... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

60: Lovecraft, Cthulhu, and Other Weird Stories

H.P. Lovecraft is the terrific and terrible ancient dark lord of horrific texts, shuddering and bizarre nightmares writ large upon bound sheets of boundless terror.  Often described as the greatest horror writer of all time, Stephen King called him ‘the 20th century horror story’s dark and baroque prince’, his writing is leaden with adjective, repetition and unsettlingly long sentences.  At times I find myself on the precipice of excruciating, torturous boredom, only to be wrenched out of it by some unspeakable monstrous creature from the depths of space and time.  Imagine how it feels to try making sense of a hundred pages like the following sentence, at two in the morning, tired and a little drunk, but unable to put the book down and accept sleep:

"Formless protoplasm able to mock and reflect all forms and organs and processes – vicious agglutinations of bubbling cells – rubbery fifteen-foot spheroids infinitely plastic and ductile – slaves of suggestion, builders of cities – more and more sullen, more and more amphibious, more and more imitative!  Great God!"
At the Mountains of Madness, H.P. Lovecraft, 1931

As his sentences are populated by twisted descriptive runs of imagination and blasphemous desecrations, his world is populated by a dark pantheon of extinct, sleeping or clandestinely massing hordes of gods, monsters and winged alien creatures.

His human characters are usually adventuring academics writing of their terrifying discoveries as a dire warning to future wanderers who may inadvertently stumble upon similar unfathomable nastiness.  They write their stories in descriptive prose with eidetic recollection of vast speeches and letters from past companions and victims of the oppressive undersea daemons, unlikely happenstance occurrences providing detailed exposition and impossibly complex historical background, and allusions to the mysterious ramblings of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred in his forbidden voluminous Necronomicon.  Despite the Necronomicon being forbidden many of his characters just happen to have a passing or detailed knowledge of it, and the whispered tales of Nyarlathotep, Mighty Messenger, the awful creatures said to haunt remote hillsides, Great Old Ones, and expansive abandoned nameless cities.

Claustrophobia claws at you from one direction, pulling you in to its tight breathless grasp, as agoraphobia yanks you by the hair and throws you into gasping chasms and cities older than the dawn of the dinosaurs.
At times it is impossible to take it seriously, as when he writes:

"There was a terrible fight up there and I hear a frightful buzzing which I will never forget.  And there was a shocking smell.  About the same time bullets came through the window and nearly grazed me.  I think the main line of the hill creatures had got close to the house when the dogs divided because of the roof business.  What was up there I do not know yet, but I’m afraid the creatures are learning to steer better with their space wings."
The Whisperer in Darkness, H.P. Lovecraft, 1930

I laughed for what felt like, and I do not exaggerate - for in my current mindset which I suffer under duress from forces I do not understand, I can only speak literally – a hundred thousand everlasting moments.  That is how long I laughed, and that is how they found me; laughing at the tense story of a man, trapped in a remote house, being harassed by indescribable whispering creatures in the darkness.  A story which unravels unintentionally hilariously with the sentence ‘I’m afraid the creatures are learning to steer better with their space wings’.

Lovecraft is the man who, in all seriousness can end a story thusly:

"The end is near.  I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it.  It shall not find me. God, that hand!  The window!  The window!"
  Dagon, H.P. Lovecraft, 1917

No one in a state of mental functionality could ever consider that a serious and chilling way to end a story, but it is loveable nonetheless.  However compare that accidental silliness to the clammy terror of a story The Shadow over Innsmouth.  It tells a tale of a darkness that has befallen a remote coastal town of the Eastern USA, and a loan explorer who feels drawn to explore the desolate streets, the terrifying cults which have conquered the churches, and the grotesquely deformed locals.  Its premise, which I shall not reveal for fear that the accursed figures with their fishy odour and unusual gait will exact their intolerable revenge, is weird, but its language is remarkable and its atmosphere is cold and addictive.

And we haven't even got to Cthulhu yet...

"The aperture was black with a darkness almost material.  That tenebrousness was indeed a positive quality, for it obscured such parts of the inner walls as ought to have been revealed, and actually burst forth like smoke from its aeon-long imprisonment, visibly darkening the sun as it slunk away into the shrunken and gibbous sky on flapping membraneous wings.  The odour arising from the newly opened depths was intolerable, and at length the quick-eared Hawkins thought he heard a nasty, slopping sound down there.  Everyone listened, and everyone was listening still when It lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed Its way into the tainted outside air of that poison city of madness.
...The Thing cannot be described – there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order.  A mountain walked or stumbled.  God!  What wonder that across the earth a great architect went mad, and ... raved with fear in that telepathic instant?  The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim his own.  The stars were right again, and what an age old cult had failed to do by design, a band of innocent sailors had done by accident.  After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight."
The Call of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft, 1926

What man with love for the written word can fail to be caught up by the overawed account of the awakening of Cthulhu, the great old one; descriptions ripping at raw nerves and overturning urns of unwanted expired emotions?  Or whatever.  And so Cthulhu returns.........

H.P. Lovecraft, by  Cyril Van Der Haegen, 
all credit to the artist - http://www.tegehel.org/

Vision of Cthulhu, by Nick Patterson
all credit to the artist - http://nicktheartisticfreak.deviantart.com/

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu 
R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

Sleeping Cthulhu, by Rob Stanley
all credit goes to the artist, http://www.redbubble.com/people/robstanley

Cthulhu in the Lost City of R'lyeh, unknown artist

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