“He”

Another look at a story I’ve already covered once, but it was this Deep Ones reading over at LibraryThing, so I thought I’d say a few more things about it and defend Lovecraft on some points.

Review: “He”, H. P. Lovecraft, 1925.Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

I was faint, even fainter than the hateful modernity of that accursed city had made me.

“He” is the second of what I call Lovecraft’s “I hate New York” stories.

It is also, after his “The Silver Key”, written in 1926, the most autobiographical of his stories, a hate letter to New York City and modernity.

The story opens with that cry from the heart of the narrator and continues:

I saw him on a sleepless night when I was walking desperately to save my soul and my vision. My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfronts to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten, and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyse, and annihilate me.

The hero goes on long nocturnal jaunts to find the hidden historical curiosities of Old New York:

tottering Ionic columns and fluted pilasters and urn-headed iron fence-posts and flaring-lintelled windows and decorative fanlights.

Continue reading ““He””

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“The Space-Eaters”

Another recent reading for the Deep Ones discussion group at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Space-Eaters”, Frank Belknap Long, 1927.Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos

In his H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, S. T. Joshi says the following:

This story can be said to have two distinctive qualities. It is the first work to involve Lovecraft as a character … and – although this point is somewhat debatable – it is the first “addition” to Lovecraft’s mythos.

And yet, to be perfectly honest, “The Space-Eaters” is a preposterous and ridiculous story.

Well, I’ve certainly read worse stories in and out of the Mythos. But it’s not a good story, and I’ve briefly talked about it before.

I don’t think it is a Cthulhu Mythos story. It references none of the locations, blasphemous tomes, or “deities” of that vast conception carried on for 90 some years now. The brain-eating menace from space isn’t even given a name.

The story is 32 pages long, and, for most of that, Long fails to create any sense of menace or wonder except for a couple brief scenes.

The story has Howard, a writer, and Frank, his narrator and friend. Yes, that’s Howard as in Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Frank as in Frank Belknap Long.

Lovecraft’s only requirement for his fictional portrayal was that he be shown as “LEAN” since he was a bit pudgy during his recent failed marriage and exile in New York City and had lost the weight.

Writer Howard opens the story complaining of his inability to write a horror that “transcends everything” and then goes on a riff imagining a horror that “could eat their way to us through space!”.

Long seems to be having a bit of fun with his friend Lovecraft and making some sly, personal jokes because the very first page of the story sums up Howard’s opinion, not all that favorable, of many of the authors Lovecraft mentions favorably in his Supernatural Horror in Literature: Bram Stoker, Anne Radcliffe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Algernon Blackwood. Lovecraft’s idol Edgar Allan Poe even gets criticized has having “really accomplished very little with his Lady Ushers, and liquescent Valdemars”.

Howard also trembles and gets angry at several points in the story whereas I think of Lovecraft as probably often stoic or good-humored with only occasional outbursts of exasperation or anger.

Howard also laments that he is not a mathematician and cannot glimpse the “strange curves and angles” of the fourth dimension. This may, as well as bringing to mind Long’s far better tale of menacing geometry, “The Hounds of Tindalos”, may be a reference to Lovecraft’s lack of mathematical aptitude keeping him from his intended career as an astronomer.

Anyway, a local man, Henry Wells shows up Frank’s house, with an odd story and an odd injury.

And here is where Long makes his biggest mistake.

A classical opening gambit for a Mythos story is to make some grand philosophical observation based on the events later in the story. Perhaps the best examples from Lovecraft’s work are the beginning of “The Call of Cthulhu” and “At the Mountains of Madness”.

Long wants us to swallow the coincidence that Howard’s opening speculations are realized in random later events.

Wells has an odd hole in the right side of his. It’s clean and bloodless and may just go into the middle of his brain.

He tells us how he got it. He was driving his horse and cart that foggy night through Mulligan Wood, a rather sinister place whose menacing vegetation may be a reference to Lovecraft’s recently completed “The Colour Out of Space”. He feels something odd drop on his head, something soft and with a jelly-like consistency.

Then he sees what looks like a thin white arm, and just the arm, descend from the tree tops and grope around the ground.

Wells and his horse bolt away, but then he feels a lancing, ice cold pain in his skull, passes out for ten minutes and then goes to Frank’s house.

Howard thinks this is a splendid story, an “accidental tour de force”, and that Wells’ wound is self-inflicted, that Wells is crazy.

Wells is not happy to be thought a liar and is overcome with pain again and runs into the night.

