Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Non, C'est Rien" from Color Me Barbra

Cold Unyielding


Oh, this compulsion that draws me to act of madness.  Oh, this itching in my fingers, to go to ye blog of Daniel Jose Older and reassure him yet again that his head is up his arse.  I must resist.  Older, for ye whut don't know, is the fool who has begun a petition to replace the image of H. P. Lovecraft as the World Fantasy Award with that of Octavia Butler.  This Older thug calls Lovecraft "a terrible wordsmith," and that is suffice to reveal his complete inadequacy as a literary critic.  But, stop--I do not need to reply again to the blog of this grotesque idiot, because S. T. Joshi has done so, brilliantly.  www.stjoshi.org/news.html

To seduce me away from my stupid compulsion (I do no good on these blogs, because people see my pro-Lovecraft rants as merely the signs of a diseased mind, the reverberations of fanboy fanaticism), I spent ye morning reading the wondrous essay, "'The Outsider,' the Terminal Climax, and Other Conclusions," by Robert H. Waugh and found in his book from Hippocampus Press, The Monster in the Mirror: Looking for H. P. Lovecraft.  I then listen'd to Roddy McDowall's reading of "The Outsider" -- and that always reminds me that it was the gift of this record from a neighbor who owned a record store, back when I was a young teenager, that served as my introduction to H. P. Lovecraft.

"The Outsider" seems, still, such an important tale in ye Lovecraft cannon, one that I find hypnotic and full of suggestive depths; and it is the one editorial flaw of The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft that editor Les Klinger chose not to include the story in that otherwise magnificent edition.  This powerful story affects readers emotionally, and thus it is assumed that it must express some profound mental anguish of Lovecraft's own.  When the story's narrator states, "...I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men," readers sometimes assume that Lovecraft meant this as an autobiographical pronouncement.  Lovecraft never claimed this, and he came to disown the story as an artistic failure.

There are stories of Lovecraft's that take place in the real world, the world of wakeful men, in solid reality.  Yet even the most scientific of these realities, such as "At the Mountains of Madness," are touched by myth and ye poetry of the Necronomicon.  There is another kind of Lovecraft tale, a kind that intrigues me more and more, and has influenced my own attempts at writing weird fiction, wherein we cannot be certain if the narrative is a memory of a real incident or ye recollection of some dream.  These stories take place on a borderland between mundane reality and the Outside.  Such tales include "The Music of Erich Zann," "The Nameless City,"  and "The Festival."  "The Outsider" is another.  Commentators have found the narrative perplexing, because they are trying to understand it with intellectual logic.  S. T. complains, in his Notes to ye story in his first edition of Lovecraft from Penguin Classics, "On the level of plot, 'The Outsider' makes little sense.  What exactly is the nature of the 'castle' in which the Outsider dwells?  If it is truly underground, how is it that the creature spends time in the 'endless forest' surrounding it?  Taking these and other implausibilities--if the story is to be held to rigid standards of realism--into account, and noting the epigraph from Keats's Eve of St. Agnes, William Fulwiler has suggested that 'The Outsider' is merely the account of a dream.  There is something to be said for this, and this explanation would certainly account for the seemingly 'irrational' elements of the tale..."

Reading Professor Waugh's excellent essay this morning made me focus on the one aspect of solid reality found in "The Outsider" -- "a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass."  This seems to be a reality from which there is no escape, and yet the creature that expresses it is one that rides with the mocking ghouls on the night-wind, an activity that can be experienced, one would imagine, in dream alone.

What can we decide regarding the Outsider's gender?  Mollie Burleson has written an essay in which she explains why she considers the creature female--but I find the essay unconvincing, as it seems, to me, to paint a limiting and uninspired picture of that which constitutes womanhood.  However, I find the idea intriguing, and in the novella that I have recently written with David Barker, "In the Gulfs of Dream," I have presented the Outsider as one of female gender.  Professor Waugh writes (THE MONSTER IN THE MIRROR, page 115), "Since this is a first-person narration, the 'I' prevents the specificity of either 'he' or 'she' from being uttered (as I have tried to avoid those words, though 'it' is surely unsatisfying also); we cannot know whether the Outsider is a man, woman, or a something to which gender is indifferent..."  But I think it is clear that H. P. Lovecraft saw the Outsider as male, for the first three words of the story are, "Unhappy is he..." (my emphasis.)

