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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Lovecraft: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

by H. P. Lovecraft

Amazon Listing

Free On-Line Text   

“What elicited the notion of insanity at this period were the sounds heard at all hours from Ward’s attic laboratory, in which he kept himself most of the time. There were chanting and repetitions, and thunderous declamations in uncanny rhythms; and although these sounds were always in Ward’s own voice, there was something about the quality of that voice, and in the accents of the formulae it pronounced, which could not but chill the blood of every hearer.” 
Here is another of Lovecraft's masterpieces, which he essentially left to rot until it was published after his death. Until rereading all of his works over again, I was unaware just how little of it had been published during his lifetime. No wonder he considered himself a literary failure. All if his best work was buried in his papers.
Original publication of the story

Lovecraft seems to be his worst critic. He didn't really care for this novella, calling it a “cumbrous, creaking bit of self-conscious antiquarianism”. Meaning that he felt it was much and too old hat. The story had been told before (which it had) and he knew it. This is why it wasn't published until 1941 in issues of Weird Tales and as a whole volume in the Beyond the Wall of Sleep collection in 1943. Lovecraft barely sent it out.
Without giving too many spoilers- a young man becomes obsessed with newly discovered distant relative. The man in question was involved in various occult activities that seemed to prolong his life long beyond when he should have died. The young man’s investigation then leads to magic, madness, and death, with a Twilight Zone twist that you see a mile away.
As stated above, the story essentially had been told before. That doesn't detract, however, from the skill of the author. Lovecraft was unable to detect his own (now fully formed) literary voice. His scientific and investigatory approach to the material is what makes this story stand out, what gives it an edge above others like it. It is simply well written, even if the mystery and end are obvious.
2nd installation of the story in Weird Tales

This story fits snugly into the Cthulhu Mythos with the source of the ancient occultist's knowledge being the dreaded Necronomicon by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazrad. And, as it turns out, a good friend of the investigator looking into the case of Charles Dexter Ward is our old friend Randolph Carter (the author’s literary alter ego) who gives him some sage advice to continue the hunt.
Named for the first time is the Outer God, Yog Sothoth. The All-in-One, he gives knowledge to those who please him, but only the most depraved do. He is described as a series of glowing balls weaving in midair. He is the prime supernatural evil in this tale.
Below are a number of videos and film adaptations on the topic.

The Haunted Palace starring Vincent Price

Libervox Audiobook recording of the story

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Lovecraft: The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath

by H.P. Lovecraft

Amazon Listing

Free Online Text 

“There were, in such voyages, incalculable local dangers; as well as that shocking final peril which gibbers unmentionably outside the ordered universe, where no dreams reach; that last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the centre of all infinity—the boundless daemon-sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed flutes; to which detestable pounding and piping dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic ultimate gods, the blind, voiceless, tenebrous, mindless Other Gods whose soul and messenger is the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep.”
Now we have one of my first literary loves in my reading career and certainly my favorite story by H. P. Lovecraft. The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath was never published in his lifetime, only being released by Arkham House in 1943- in an edition which also contained The Silver Key and Through the Gates of the Silver Key. These lesser stories were sequels. And I mean lesser in both the senses of they being of shorter and poorer quality.
Original cover for the book
This is the culmination of all of Lovecraft’s dreamland stories. Each one the previous tales is incorporated under the umbrella of this story. In fact without Pickman’s Model, The Cats of Ulthar, Azathoth (though after re-reading it, it seems this novella is a second attempt at writing the story), Celephias, and The White Ship, this story is not possible. The protagonists of each are all featured and are integral to the plot of this story.
The protagonist is Lovecraft’s literary alter-ego Randolph Carter who enters the realm of sleep in order to find a marvelous city of marble that he glimpsed three times as a child. He has spent years looking for it without success, so he decides to scale the impossible heights to unknown Kadath where the Gods of the Earth play (whether these are the Gods of our world or the Dreamland is unclear), and who also have a tenuous connection to the Outer Gods (of whom Azathoth, located at the center of the Universe, is king).
He travels long and hard, sails to the moon, befriends the legions of intelligent cats, runs from monsters and evil denizens- all of which are servants of the dreaded Nyarlathotep who is the the messenger and soul (whatever that means) of the Outer Gods. He appears as a “tall and swarthy man, resembling an Egyptian Pharaoh”. In his quest, he must travel through the dreaded Plateau of Leng, now located in the Dreamlands and mentioned in many previous stories. There are ancient Stonehenge-type monoliths and rude huts, and the plateau is populated by near-men, like satyrs, the have horns and cloven feet.

