I am providence the life.., p.126

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 126


I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES)

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  “Iä! Iä!” it [Rogers] was howling. “I am coming, O Rhan-Tegoth, coming with the nourishment. You have waited long and fed ill, but now you shall have what was promised. . . . You shall crush and drain him, with all his doubts, and grow strong thereby. And ever after among men he shall be shewn as a monument to your glory. Rhan-Tegoth, infinite and invincible, I am your slave and high-priest. You are hungry, and I provide. I read the sign and have led you forth. I shall feed you with blood, and you shall feed me with power. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!”

  Later Rogers spouts such oaths as “Spawn of Noth-Yidik and effluvium of K’thun! Son of the dogs that howl in the maelstrom of Azathoth!” Long before his talentless disciples and followers unwittingly reduced the “Cthulhu Mythos” to absurdity, Lovecraft himself consciously did so.

  The story is mentioned in a letter of October 1932: “My latest revisory job comes so near to pure fictional ghost-writing that I am up against all the plot-devising problems of my bygone auctorial days”;[72] he goes on to recite the plot of the story in a lurid manner that I hope indicates his awareness of its parodic nature. Elsewhere he said: “‘The Horror in the Museum’—a piece which I ‘ghost-wrote’ for a client from a synopsis so poor that I well-nigh discarded it—is virtually my own work.”[73] This story seems to have been readily accepted by Wright, for it appeared in Weird Tales for July 1933, in the same issue as “The Dreams in the Witch House.” Lovecraft must have been wryly amused when a letter by Bernard J. Kenton (the pseudonym of Jerry Siegel, later the co-creator of Superman) appeared in “The Eyrie” for May 1934 in praise of the work: “Even Lovecraft—as powerful and artistic as he is with macabre suggestiveness—could hardly, I suspect, have surpassed the grotesque scene in which the other-dimensional shambler leaps out upon the hero.”

  “Out of the Aeons”—which Lovecraft was working on in early August 1933[74]—is perhaps the only genuinely successful Heald revision, although it too contains elements of extravagance that border on self-parody. This tale concerns an ancient mummy housed in the Cabot Museum of Archaeology in Boston and an accompanying scroll in indecipherable characters. The mummy and scroll remind the narrator—the curator of the museum—of a wild tale found in the Black Book or Nameless Cults of von Junzt, which tells of the god Ghatanothoa, “whom no living thing could behold . . . without suffering a change more horrible than death itself. Sight of the god, or its image . . . meant paralysis and petrification of a singularly shocking sort, in which the victim was turned to stone and leather on the outside, while the brain within remained perpetually alive . . .” This idea is, of course, suspiciously like the drug utilised in “The Man of Stone.” Von Junzt goes on to speak of an individual named T’yog who, 175,000 years ago, attempted to scale Mount Yaddith-Gho on the lost continent of Mu, where Ghatanothoa resided, and to “deliver mankind from its brooding menace”; he was protected from Ghatanothoa’s glance by a magic formula, but at the last minute the priests of Ghatanothoa stole the parchment on which the formula was written and substituted another one for it. The antediluvian mummy in the museum, therefore, is T’yog, petrified for millennia by Ghatanothoa.

  It is manifestly obvious that Heald’s sole contribution to this tale is the core notion of a mummy with a living brain; all the rest—Ghatanothoa, T’yog, the setting on Mu, and, of course, all the prose of the tale—are Lovecraft’s. He admits as much when he says: “Regarding the scheduled ‘Out of the Æons’—I should say I did have a hand in it . . . I wrote the damn thing!”[75] The tale is substantial, but it too is written with a certain flamboyance and lack of polish that bar it from taking its place with Lovecraft’s own best tales. It is, however, of interest in uniting the atmosphere of his early “Dunsanian” tales with that of his later “Mythos” tales: T’yog’s ascent of Yaddith-Gho bears thematic and stylistic similarities with Barzai the Wise’s scaling of Ngranek in “The Other Gods,” and the entire subnarrative about Mu is narrated in a style analogous to that of Dunsany’s tales and plays of gods and men. The story appeared in Weird Tales for April 1935.

