Lovecraft Reviews – “Hypnos”

Hypnos – ★★★ 3.5 Stars

Written: Spring 1922

“Death is merciful, for there is no return therefrom, but with him who has come back out of the nethermost chambers of night, haggard and knowing, peace rests nevermore.”

Is it dream that dictates the grey boundary between real and false, blurring and steeling the line at will? Is reality so murky, so mutable that it all might as well be delusion?
Hypnos, if you’ll recall, was the brother of Thanatos, after all. Dream, always so close to death.

This short is about a man who has an encounter with the god of dreams himself in a station, and finds he has something inexplicable in common, maybe a need for escape. They go to the man’s house and begin an opium-fueled trip that turns from a burst of creativity into a reality-warping nightmare, and possibly goes on for several years.

“Hypnos” is tilted more towards psychological horror than cosmic horror, even though Lovecraft uses the same kind of imagery he does in those stories. It’s a familiar paranoia, that sense of dread and conspiracy that spawns out of the blue, forcing you to question what’s real when it’s impossible to ever be one-hundred-percent sure. A vivid nightmare or a fever dream can do as much damage as opium, if not a little more because it’s a raw product of your imagination. When the man in the story sobers up, he is suddenly white-haired and elderly, and his friend has abandoned him. No one he asks believes that Hypnos was ever there at all.

I’m curious if this story wasn’t at least a partial inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The way Hypnos is described – gaunt, with ghostly pale skin and depthless black eyes, dressed in a black robe – sounds an awful lot like Dream. Kind of a neat coincidence, if not, though I wouldn’t be surprised, since The Sandman uses a lot of Lovecraftian themes.

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Lovecraft Reviews – “The Book” and “Memory”

The Book – ★★★ 3.5 Stars

Written: Autumn 1933

“For he who passes the gateway always wins a shadow, and never again can he be alone.”

The Necronomicon strikes again in its coat of human skin, to terrorize a poor stranger who happens to find it lying by a gutter. It’s interesting how throughout H.P. Lovecraft’s body of work, the book of curses manages to destroy reality in such a variety of different ways. In this incarnation, it wavers reality through its very fabric, and the narrator is stalked through the state of flux by a hoard of beings he cannot see.

Does “The Book” sounds familiar? That’s because it’s an apparently incomplete reimagining, or perhaps another version, of “The Festival”. The prose is tighter in this story, at least, and it has traces of that unusual dream-discomfort I love to see in horror and suspense, but this and “The Festival” are essentially the same plot with a different outcome. Reading a heavy dose of Lovecraft at once can, in fact, invoke a feeling of those “choose-your-own-adventure” books from the 90s.

The 1890s, that is.

Memory – ★★★ 3 Stars

Written: Spring 1919

“Memory” recalls a primordial past, a vein of previous selves that are perhaps better left behind. This free verse piece has the atmosphere of a sinister, dystopian Arabian Nights, but that’s really the only strength it has to tell, as it’s only three pages. I’ve always thought that Lovecraft was more cut out for poems and prose than storytelling, personally, though his creative ideas were psychedelic and grotesque, mostly in a good way.

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Lovecraft Reviews – “The Festival”

The Festival – ★★★★ 3.5 Stars

Written: Autumn 1923

“The nethermost caverns, wrote the mad Arab, are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head.”

One can outrun the devil before they can their own genetics.
In “The Festival”, a man travels to an ancient sea town in Massachusetts, that he feels his ancestors have been calling him to, who turn out to be a sort of witch-race that enlighten him to their horrors.

This story features our beloved book of curses, the Necronomicon, as the narrator’s trigger into his primordial and disturbing genes. It’s an interesting metaphor for someone who comes from a line of mostly evil people, but themselves retain none of their wickedness, which does happen more often than you’d think.
“The Festival” is a pretty and occultish monstrosity of the sort I like, but apparently the author himself did not, it being mostly inspired by his own trip to Marblehead, Massachusetts, and being overwhelmed by the clash of historical and brand-new that existed there.

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Lovecraft Reviews – “The Colour Out of Space”

The Colour Out of Space – ★★★★★ 5 Stars

Written: Spring 1927

“This was no fruit of such worlds and suns as shine on the telescopes and photographic plates of our observatories. This was no breath from the skies whose motions and dimensions our astronomers measure or deem too vast to measure. It was just a colour out of space – a frightful messenger from unformed realms of infinity beyond all Nature as we know it.”

With the blossom of an unnatural and premature spring brings corruption that is unfit for the eye or mind. “The Colour Out of Space” is a prime piece of botanical horror, planting all of the discomforts there can be about things that arrive with the spring – water, mold, and flora.
This is so far my favourite short story by Lovecraft, other than maybe “The Rats in the Walls”, but the racial insensitivity in that story causes me to like it much less than this one.

“The Colour Out of Space” regards a nameless man who looks into a strange piece of farmland that none of the locals will touch, nicknamed ‘the blasted heath’ for its rotting and burnt appearance. He discovers through talking with a local named Ammi Pearce, that the land’s corruption began with a meteorite that crashed there, as well as something strange that settled in the farm’s well, and investigates its history.

This is a terrific and terrifying short that settles on your skin like cold mildew, especially the fate of the farmers themselves. The imagery and physical horror that develops as the narrator learns more about the cosmic disease that’s settled on the farm is absolutely uncomfortable, but you want to know more about it.

The disease is keeping its secrets, however.

“The reservoir will soon be built now, and all those elder secrets will be safe forever under watery fathoms. But even then I do not believe I would like to visit that country by night – at least, not when the sinister stars are out; and nothing could bribe me to drink the new city water of Arkham…”

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Lovecraft Reviews – “Ex Oblivione” & “Azathoth”

Azathoth – ★★★ 3.5 Stars

Written: Summer 1922

“Azathoth” is a poem of dream states alchemically combusting, a transcription of what it’s like to give oneself to the void.
The name refers to a demon of sorts that is mentioned in some of Lovecraft’s novels, but before I knew that I thought it was a corruption of azoth, which in alchemy, is the ultimate medicine. So I suppose Azathoth would be the ultimate poison, wouldn’t it?

This is a prose piece, that calls up a lot of dreamy, lotus-eating imagery. The creature Azathoth itself is supposed to be a sort of living black hole that is too evil for a solid shape, but is just a mass of everything disturbing and wrong. Its poem, however, is weirdly romantic, making me think that its nature must be to possess people into searching it.

Ex Oblivione – ★★★ 2.5 Stars

Written: Winter 1920-1921

“For doubt and secrecy are the lure of lures, and no new horror can be more terrible than the daily torture of the commonplace.

Curiosity killed the dream-sage. The writing is lovely, almost too much so, but what bothers me about “Ex Oblivione” is that it’s just rather samey.
It feels like a watered down or underdeveloped version of “The Nameless City”, which also came about in the same winter. Same delusion, different name. I do like the idea of returning to the unknowable, and in this case terrifying, roots of our species through dreams.

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Lovecraft Reviews – “The Nameless City”

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. Continue reading “Lovecraft Reviews – “The Nameless City””

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

hplovecraft

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.)