Map of Lovecraft's Dreamlands

When he arrives, Carter finds the Gods are gone, actually abandoning their high perch to live in the city he is searching for. With the added twist (or kick in the groin) that his “fabled jeweled city” that he searched for all his life was not an aspect of his dreams, but simply childish memories of his hometown of Boston. All Carter was looking for was his lost sense of juvenile wonder, that excitement which is crushed under experience and maturity. And, like so many older Star Wars fans, he discovers that once it is gone, there is no recovering it.
Strangely enough, Lovecraft never attempted to get this story published. He wrote, "it isn't much good; but forms useful practice for later and more authentic attempts in the novel form." He expressed concern while writing it that "Randolph Carter's adventures may have reached the point of palling on the reader; or that the very plethora of weird imagery may have destroyed the power of any one image to produce the desired impression of strangeness." So this was his practice attempt at the novel. Of which he never completed another one. Despite the author’s dismissal, I have to disagree about its quality.
H. P. Lovecraft
Why I love this book so much is that it was my first encounter with a fantasy style that has been all but erased from modern literature. The Dunsayian technique (Lord Dunsay) which heavily influenced Lovecraft’s style, along with Edgar Allen Poe. If you’ve never heard of him and like fantasy try it out. Dunsay wrote close to ninety books and all are in the public domain. Just remember, it is fashioned in a deliberately poetic style and were written over a hundred years ago. Call it a mythic fantasy approach, which was the style of J. R. R. Tolkein (and maybe perfected by him), where all of the prose is given a gothic-heroic style of speaking. Stilted, yet noble. Lovecraft simply altered it, by making the hero an average man.  It is an incredibly rare style, almost never used in modern books.

Linked, as usual are a hardcopy and a free online version of the text, as well as some brief videos on The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath.

 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Lovecraft: Pickman’s Model & Other Stories

By H. P. Lovecraft

Amazon Listing 

More short pieces from H. P. Lovecraft, but they are all important ones within the Cthulhu Mythos, establishing various monsters, entities, and the only recurring character, Randolph Carter. Lovecraft has transformed to the professional author. No more are his works being published in content starved amateur magazines, and is almost exclusively put out in Weird Tales (The Magazine That Never Dies). His stories are sharper, focused, and, while still detail heavy, not distractingly so. Presented below are three of his finest short stories, along with links to online texts and addition media that I could dredge up.

Pickman’s Model (originally written in 1926, first published in Weird Tales in 1927).  Pickman's, an artist of renowned horror and spiritual successor to Goya (Google him if you're too illiterate to know who Goya is), is befriended by the protagonist after his newest work “Ghoul Feeding” makes a splash. This is one of those Twilight Zone twists you see coming ten miles away. In fact it's given away in the title. The character of Pickman and his ghoulish friends show up again in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath (which will be finally covered  next blog) and the race seems to be able to physically traverse between the Dreamland's and the real world. This was made into an uninspired episode of Night Gallery (the poor man's Twilight Zone), some of which I managed to dredge up below.
Night Gallery
                                                           Radio Play of the Story

The Silver Key (originally written in 1926, first published in Weird Tales in 1929).  This is technically a sequel to The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, but was actually published first. They both have the same protagonist, Randolph Carter- Lovecraft’s literary alter ego. In this tale, he has lost the key to the gate of dreams. Thus begins a lengthy discussion on the nature of reality, and whether one's life is made up of a series of pictures. This delves into which means more, the dreams or reality. This leads to a physical key that unlocks a temporal reset, or a physical time travel, where his mind envelops that of his ten year old self. Truly odd. One of the last of his Dreamland stories, and barely one at that, this was not well received. The editor wrote to Lovecraft and said the readers “violently disliked” it. That probably meant something different back then.

The Strange High House in the Mist (originally written in 1926, first published in Weird Tales in 1931) Set in the witch haven of Kingsport, one of Lovecraft's fictitious evil towns, a family becomes obsessed with an old house overlooking the town and goes to investigate, only to discover the house's door opens somewhere unexpected. We see the return of the Terrible Old Man from the story of the same name, who demonstrates just how old he is. There are some weird references to Nodens (who is a Celtic dirty, but later fully and badly incorporated into the Mythos by August Derelith) as well to the Roman God, Neptune. A fun tale, if a bit sparse. He should be past the hinting stage by now. As for supernatural prick teases, Lovercraft was a master.
          For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Lovecraft: The Call of Cthulhu