This is one example of why I find the superb weird fiction of H. P. Lovecraft endlessly fascinating, to ye point of obsession.  I have not mention'd ye prose style of the story, which Lovecraft described (if indeed he was speaking of narrative style in this statement), as representing "...my literal though unconscious imitation of Poe at is very height." (Selected Letters III, page 379).  That's a delicious word--"unconscious."  Lovecraft blasted the prose style of the story years after writing it, and seems to be the reason why he came to dislike the story; but I find the prose exactly right, and very beautifully evocative.  Each time I read or listen to the story, I delight in it more than ever.  It is a classic example of that wondrous creature we call "Lovecraftian horror."




Tuesday, August 26, 2014

DUNWICH AS BEAUTIFUL NIGHTMARE



One of ye wonderful things to happen this year was Pete Von Sholly's invitation for me to write wee essays for the Lovecraft Library series from PS Publishing in England.  I've written new essays for five of the initial nine volumes.  Through some mishap, my original essay for THE DUNWICH HORROR volume wasn't used (it was intended to replace an old fanzine article that was included in the book).  I cannot now remember if I've publish'd my new essay here, so I thought I wou'd do so nigh.  I have an itch to write essays on Lovecraft's fiction especially for this blog, to share my ideas about the work and my passion for it.   (For instance, I just noticed the very peculiar tense in which Lovecraft wrote "The Terrible Old Man," and I have no clue what to call the tense chosen by HPL.  If I remember, I will ask S. T. at his Memorial Day Cook-Out this week-end.)  So, here is my unpublish'd essay on "The Dunwich Horror."  I do not mean to pose as any kind of scholar, for I am not.  These are but ye ramblings of a fan.

DUNWICH AS BEAUTIFUL NIGHTMARE

W. H. Pugmire, Esq.

There is one beautiful illustration in this volume of PS Publishing's Lovecraft Library that perfectly captures one magick moment in this story:  "Considerable talk was started when Silas Bishop--of the undecayed Bishops--mentioned having seen the boy running sturdily up that hill ahead of his mother..."  Pete's illustration for the scene in this volume is perfect in tone and helps to illustrate one of the story's powerful features--its sense of place.  Lovecraft doesn't simply make up a town called Dunwich--he conjures a mythical setting that magnificently enhances the sinister atmosphere of the tale, atmosphere that was all-important to this outstanding literary artist.  The potent opening paragraphs of the story set the mood superbly, with poetic language and spectral imagery; and then, at the end of the third paragraph, Lovecraft gives us one of his finest and perfect sentences:  "Afterward one sometimes learns that one has been through Dunwich."

Why was it essential to Lovecraft to create his mythical towns of Dunwich, Arkham and Kingsport?  I do not know if he ever articulated his reasoning for these creations, but I think, in part, it was in order to give him complete artistic and creative control as far as atmosphere is concerned.  These are places touched by the Outside, intimately so; and those unfortunate souls who dwell within these spectral pockets of unearthly horror are tainted absolutely, and aware of their contagion.  This aspect of Lovecraft's art affected me greatly when I began to write my own tales of Sesqua Valley, although I gave it my own wee twist and have nameless contamination a source of eldritch celebration, a thing more desired than feared.  

S. T. Joshi has been severely critical of "The Dunwich Horror," to the point of suggesting that it is one of Lovecraft's artistic failures.  This is nonsense.  In I Am Providence (page 719), S. T. states: "In an important sense, indeed, 'The Dunwich Horror' itself turns out to be not much more than a pastiche," and then goes on to list the other works from which Lovecraft got his ideas for the tale.  Rather, Lovecraft has taken his many influences of theme and plot and, with his expert artistry, created a story that is uniquely his own in every way.  One of the story's powerful components is its use of character.  The criticism aimed at Lovecraft that he was incapable of creating interesting or realistic characters is idiotic, and his use of character is one of the points of perfection in his weird fiction.  The portrayals found in "The Dunwich Horror" are remarkably effective and exactly right for the part they play, with each a faultless portrait.  Most fascinating, for me, is the bizarre and tragic figure of Lavinia Whateley.  She is deftly painted, and yet her story has untold depths, and a clever writer could construct an entire novel from the hints that Lovecraft has given us.  (Indeed, our genre's finest modern poet, Ann K. Schwader, has written an entire sonnet sequence concerning the doomed Lavinia.)  Miss Whateley is a symbol of all that is fabulous and awful in Dunwich.  She is an innocent who was, perhaps, ravaged by her father when he was possessed by the force known as Yog-Sothoth.  She loved Wilbur absolutely, and was perhaps murdered by him.  She was the unsophisticated, unworldly child who became corrupted by books she studied with her insane sire.

