The Nameless City – ★★★★ 4 Stars
Written: Winter 1921
“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.”
Before I get into the short story itself, this is where the sour root of the Necronomicon began to sprout its mysteries. While the cursed book won’t actually show itself in Lovecraft’s work for a few more years, “The Nameless City” is where it began to grow its pages.
The Necronomicon became so famous and so dreaded, that people began to fear its appearance in real life. Similar to how people thought the Voynich Manuscript was some kind of lost alien gardening manual, a lot of people thought the Necronomicon was an actual spellbook that you could… buy, for some reason? No doubt in part because of all the fake copies that came out. The only store that would have no qualms about selling evil incarnate would probably be a used bookstore.
Anyway. I love “The Nameless City”. I personally think it’s one of Lovecraft’s best. What I really appreciate about it is the strange sensitivity to dreams that’s there. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, it’s like you’ve found an explanation you’ve been seeking for years, and it’s both beautiful and traumatic at the same time.
The world of this story has shades of Agartha, a city thought to be in the earth’s core, but it’s like a twisted, unholy version of that idea.
“The Nameless City” is the account of a man who goes into the heart of the desert, I assume some part of the Sahara. There are ruins there that none of the desert people will go near, and for good reason, but nonetheless he finds himself descending into these ruins. What he discovers there is still alive… in a way.
It’s been speculated that if a desert appears in your dream, especially if you weren’t born near one, it represents things that are lost. The ruins and what the man finds buried are things that can’t be lost, however. The people there have tried to forget it but it won’t crumble and it won’t be submerged in the sand. It’s part of their past and the man’s future, and the thought of having to live with the knowledge of something so horrible and impossible to abandon is really terrifying. This story has that same paralytic, trapped feeling as a nightmare, especially when the man is having to crawl down the staircase that slowly constricts him.
“Mental associations are curious, and I shrank from the idea that except for the poor primitive man torn to pieces in the last painting, mine was the only human form amidst the many relics and symbols of the primordial life.”
The prose is not as drawn-out as some Lovecraft stories can be, so I think “The Nameless City” would be a great piece to start with. Or end with, if you prefer.
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