Reading Group #13 (Lovecraft's Birthday: 'Dagon,' 'The Rats in the Walls,' 'The Haunter of the Dark'
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Hopefully I get to them this week. If not, it may be awhile before I get around to them. Next week I'm off to Worldcon for the first time, so maybe a little Lovecraft before would be a good taste of the strangeness I'm sure I'll encounter.
Now for the big question. How the hell did Morris dancing come to be listed in 'activities'?! If I wanted to think of the least likely thing to be found in a sci-fi convention, Morris dancing would be right up there with bog-snorkelling, coracle-racing and cack-handed straw wimbling.
I've never read Lovecraft, but now want to after seeing a documentary about him called Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown. I happen to be at a library right now ;) I'll letcha know what I think in a few days.
But speaking of Lovecraft, I'm sure I'll run into the occasional costumed Cthulu roaming the casinos. I'll snap a pic if I'm that lucky.
4> Haven't heard of that doc. Thanks for the recommendation, I'll have to check that out.
You will probably see some people dressed up who wanna live in a futuristic fantasy world, although, there weren't too many in Glasgow outside of the masquerade. I did, however, bump into a rather well endowed Klingon lady.
Connie Willis is good value on panels. She seems to have a good sense of humour and she takes her role on panels seriously and prepares well for the topics. That is a lot more than can be said for some of the authors.
Look out for Ian Mcdonald too. His sense of humour is more subtle than Connie's. He is great on panels too, as well as being a nice guy.
I had a bit of a love affair with Lovecraft (sorry - silly play on words) when I was a youngster and returning to him with
Now then, there's something I really have to get off my chest.
I've noticed a number of reviewers condemning what they see as Lovecraft's over-ornateness of style. Different people have different tastes, of course, but
Just using ‘The Haunter of the Dark’, I think that what they’re getting at is his liberal use of adjectives in his descriptive passages.
This is not some sort of unconscious fault in his writing - the ornateness is clearly intentional and he confines it to the descriptive passages - the explanatory and action passages are lean and spare enough to not attract the ire of these critics, I'm sure.
For the descriptive passages, first of all I don’t think there is a redundant adjective in there - I think it’s the most visual of writing and he builds up quite detailed and atmospheric pictures in my mind’s eye and every single adjective adds a bit more to its picture – I see what Blake sees. Secondly, try reading it aloud: Lovecraft’s actually crafting this stuff like a poet – I see and hear him building up rhythms and echoing stress patterns and making use of alliteration and assonance – but not too much so that it looks silly and pretentious – just a judicious use to make a lovely, lush prose that I, personally, just luxuriate in. If they can't do that I think it reflects more badly on their attention spans and powers of concentration than on Lovecraft's writing. It’s an ornate style, I grant, but I think in condemning that there's something seriously at odds with the spirit of this type of literature. If there's anywhere where an ornate style is appropriate it's the Gothic, surely?
As I said, it's all a matter of taste, of course, and everyone's entitled to their opinion, and, of course, I support to the hilt their right to be wrong.
Edited - 'Pickford's Model'?!
On the other hand, those that I have read I have found beautiful, primarily due to the, over-ornateness of style.
In other words, the small sample of Lovecraft's work that I have read leads me to support rankamateur's statements in #10.
I'm with you rank; I will fight at the barricades to defend their right to be wrong.
(I maintain there's nothing wrong with being biased when you're right.)
One reason why 'The Haunter of the Dark' is my favorite Lovecraft yarn is because this quality doesn't detract, but rather adds, to the story in a way that just isn't the case with, say, Lovecraft's 'dream' cycle (like the absolutely dreadful 'Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath'). When he's not imitating Lord Dunsany, he has a wonderfully unique and idiosyncratic way of telling a story that almost suffocates with its power---bombast or not. 'The Haunter of the Dark' is also his last piece of work, as far as I know, and you can see how his style has refined itself from the brooding decadence of 'The Hound' or 'The Outsider' (the latter is deservedly famous and, under the influence of Poe, probably more 'Gothic' than the selections I made, but this can be argued). Later, when you get to 'The Rats in the Walls' (which I'm not sure if either of you are familiar with), you'll see how his archaism can actually DEFINE the overall cosmic power of some of his best writing; because, for not being part of the 'mythos,' this one is pretty damn epic: and his style is responsible for a large degree of its sinister potency. And, in fact, 'The Rats in the Walls' is one of the most terrifying things I've ever read.