  “The Horror in the Burying-Ground,” on the other hand, returns us to earth very emphatically. Here we are in some unspecified rustic locale where the village undertaker, Henry Thorndike, has devised a peculiar chemical compound that, when injected into a living person, will simulate death even though the person is alive and conscious. Thorndike attempts to dispose of an enemy in this fashion, but in so doing is himself injected with the substance. The inevitable occurs: although the undertaker pleads not to be entombed, he is pronounced dead and buried alive.

  Much of the story is narrated in a backwoods patois reminiscent—and perhaps a parody—of that used in “The Dunwich Horror.” Other in-jokes—such as the use of the character names Akeley (from “The Whisperer in Darkness”), Zenas (from “The Colour out of Space”), Atwood (from At the Mountains of Madness), and Goodenough (referring to Lovecraft’s amateur colleague Arthur Goodenough)—suggest that the story is meant, if not as an actual parody, at least as an instance of graveyard humour; and as such it is relatively successful. Lovecraft never mentions this revision in any correspondence I have seen, so I do not know when it was written; it did not appear in Weird Tales until May 1937.

  It is clear from the synopses of these stories that several of them feature the same fundamental plot element: the idea of a living brain encased in a dead or immobilised body. This encompasses “Out of the Aeons” and “The Horror in the Burying-Ground”; in “The Horror in the Museum” the effect of Rhan-Tegoth’s depradations is to leave the victim looking like a wax statue, a fate somewhat similar to that of “The Man of Stone”; while “Winged Death” presents a human brain or personality in an alien form. One wonders how much beyond this nucleus was provided by Heald, if indeed she even supplied this much.

  Lovecraft no doubt was paid regularly by Heald, even though it took years for her stories to be published; at least, he makes no complaints about dilatory payments as he did for Zealia Bishop. Although Lovecraft was still speaking of her in the present tense as a revision client as late as the summer of 1935, it does not seem as if he did much work for her after the summer of 1933.

  Another revision or collaboration in which Lovecraft became unwillingly involved in the fall of 1932 was “Through the Gates of the Silver Key.” E. Hoffmann Price had become so enamoured of “The Silver Key” that, during Lovecraft’s visit with him in New Orleans in June, he “suggested a sequel to account for Randolph Carter’s doings after his disappearance.”[76] There is no recorded response on Lovecraft’s part to this suggestion, although it cannot have been very enthusiastic. On his own initiative, therefore, Price wrote his own sequel, “The Lord of Illusion.” Sending it to Lovecraft in late August, he expressed the hope that Lovecraft might agree to revise it and allow it to be published as an acknowledged collaboration. Lovecraft took his time replying to Price’s letter, but when he did so he stated that extensive changes would be needed to bring the sequel in line with the original story. In a charitable response of October 10, Price agreed with nearly all Lovecraft’s suggestions. He went on to hope that Lovecraft could perform the revision in a few days—after all, he had written his own version in only two days.[77] Instead, Lovecraft did not finish the job until April 1933.

  “The Lord of Illusion”[78] is an appallingly awful piece of work. It tells the ridiculous story of how Randolph Carter, after finding the silver key, enters a strange cavern in the hills behind his family home in Massachusetts and encounters a strange man who announces himself as “’Umr at-Tawil, your guide,” who leads Carter to some other-dimensional realm where he meets the Ancient Ones. These entities explain the nature of the universe to Carter: just as a circle is produced from the intersection of a cone with a plane, so our three-dimensional world is produced from the intersection of a plane with a figure of a higher dimension; analogously, time is an illusion, being merely the result of this sort of “cutting” of infinity. It transpires that al
l Carters who have ever lived are part of a single archetype, so that if Carter could manipulate his “section-plane” (the plane that determines his situation in time), he could be any Carter he wished to be, from antiquity to the distant future. In a purported surprise ending, Carter reveals himself as an old man amongst a group of individuals who had assembled to divide up Carter’s estate.