 by H. P. Lovecraft

 Amazon Listing or Free Full Text is here 

“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

“In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

And with those words, we truly begin the Cthulhu Mythos. This is the Lovecraft I’ve been waiting for. Enough with wading through all of his early crap, all the half formed ideas and elder things to reach this point. It has the basic Lovecraftian elements: the man driven mad from his experience, the in-human race from beyond that tip the balance of insanity in the minds of men, the scientific-sounding investigation of these ancient horrors.
Finally here is the foundation of the Cthulhu Mythos, before it was only lightly hinted at here and there, now we have the first exposition on the subject. It’s why this story was the real turning point for Lovecraft and why the mythos is named for this bizarre beast, who appears only once and is mentioned again very sparsely.
“They worshiped, so they said, the great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky. Those Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead bodies had told their secrets in dreams to the first men, who formed a cult which had never died.”

In addition, we have the return of the dreaded Necronomicon, penned by the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred, who hinted at this cult in the lines (Game of Thrones fans take notes, we have shades of the Drowned God here),
“That is not dead which can eternal lie
And with strange aeons even death may die.”
Cthulhu himself is a giant creature who is waiting for the stars to align properly to rising again from his sunken house (or citadel) of  R’lyeh. Which, according to the events of the story, is at 47°9′S 126°43′W- or the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean. We know this because a Norwegian stumbles across the risen island, accidently releases the Great Old One, and then impales his yacht into the creature’s chest, ripping it apart.
The story here is an investigation of an investigation. A man finds a strange file on sinister happenings among his dead uncle’s papers. The file is a collection of various seemingly disconnected events across the globe, all of which points to a hidden cult (perhaps the oldest religion in human history). The stories range from the visions of a feverish physic sculptor, to a raid on a bloody cult of human sacrifices in Louisiana, to rumblings of uprisings in various remote spots, and so on until the narrator himself takes up the case and investigates this mysterious cult himself.  And like the greatest of Lovecraft stories, it ends but nothing is finished.

A lot of debate has raged back and forth over the inspiration for this tale. Some say its from Tennyson’s “The Kraken”, others claim Dunsay’s “The Gods of Pegana”, and there some who lay claims to the ancient tales of Lemuira and Atlantis. I say it doesn't matter one single bit. The story is its own. And while it may take elements of them, it is unique enough to be different from each one and thus cause a debate. The only tales it’s really similar to is Lovecraft’s own early story Dagon.
The character of Cthulhu is now the poster boy for all things Lovecraft. He is the writer’s Mickey Mouse, his Spiderman, his Superman. And the fact that all of his works are in the public domain means that the characters and stories will never die. Not when people can profit from their plunder.

Now while I may seem like I was breast fed on this stuff, I only first came into contact with the Mythos not through the books, but via the roleplaying game of the same name The Call of Cthulhu. I had never heard of the man before I picked up a 2nd hand copy of its 4th edition in 1990 and dove-in head first. Thus, I imbibed all of the backstory before jumping into the actual material- which probably made it easier for young me to read, like reading the libretto before the opera. Lovecraft, as much as I love the stories, can become excessively wordy.
As such, Cthulhu has been in my blood since before High School. Had it not been for the accessories, the geek stuff, I may never have read it.  I’ve linked what videos I could find below, but strangely there aren’t too many adaptations of the story into any other mediums.
 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 
        A trailer for the modern silent film based on the story
A live music presentation of the silent film
     Cut scenes from Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth video game.
A motion comic version of the story.
 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Lovecraft: The Shunned House and Other Stories

by H. P. Lovecraft

Amazon Listing

Five more stories collected from the vast pool of material put into the pulps by H. P. Lovecraft. As most of you probably know, he considered himself a literary failure at the time of his death - or at least one who would gain only the minor-est of footnotes. His real fame didn’t bloom until the 1960s, thanks to August Derelith and Arkham House- who kept all of his materials in-print. After that all of the comic adaptation, films versions, and games around it have kept the mythos alive into the next century. In fact, I’m sure more people enjoy his creations in other mediums than like to read his original material. Well, most of it is almost 100 years old and most of the stories are uniquely wordy.  