Personally I DO find Lovecraft's prose pretty pretentious: but so did he, I think. And this is part of his charm (and, sometimes, his power). And in his better stories, and his more haunting stories, it can fortify a routine narrative and lend it an epicness that is severely wanting in most horror fiction of this nature. I guess I see Lovecraft as a synthesis of Blackwood's grace, Chambers' cosmicism, Dunsany's dreaminess, Poe's Gothicism, Bierce's cynicism (though this can be limiting), and James' nostalgia for the past, along with a great deal of his own highly original pomp. His body of work is of WILDLY varying quality, in my humble opinion, but at his best he is probably the best American practitioner of the supernatural in well over the last hundred years. Like Poe, I'm proud to call him one of mine...
So happy (almost) birthday, old fellow. :)
HAHAHAHAHA! That image has set my day on the right track...
That said, REALLY interested to hear your thoughts.
Oh I'm glad you liked it! I agree: it's one of his absolute best. When he gets to that bit about the two-legged pack 'animals.' UGH... Marvelous.
#12 - We'll have to agree to disagree on 'Pickman's Model', J. I thought it a bit slow off the mark - or, to put it another way, I found the first six or ten paragraphs to be not very attention-engaging. Then, once he'd really got into his stride, I think he got a bit carried away with it: rather than sticking with his one, eponymous, horrid creature, he had to throw in all those other paintings. The picture with the ghouls and the guidebook and the one with the ghouls and the little child particularly caused me problems. I didn't know whether they were meant as spine-chillers or black humour and didn't think they really worked as either. The one about the cross-section of the hill, I thought, veered close to comic-book silliness. I think they all rather weakened the effect of the 'ultimate' picture when it came and that he'd have done better to culminate the story on just that one - though I have to say that the effect of that would have been much greater if we weren't, these days, all so familiar with that Goya painting of Cronos eating his children (or do I mean William Blake?).
'Dagon' I thought quite good, though it won't be a favourite of mine. I thought it a fantasy/curiosity rather than a chiller. Lovecraft seems to be trying a 'psychological'' story here in that (I think, anyway) he's offering us the possibility that it's all a figment of his narrator's imagination, he being mentally damaged by all that time drifting alone in an open boat. Of course, there's always that 'shaman' thing that you might get glimpses of a truth in 'altered' mental states - as I remember it, Lovecraft invented quite a hefty 'mythology' to underpin his works (which, digging around online, seems to have been appropriated by all sorts of people since). I'd describe it as an interesting read and I always think that using 'interesting' about something is damning with faint praise - okay in an anthology but a bit weak as a stand-alone.
'The Haunter of the Dark': I'm a bit 'conflicted' about this one - I don't think it's the best of the bunch but it's my favourite - possibly for the wrong reasons. As I might, just, have hinted in #12, I absolutely love Lovecraft's use of language and his descriptive passages in this one (so much so, in fact, that I've spent quite a bit of time, recently, wandering the streets of Providence on Google Maps' street view when I should have been doing other stuff - I've yet to find the church, or a good view of Federal Hill from the Brown University area, and, in fact, I'm beginning to suspect the Federal Hill isn't really a hill at all - looks pretty flat to me - anyone from Providence here?). Lovecraft shows me every step of Blake's progress like I'm seeing through Blake's eyes. Did I say I love this story?
