Lovecraft Reviews – “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”

Beyond the Wall of Sleep – ★★★ 3.5 Stars

Written: Spring 1919

“We shall meet again – perhaps in the shining mists of Orion’s Sword, perhaps on a bleak plateau in prehistoric Asia. Perhaps in unremembered dreams tonight; perhaps in some other form an aeon hence, when the solar system shall have been swept away.”

In dreams we hear songs which cannot be captured, yet which we will always long to hear while awake. We can hear in them our history, hidden away in other planets that are no longer our own.
In “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”, a strange man from the boondocks, Joe Slater, is taken in for evaluation after a series of violent psychological attacks. A doctor there takes the opportunity to study the man’s mind more closely and notices that, while at first there doesn’t seem to be much to unravel, there seems to be two halves to his personality. There’s a weird and surprisingly heavy presence in the man at certain times which makes the doctor curious, and he begins to be obsessed with finding out who this is inhabiting Slater’s brain, because it’s certainly not him alone.

“Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is an exploration into the relationship between dreams, madness and the interconnected nature of living things, with a twist of the paranormal. It reminds me, even though it’s not super similar, of the Hypnos and Thanatos myth, with sleep often thought of as being the only link to death that does not involve dying. I feel like at least one of the characters is driven truly insane by the end, though it’s hard to tell which, and when.

This idea… has been done better, I hate to say, and in this instance Lovecraft’s writing style can get pretty grating, being more obsessed with twirling vocabulary around rather than telling us what is happening. No doubt it’s creative, though, and I can see shades of my favourite author in it. I suspect Junji Ito is a big fan of this particular story, having done several adaptations of it. If it piques your curiosity, “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is worth looking at. I would recommend the original as well as Ito’s “Long Dream” and “Den of the Sleep Demon”, which are similar but also improve upon the theme.

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A Lovecraftian Springtime

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Upon the looming threshold of the second-worst season of the year, under its threat of mildew blooming, pollen poofing, and foul weather glooming, who could be more appropriate to do a mini-series about than the master of the foul and foreboding?
Lately I’ve been binge-reading a compilation of H.P. Lovecraft’s works that I’ve owned for awhile. No, not the Necronomicon. (Disappointingly. I checked.) I’ve noticed reading through them that Lovecraft featured themes of springtime in much of his work. But you know, the hideous realistic early spring when you feel like you have lizard tongues for skin – the kind they don’t model home decor after.

Throughout the next few waterlogged, miserable months I will be reviewing a Lovecraft story or novella whenever I get the chance. I plan to review at least everything that’s in the compilation I have. I… er, don’t believe it includes some of the more racially insensitive stuff that, let’s be honest, deserves to remain mostly unnoticed. I’ll be touching on that bit of infamy in my review of “The Rats in the Walls”. You’ll see what I’m talking about if you didn’t already know.
Admittedly, the overtones make some of Lovecraft’s writing troubling (and writing about it even more troubling), but nonetheless, his work is the foundation of the weird fiction temple, and I think much of it is of value despite the author’s archaic attitudes in real life.

Anyway, I look forward to sharing my thoughts on these stories with you, and hope you enjoyed my eldritch drawings all over Lovecraft’s portrait there. Some of the shortest stories I may post together just for convenience, because there’s not much to say about them. Not sure when I’ll get around to the novellas, those may come last.

(As a side note, a genuine Necronomicon is not the oddest thing one might find in a used bookstore. Believe me.)

Seven Devils II – Designing Sloth

[Creation notes and ruminations I took while designing the ink piece “Apathy of an Idol”, part of a horror mini-series. Read the previous entry here.]

Sloth is simultaneously the most difficult to personify and the most personally incensing of the seven sins. It’s a broader term than the others, for one, encompassing apathy, laziness, ingratitude and wastefulness, all of which are equally “Sloth” but different acts entirely.

Arguably, Sloth could be the worst of the whole lot, as an immeasurable amount of evil has been gotten away with due only to apathy. The idea of evil and misfortune always being “someone else’s problem” is a corrupting one, indeed. I suppose it’s more than fitting, then, that Sloth be an aggravating and slow-going ink piece with little inspiration to run on, isn’t it?

