Hello, fellow anagnostics. I stumbled into this group last night, and after a bit of deliberation, decided to join it after all. I figure that introducing myself is the decent thing to do, so I'll start with my name and a bit of background.
My name is Jared Corner. I'm currently in my last few semesters at a mostly forgettable college, working on a degree which will probably be useless in this new economy once I finally do get it. How do I keep body and soul from flying apart? I write. Under a variety of pseudonyms, for quite a few publications, of varying quality but tending toward the lowish side. Not that I mind; it's easy money for someone with a vivid imagination. The most frequent one...well, they might get upset if I mentioned them by name, but let's just say that if you go grocery shopping, you've probably seen it, and they're not exactly known for being staid.
Now that I've completely spoiled my reputation in the eyes of the forum's host, I'll proceed on to what I thought of the stories. As a caveat, I have to say that, in general, Lovecraft is not my normal cup of tea. I've never been terribly excited by reading a story with better than even odds of ending with its protagonist dead, insane, or worse. Still...it's been a while since I last looked at them. As is the case with Mr. emory, I do seem to have some time on my hands, and thought I might as well immerse myself once more in the macabre. Macabre, hmm, that's a thought. Perhaps I should try to find Stephen King's Danse Macabre and refresh my memory of what he had to say about Lovecraft.
Like or no, I was delighted to find out about the Internet archive of freely-available Lovecraft stories. My prior access to the man's work had been through a few ragged paperback books, obtained through interlibrary loan. As far as I can tell, almost his entire body of writings are on this site, and in plain HTML, too! That'll be nice for putting on the PDA for a little reading when there's not much else to do.
Reading through the three aforementioned picks, the first thing that struck me overall was their thematic similarity. Each of them starts with the first-person protagonist encountering some odd circumstance that he chalks up to a mundane explanation (the old Scooby-Doo saw of "everything has to have a rational explanation") but is somehow compelled to investigate further. Upon this investigation, strange things happen, far too strange to be mere coincidence, until he is finally convinced of the reality of the horror he has encountered--and is driven at least partly mad by the experience. (Well, save for the last story, at the end of which the fellow is still trying to convince himself it wasn't true, though of course we know better.)
I've read somewhere that the theme Lovecraft follows in his books is that it wasn't simply seeing weird things that drives people insane. It's not even evil dark magic, like the kind in Sauron's rings in that upcoming fantasy film franchise. It's knowing things. The wrong things, things that mankind was not meant to know. It's kind of interesting, there seems to be a bit of a parallel between this and the work of another author of about the same era. To quote from G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Knew Too Much, another story from about the same era:
"I know too much," he said. "That's what's the matter with me. That's what's the matter with all of us, and the whole show; we know too much. Too much about one another; too much about ourselves."There's a common theme here--that there are some things people are better off not knowing, that ignorance is preferable to knowledge. Perhaps Douglas Adams was parodying this when he talked about the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, which is so stupid that it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you. Or, for that matter, the Total Perspective Vortex, which puts a map of the entire universe in your head, with a perfectly scaled dot representing you.
It's an interesting point of view, but not a very realistic one. Not in this day and age, at least. Perhaps back in the twenties and thirties, the bloom was still on the rose--people were still so optimistic that a hint of supernatural horror could send them into fits of insanity. But how would a Lovecraftian protagonist react to some of the things that happened after that? Over the last eighty years we've seen some pretty horrible things that people have done to other people. Who needs Lovecraftian monsters; we have our own. We were reminded anew of that just two months ago, God help us.
We're a lot more cynical now, as a people. It takes a lot more to shock us. Just look at the sorry state of horror movies these days. Say what you will about Lovecraft, he didn't have to sling buckets of blood around "on-camera" in order to get a shock. We've become so desensitized to violence and strangeness via television, movies, first-person shooters, science-fiction...I mean, look at the UFOphiles, as typified by Independence Day--the crowds of people who flocked to tall buildings with welcome signs. If the Mi-Go were to show up today, they would be deluged with more flying saucer nuts than they could truck back to Yuggoth by the cart-load.
And then there's the state of science. I am guessing that, much like Michael Crichton today, Lovecraft was something of a techno/scientophobe. It fits with his idea of corruption of knowledge, doesn't it? And yet he still kept up with it enough to give his stories a veneer of authenticity, which holds up pretty well still even today. Hmm...thinking about it, you might say that he was afraid of a Vingian singularity event, though nobody knew what that was yet. He might even have thought it was going to happen soon; as far as he knew--in his fiction, at least--Pluto might have been Yuggoth, and the Mi-Go had some sinister plan they were about to put into effect. R'yleh had just resurfaced. The ancient city had been unearthed. And so on.
Of course, today we know that's not true. There are no canals or fungus on Pluto; the word is now that it might not even qualify to be called a planet. And we've made immense strides in science and technology since then--and nobody's gone insane just yet.
There were some interesting predictions in the works. Things like atomic energy, cybernetics and brain transplantation, space travel...you could even say solar sails, if you wanted to stretch plausibility a little. All the same, though, I couldn't help but get a kick out of this passage from "The Whisperer in Darkness".
Glancing at these pictures as I took them from the envelope, I felt a curious sense of fright and nearness to forbidden things; for in spite of the vagueness of most of them, they had a damnably suggestive power which was intensified by the fact of their being genuine photographs - actual optical links with what they portrayed, and the product of an impersonal transmitting process without prejudice, fallibility, or mendacity.I'm sure the photo lab boys in Florida would just love that.
I think that's a bit more nattering on than you expected or wanted, so I think I'll close off and wait for the next guy to chime in. But as a parting thought...I had forgotten just how meaty these stories actually were. You know, I really should lift something from here for an article--a new C'thulhu cult down in Louisiana, or perhaps something about strange crustaceans being spotted in the New England hills. I would bet that the aforementioned boys in Florida could do a bang-up job with a mock-up. It would certainly beat the hoary old Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce predictions the rags drag out with annoying regularity.
Remember, C'thulhu saves--in case he's hungry later!