  It would be difficult to imagine a story more lame than this, and yet Lovecraft felt some sort of obligation to try to make something of it. In the letter in which he evaluates Price’s work, he specified several faults that must be rectified: 1) the style must be made more similar to that of “The Silver Key” (Price’s version, although by no means full of his usual frenetic action and swordplay, is lamentably flat, stilted, and pompous); 2) various points of the plot must be reconciled with that of “The Silver Key”; 3) the transition from the mundane world to the hyperspace realm (if that is what it is) must be vastly subtilised; and 4) the atmosphere of lecture-room didacticism in the Ancient Ones’ discussions with Carter must be eliminated. Lovecraft rightly concluded: “Hell, but it’ll be a tough nut to crack!”[79] The rush of other work prevented him from working on it for months; by March 1933 he managed to grind out 7½ pages,[80] but more revision work delayed him until he finally finished the job in early April.[81]

  The result cannot by any means be considered satisfactory. Whereas “The Silver Key” is a poignant reflection of some of Lovecraft’s innermost sentiments and beliefs, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” is nothing more than a fantastic adventure story with awkward and laboured mathematical and philosophical interludes. Lovecraft has made extensive revisions to the plot, although preserving as much of Price’s ideas as he could. The story opens in New Orleans, where several individuals—Etienne Laurent de Marigny (a stand-in for Price himself), Ward Phillips (whose identity is no mystery), the lawyer Ernest B. Aspinwall, and a strange individual named the Swami Chandraputra—are gathered to discuss the disposition of Carter’s estate. The Swami opposes any such action, since he maintains that Carter is still alive. He proceeds to tell a fabulous story of what happened to Carter after his return to boyhood (as noted in “The Silver Key”):

  Carter passed through a succession of “Gates” into some realm “outside time and the dimensions we know,” led by a “Guide,” ’Umr at-Tawil, the Prolonged of Life. This guide eventually led Carter to the thrones of the Ancient Ones, from whom he learned that there are “archetypes” for every entity in the universe, and that each person’s entire ancestry is nothing more than a facet of the single archetype; Carter learned that he himself is a facet of the “SUPREME ARCHETYPE,” whatever that means. Then, in some mysterious fashion, Carter found himself in the body of a fantastically alien being, Zkauba the Wizard, on the planet Yaddith. He managed to return to earth, but must go about in concealment because of his alien form.

  When the hard-nosed lawyer Aspinwall scoffs at this story by Swami Chandraputra, a final revelation—which can scarcely be a surprise to any reader—is made: the Swami is himself Randolph Carter, still in the monstrous shape of Zkauba. Aspinwall, having pulled off the mask Carter is wearing, dies immediately of apoplexy. Carter then disappears through a large clock in the room.

  Price has remarked that “I estimated that [Lovecraft] had left unchanged fewer than fifty of my original words,”[82] a comment that has led many to believe that the finished version of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” is radically different from Price’s original; but, as we have seen, Lovecraft adhered to the basic framework of Price’s tale as best he could. The quotations from the Necronomicon are largely Price’s, although somewhat amended by Lovecraft; and a striking passage later on—“[Carter] wondered at the vast conceit of those who had babbled of the malignant Ancient Ones, as if They could pause from their everlasting dreams to wreak a wrath upon mankind”—is so strikingly similar to Lovecraft’s own evolving conceptions of his pseudomythology that it is no wonder he left it in nearly intact.

  Lovecraft sent his handwritten scrawl to Price for typing, adding typically—although in this case justifiably—deprecatory remarks (“I’m a rotten hand at collaboration—but at least I’ve done my poor best”[83]). Price, however, was enthusiastic, although expressing quibbles here and there; in particular, he did not care for Lovecraft’s use of some terms from the theosophic mythology Price himself had earlier supplied him (Shalmali, Shamballah, Lords of Venus, and the like), and either changed some of these references himself or asked Lovecraft to do so. Another typescript must have been prepared, since the existing one contains numerous errors and several handwritten marginal notations by both Price and Lovecraft.

  Price submitted the story to Weird Tales on June 19, both praising the story and minimising his own role in it: “It is so much a Lovecraft story, and so little mine that it seems of all things the most natural to sit here and tell you . . . this is one of the most self consistent, carefully worked out pictures of the cosmos and hyperspace that I have ever read.”[84] Farnsworth Wright’s response, in a letter to Lovecraft on August 17, is perhaps what one might have expected:

  I have carefully read THROUGH THE GATES OF THE SILVER KEY and am almost overwhelmed by the colossal scope of the story. It is cyclopean in its daring and titanic in its execution. . . .

