Archives for posts with tag: Lovecraft

This is a short but sweet little story. It tells us of three shady men who are planning to rip off the titular Terrible Old Man. Little is known about him other than that he is rumored to be an eccentric former ship captain who is very wealthy. Dogs also do not like him and bark when they see him. Our three criminals decide they are going to go to his creepy house and steal his fortune once they get him to tell them where it is located.

His house has a collection of strange idols in front which usually scares off the local children. Inside his house people have seen a table with many bottles that appear to move when the old man talks to them, calling them by many names as though they were his former sailors.

But business is business, and to a robber whose soul is in his profession, there is a lure and a challenge about a very old and very feeble man who has no account at the bank, and who pays for his few necessities at the village store with Spanish gold and silver minted two centuries ago.

Two of the robbers go to the house wearing masks to “interview” the old man and the third waits by his car to drive them away. The wheelman waits a long time and becomes more nervous as the moments pass. He “did not like the hideous screams he had heard in the ancient house just after the hour appointed for the deed.”

Assuming his partners have murdered the old man, he is surprised when a lone figure approaches from the house. It was, of course, the Terrible Old Man.

The story ends with a remark that the townspeople were disturbed when they found the abandoned car and “three unidentifiable bodies, horribly slashed as with many cutlasses”.

There’s really not much to this story. It is actually kind of humorous as we know the three robbers are going to meet a horrible fate. I’m looking forward to future tales that are a bit longer and have a more involved and interesting plot.

I remember reading The Statement of Randolph Carter when I was a teenager and loving it but had forgotten the story’s name. I thought it was The Tomb so when I reviewed that story I was pretty confused. I’m glad I figured out the correct name to go with the creepy story I remembered.

The story was written in 1919 and published in 1920. It features, obviously, Randolph Carter who apparently shows up in later Lovecraft tales. I don’t remember him so it will be intriguing to see how the character gets used later on.

Everything that I can remember, I have told with perfect candour. Nothing has been distorted or concealed, and if anything remains vague, it is only because of the dark cloud which has come over my mind – that cloud and the nebulous nature of the horrors which brought it upon me.

As we begin, Carter is being questioned about his role in the disappearance of a man named Harley Warren, a friend of his for five years. Carter helped him research the “unknown”. Together they journeyed to a swamp, apparently to prove Warren’s theory that certain corpses do not decompose, even after centuries. In the swamp they found a cemetery, seemingly untouched by human hands for ages.

They find an old mausoleum and together they pry the door open. Inside they find stone steps leading down into blackness. Warren tells Carter he must remain on the surface while Warren enters the tomb.

You can’t imagine, even from what you have read and from what I’ve told you, the things I shall have to see and do. It’s fiendish work, Carter…

Fortunately, Warren has brought with him a portable telephone which he plans to take with him. There is enough wire to reach “to the centre of the earth and back” so they can remain in contact. Carter watches as Warren takes a light with him and disappears down the stairs into the darkness of the tomb.

Time passes and Carter is left alone in the dark cemetery. After awhile he hears a clicking sound from the telephone and then hears Warren tell him that he is seeing something. He never specifies what he sees and we are left to speculate. We only know that it is “terrible – monstrous – unbelievable!” Carter asks for clarification and is told little.

“I can’t tell you, Carter! It’s too utterly beyond thought – I dare not tell you – no man could know it and live – Great God! I never dreamed of THIS!”

Cue the Lovecraft Drinking Game: every time he has someone say they have seen something or know something but it is “too horrible for words” or “it must not be told”, you take a drink.

Warren then frantically tells Carter to seal the tomb and run for his life. Carter hesitates and decides to stay with him. He then hears Warren state that it’s “nearly over now” and then “Curse these hellish things – legions…” Carter screams for him and hears a voice reply that Warren is dead.

Shall I say that the voice was deep; hollow; gelatinous; remote; unearthly; inhuman; disembodied?

Gelatinous? What the hell was down in that tomb? And how does it know how to use a telephone?

There is a continuum in horror between showing too much and showing too little. On the one side are slasher films which shower the viewer in gore and leave nothing to the imagination. On the other side is Lovecraft. Something was down in the tomb. Actually many somethings. What were they? We don’t know but we can speculate it has to do with Warren’s theory that there are certain corpses that don’t decay. A horde of the undead maybe?