Sloth has no natural expression – you can’t really sense an apathetic or lazy nature on a person’s face, nor does it have the sinister or obsessive shine of the eye that greed or does, or the definitive flame-red of wrath. I guess at best you might get a sense of emptiness from somebody, or a lack of humanity at Sloth’s strongest – a mechanism that functions like a human but just only.

Again, this is something you sense – it’s incredibly challenging to convey the same thing in an artwork. My initial but admittedly boring idea for Sloth was to give the central character and their surroundings an overwhelming sense of sleep and melt, something akin to the dripping clocks of Dali, but with a more grotesque unkemptness fitting with the mini-series’ theme. Strewn garbage and moldy residue would’ve oozed from the world, which sounds fittingly disturbing, but was too similar to the sketch I already had finished for “Gluttony of a Beast”. I feared that the point might be missed if it was as gross as that one, or else they might be confused for each other. Why should the Sloth piece necessarily be an unhygienic wasteland, when you can find apathy even in paradise?

So… after consideration and a full remix of the early sketch, the idea of melt and rot changed into a dystopian atmosphere of luxury – the focal character became an idol or figurehead of such overblown (and totally ambiguous) importance that they no longer are obligated to move their own limbs, as others stand by, ready to do it for them.

I chose a female figure for this piece, as she fit the “idol” tone more, and it evened out the gender disparity with the other pieces (most at the time had ended up being male or androgynous leaning towards male; the only other female one was Envy). I wanted this piece to convey abused privilege and really drive home the evil of such an atmosphere, as the central figure is surrounded by doll-like helpers who in reality may not be there by choice – handmaids in name only. As bad as Sloth is, its worst facet by far is turning a blind eye towards the oppression of others, if not outright condoning it for the sake of laziness. While probably the lightest piece in appearance (especially if it gets a colour version) “Apathy of an Idol” is the darkest in meaning.

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Seven Devils Series I – Designing Gluttony

[Creation notes and ruminations I took while designing the ink piece, “Gluttony of a Beast”, part of a horror mini-series.]

Gluttony – the most animal yet the most self-destructive of the traditional sins, usually causing more harm to the practicioner than the practiced upon. I say usually, but when gluttony writhes out of its boundaries, it has no mercy to those who stand in its path. It’s a rabid and perpetually starving behemoth.

Gluttony when it applies to food is arguably on a moral level beyond simply “good” or “evil”, as animals who have a moral sense completely foreign to and far more instinctual than humans still can be gluttonous if the opportunity is there. Stranger still, opinions on gluttony vary so drastically, it could easily be taken as a virtue.

I don’t personally believe gluttony toward food can be considered “evil” exactly, as delicious food is quite the temptress and easy to give into, though it can be incredibly harmful to the self. It’s more understandable that it was considered to be a worse action back when they first began to write about the seven sins, as food was much more scarce for far more people.

Gluttony is strange. Inherently a dark feeling, though it’s separate from greed and definitely not obsession. It might cause apathy, but it’s not apathy. Nor is it an emotion, but it’s like an instinct that has gone cancerous and mad. Whether this yields bad, good, or neither, it is always too much and always taken too far.

With “Gluttony of a Beast”, I wanted to turn it onto an inhuman and fully grotesque edge that you might get a hint of once in a lifetime, but never, ever see in another. The Beast calls for a lot of grimy residual textures, like rice that congealed to a bowl over a week ago, as well as meaty textures. Meat textures are notoriously difficult to draw or paint, being a paradoxical combination of rough, spongy and greasy at once.

A notable inspiration was the monster No-Face from the film Spirited Away, who showcases a similarly odd, slimy texture. I also was adamant about including cannibalistic or hyper-carnivorous themes, to add to the feeling of unnatural rawness. We’ll see how this looks when it’s done, it might even get a colour version if it’s polite to me.

See some of my current art on DeviantArt.

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