The Shunned House (originally written in 1924, first published in Weird Tales in 1937). Technically a novelette, though I find it difficult to tell the difference between a novelette and long short story- if indeed there is a difference. Based on an actual abode Lovecraft's aunt had lived in, this is the story of a man and his uncle’s fascination with a house that seems to destroy whomever lives in it. After delving into its extensive history, they invade the house with military flamethrowers. The pair find nothing but a horrid smell, a strange phosphorescent fungi growing in the basement, and a yellow mist in which they seem to be make out the shape of a man. Things happen, people dissolve. Though they do solve their predicament in a way that would make Call of Cthulhu players proud- ie. A lot of acid is dumped on the problem. And a greater mystery is left. This is one of his best stories. Odd, yet strangely scientific, perfectly mixing up sci-fi with the supernatural.  
The Horror at Red Hook (Written in 1925, first published in Weird Tales in 1927). A lot of people seem to dislike this one. I don’t. Of course, they spout the usual claims if racism because of his unflattering description of Red Hook and it's transformation from an independent village to a Brooklyn slum. This venom is thrown at Mongul types and Eastern Europeans. Take it as you will, it's a horror story. But even Lovecraft's dismissed it later on. I liked it however. This is an odd departure for Lovecraft as the evil forces at work here are definitely not the Cthulhu Mythos. Here we have a Satanic influence, of the Yeidizi “Devil-Worshiping” kind. As such, one might easily skip over it, if you're simply on the lookout for Cthulhu. This is the first of four stories set in New York. A city where the author lived briefly and absolutely hated 
He (originally written in 1925, first published in Weird Tales in 1926). If a story can be a reflection of the author at times, this is certainly true of Lovecraft in this tale. In fact, you can look on it as less of a story and more of him venting about his life at the time. It was a low point for him. Trapped in a rapidly failing marriage and stuck in a city he detested, Lovecraft blows off some steam in this story if the evils (past and future) that haunt New York City and it's evil denizens. Some claim there are some racist characterizations in it, and you well make that case, but it shows to me that when a person is in a bad place in life, evil thoughts follow.  
In the Vault (originally written in 1925, first published in Tryout in 1925). This is a simple tale of a drunken undertaker and a pissed off corpse’s revenge. For a Lovecraft horror story, it is certainly mild and very conventional. In fact, if I hadn't been told it was one of his, I wouldn't have guessed. While some of the style is his, it is muted. Not a bad story, it's simply one we've read before.  
Cool Air (originally written in 1926, first published in Tales of Magic and Mystery in 1928). One his more popular stories (though originally rejected by the big leagues). This story of a doctor needing to refrigerate themselves to stave off death’s final embrace -oh, by the way, spoilers- has been adapted for TV at least three times, and loosely used for the 2007 feature film, Chill. Though the last has considerably more gore than the story. I've put as many of the adaptations as I can find below.  

                                  Necronomicon: Book of the Dead 1994
                                              Chill from 2007
 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Lovecraft: The Rats in the Walls & Other Stories

by H. P. Lovecraft 

Amazon Listing 

More and more and more stories from that master of scientific horror. With it the element of the Cthulhu mythos begin to coalesce. Randolph Carter makes a re-appearance, as does the name Nyarlathotep. In my re-reading and research each of these stories I keep stumbling upon a number of shorts and films based on his work. Most of which i had never heard of. Not all are great, but they are interesting.

This was the era where Lovecraft was debating between being the gentlemen amateur writer and a seasoned professional. He never did quite make that leap completely, which is for the best. He needed to be free to write as his twisted imagination lead him, where the depths of his soul ground out the horror. A good comparison, which compounds my point, is reading The Rats in the Walls and compare that to a work-for-hire Under the Pyramid. You will see the difference.

The Rats in the Walls (originally written in 1923, first published in Weird Tales in 1924).  Continuing with his theme of the degeneration of a family line, Lovecraft perfects the story with this tale. A man, reeling from the death of his son in W.W.I., decides to return to his roots in England and restores his family home. After completion the structure is seemingly overrun by a horde of rats which come from nowhere. Some fruitful digging in his past and his basement uncovers a family history riddled with atrocities. There is one screw up here, or perhaps it’s an error of knowledge by the narrator, as it references Nyarlathotep as a being trapped in the center of the Earth quelled by two idiot piping gods. As Lovecraft fans know, this is a descriptor of Azathoth. C’est la Vie.

The Unnamable (originally written in 1923, first published in Weird Tales in 1925). Here we have the second tale of Lovecraft’s literary alter ego, Randolph Carter (just referred to as Carter here). Some have argued with me about this being the same character, but there is a direct reference to this story in The Silver Key, which is narrated by Randolph Carter, so that ends it in my mind. Set in the town of Arkham, Carter meets an old friend and, while sitting on a crumbling tomb, his friend talks about an indescribable entity is said to haunt surrounding area. His friend contends that because the creature cannot be perceived by the five senses, it becomes impossible to quantify and accurately describe, thus earning itself the term unnamable. Guess what happens next? Two films loosely based on the story have been made. One of which is provided below. I make no statement about its quality. Caveat Emptor.