I've got to give 'The Rats in the Walls' the prize, though. It's as if Lovecraft set out to write the ultimate Gothic short story - it's got everything, hasn't it: ghosts (if only those of rats); an old, mediaeval (if newly rebuilt for the purpose) pile perched on top of a cliff; cellars; secret passages; caves; dark family secrets; resentful, fearful locals? It even has arrases! You can't go wrong with arrases. I thought it worked properly all the way through: good, descriptive writing; one's curiosity really baited and held; nicely building tension; and I, for one, found the ending as horrific and unexpected as one could wish.
And I've had an email to say that my replacement Necronomicon: The Best Weird Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft has been dispatched. Happy as a sandbag.
Um ... sorry this is so long ...
It was nothing to do with the story, but I fell asleep each time. I think I'm cursed.
I understand your predicament. I was reading Dagon last night, and I slowly drifted off to sleep. Not the story's fault, just too much wine ;)
Paul: 'Haunter' and 'Rats' are my two favorite Lovecraft stories, and they're constantly switching places for number one, so don't feel too conflicted!
I'd love to read your story, too. Are you going to put it on your website?
Arrived as I was posting #26 ... happy as two sandbags! ... see here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/115266#2877830
Shoot me your email addresses and I'll send it as an attatchment! Does everyone have Microsoft Word?
Pgmcc: I'll get it out to you in a few hours. Thanks for the interest, everyone! I just hope I don't make a fool of myself! Hahaha...
As for the Lovecraft volume, I DO love the illustrations, and the selection includes a lot of Lovecraft stories I'd like to have in hardcover but don't. My only trivial little issue is that I don't like the shameless marketing of the Stephen King quote on the back cover, and I kind of wish the words 'commemorative edition' weren't on the front. But I'm a bit anal. I realized that the Eldritch Tales is back in stock at American Amazon, so I'll be picking that guy up soon. I have to say that my Library of America Lovecraft volume is my still my favorite edition of his work, though. I just wish they included less obvious stuff like 'The Hound' or 'Dagon' or 'Under the Pyramids.'
Probably should've posted that last on the interesting editions thread, but oh well.... :D
I read half to two-thirds of 'Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath' last night, basically to see why you disliked it so much. I have to say that I'm rather enjoying it - though I'm damned if I know how to categorise it: fairy tale (all those pussy-cats), fantasy (in the literal rather than literary sense - though I suppose the 'quest' thing is pretty much a cliché in modern fantasy)? The word 'surreal', I suppose, is tailor-made here. I'm not sure I can really call it ghost story or horror story. Lovecraft seems, in places, more concerned with giving full range to his flights of fancy (almost to a 'what on earth has he been smoking?' extent) than with plot and depth, but I'm quite enjoying that. Though, I suspect that this means that it's not something that will stand up to repeated reads.*
I can't appreciate your point on Dunsany as I have absolutely no memory of reading him - although I know I have read him in the remote past as whatever I read had an appreciative mention in its preamble of The King of Elfland's Daughter, which my then local library didn't have, and so I wanted to read it and I've been 'meaning to' read it ever since - for decades. So that's my only memory of him - I don't know if that reflects on the quality of his writing. I'm not clear from your comment whether you like Dunsany or not. Fan? No?
*It's another story that I've read before, but decades ago. Which means that I've pretty much forgotten it except for the odd fragment and am reading it as 'new' ... except that 'odd fragment' happens to be the ending! I sometimes think my memory has its own bloody-mindedness - if you only remember one little bit of a story, the last thing you'd want it to be is the ending.
ETA - Looking at the Wikipedia entry, I'm quite surprised to find how late Dunsanay's dates are - I'd had him firmly down as a Victorian.
I'm mixed on Dunsany. He writes wildly varied stuff. A ghost story here, a cosmic yarn there, a dreadful romance, some brilliant poetry... So yes, I'm mixed. At his best you can see the little inklings of Lovecraft in his work, and yet you don't have to view them in comparison to enjoy them. Like The King in Yellow. But while that book is intense, brilliant, and jarring it is also varied after the King in Yellow cycle is over, like Dunsany's work can fade into watery nothingness for me once his mythology wanes. The Gods of Pegana really does it for me. Moving beyond that, he has his moments, but it's a big wash between multiple kinds of writing that really don't work for me in the first place...
