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Reading Lovecraft – Part 2

Part 1 here.

Polaris (1918)

A man dreams that he visits a fantastic city. Gradually, after many such sojourns, he finds himself able to interact with the citizens of this other world and he starts leading parallel life there, as one of them. When news of an imminent attack reach the city, the protagonist is assigned to a watchtower post.

The influence of Lord Dunsany waxes. This is the first of Lovecraft’s writings focusing on an otherworldly worldbuilding, something that will later bloom into the Dreamlands and other domains – also take note of the first mention of the Pnakotic Manuscripts. The story’s ultimate hero is the North Star, Polaris itself; it is used by the author as an axis and point of suspension, as a subtle gate between the two worlds which are revealed to be equally tangible and real as the protagonist oscillates between the corresponding aspects of himself. 3/5

Read here.

Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1919)

The latest person to be admitted in a mental hospital is a man from an isolated backwards community who went into a murderous spree he doesn’t remember. He seems to be haunted by strange, awe-full dreams, the descriptions of which are almost incompatible to the language a man of his origin would normally be supposed to use. His young psychiatrist tries to unravel the enigma using experimental equipment and ends up learning of a cosmic-scale rivalry.

A trio of motifs here:

  • The worship of intellect: Lovecraft, a true child of modernity, worships intellect, up to the point that he connects imagination with cosmopolitanism, education, and intellect; thus, in this story, isolation and a general lack of enlightenment lead to an assumed degeneration of imagination, which is violently shattered.
  • Sleep as a gate to other realities, a motif that already appeared in Polaris and will continue to do so in future stories.
  • The addition of a quote from an outsider to the story, usually of some standing (scientist or a newspaper journalist), to offer further authenticity and the semblance of realism to the narration. The story is adequately written, hints at glories to come and has much in common with Clark Asthon Smith’s more science-oriented stories. It also includes the following farewell, which brings to mind Blade Runner: “We shall meet again—perhaps in the shining mists of Orion’s Sword, perhaps on a bleak plateau in prehistoric Asia.3/5

Read here.

Memory (1919)

Description of a moon-lit hidden valley and a small dialogue between the valley’s genius loci and the concept of Memory.

A flash fiction with strong Dunsanian strokes (especially in the personalization of the concept of Memory) and a surprising wealth of suggestion. Also reminiscent of Clark Ashton Smith, especially language- and setting-wise. 3/5

Read here.

Old Bugs (1919)

A den of vice in Chicago, frequented by a strange old man, attracts the attention of a youth who would like to explore the delights of alcohol.

So, apparently Lovecraft was a teetotaler (I did not even know that this word existed), a proponent of complete alcohol abstinence. He wrote this short story to dissuade a friend of his from trying alcohol before the Prohibition came into effect. Extreme puritanism (of a complete Sunday school hue) aside, this has funny and memorable parts, especially when Old Bugs uses his mop as a lance-like weapon (only Lovecraft could liken him to a Macedonian hoplite). 2/5

Read here.

The Transition of Juan Romero (1919)

Beneath a gold mine in the American West, a vast abyss is revealed, which brings terror to both workers and foremen. In a night of storm, a miner seems to be especially susceptible to the chasm’s call.

Beyond an imaginary connection of whiteness to great civilizations (the protagonist supposes that a certain Mexican miner is of Aztec origin because of his non-Caucasian whiteness), this story thrives on uncertainty and fleeting glimpses of mythological horror. Alas, it somewhat roughly and inelegantly written, and plotwise it is rather unmemorable. However, note that it was apparently never supposed to be published, written in one day and being more of an exercise than anything else. 2/5

Read here.

The white ship (1919)

The last descendant of a long line of lighthouse keepers sets out in a white ship and travels to marvelous, distant lands, wrought out of fable – such places as Thalarion, City of a Thousand Wonders and Sona-Nyl, the Land of Fancy. Alas, his restless spirit leads him to a doom worse than death.

But more wonderful than the lore of old men and the lore of books is the secret lore of ocean.” A short story in the mode of Lord Dunsany, it starts off amazingly with a rich, evocative language full of wonder. It does get bogged down in detail and overdone description in its middle part, but rises high again in the end. In its core it follows the well-known motif of unsatisfied human craving for new experiences and the loss of paradise, as a result. “We have rejected the beautiful Land of Sona-Nyl, which we may never behold again. The gods are greater than men, and they have conquered.3/5

Read here.

16 Jul 2020

Tags: horror   lovecraft
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