The thing about Lovecraft is he gives you a framework and lets you imagine your worst fears within it. In my mind I’m picturing a mass of shambling zombie creatures closing in on Warren. Someone else may imagine something entirely different and horrifying. And gelatinous.

The Doom that Came to Sarnath was written in 1919 and published in 1920 in an amateur fiction magazine. It is a pretty cool story with one significant downside which we’ll talk about in a bit. Unlike many of the stories we have covered so far, The Doom that Came to Sarnathis not written in first-person perspective.

There is in the land of Mnar a vast still lake that is fed by no stream and out of which no stream flows. Ten thousand years ago there stood by its shore the mighty city of Sarnath, but Sarnath stands there no more.

Apparently there was another city that stood by the lake, many aeons before Sarnath. This city was called Ib “which was as old as the lake itself, and peopled with beings not pleasing to behold.” These inhabitants were green-skinned with bulging eyes and they worshipped a stone idol of their god Bokrug, before which they “danced horribly” under the moon.

Humans eventually arrived, building cities of their own including Sarnath, near the city of Ib. The humans disliked the residents of Ib so they went to war against them and slaughtered them. They pushed their bodies into the lake and cast down their monoliths. The only thing they left was the stone idol of Bokrug, the water-lizard. They brought this back to Sarnath as a trophy and set it up in their temple. That night the lake glowed with a weird light and the next morning the idol was gone and the high priest of Sarnath was found dead “as from some fear unspeakable.” Before he died he scrawled upon the altar the “sign of DOOM.” Apparently capital letters are important when someone is pronouncing DOOM on you!

There now follows several long paragraphs that talk about how amazing the city of Sarnath became in its heyday. These paragraphs open with lines such as The wonder of the world and the pride of all mankind was Sarnath… or But more marvellous still were… or Lofty and amazing were… or Wonderful likewise were… In short, Sarnath was freaking awesome and if you don’t believe me, go ask Lovecraft and he will explain it to you in excruciating detail. There’s really no plot developing here, just pages of descriptive text that bring the story to a halt. It’s really the only flaw, albeit a major one, in a story that is otherwise wonderful, lofty amazing and marvellous.

And a thousand years of riches and delight passed over Sarnath, wonder of the world and pride of all mankind.

To celebrate the thousandth anniversary of the destruction of Ib a great feast was held. It had been planned for a decade and everyone was invited. Ominously, the night of the feast the high priest saw shadows descend to the lake from the moon. Green mists came from the lake and covered Sarnath. Then near midnight everyone fled the city, running in fear from “a horde of indescribable green voiceless things with bulging eyes, pouting flabby lips, and curious ears; things which danced horribly.” I’m trying to imagine everyone running from these green-skinned horrible battle-dancers. DOOM indeed.

And that’s it. Sarnath was DOOMED a thousand years after its great crime. All traces of the city were gone, leaving only the swamp and the long-missing idol of Bokrug, the great water-lizard.

On the whole, it is a fantastic story. Obviously the pages describing the awesomeness of Sarnath could have been excised and would have left a much better and more concise story. But the concept of slow but total vengeance is appealing. I found myself rooting for the green-skinned dancers and was glad they came back to topple Sarnath.

The thing that really sticks with me from the story is an almost throwaway line that occurs early on. Describing the green dancers, Lovecraft writes “not much is written of these beings, because they lived in very ancient times, and man is young and knows little of the very ancient living things.” That seems to encapsulate one of Lovecraft’s main themes: There are certain things that happened long before humanity ever lived. Creatures roamed the earth, cities existed and strange and powerful beings were worshipped – all predate our history and awareness. We can sometimes find traces, hints of what was and what may still be out there, buried. But it might be best to turn away lest we risk DOOM much like Sarnath.

The White Ship was written by Lovecraft in 1919. It has a different feel to it: a dreamy, rambling tone that reminds me of Polaris.

The narrator is Basil Elton “keeper of the North Point light that my father and grandfather kept before me.” Basil is fascinated by the ocean and by the stories he imagines it could tell, “the secret lore of ocean.” He watches the sea night after night, trying to catch a glimpse of objects far in the distance or deep beneath the surface.

Out of the South it was that the White Ship used to come when the moon was full and high in the heavens. Out of the South it would glide very smoothly and silently over the sea. And whether the sea was rough or calm, and whether the wind was friendly or adverse, it would always glide smoothly and silently, its sails distant and its long strange tiers of oars moving rhythmically.