I've never been a 'high fantasy' kind of gal. Tolkien isn't my thing at all, for example. Can't stand him. Dunsany, for all my caveats, walks a line between fantasy, horror, and sci-fi that can be brilliant. But when it gets a little too 'magical,' like Lovecraft's dream cycle, my interest just wanes. Give me something darker. Much darker, please.
In August 1930 Howard wrote a letter to Weird Tales praising a recent reprint of H. P. Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls" and discussing some of the obscure Gaelic references used within.
I can't say I noticed any 'obscure Gaelic references' - I know very little of Gaelic folklore - and I shall try to give it a careful re-read this weekend.
Did anyone pick these up?
Great Chthulu will punish us for this.
Oh, be merciful oh great one!
Next up I've selected 'The Repairer of Reputations' from Chambers' The King in Yellow, because I've been yammering on about it for a while. It's one of the best short stories I've ever read. New thread is up. I hope everyone joins me on this one: there's a LOT to talk about.
I'll be back to post some thoughts later when I have more time...
'The Haunter of the Dark' : Don't even know where to begin on this one. I'll organize my thoughts and report back later. But I liked it.
'The Rats in the Walls' : This has definitely become my new favorite Lovecraft work. The imagery was really intense and vivid, and also the atmosphere--the sounds, everything. Down to the smell, even: I could imagine that. Covered all the senses. Oh, and it was terrifying. :D
Lovecraft was a master at developing atmosphere and the building of tension and suspense. The Rats in the Walls demonstrates his skill and his ability to tell a story in which you know what is going to happen, but are surprised by the fashion in which it ultimately happens.
It is pretty obvious from the start of this story that the family of the protagonist is cursed by something more ancient than known civilisations. This power has been worshipped by the people living on the, shall I call it "sacred", site of the protagonist's family home. The reader realises that the true horror of the curse will be revealed in time, and the only doubt is whether or not the narrating member of the accursed family is going to succumb to the dreads of his family burden, of will he conquer it and banish the demons of his ancestral home for ever.
Lovecraft misleads the reader and presents an unexpected ending.
Throughout the story, Lovecraft’s drip-feeding of pertinent information to the reader is perfectly timed to build the apprehension felt which is paralleled in the growing fear of the characters.
As I read about the first night when the cats became agitated and searched for unseen rats in the walls, my dog was with me in my study. She usually just lies down on the carpet beside me and sleeps. On this occasion she was restless and wandered around the room in a most unsettled manner. I wonder if she has read this story and was trying to wind me up. I will never know.
ETA: Like any Lovecraft story I read, I found the images just building effortlessly in my mind as I read. I could see the bleak cliff, the desolate ruins, the newly built rooms, the darkness of the sub-cellars, the enormity of the subterranean chamber, etc... What's more, I could feel the pervading loathing of the locals for anyone associated with the priory.
Yes. For me, this is perhaps Lovecraft's greatest attraction - I find him the most wonderfully 'visual' (if that makes sense) of writers.
On this occasion she was restless and wandered around the room in a most unsettled manner.
Poor dog was probably quite conflicted - enthusiastic about the rats but all those cats would unsettle any self-respecting dog. Come to think of it, that was a pointer to the ending of the story: you always have to keep a wary eye on male cat-lovers - I wouldn't put anything past them.
I believe all successful horror stories attempt to isolate the victim(s) to expose them to the terrors of the story while ensuring there is no hope of rescue from their impending fate. Lovecraft does this in two ways in the story, “Dagon”. Firstly, he isolates his protagonist on the raised ocean floor where the stranded mariner witnesses the creature and artefact that are to haunt him for the rest of his life.
Secondly, after his return to civilisation, after passing through an episode of apparent delirium, he remains isolated from his fellow man as there is no evidence of the experiences he remembers.
In his state of isolation amidst the throng of modern day life our hero imagines all sorts of possible futures involving the creatures of the deep rising up and destroying mankind. His desolation leads him to his final acts of writing up his story and ending his mental anguish.