Frank and Howard decide they really should go find him and get a doctor, so they go into Mulligan Wood. After seeing the shapes of “venomous tongues and leering eyes” in the fog, they find the screaming Wells and take him back to the house, tie him up, and call for Dr. Smith.

Smith doesn’t think Wells is going to last long, and one of two effective episodes in the story is his probing of Wells’ head and wound.

Smith is aghast. He believes they are dealing with an alien menace, and Frank’s house is now marked for destruction.

Howard and Frank agree a menace is out in the foggy night and head for Frank’s launch and the sea. Mulligan Wood is alive with ominous dronings and humming.

They make it to the launch and, at sea, they see a “vast, formless shape” above the forest which has, unaccountably, started to burn.

And here Long makes his second mistake. The alien menace is kept at bay with some burning cotton from the boat and the sign of the cross. Banal folk magic defeating cosmic menace is a mistake Lovecraft made in “The Dreams of the Witch House”.

And there concludes the first part of the story.

The second part has Howard trying to turn the whole thing into a story. Frank thinks that’s a blasphemous violation of “the privacies of the mind”, that the story is too convincing, too real. The event should be suppressed. (Which picks up a theme of many of Lovecraft’s stories: the suppression of the truth by individuals and institutions.)

Howard refuses, and, in the concluding third section, Frank gets a strange call from Howard. “They’ve come back! I have become a priest of the Devil.”.

Frank goes to Howard’s house where he sees strange shafts of light penetrating Howard’s head, Howard who is lying on the floor, his hands before his eyes as if blotting out a hellish vision.

And when strange sounds come from Howard’s mouth, Frank makes the sign of the cross, the house starts burning, and Frank leaves his dead friend on the floor.

 

More reviews of Lovecraft related material are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

And more reviews of fantastic fiction in general are indexed on the title and author/editor pages.

The Mind Parasites

The Lovecraft series continues with a novel and more ruminations on Lovecraft. I should add that, while the Amazon link takes you to the edition I read, Wilson scholar Gary Lachman, whose blog you’ll find on the lists of blogs I follow, wrote an introduction to a new edition.

Raw Feed (2005): The Mind Parasite, Colin Wilson, 1967.Mind Parasites

In his preface, Wilson recounts his history with H. P. Lovecraft.

His first encounter was entirely provoked by the similar title of a Lovecraft collection, The Outsider and Others with his own first work, the non-fiction The Outsider. Wilson initially found Lovecraft a sick, pessimistic recluse who weakly turned away from the world he was alienated from, taking vengeance on it in “gloomy fantasy”.

While he doesn’t come right out and say it, this seems to back up S. T. Joshi’s contention that Wilson found Lovecraft a pessimistic (Lovecraft would have said indifferent) materialist to be the polar opposite in temperament to Wilson and reacted accordingly. Wilson proceeded to put forth this view in his The Strength to Dream “in which Lovecraft figures largely.”

Later, Wilson came to see Lovecraft as one of those rare, obsessed outsiders doomed by circumstances of economics, not able to give free reign to his powers unlike more famous outsiders like Shelley, Keats, and Byron. He speculates that a financially independent Lovecraft would have given free rein to his curiosity and produced less horror and more fantasy like “The Shadow Out of Time” or “The Call of Cthulhu”. A richer Lovecraft would have had more time and energy, probably would have produced more fiction, and, if it was well received by those he respected, he would have continued to write it. Continue reading “The Mind Parasites”

The Disciples of Cthulhu

The Lovecraft series and now we’re getting into Lovecraftian authors rather than the Gentleman from Providence.

Raw Feed (2005): The Disciples of Cthulhu, ed. Edward P. Berglund, 1976.Disciples of Cthulhu

“Editor’s Foreword”, Edward P. Berglund — Brief summation of the various waves of H. P. Lovecraft imitators.

“Introduction”, Robert Bloch — Bloch talks about how the reputation of his old mentor, H. P. Lovecraft, has been on the ascendant unlike the celebrated mainstream authors of 1929 the year Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” was actually published. He talks briefly about the religion/cult of Lovecraft of which he is one of the oldest members.

The Fairground Horror”, Brain Lumley — In his biography of Lovecraft, S. T. Joshi singled out Brian Lumley as symbolizing the worst of the Lovecraft imitators. I have a fond spot for Lumley though.  After being introduced by a friend to Lumley’s first two Titus Crow books (the best ones of the series), I read all the Lovecraft fiction I could find thereby filling in the gaps from reading a lot of his short stories earlier but none of Lovecraft’s novels. However, this biter-bitten story simply seemed, with its Cthulhu idol in a carnival funhouse, a takeoff on the Hazel Heald — H. P. Lovecraft story “The Horror in the Museum“. Lumley also seems determined, as Joshi noted, to work in as many references as possible to names in Lovecraft’s work.

