Supernatural Horror in Literature

The Lovecraft series continues with a famous critical essay he wrote.

Raw Feed (2005): Supernatural Horror in Literature, H. P. Lovecraft, 1927.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

I’d heard for decades that this is a classic essay of criticism in the horror field, and I can see why.

Lovecraft cast a far net and in many languages for stories containing an element, a sensation (even if only a passing one in the rationalistic Gothics of Ann Radcliffe), of supernatural horror.

He read a lot of authors like Oliver Wendall Holmes, Henry James, and E. M. Forester not normally associated with the supernatural but who produced a few such works.

Most important, though, is what all this reading reveals about Lovecraft.

I don’t know when he read these various works — the essay’s publication goes back to 1927 — so it’s hard to state what works inspired his works, but a lot of images and motifs from Lovecraft’s work are mentioned, particularly in regards to Gothics: lurkers in the cellar (“The Alchemist“), evil portraits (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward), and family curses. Continue reading

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Stealing Other People’s Homework: “The Humbug”

Humbug

October brings Poe to mind with his death on October 7, 1849 and his poem “Ulalume” with its line “It was night in the lonesome October.”

Jill Lepore’s “The Humbug” is, I think, too hard on Poe and glosses over his Army career, but it’s worth reading for placing Poe in the context of his hard-scrabble times.

“The Horror at Red Hook”

Yes, it’s time, with no apologies, for that story.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Horror at Red Hook”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1925.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

This is the first of what I term the “I really hate New York” stories of Lovecraft. Part of their charm is the sheer hatred and disgust of the city that comes through Lovecraft’s vituperative prose.  The city and its mongrel, money-grubbing inhabitants are base, degraded, devolved, unimaginative, and unregeneratively evil.

The evil (Yezidis — devil worshipping Kurds from Kurdistan) is still festering, growing again at Red Hook at story’s end. [Yes, I am well aware that Yezidis are not exactly Satan worshipers — at least not of a Christian version of Satan and have been aware of that since reading Arkon Daraul’s A History of Secret Societies in 2002.]

Unconquered evil, is of course, hardly exceptional in Lovecraft, though.

This story sort of stands at a cross road for Lovecraft. Like the story Lovecraft wrote immediately before it, “The Shunned House“, that features a rather traditional horror creature: the vampire with its reference to Lilith, this story has a traditional evil. Continue reading

“Hypnos”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005, 2014): “Hypnos”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1922.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

This is an odd Poe-like story.

Specifically, it reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe’s deranged narrator from “The Tell-Tale Heart”. At story’s end, the deranged sculptor hero claims his great statute is of his mysterious friend, a man whose name or age he does not know, a man he befriended after finding him faint at a railway station, a man who initiates him into various mystical knowledge but then, after a horrible experience while dreaming, warns the narrator they must never sleep, a man who disappeared in “horrible red-gold light”.

His friends tell the narrator the sculpture is a self-portrait.

On my second reading, in 2014, what most leaped out at me was that this is the Lovecraft I love with something missing. Continue reading

“The Shunned House”

Since I’m still writing up a new post, I’ll continue with the Lovecraft series.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Shunned House“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1924.277a820dd7a0f4d98d1dd010.L

This 1924 story is, in mood, sort of a rehearsal for Lovecraft’s more successful The Case of Charles Dexter Ward from 1927.

Set in Lovecraft’s beloved hometown of Providence, it effectively uses Lovecraft’s knowledge and love of the city.

It also evokes, as the later novel does, the name of the historical privateer Captain Abraham Whipple (the narrator is a member of the Whipple family).

It’s a bizarre mix of werewolf and vampire mythologies mixed with the sort of scientific paraphernalia (the evil is dispatched by Crookes tubes and carbolic acid) that not only harks back to gothics like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein but the scientific trappings of Lovecraft’s more famous tales like “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Whisperer in the Darkness”. The evil here is described as an immaterial being from another dimension which sucks life out of the inhabitants of the house like a vampire, but the Roulets are said to have lycanthropy in their past. Lovecraft mentions Exeter and vampires. I believe the town was the actual site of some bizarre stakings of corpses to put an end to a putative plague of vampires.