The Festival (originally written in 1923, first published in Weird Tales in 1925). One of my favorite of Lovecraft shorts. Here we have Lovecraft utilizing another of his fictional towns, “witch haunted” Kingsport. The town will be mentioned over and over again in The Whisperer in Darkness, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, to name the big ones. One of Lovecraft’s typically unnamed narrators travels at Yuletide to the town to partake in some family festival held once every century. In his family’s house he reads a latin transcription of the Necronomicon handed to him by his mute waxen-faced relative who can only communicate through a stylus on a wax pad. Well the festival begins in an underground cavern, hilarity ensues, and he is brought to the brink of insanity. The author’s development and transition from amateur to professional is evident in this tale. Each detail, each action, sings with confidence and thought. This story out of all of his early ones (With perhaps the exception of The Rats in the Walls). A claymation short of the story was created by Toei animation in 2007. It is included below.

Under the Pyramid (originally written in 1923, first published in Weird Tales in 1924). This was a commissioned ghostwritten work by Lovecraft on behalf of renowned escape artist Harry Houdini. The editor of Weird Tales paid Lovecraft in advance, which is the only reason the writer took the job. After conferring with Houdini, Lovecraft surmised the story was hogwash and took some liberties with the story. It was printed under Houdini’s name until 1936. Meant to be a true tale, it describes Houdini's travel through Egypt where a group of Bedouin kidnap him during a boxing match atop The Great Pyramid of Giza. He is tied up and dropped down a deep pit. After escaping his bonds (of course) he travels long in darkness and speculates that he is under the Sphinx. Then he witness some weird stuff which was definitely made up before escaping to the real world. Definitely not Lovecraft’s best work. If you were gonna skip one of his stories, this would be the one.   

Harry Houdini- lest we forget
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Lovecraft: Azathoth, The Lurking Fear, & other stories

by H. P. Lovecraft    

Amazon Listing   

Another early collection of material as the master of horror began to manufacture the Cthulhu Mythos. As you will see here, most of his collected universe began in the Dreamlands then filtered out into the real world. Which is fine by me as his Dreamlands setting was the best work he ever accomplished in my opinion. Several movies have also been attached which have been based on his short story The Lurking Fear. And as usual, links in to the full text of the story are included at the beginning of each story. 

Hypnos (originally written in 1922, first published National Amateur in 1923). Hypnos is the Greek God or personification of sleep. This very short tale is of a man who travels into the dreamlands with a companion “the only friend I would ever have”. Similar to Ex Oblivion they use a drug to crack through the unknown horizons of sleep and learn secrets to rule the universe. Guess how it goes.

What the Moon Brings (originally written in 1922, first published in National Amateur in 1923). This is more a piece of flash fiction than an actual story. Another dream story of a man walking through an endless garden which becomes more and more disturbing. Scenes of evil urge him on, until the monsters is revealed. The story doesn't give a definite answer as to what happens to the protagonist, but it doesn't take much to read between the lines.

Azathoth (originally written in 1922, first published in Leaves in 1938). This was originally meant to be the beginning or notes for a novel which Lovecraft never completed (though there are similar themes which appears in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath). It describes how magic and imagination has been stripped from the world and how a man, who spent all day and night staring into space, manages to bridge the gulf between worlds. His mind ascends out if his body into the cosmos.

The Hound (originally written in 1922, first published in Weird Tales in 1924). At last, here is the first story to mention the queen of Lovecraft’s fictitious books, the Necronomicon. Nothing else is said beyond the name and its connection to the mad Arab Abdul Alhazard. In this case, a pair of grave robbers stumble across a jade necklace with alien shapes, which they recognize as described in the book. It evidently has some connection to a “corpse-eating cult of Leng”. They take it and bad things happen revolving around drumroll drumroll a hound.

The Lurking Fear (Originally written in 1922, first published in Home Brew January to April 1923). This was a serialized story by the same magazine which first published Herbert West: Re-Animator. As usual, we have an unnamed protagonist on the brink of a mental breakdown due to the events he is about to relate. In this case, it deals with an ancient abandoned Dutch mansion in the Catskills, an isolated family that disappeared long ago, and a series of horrific murders in recent times. I’ll let you fill in the blanks. One major plot hole exists in this tale. Why was the narrator never killed, while everyone with him was? That's never explained and that minor detail detracts from the rest of the story. The horror tale has been made into a film three times: Dark Heritage in 1989, The Lurking Fear in 1994, and Bleeders in 1997.  All of which are presented below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.

                                                 Dark Heritage

                                              The Lurking Fear
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.