The Silence of Erika Zann”, James Wade — Certainly not written in H. P. Lovecraft’s style and not using any elements of the Cthulhu Mythos, this story doesn’t really work. Basically, it’s about the daughter of Erich Zann, as in Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann“, encountering an extra-dimensional entity called to Earth by the strange properties of her psychedelic rock music (the story is set in a psychedelic club in San Francisco). The combination of too-explicit prose with, paradoxically, too vague of an explanation, doesn’t work. Continue reading “The Disciples of Cthulhu”

H. P. Lovecraft: A Life

The Lovecraft series continues with a look at S. T. Joshi’s biography of that writer.

Joshi has expanded this 708 page book into 1,200 pages with the updated edition called I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to do my wrists a favor, when I do, and get the kindle edition.

Raw Feed (2005): H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, S. T. Joshi, 1996, 2004.H P Lovecraft A Life

Joshi is such a concise writer that it would do little good to sum up all the points of interest in this book’s 655 pages of text, and some it, expectedly, repeats Joshi’s H. P. Lovecraft and H. P. Lovecraft:  The Decline of the West. Since Joshi sums up all of Lovecraft’s fiction including some of his most important revisions, I think this book comes about as close as you can get to a one volume introduction to Lovecraft without reading his work.

He gives brief summaries of Lovecraft’s most important correspondents and professional contacts, the magazines he published in, and other matters related to Lovecraft’s interests, life, and times.

Granted, some of this gets a bit far afield.

Is it really necessary to give a summary of Antarctic exploration when mentioning Lovecraft’s interest in it even though it is, of course, relevant to his “At the Mountains of Madness“?

Still, I learned a lot about Lovecraft. Continue reading “H. P. Lovecraft: A Life”

H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West

The Lovecraft series continues with a long look at a title S. T. Joshi still considers one of his most important works on Lovecraft.

For those who want something else of mine touching on some of the themes of this book, check out my review of Lovecraft’s Letters to James Morton.

Raw Feed (2005): H. P. Lovecraft:  The Decline of the West, S. T. Joshi, 1990.H P Lovecraft

This was a fascinating, illuminating book.

It is not that Lovecraft’s individual ethics, philosophical notions of materialism, politics, and notions of aesthetics were that unique. It is the combination that was somewhat unique and, most importantly — as Joshi convincingly shows — how those views consistently show up in his fiction.

In the first half of the book, Joshi documents (mostly through Lovecraft’s voluminous correspondence) the development of Lovecraft’s philosophy and how it was influenced by others — philosophers ancient and modern and science.

Lovecraft, descendant of a wealthy New England family that, in his childhood, fell on hard times, was a lifelong aristocrat. Always suspicious of democracy, Joshi shows how he moved from notions of an aristocracy of birth to (with relapses expressed in his letters and often involving race) an aristocracy of intellect. Thus he moved from a sentimental “royalist” (of course America has no official royalty but Anglophiliac Lovecraft earlier expressed, in his associated love for 18th Century England and Colonial America, a love of English royalty — or, at least, Queen Anne) and Republican to an advocate of “fascistic socialism” and voter for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Continue reading “H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West”

H. P. Lovecraft

Another day and another day without a new review.

However, I’ll continue the Lovecraft series.

We’re done with Lovecraft’s fiction and moving into books about Lovecraft.

Raw Feed (2005): H. P. Lovecraft, S. T. Joshi, 1982.H P Lovecraft

I paged through this book for 21 years without actually reading it, before this, cover to cover (as well as looking through other Joshi writings on Lovecraft), so there wasn’t a lot here that I found new.

Still, I found some stuff new and interesting.

Concerning particular stories, Joshi makes the intriguing claim that Rome-loving Lovecraft was inspired by Constantine taking the treasures of the Western Empire to Constantinople when he had the Old Ones of “At the Mountains of Madness” stock, in their declining phase, their capital city in the Antarctic with treasures from their other cities. Furthermore, Joshi makes the claim (and I shall have to pay attention next time I read it) that “The Haunter of the Dark” is, like “The Thing on the Doorstep“, a tale of psychic possession. Continue reading “H. P. Lovecraft”