  But I am afraid to offer it to our readers. Many there would be . . . who would go into raptures of esthetic delight while reading the story; just as certainly there would be a great many—probably a clear majority—of our readers who would be unable to wade through it. These would find the descriptions and discussions of polydimensional space poison to their enjoyment of the tale. . . .

  . . . I assure you that never have I turned down a story with more regret than in this case.[85]

  That last comment is not likely to have appeased Lovecraft much, even though he had not placed much emotional stock in the selling of the story. Both Price and Lovecraft let the text sit, apparently disinclined to submit it elsewhere. It is a little peculiar that no thought was given to trying the tale on the science fiction pulps; perhaps it was felt that since “The Silver Key” had appeared in Weird Tales, no other market would have been appropriate or feasible. But, true to his contrary ways, by mid-November 1933 Wright was asking to see the story again,[86] and he accepted it a week later. It appeared in the issue for July 1934, where it did indeed receive a somewhat mixed reader response, although not quite of the sort that Wright had feared. An amusing letter by a very young Henry Kuttner in the September 1934 issue criticises the tale for being overexplanatory and for a contrived ending: “Lovecraft at one time could supply a good ending, but now he is getting trite as hell. It is a bad example of a forced surprize [sic] ending that he has on that story.” Lovecraft evidently did not remember or had forgiven Kuttner for this remark when he came in touch with the youth two years later.

  Slowly but inexorably Lovecraft was being drawn back into amateur activity, although this time in the National Amateur Press Association, since his United was defunct. Sometime in late 1931 he was persuaded to take a place on the Bureau of Critics, the NAPA’s version of the Department of Public Criticism. On April 18 he produced an untitled essay-review for the National Amateur, but it proved to be so lengthy that it could not be fit into the issue, so Helm C. Spink, the Official Editor, arranged for the Official Printer, George G. Fetter of Lexington, Kentucky, to publish it as a separate pamphlet later in the year under the title Further Criticism of Poetry. It is one of Lovecraft’s rarest publications. A typescript of the piece prepared by R. H. Barlow bears a title, “Notes on Verse Technique”; I am not entirely sure that this title is Lovecraft’s, but I think it likely.

  “Notes on Verse Technique” is a sensible disquisition on what constitutes “real poetry, as distinguished from mere rhyming prose,” embodying Lovecraft’s later views on the subject. Interestingly, he does not condemn free verse uniformly, remarking only that “the indiscriminate use of this medium is not to be highly recommended
to the novice” because it is difficult for the novice to develop a natural sense of rhythm outside of the recognised metres. He quotes two poems—which B . K. Hart had published in his “Sideshow” column some years before—one of which is in standard quatrains, the other in free verse; and Lovecraft declares rightly that the latter is much more vital and genuinely poetic because of its distinctive, unhackneyed diction. This long theoretical discussion is only a somewhat topheavy preface to the actual evaluation of amateur verse that concludes the essay.

  Lovecraft would in subsequent years be repeatedly drawn into serving on the Bureau of Critics, in spite of his pleas that he be called upon only if no other “victims” could be found (they never could). He usually handled poetry and usually managed to talk Edward H. Cole into contributing a criticism of prose contributions. Early in 1932 he also wrote a brief foreword to a slim book of poetry, Thoughts and Pictures, by the Rev. Eugene B. Kuntz, an old-time amateur whom Lovecraft always regarded fondly. The pamphlet was typically misprinted by “Tryout” Smith; the title page in fact declares that it was “Cooperatively published by H. P. Loveracft and C. W. Smith.”

  Another book project that would presumably have emerged out of the amateur community was a plan by Earl C. Kelley to issue the complete Fungi from Yuggoth—the first of several instances in Lovecraft’s lifetime in which this sonnet series was to have been published, all of which would come to nothing. Kelley was editor of an amateur journal entitled Ripples from Lake Champlain, to which Lovecraft had earmarked a few of the Fungi sonnets; only one of them, “The Pigeon-Flyers,” actually appeared there, in the Spring 1932 issue. In late February 1932 Kelley made his request to Lovecraft to print the cycle.[87] But his project never came to fruition. Kelley had been elected president of the NAPA in 1931 and presided over the 1932 convention in Montpelier, Vermont, in July, then proceeded to blow his brains out with a revolver.[88] He was twenty-seven years old.

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