Lovecraft links, at the story’s beginning, the tale to his idol Edgar Allan Poe when he mentions that Poe passed by the site of real horrors when he spent time in Providence.

 

More Lovecraft related reviews on the Lovecraft page.

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

“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

“Cool Air”

Raw Feed (2005): “Cool Air“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1926.Dunwich Horror and Others

Written in 1926, the same year as his touchstone story “The Call of Cthulhu”, this is Lovecraft in the old vein he seemed to have abandoned after finding his voice in the latter story.

It’s set in a generic, unnamed metropolis, and I get the impression that it’s Lovecraft’s attempt to update Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Case of M. Valdemar”.

Both stories feature doctors trying to defeat death by an act of will.

If I recall correctly, the Poe story had a doctor hypnotizing a man so that his will preserved his consciousness and body after death. Here a doctor preserves himself and his life after death by means of refrigerating his room. Of course, it doesn’t work — indeed, the man is already decaying before the motor of his refrigerator breaks down.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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

“The Outsider”

Raw Feed (2005, 2016): “The Outsider“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1921.Dunwich Horror and Others 

This is one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated story — if for no other reasons than its short length makes it one of Lovecraft’s most easily anthologized works and because of the strong temptation to see, in the solitude and naïvete and hideous and scholarly pursuits (the narrator improbably teaches himself how to read and speak — a literary tradition going back to at least Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan) of its narrator, a mirror of the odd-looking young Lovecraft bereft of a father who died mad in an asylum and a mother who thought him ugly and left him to his books and his homemade altars.

This 1921 story finds Lovecraft working in a European mode because, in terms of architecture (castles) and setting.

Specifically, there are elements of Edgar Allan Poe here. The end of Poe’s “William Wilson” also features a shock ending of self-revelation via a mirror. The isolated childhood brings to mind Poe’s “Berenice” with the narrator who grow up in the “mansion of my fathers”. Poe scholar Stephen Peithman has suggested the tone of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” influenced the tone of this story. All quite probable since Lovecraft later dismissed this story as his imitation of Poe.    Continue reading

“The Rats in the Walls”

Raw Feed (2005, 2013): “The Rats in the Walls”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1923.Dunwich Horror and Others

I noted, when reading the anthology Shadows Over Innsmouth (sequels to Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”) how many British writers fruitfully used their Roman past for horror stories, so I was surprised that Lovecraft, in this 1923 story, used that very setting — in fact, he refers to horrors that are pre-Roman.  (If I read this story before, I had completely forgotten it.)

The story also features subterranean horrors which also featured prominently in several of the stories in Shadows Over Innsmouth (as well as several Lovecraft stories — the underground horrors are ghouls in 1926’s “Pickman’s Model” and rats here).

This story shows, already at this point in Lovecraft’s career, the framing device of starting the story in near contemporary times (the given date at the beginning is in 1923) and then relating a scholarly historical account of discovered horrors. Continue reading

Scientific Romance

Being a fan of Stableford’s work, I immediately requested a review copy when I saw it on Netgallery.

Review: Scientific Romance: An International Anthology of Pioneering Science Fiction, ed. Brian Stableford, 1917.Scientific Romance

Before America colonized science fiction with its conquistador John Carter in 1912 and made it into a genre concerned with space and adventure, it was something different. It was, argues Stableford, a stream of literature interested in “the adoption of the scientific outlook and the attempt to employ the scientific imagination as a springboard for speculative fiction”.

Just as the Vikings colonized the New World before Columbus’s voyage, Francis Bacon and Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac discovered new frontiers for literature when they wrote scientific romances. And, just as the Viking colonization inspired no immediate imitators, no writers imitated Bacon and de Bergerac for a while. Bacon’s New Atlantis was unfinished and published posthumously in 1627. De Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde ou les Etats et Empires de la lune [The Other World] wasn’t published until the 1920s.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that authors in France, America, and England began producing work that was noticeably something different and that stuck in the public mind. These were stories about the drama to be made out of new scientific discoveries, new technologies, and the peculiar psychologies of inventors and scientists. Continue reading