lovecraft-proof

Earlier this year C, who is 100% a literalist subeditor, managed to get through several HPL stories, including “The Haunter of the Dark” & “The Colour Out of Space”, as bedtime reading, without having a moment’s insomnia or a single nightmare.

“So, this ‘Goat with a Thousand Young’ business,” she says: “What’s scary about that ?”

I try to explain that it can’t really be a goat. It’s an attempt to describe something by one of its qualities, or–worse–to encode some quality it possesses which can’t be described any other way.

She says: “Bollocks. Goats can’t have a Thousand Young. & anyway, why’s that frightening ?” She’s Lovecraft-proof.

At 17, I couldn’t have the books in the house. If I owned them I’d read them. If I read them, I wouldn’t sleep for days. When did they stop doing that to me ?

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “lovecraft-proof

  1. I’m disappointed by the subophobic tone of the above, Mike, and will be reporting you to the Council for dependent clause abuse.

  2. Though I must say I’m impressed that according to your timestamp you really are writing to us from the future.

  3. Martin

    I think I read HPL when I was about 12. Some truly frightened me (“Innsmouth”; “Pickman’s Model”; “Dunwich Horror”) – but even then, I could see that things like “Herbert West” or “The Shuttered Room” were screamingly over-written.
    Ramsey Campbell tells the story of one future fantasy writer who was read “The Rats in the Walls” when he was 4 or 5, and thought it was great.

    Shub Niggurath’s like the Lamb in “Boy in Darkness” : it can’t really be a sheep, either. We know animals don’t speak, let alone live down an abandoned mine – but that doesn’t stop Peake’s invention being a very disturbing piece of work.

  4. uzwi

    I never think of them as dependent, Julian, they just need a little help to get on their feet.

    Hi Martin. I like the sheer scandal of it, so I’m glad to have C remind me. Exactly how does it work, though ? Is there a poetics person out there who could tell us ?

  5. Perhaps it’s just because I’m a guilty white liberal from the American South, but I doubt that the evident racist slur in Shub-Nigguruth’s name is accidental, coming as it did from a man who would name a black cat “Nigger-Man.” A Negroid Goat spawning a thousand degenerate criminal shoggoths, The Coloureds out of Space… demons to some, I suppose.

    What do you make of this take on Lovecraft?

    http://hoodedutilitarian.blogspot.com/2008/12/xoth-intro.html

  6. Mattbot

    Hi, I just found your site after finishing Nova Swing. It brought a smile to see you bring up HPL. For me, HPL’s “The Dreams in the Witch House” really captures that sense of once safe assumptions dissolving away into a sickly unknowable. The ur-ungoat dons the skin of Time and Physics in Gilman’s dreams. Gilman lacks the inoculating cynicism of fellow entradista Serotonin but I felt a shared sense of motive between the two as I read Nova Swing. The Tract is a bit like the Reality with a Thousand Young, is it not? I suspect Jenkin Brown has black and white cats hot on his heels right now!

  7. Martin

    Not sure of the poetics. But what struck me when I first read him was the sheer conviction, which may be poetics (or HPL’s 1001 phobias and prejudices) under another name. Freudian readings of Cthulhu are rife. Less obvious are the psychological qualities in himself that Lovecraft touched on when he brought Yog Sothoth and the rest to light: what those beings/terms privately signified. But there must be a huge French critical literature on this very point.

    Personally, I’m not proof. Images from “The Whisperer in Darkness” and “Dexter Ward” still disturb me , and some of those “thousand young” edge into the corner of my eye whenever I’m walking alone in woodland. No doubt Lovecraft, arch rationalist that he was, would be tickled to death.

  8. uzwi

    Hi Aaron. Sorry your post only just appeared. The blog decided you might be comment spam.

    I deplore Lovecraft’s “politics”, of course; and that goes some way to answering the question with which I finished my post.

    But the interpretation you present, while it seems perfectly tenable, also seems a little paranoid in its specificity. After all, HPL was hardly in the closet: no one need scour the work for linguistic clues to his attitudes. All you need to do is read his letters; or “The Horror at Red Hook”, in which he’s happy to tell you exactly what he thinks.

    If you can bring yourself to sweep out the politics for a moment, & ignore the excitingly awful writing, there’s a residue in HPL you can’t dismiss. So in a way the problem–or game–becomes that of finding new uses for him–new ways to interpret which can drive useful new meanings. Houellebecq even found a way to rehabilitate the prose, which might be a step too far for me… Have you read Collapse, volume IV ? That would provide a broad introduction.

    Hi Mattbot. Just so. You can imagine how your smile made me smile. Although I have to say, some of us never really felt “cosmic horror”. It isn’t so much cynicism as (authorial) boredom with the extraordinary anthropocentric panic HPL represents. Don’t you feel that even 1920 was a bit late to throw a tantrum about not being the be-all & end-all of the universe ? We grew up about race; maybe it’s time to grow up about not being the Earth’s–let alone the universe’s–favourite child. If HPL can help us in that direction he’ll have made up for his uselessness in other directions.

    There’s also this process of habituation (literally) by which zones of terror & adventure are, generation by generation, turned into theme parks. Entradistas inevitably become tour guides. I always wanted to show that happening to the Stalker…

  9. mckie

    As Houellebecq pointed out, there is something “not really literary about Lovecraft’s work”; his function is to provide the scaffolding for a temple to bad dreams. The reader does a lot of the hod-carrying himself, but there’s something about the writing that compels you to do it.

  10. uzwi

    Hi Andrew. For me that’s the residue, the quality of his you can’t deny. It will always draw us in–convince us to carry the hod–& attract acts of interpretation & strong misreading both individual & communal.

  11. Martin

    “Politics”: check HPL on Wikipedia, and you find a wedding snapshot, where the shadow from his nose (the Shadow over Howard?) gives him the ghost of en eerily prescient Hitler tache. There are no accidents, etc.

  12. As a devout Calvinist in high school I read Lovecraft’s “prose-poem” Nyarlathotep for a series of school-related poetry interpretation competitions. Its vision of a parodic Second Coming in which the narrator goes bonkers before the full horrid glory of Nyarlathotep gave me a cosmically transgressive thrill, and a chance to do some teenage overacting. Judges usually seemed put off. Now I find Olaf Stapledon more enthralling.

    Just started reading Light. Enjoying the Harrison take on the cosmic.

  13. And I assume my first comment was held up by the slur, though it was used for demonstration purposes only.

  14. Mattbot

    I always took “cosmic” as more of a metaphor for “existential” and, as recently as 2008, it still quite often sits ill with me. I also think 1914 to 1945 was a very popular in Western culture to throw a tantrum re: one’s place in the order of things. Somewhere inside, beneath one’s flimsy coping strategy, a black chaos, idiot and blind, lurks and paws with clumsy tentacles at the control panel. Perhaps I’m more sensitive to it than most. Sarte merely manifested a case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

    I find the idea of an authorial boredom with the kneejerk reaction to the abyss as very comforting. (A positive warm fuzz blanket compared to panic.) I suppose Gilman is much closer to Kearney than Serotonin. (Gilman winds up doing awful things to people in his “dreams” also, does he not?)

    Do you think the desire to become tourists in misery and horror is motivated out of boredom with the mundane or the perception of the shaking underpinnings of civilization and the need to mentally prepare one’s self for the future disaster at home? Both? Other? Kielar’s motives (as her questionable membership with the human race) are less then clear on this subject.

    In America, joining the military to see War (optional) smacks a bit of this. Perhaps recruiting centers will be the new travel agencies?