This is a story of supernatural horror.  Some have claimed that Lovecraft's monsters are "merely" aliens from outer space, and they are wrong.  Yog-Sothoth is not a monster that has filtered to earth through cosmic realms but rather a completely supernatural daemon conjured forth by black magick.  What kind of "alien" can be summoned by the arcane language of a nameless grimoire?  This magnificent monster comes not from ye cosmic abyss but from alternative dimension--the Outside.  It is, in every way, not of this world. It does not belong in any sane universe, and it is impossible to comprehend its nature. Yog-Sothoth is as perfect a symbol of the unearthly as the stigmatic fiend featured in "The Colour out of Space," which is indeed, as the story's title instructs us, cosmic.  We never encounter this daemon in the story, yet feel its presence and influence enormously.  

The portrait of the "Dunwich Horror" itself, although effective in its way, is the story's weakest point.  It is a wonderful effect of plotting, to center the focus of the first portion of the story on Wilbur, and then to concentrate completely on the monstrous twin and its destructive nature.  Robert Bloch performed a similar feat in Psycho, and Wilbur's death may be thought of, playfully, as the shower scene in "The Dunwich Horror."  Alas, the climax is simply silly, and although it thrilled me when I was very young, it now makes me groan.  The image of a bloke wielding an insecticide spray-gun filled with hoodoo powder which is then shot at the invisible titan so as to give it a shape that can be described is inept.  Lovecraft perhaps thought it would be effective to have the scene described by yokels who watch from a distance, but here he erred.  It would have been far more effective for the scene to have taken place among the three courageous men, on the haunted hill, directly in the close-at-hand presence of the beast, and described from their unimaginable proximity to this madness out of time.  Still, we have that delicious moment of hideous revelation, where it is shewn that half of the horror's face resembles that of its proxy sire, Wizard Whateley.  The hints and suggestions there implied are a Dunwich horror indeed!


Monday, August 25, 2014

More Babbling!

I really need to stop going on blogs and saying rude things about ye clueless yobs who claim that Lovecraft was a bad writer.  I tell myself I will stop--but I just did it again.  I realise full well that Lovecraft doesn't need my defense--the superiority of his excellent fiction is his best defense, and is far more eloquent than anything I could utter.  There are, of course, more and more books by intelligent literary folk who understand the qualities of Lovecraft's fiction that make his work so outstanding.  The book I am moft excited about is the new collection of all of S. T.'s essays on Lovecraft--and I am so impatient to read it that, to placate my appetite, I have started rereading PRIMAL SOURCES (shewn above).

My favourite modern Lovecraft scholar is, I think, Robert H. Waugh.  He has two excellent studies of H. P. Lovecraft from Hippocampus Press, The Monster in the Mirror and A Monster of Voices.  I was mesmerized with those of his essays that were publish'd in Lovecraft Studies, and delighted to see them 
collected in book form.  Mr. Waugh is professor of English at State University of New York at New Paltz, and his understanding of Literature is solid and well-express'd.  I am especially captivated by his essays on "The Outsider," to which I return again & again

Another outstanding book on H. P. Lovecraft is Art, Artifact, and Reality, by Steven J. Mariconda.  This author, again, understands that which constitutes good writing, and he is excellent at explaining why Lovecraft's fiction is excellent in every way.  My favourite essays by him include ""H. P. Lovecraft: Consummate Prose Stylist," "Lovecraft's Concept of 'Background'," and "H. P. Lovecraft: Reluctant American Modernist."  

Kenneth W. Faig, Jr. has written much about Lovecraft's ancestral history, the writer's roots; yet he is also quite excellent when discussing Lovecraft's superb fiction.  His book, The Unknown Lovecraft, contains such fine studies as "Lovecraft: Artist or Poseur?." "Lovecraft's 'He'," "'The Silver Key' and Lovecraft's Childhood," and many others.  