Were his experiences real? Did he see a sentient merman? Did the massive obelisk exist on the seabed?
If not, then we have a man driven to madness through his exposure to the sun and his enforced isolation on the boat.
Either way, Lovecraft has told a great tale which gives us an insight into the loneliness of the insane, even to the extent of leaping from a great height to end it all.
Stepping away from the essence of the story, I want to note two things that came to mind while I was reading this story.
In the opening lines the protagonist states that he is going to end his life. This reminded me of Iain Bank’s novel, “Espedair Street”. The main character tells how he decided to kill himself, and even went into his intended method and the location he would use. He then states,
Last night I changed my mind and decided to stay alive. Everything that follows is . . . just to try and explain.
The other point of interest was the reference to Piltdown Man. When Lovecraft wrote Dagon the Piltdown Man fossil would not yet have been exposed as a hoax.
All in all, I enjoyed reading Dagon.
It is. Especially if it's still warm.
#46 you always have to keep a wary eye on male cat-lovers - I wouldn't put anything past them.
Agreed. They are a strange lot.
I find him the most wonderfully 'visual' (if that makes sense) of writers.
It makes loads of sense to me. When I'm reading Lovecraft I am totally surrounded by images in my mind. (Maybe I should stay away from windows in tall buildings.)
I just read Lovecraft for the first time ever and loved the stories. I'm not into monsters or sci-fi; maybe that's why I didn't veer toward him sooner. I read these stories:
The Dunwich Horror
The Call of Cthulhu
The Rats in the Walls
The Color Out of Space
I loved his ornateness in style and even when it didn't quite seem to work, I loved its campiness and originality (I mean, is "slipperily" an existing word?). I love how he introduces you to a bad place by instilling a mounting sense of dread through description. An example would be the opening paragraph of The Dunwich Horror. By the time you get to the mountains whose summits are "too rounded and symmetrical to give a sense of comfort and naturalness", you already know you should've taken a detour. Another great thing he did was give minor characters names and define them by incidental landmarks in the town. It's the sort of thing a town native would do if he were giving a stranger directions. It really makes the setting feel true. Stephen King does this also to good effect. I think it was also in The Dunwich Horror that Lovecraft used the party-line telephone as way to let the readers know what was going on in a location distant from the story's POV character and to reveal the reactions of many dispersed townspeople at once. It's a great story device.
The one thing I found unfortunate in Lovecraft's style is his telling you the story sometimes as distantly as 4th hand. The Call of Cthulhu is written that way: the narrator writes what his grand-uncle wrote about something he read or heard from someone who saw something ...and so on. It makes a reader feel distant from the events. I don't think this method works well very often for any writer. I found myself mentally re-writing the story from the grand-uncle's POV.
Anyhow, that's way more than 2 cents worth...my Lovecraft rant.
His creation of not only terror for the individual, but a communal fear on Federal Hill all seemed real.
For anyone who has walked through an old church, something I have done, his description was very realistic.
One old church I visited several times was an abandoned Church of Ireland building in Donegal. As youths, my friends and I explored this several times.
There was drama one morning when a neigbhours straying donkey wandered into the vestry. While many people had walked through this area without mishap, the donkey proved too heavy for an old trapdoor in the centre of the floor.
It is not funny to think of this hapless beast suddenly falling into the cellar; but it did, and does, cause a certain degree of mirth. Thankfully, a party of about five of us were able, with the aid of much rope, pully-blocks, and blankets to use as cradles, to rescue the animal from the cellar. Surprisingly it appeared none the worse for wear, and lived as happy a life as a donkey can live for many years to follow.
Having read The Haunter of the Dark I am glad we didn't hear any strange noises from above us, or discover anything strange in the cellar.
"Lovecraft misleads the reader and presents an unexpected ending."
Lovecraft, I think, is notorious for his unreliable narrators.
>10 alaudacorax: Cheers to lush prose!
>12 veilofisis: Well, this explains a LOT.
