well.

The Great Ones have figured out how to transport consciousness through time. They project their consciousness to other eras and other races, switching consciousnesses with other sentient races, including man, while they go about their scholarly duties. Continue reading

“The Thing on the Doorstep”

The Lovecraft series continues. I actually looked at this story already for my World War One in Fantastic Fiction series.

Raw Feed (2005, 2015): “The Thing on the Doorstep“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1933.Dunwich Horror and Others

I had read this 1933 story before but forgot it’s something a bit odd for Lovecraft: almost a direct sequel to his “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” since it involves an unwholesome, pithican native of Innsmouth marrying the hapless Edward Derby.

She undertakes a sorcerous displacement, bodyswitching with her husband (I wonder if Tim Powers, a Lovecraft fan, picked up this characteristic motif of bodyswitching from an earlier exposure to this story.) Bodyswitching also goes on in Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

Derby can’t resist and knows his ultimate faith is for the switch to be permanent. He also can’t fight it at first. Eventually, though, he finds a way and kills his wife Asenath — who is really possessed by the spirit of her “dead” father who switched bodies with Asenath because women can’t be sorcerers.

Derby’s consciousness survives the death of Asenath’s body, and the disintegrating corpse shows up on the narrator’s doorstep. Continue reading

“The Whisperer in Darkness”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005, 2013): “The Whisperer in Darkness“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1930.Dunwich Horror and Others

I recall that Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi at one point said this was one of Lovecraft’s greatest stories. Upon the second reading, I’m inclined to agree.

It’s not only a horror story, but it also has the feeling of a creepy sf story.  Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories frequently boosted their verisimilitude with bits of science and history and literature, but Lovecraft is particularly skilled at that here.

He gives us the Outer Ones, an alien race conducting secret mining operations in the Vermont hills (sort of a predecessor to John Keel’s Mothman), and he describes their biology as well as motives. They could conquor the Earth if they wanted but aren’t about to bother unless we give them trouble. (Narrator Wilmarth and Akeley echo what must have been Lovecraft’s disdain for real estate developers when they talk about how the rural hills of Vermont must not be inhabited.) A particularly brilliant move is equating the Outer Ones’ home of Yuggoth (a favorite piece of fabulous geography in Lovecraft’s oeuvre) with Pluto which was discovered in 1930, the very year this story was written.

Lovecraft talks about how Einstein’s contention that faster than light travel is impossible is wrong. Oddly enough, he mentions the Outer Ones as flying through the ether with their wings when, of course, Lovecraft must have been aware that ether was disproved in the famous Michaelson-Morley experiment which laid the groundwork for Einstein’s work. Continue reading

“The Dunwich Horror”

The Lovecraft series continues while I write up some new reviews.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Dunwich Horror“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1928.Dunwich Horror and Others

This is at least the second time I’ve read this, one of Lovecraft’s more famous stories.  I suspect that’s mostly because a not very good movie was made from it.

For the Lovecraft fan, it does contain mention of Miskatonic University professors, occult books including the Necronomicon, and Arkham, but I don’t think it’s one of Lovecraft’s better efforts.

I think it’s too long, and I think the part that’s too long is the lengthy descriptions of the havoc and evidence left by the invisible Dunwich horror when it finally bursts out of the Whateley house.

As with his “The Colour Out of Space“, written a year earlier in 1927, this is not a tale told in the first person by a highly distraught or doomed narrator. (It does share similar images of blasted heaths in rural New England.)

Lovecraft could get away with minute descriptions of events in the other tales because we are interested in watching intelligent, rationale men try to fit new horrors of the cosmos in their old paradigms. We cry in frustration at their refusal to see obvious — if novel — truths. Continue reading

“The Call of Cthulhu”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005, 2012): “The Call of Cthulhu“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1926.Dunwich Horror and Others 

This is it, perhaps Lovecraft’s keystone story, certainly the one that not only leant its name to the Cthulhu Mythos, but also the first that seemed to have combined his cosmic horror and New England setting.

Reading it again in 2005, for the second time, I was struck how this is Lovecraft’s most frenetic tale in the sense that its plot covers not only a lot of time — not that unusual for Lovecraft who liked to frame historical horrors in a modern narrative — but spatially as well.

The action hops from Boston to New Orleans to the Pacific to England and Norway.

The cosmic horrors are portrayed through three subplots separated in space and (in the case of New Orleans and the rest) time.

The narrator’s grand-uncle investigates the odd dreams of a certain artist in Providence. A police inspector in New Orleans uncovers a sinister cult. And both those stories are linked to the appearance of Cthulhu in the Pacific when R’lyeh rises. Surprisingly, Cthulhu is stoppd by the turning wheel of a steamer, but the cosmic horror of what his presence reveals haunts the narrator. Continue reading