Late Bloomer

I’m back. It’s been a horrible month, featuring lots of long walkies with the black dog. One good thing has come out of it – whereas before I’d lost the ability to sit down and read a book, now I’ve started reading obsessively. It feels like I’ve found an old friend. Unfortunately, I can’t use the books I read in February as review-fodder, except the last one, because all the telling details are now overwritten.

Weirdly, or perhaps not, it all seemed to start with a 3-piece sofa and chair set I bought at the beginning of the month. Before that it was quite difficult to sit down in any sort of physical comfort, so no wonder my mind couldn’t find a place to rest and marinate.

I will be backfilling the blog – that way I can at least technically claim to have made a post a day. Please bear with me as I catch up on comments and your lovely blogs.

Here’s a short Lovecraftian film about the eldritch rites of adolescence.

At the Mountains of Madness

A splendidly atmospheric animation of At the Mountains of Madness, by H. P. Lovecraft. I love this story of an aeons-old city in Antarctica, and the terrible fate that overtook its inhabitants. The film is Italian, with captions if you want them, but the animation does all the heavy lifting. It’s a pity the studios backed away from a full length movie proposed by director Guillermo del Toro and screenwriter Matthew Robbins – I was looking forward to that.

Chucky Goes To Church

I bought this thing at a charity shop for 10p last year.  Can’t think what possessed me.  Part of it was amazement that anyone could produce an object like this of their own free will.  What were they thinking?  The other part is how filthy it is.  Looks like someone threw it into the corner of a basement and left it to marinate in the dirt and dust.

There’s something feral about the vertical mouth, presumably singing or chanting.  No chin, just a shallow depression below the nose, where the mouth takes centre stage.  And the eyes, framed by black brows!  As if trying to mesmerize its audience.

Most bizarre of all, the creature is dressed as a choirboy.  Possibly it’s clutching an oversized Bible, or maybe the Necronomicon, but the other hand seems to be holding a spout of some sort.  So it could also be a hip flask, or a jerry can full of petrol.

I can’t imagine anyone producing it by accident, through sheer ineptitude.  I think it’s saying:

Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Halsey House, Providence, RI - fictional home of Charles Dexter Ward

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, by H. P. Lovecraft (Voyager, 2002)

This 1927 novella, along with At the Mountains of Madness reviewed earlier, is the most mature expression of Lovecraft’s genius for writing supernatural horror.  While the other  stories explore the Cthulhu Mythos more extensively, none of them does so with as much depth and intensity.

The length of a novella offers more scope for characterization, but that isn’t what happens here.  As a character, Ward is as cardboard thin as anyone in the shorter stories.  It isn’t even in the first person, as some of them are.  Instead, we learn of the terrible changes coming over him through an omniscient narrator, drawing on the deeper knowledge of Dr Willett, physician and old friend of the Ward family.

No, what we have here is a detailed, step by step revelation of Ward’s temptation into evil ways, influenced by the malign black magic of his long-dead ancestor, Joseph Curwen, and culminating in the resurrection of Curwen’s body.  Only at this point does Ward begin to understand (too late) the horror he has unleashed.

This is almost a detective story, like many of the others.  Hapless protagonist struggles to understand the scarcely believable clues he finds, only to be devoured by the monster he has unwittingly awoken.  In this case, it’s a third party, Dr Willett, piecing together the clues to explain Ward’s apparent insanity.  And Willett survives, even triumphs, although greatly aged by the ordeal.  As with other stories, the readers know exactly what’s going on, and there’s that frisson of knowledge withheld from the characters.

The length of a novella also allows a greater sense of place, in this case Providence, RI, both in the 1920s during Ward’s lifetime, and the 18th century city of Joseph Curwen.  Lovecraft’s fascination with Colonial architecture and history shines out through the accounts of Ward’s antiquarian ramblings and the opportunity to envisage the city as the home of his villain.  I was hooked on that aspect alone.

Every few years I pick up this story and read it again.  The strength of Lovecraft’s fiction lies in the power to create a place and an atmosphere in which not just any old thing can be summoned forth, but the monstrosities we know to expect.  Monstrosities so sparingly described that we can fill in the details with the lineaments of our own fear.  Atmosphere, place and mythos combine, like 3 repetitions of a spell, to catapult readers like me into that space between dimensions where willing suspension of belief holds sway.

Brilliant stuff.  No wonder Lovecraft has become such a huge cultural influence on those of us who, in order to live in a work-a-day world, still need to dream of the really dark places in the human imagination.

Website of the Week: H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society

I’ve been a bit remiss in posting what I hoped would be a weekly feature.  The reason is that I can’t always find a website that knocks my socks off enough to blog about.  The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society (HPLHS) only came to my attention when I was researching for the recent book review, At the Mountains of Madness.

HPLHS is a role-playing society, based on Lovecraft’s work and the Cthulhu Mythos, which he created and other writers elaborated on.  You don’t have to be a role-player to enjoy the extremely creative way they have responded to Lovecraft’s inspiration.  Now based in Glendale, California, but founded in Colorado in 1984, their motto is Ludo Fore Putavimus (“We thought it would be fun”), an admirable motive that’s reflected in the website.

For role-players in Cthulhu Lives who want to do it up right, they offer a wide range of props, including postage stamps and documentation.  My favourite is Obed Marsh’s membership card in the Esoteric Order of Dagon.

They have also produced several Lovecraft films and radio adaptations on a shoe-string budget, a parody of Fiddler on the Roof called A Shoggoth on the Roof, and an album of Cthulhu carols called A Very Scary Solstice.  What’s remarkable about these productions is the professionalism and quality. They’re serious about their fun, and it shows.

Have a dig round the website – you never know what you’ll unearth.  Here’s one of the Cthulhu carols:

P.S. I made a Page for the best of the Lovecraft videos I found while researching this post, not just HPLHS but others as well. It’s under Video, and here’s the link.