"I guess I see Lovecraft as a synthesis of Blackwood's grace, Chambers' cosmicism, Dunsany's dreaminess, Poe's Gothicism, Bierce's cynicism (though this can be limiting), and James' nostalgia for the past, along with a great deal of his own highly original pomp."
A 'Sins of the Father' theme immediately makes me think of the film, Magnolia (1999).
Since I've birthed identical twin sons, do I qualify for an honorary gothic bloodline?! =D
I'd say so!
(Oh, and I realise with shock that the "recent films I just haven't got around to seeing yet" are now, some of them, 20+ years old. I've never seen a Paul Thomas Anderson film).
PTA is an acquired taste, not for the faint of heart. His marriage to Maya Rudolph showed me that he had a sense of humour and a sense of family with four kids to show for it. His disturbing clarity can be challenging. He forces you to set preconceived notions aside.
It is interesting that twins for me is normal, so to get a gothic scare, I have to up the ante with three girls in The Thirteenth Tale or The Woman in Black! One thing my sons have taught me, is that if identical twins can be so different from each other, then drop the expectations completely for the older brother and the younger sister, they are ALL unique in the composition and personality and level of achievement. Although twin-speak often excludes other siblings/parents, like an impenetrable force field, it is unintentional not malicious, since they're unaware of it at the time, every time, it happens. They might eat the same, or might not, they might pick the same clubs or sports teams, or might not. They never dressed alike and often chose opposite colours to make it easier for teachers and classmates, rather than harder. Hair is the same colour, but was always buzzed short for cadets so that didn't help. When in uniform, even I had a tough time sorting one from the other when parading. Their voices are nearly identical too, so when one bellows from another room, I have to ask 'who are you' first before I know what to say. I don't seek out stories about twins, but am amused by overlaps. I did love a gothic novel in high school (Wuthering Heights, Poe, etc.) before motherhood, so it's the best of both worlds.
I have an odd combination: I have an absolutely lousy memory for faces--to the point of quite regularly being in embarrassing situations (I've even walked past close family members on the street). Yet I've known a couple of pairs of twins at different stages in my life and never had any difficulty telling them apart. I could never explain to mutual friends how I could always tell them apart, but, at the same time, I could never understand how those friends couldn't tell the difference--to me they were simply two differing people, not a matching pair.
My family become irate when names are not written on the back of school photos, now that they're 21, they're on their own, who they see and when. I'm done as social entertainment committee. Now they drive for my errands, do my groceries and garbage, decorate for Christmas and Easter and assume the roles of Santa and Easter Bunny now (since my daughter at 19 still trusts in the presence of both, which I kind of love). The Tooth Fairy steals in for me now, payback!
I attended school with two sets of identical twins; two boys in my Catholic Separate School (grade school or elementary, grades K-8) and two girls in my high school. The boys were harder to tell apart than the girls. It usually came down to hairstyles. Our family had no twins in its history, so both were a novelty.
My sisters think I did it on purpose (somehow?), since they're older than me, with the following result;
eldest = 4 girls
elder middle = 2 boys
younger middle = 1 girl, 1 boy
me = 3 boys with twins, 1 girl with special needs
When you're the youngest, you do what you need to do to carve out an identity! But from what I understand, identical twins are a fluke, while fraternal twins (both boys or both girls or a mix) are genetically hereditary. Now, I barely notice any physical resemblance, since they studied different post-secondary career options, discuss different topics, prefer different culinary and décor choices, etc. But, it never gets old, to accompany all of them to a movie theatre, flanking my daughter like bookends (since she insists on this), and hear them laugh identically at precisely the same time throughout the entire 90min or so, like the stereo speakers of old. I am easily amused ; D
1st - The simplicity of the story and the setting of water to me was terrifying, for several reasons.
2nd - The descent into madness was well described and visceral.
3rd - The family tree, the family home, the ruins restored, the return, the final 'fall' of man and dwelling, was well described and satisfying but was not perhaps what I was expecting, so there was some sense of disappointment or deflation. Not necessarily Lovecraft's fault, just my own misguided delayed response.