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Reading Lovecraft – Part 8

Cool Air (1926)

The protagonist moves to a new apartment. In the top room of the building there dwells a reclusive intelligent medical doctor with a knack for chemical experiments and an affinity for cold: he always keeps his living quarters in an almost frigid temperature.

A little story of the science-horror type; the grotesque ending brought an early rejection from Weird Tales. Nothing special, one of the less memorable of Lovecraft’s tales, apparently inspired by Arthur Machen’s Novel of the White Powder. 2/5

Read here.

The Call of Cthulhu (1926)

Dreams are older than brooding Tyre, or the contemplative Sphinx, or garden-girdled Babylon.

Upon his great-uncle’s demise, the protagonist discovers traces of a continent-spanning cult, dedicated to a monstrous being named Cthulhu; a statuette of said terror seems to be of particular importance. The story is articulated in three parts, each gradually revealing more about the otherworldly horror and its worshipers.

Lovecraft’s most famous story is a thing moving through narrations; the protagonist acts more as an avatar of the reader than anything of actual substance – hardly a flaw, of course. The gradual unveiling of a wealth of lore about the Great Old One is masterfully done, while there is a satisfying touch in the slow distancing from the writer’s locality -first to the bayous of New Orleans, then Norway, and finally at the desolation of Southern Pacific (where the plateaus of Dagon are revisited in grand splendor). 4/5

Read here.

Pickman’s Model (1926)

The place for an artist to live is the North End. If any aesthete were sincere, he’d put up with the slums for the sake of the massed traditions. God, man! Don’t you realise that places like that weren’t merely made, but actually grew?

Of notorious painter Richard Pickman and the protagonist’s visit to the artist’s secret studio where he indulges in infamous artwork crawling with impossible realism; the subjects’ grotesqueness seems to increase the deeper one goes into the building.

There is a parallel between Pickman and Lovecraft, as far as their subject matters move from dreamy poetics to dark realism. The story itself is tight, with a deeply subterranean aura (which reminded me of Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train) and a tense (if rather transparent and predictable to the modern reader) crescendo for an ending. As a side note, the mention of real-life artists offers a nice glimpse into Lovecraft’s aesthetic preferences. While, the bullets in the basement mirror those at the ending of Herbert West – Reanimator. 4/5

Read here.

The Silver Key (1926)

Randolph Carter’s gradual corruption by the everyday world, his disenchantment by routine and rationality, the loss and rediscovery of his land of dreams.

The first part of the Silver Key reads more like a foray into anguished existential philosophy and the evils of banality and the modern world. It is extraordinarily written and will definitely resonate with all those feeling crushed by routine and the apparent omnipotence of rationality. I will quote one passage to showcase both writing and ideas:

Wise men told him his simple fancies were inane and childish, and he believed it because he could see that they might easily be so. What he failed to recall was that the deeds of reality are just as inane and childish, and even more absurd because their actors persist in fancying them full of meaning and purpose as the blind cosmos grinds aimlessly on from nothing to something and from something back to nothing again, neither heeding nor knowing the wishes or existence of the minds that flicker for a second now and then in the darkness.

The second part follows Randolph Carter as he traces his dreams back to his ancestral home and childhood; indeed, here becomes crystal clear Lovecraft’s obsession with childhood and nostalgia. Magnificent writing with simple plot, a story to be savored. 4/5

Read here.

The Strange High House in the Mist (1926)

A wanderer decides to reach the house upon the steep cliff that overlooks Kingsport. Locals are permeated by a deep fear of the building. Arriving there he communes with powers and presences, and descends a man changed.

Lovecraft showcases here (as in the Silver Key) a lush lyrical language which owes much to Lord Dunsany (a bit unexpected after the statement of Pickman’s Model). It is a delight to read through, sentence after sentence. At its heart the story revolves around a mystical experience, a contact with the numinous and the otherworldly. 4/5

Read here.

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926-27)

Randolph Carter’s quest through the Dreamlands, searching for the city of his dreams, Kadath.

Kadath was one of Lovecraft’s very few stories that I had read only once, due to my being daunted by its sheer size as well as a notion of it being a (highly viscous to tread through) cornucopia of psychedelia and reverie. This read-through confirmed my hazy memories – though not in their entirety. Kadath is indeed a long story (of novella dimensions), more a collage of scenes and locations than a coherent, solid mass; Lovecraft himself considered it as a somewhat failed experiment, valuable only for scavenging. However the story is much darker than I remembered, and also less dreamy, despite it taking place almost entirely in the Dreamlands – it reads like Lovecraft transmuting Dunsany, not imitating him.

There are several interesting characters (Pickman’s friendly ghouls foremost among them), subtle humor (“The ghouls were in general respectful, even if one did attempt to pinch him while several others eyed his leanness speculatively.”) and we get to visit the infamous plateaus of Leng (“All in a great half circle they squatted, those dog-like mountains carven into monstrous watching statues, and their right hands were raised in menace against mankind.” - an inverted Argonath came into mind). An uneven read which can be quite tiring, drowning in color and lore, yet still containing amazing oases of gleaming brilliance. 2.5/5

Read here.

Part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, part 6 here, part 7 here.

07 Nov 2020

Tags: horror   lovecraft
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