A book that is a superb if at times eccentric study of Lovecraft's fiction is the forthcoming The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, edited and annotated by Leslie S. Klinger.  I have an advance reading copy of the book, and it enthralls me.  Klinger's foreword goes on for many pages and is keenly informed and fascinating.  His Notes are very different from those found in editions of Lovecraft edited by S. T. Joshi, and his approach, of treating the stories as texts of actual events, is often edifying.  The book, to be publish'd in October, will be beautifully and profusely illustrated.

But I think that the book that will soon find itself on my doorstep, S. T.'s Lovecraft and a World In Transition, will become the study of Lovecraft's life and work that I admire moft, next to S. T.'s fabulous two-volume biography of the writer.  At 645 pages, it publishes all of S. T.'s essays and reviews of Lovecraft.  I shou'd be getting my copy any day nigh, & when I do I will shew it ye on a YouTube vlog.  Oh, babies, my hot palms itch to hold it, my liquid eyes burn to drink it.



Saturday, August 23, 2014

Lovecraftian Extremist

The next book is completed at last, and I confess that I am rather excited about it.  My collaborator, David Barker, has completed his portion of the last story, whut is set entirely in H. P. Lovecraft's dreamland.  I wrote an initial draft of around 9,000, to which David added his own story at around 11,000 words.  It was delicious to work entirely in the dreamworld setting.  The new book, Spectres of Lovecraftian Horror, is, I think, extremely diverse in tone and content.  I am reprinting therein many of the wee dreamy prose-poems and vignettes that I wrote for that marvelous publication, the LovecrafteZine, edited by Mike Davis, one of the kindest and moft devoted Lovecraftians I have ever known.  The new book shews again how profoundly the superb weird fiction of H. P. Lovecraft has influenced me--and continues to do so.  Lovecraft's world popularity increases exponentially, and new editions of his excellent and ingenious weird fiction continue to be published.  Gawd, I am SO EXCITED to see the publish'd version of The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, edited by Leslie S. Klinger.  I was sent ye arc edition, but the hardcover edition will be a thing of beauty, and I ache to hold it in me claws.  I shew'd ye arc edition in a video on YouTube, let's see if I can find it.....



This is ye second of two videos in which I shew ye book.  But we also have, forthcoming from Hippocampus Press, The Variorum Lovecraft, probably also available in October.  And any day nigh will see ye release of S. T.'s collected writings on E'ch-Pi-El, Lovecraft and a World In Transition, an enormous volume and one that my eyes burn to devour.  My mania for Lovecraft and books about him 
remains at fever pitch.
     Indeed, it may be said that I am an obsess'd Lovecraft extremist, & that the disease grows and grows as I enter my final years.  I am, perhaps, overly defensive of Lovecraft's character and Art, but I grow so weary of the narrow-minded morons who entirely dismiss HPL because of his racism, or who insist that Lovecraft was a bad writer.  The more I study Lovecraft's life, the more I admire him as a human, despite his extremely grotesque racism, which touches me personally because of my Jewish heritage.  It is as a writer of genius and originality and stunning power that I idolize Lovecraft and try to emulate him in my own creative work.  I am trying not to comment on discussions or threads that continually dismiss Lovecraft's writing, because I get too worked up.  If I know of a writer who has suddenly disowned Lovecraft as a person or an artist, then I no longer read that writer's work and rid my library of their books.  (There are few exceptions--but, if Laird Barron suddenly decided he hated Lovecraft, I wou'd continue to read him, because I so admire Laird as a human and adore his magnificent work.)  

I keep getting stuck on my attempt to begin an Enoch Coffin novel, that I hope to write with Jeffrey Thomas.  Indeed, writing has been difficult of late, not because of block, actually, but because of apathy.  I just can't be bothered to try and write.  I'd much rather sit in my recliner and read read read.  I did write a new wee tale set in the hills outside of Arkham, and S. T. has accepted it for Black Wings V.  I am nigh trying to write a new thing, "The Black Winged Ones," but every beginning proves to be a false start.  It might be the summer weather--I abhor extreme heat; but nigh the days are cooling and fall draws near, delicious autumn.  And there is Lovecraft to return to, again and again, where I sink into ye riches of his fantastic fiction and therein find my self.  Ia, Ia!