“The Terrible Old Man”

The Lovecraft series continues.

Raw Feed (2005, 2017): “The Terrible Old Man“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1920.Dunwich Horror and Others

This 1920 story is a further demolition of my theory that between 1923 and 1925 Lovecraft abandoned vaguely European, Gothic settings and started to set stories in New England.

This story is set in Lovecraft’s fictional Massachusetts town of Kingsport.

The story itself is pretty undistinguished.

In a plot told with a cutely sardonic, ironic tone, we get a biter-bitten story about three criminals who find out that the Terrible Old Man is not an easy mark for a home invasion but a sorcerer who wracks terrible vengeance on them.

On re-reading this a few months ago, the thing that struck me time was the Dunsanian pacing with lots of conjunctions as well as the ethnic names of the criminals with the (Czech? Polish?) Czanek being “more than ordinarily tender-hearted” than his Italian cohorts Ricci and Silva. The ethnic tensions of the “new and heterogeneous alien stock” moving into Old New England are highlighted.

The unstated implication is also that the old pirate crew, somehow stored in bottles, is what killed them (the marks of many boot heels).

 

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“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

Written in Darkness

Review: Written in Darkness, Mark Samuels, 2017.Written in Darkness

Good weird fiction doesn’t lend itself to long reviews. The powers of the story are weakened when surprises are prematurely revealed. The effects of carefully paced narration are distorted or not conveyed. Latinate words like “alienation”, “identity”, “penance”, and “transformation” are cold and insufficient words of thematic taxonomy.

And Samuels’ collection is good weird fiction of a bleak yet, as Reggie Oliver notes in his introduction, exultant sort. The tone and effect may remind one of Thomas Ligotti, an author Samuels has called the greatest living writer of weird fiction. Yet Samuels rejects that writer’s materialistic nihilism.

So, I’m going to lightly touch on the stories first and then wrap up with some thoughts and analysis laden with spoilers. 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.

 

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“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

“The Picture in the House”

With Carmilla, I’ve caught up on my backlog of reviews, so I’m continuing my Lovecraft series until I finish something new.

Raw Feed (2005): “The Picture in the House“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1920.Dunwich Horror and Others

This story demolished a theory I was forming as I worked my through this collection where the stories are not the chronological order of their composition.

I thought that somewhere between his 1923 story “The Rats in the Wall” and his 1925 story “In the Vault“, Lovecraft abandoned vaguely European settings and begin to set things in his native New England.

However, this 1920 story, the earliest I’ve read so far in the collection, is set in New England. While its horror may involve a traditional motif of cannibalism, there are already several characteristic Lovecraft elements here:  evil, degenerate rural New Englanders of Puritan stock; horror revealed through old books and pictures (no mention of the famous Necronomicon yet, though); chunks of New England dialect; and even the fictional geography of the Miskatonic River and Arkham.

 

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Carmilla

I’m taking a break from the Lovecraft series to talk about somebody else’s weird fiction: Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla.

Review: Carmilla, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu with introduction and notes by Jamieson Ridenhour, 2009.Carmilla

Essentially, this is an annotated version of Carmilla presented in a package of supplementary criticism and other fiction that places it in the greater context of vampire fiction.

Even if you don’t pay close attention to vampire fiction, and I don’t, you’ve probably heard of Carmilla as the other great 19th century vampire novel besides Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

If you haven’t read it, spoilers are ahead. If you have read it, perhaps I’ll present new insights via Ridenhour.

And you’ve probably heard it’s a lesbian vampire story.

Is that true?

Yes and no. Continue reading

“The Haunter of the Dark”

Raw Feed (2005, 2012): “The Haunter of the Dark“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1935.Dunwich Horror and Others

This story is dedicated to Robert Bloch, then one of the youngest members of the Lovecraft circle. I don’t know if he had started writing then, but the titles of tales the protagonist-writer Robert Blake has written sound like some Bloch Cthulhu mythos stuff I’ve read. The Cthulhu Mythos was never a planned, internally consistent series, but by this time Lovecraft and others had written enough of the stories that Lovecraft mentions Azathoth, Yuggoth, Khem, and Nyarlathotep and the Necronomicon and several other of the fake books of the Mythos.

On reading the story for the third time in 2012, I noticed this time that this story – perhaps because I knew he was jocularly responding to Robert Bloch’s “The Shambler from the Stars” – is Lovecraft’s most personal in that he goes on and on about the architectural details of the building housing the Church of the Starry Wisdom and Providence in general.

Also, this story has a similarity to “The Music of Erich Zann” in that, with the area around the church and its strange power and seeming portal to other dimensions, is reminiscent of the apartment building that story takes place in.

Also, I forgot the addition to the Mythos’ blasphemous library and scholarly (including a play on the Bloch invented Black Pharaoh) that Robert Blake finds.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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“The Music of Erich Zann”

Raw Feed (2005, 2014): “The Music of Erich Zann“, H. P. Lovecraft, 1921.Dunwich Horror and Others

Another early story that shows Lovecraft operating in a less characteristic way than he was to become famous for.

This is another European story in that its locale is vaguely European. The only specific geographical reference is to Rue d’Auseil street yet the language of the narrator is unstated as is his purpose for being in the city.

The story is less explicit than Lovecraft’s most famous stories; it is almost entirely a mood piece.

The Rue d’Auseil, supernaturally disappearing and abutting alternate dimensions, is an extreme example of the lost Pickman apartment in Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model“.)

And yet, there is something of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror here in that Erich Zann, whose motives are never made clear, seems to look out his window at cosmic dimensions and play his strange, original music as much to keep monsters at bay as call denizens of the cosmos to him. Continue reading

“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