He spots the captain of the White Ship, a bearded and robed man who beckons to him and one night he crosses to the ship on a “bridge of moonbeams.” Together they journey into the mysterious South.

They visit many strange places and they are all described with lovely, poetic language. At the end of their sea voyage they come to a waterfall “wherein the oceans of the world drop down to abysmal nothingness.” As the ship begins to plummet over the edge Basil closes his eyes, bracing himself for the inevitable crash.

He then opens his eyes to the sound of the crash and realizes he is standing on the platform of his lighthouse. The light has gone out while he was on his (dream?) journey. A ship has crashed on the rocks and when he examines the wreckage he is saddened to discover it may have been the White Ship that crashed.

And thereafter the ocean told me its secrets no more; and though many times since has the moon shone full and high in the heavens, the White Ship from the South came never again.

The White Ship reminds me a lot of Polaris in that it features a protagonist who journeys far away to a dreamlike land yet winds up failing at the job he has been given. In The White Ship the job was in the “real” world and his failure resulted in a shipwreck. In Polaris the narrator was given a job in the “dream” world but couldn’t complete it because he was pulled back to the “real” world.

There’s a definite theme here and it is tempting to speculate about Lovecraft’s psychological make-up based on some of the stories he has written. Without going too far out on the limb, I think we can say that frustration was a definite part of the lens through which he viewed the world.

Today’s entry is The Transition of Juan Romero which was written in 1919. It was never published in Lovecraft’s lifetime as he apparently was unhappy with the story.

Of the events which took place at the Norton Mine on October 18th and 19th, 1894, I have no desire to speak… But I believe that before I die I should tell what I know of the – shall I say transition – of Juan Romero.

The unnamed narrator speaks of having served at one time in India and of having “delved not a little into odd Eastern lore” in his past. He eventually wound up in the American West, employed as a laborer at a gold mine. While there, he made the acquaintance of Juan Romero who became fascinated with the narrator’s “quaint and ancient Hindoo ring,” which was adorned with hieroglyphs. Their friendship was only hampered by the language barrier between them.

The mine was expanded by the detonation of dynamite which revealed that “a new abyss yawned indefinitely below the seat of the blast; an abyss so monstrous that no handy line might fathom it, nor any lame illuminate it.” This scared some of the workmen who refused to enter the chasm so no work was completed that evening. Late that night Romero awakened, agitated, and telling the narrator about the sound he was hearing. The narrator gradually began to hear it as well.

Deep, deep, below me was a sound – a rhythm, just as the peon had said – which, though exceedingly faint, yet dominated even the dog, the coyote, and the increasing tempest. To seek to describe it were useless – for it was such that no description is possible… Of all its qualities, remoteness in the earth most impressed me.

The narrator and Romero then begin involuntarily moving toward the mine, drawn by the sound. As they go deeper in the mine, the narrator’s ring begins to glow and lights his way. Romero runs ahead and gets swallowed up by the abyss. The narrator looks over the edge.

At first I beheld nothing but a seething blur of luminosity; but then shapes all infinitely distant, began to detach themselves from the confusion, and I saw – was it Juan Romero? – but God! I dare not tell you what I saw!… Some power from heaven, coming to my aid, obliterated both sights and sounds in such a crash as may be heard when two universes collide in space. Chaos supervened, and I knew the peace of oblivion.

The narrator awakens in his bunk, safe and sound. Juan Romero lies next to him on a table, apparently having died while he slept. Neither man had been observed leaving the cabin during the night. The storm caused the mine to cave in, closing the abyss. And the narrator’s “Hindoo ring” was missing. The end.

It is definitely not one of Lovecraft’s top-tier stories and I can understand why he shelved it. What would have made it more interesting is having the narrator actually describe something… you know… relevant. He starts the story by saying he has no desire to speak. He then spends the entire story relating details which aren’t all that important to the story. Then when he gets to the pit and looks down he sees something. What is it? What does it mean. I dare not tell you what I saw! Take that! Whatever it was, it is important enough to relate the tale before he dies but not important enough to actually describe in any sort of meaningful detail.

Lovecraft’s teasing aside, it does contain seeds of other themes which he later develops in detail. Juan Romero is not a particularly scary story and might have been better off left on the shelf.

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