At The Mountains Of Madness

  1. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Hmm. It sounds like Lovecraft perhaps had not settled for himself just what the truth of the story's final significance was to be, let alone how to convey that to a reader.

    You don't need me to tell you, JD, that there are "issues" that arise if the story can't be interpreted apart from reference to other stories. If this is the case, then presumably the reader is expected to read all of the stories that make up the "canon" of "lore." Does this include "Mythos" stories by other authors? If it is restricted, as I suppose we will assume, to Lovecraft's own stories, do all of them belong in the "canon" of lore? You are more ready than I have been to include what I would have thought of as "Dunsanian" stories. Is a story in the canon simply if it refers to the Necronomicon or Yog-Sothoth? Are things Lovecraft said in private letters to be added to the "official" body of lore?*

    Alternatively, do you think it is clear enough, simply from a good text of Mountains, that the final horror is what you say? If so, I have missed it despite several readings, although I admit I'm not the world's best reader of mystery stories and am not necessarily very good at picking up plot clues. I think, in fairness to myself, that there is also a fatigue factor that many readers will be feeling well before they get to the end, after so much about the Old Ones' sculpture technique and so on.

    My current final take on Mountains, then, could be that it should not be regarded as a finished, polished text. (1) HPL was greatly displeased by the version that was published in his lifetime, but (2) cannot with certainty be said to have prepared a text that represented his final intentions. Will an attitude like this do, do you think?

    *Such questions aren't limited to HPL, of course. I have seen an essay on The Turn of the Screw that tries to explain whether the ghosts are ghosts or are hallucinations on the basis of a letter from James or a memoir of a conversation with James. With regard to some questions about Tolkien's world, e.g. the origin of the Orcs, we have to say that, on the evidence of letters and drafts, he had not definitively made up his mind. This may be "accounted for" in terms of the incomplete records of that ancient world.
     
    Feb 28, 2013
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  2. Ningauble

    Ningauble Lovecraftian

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    I think it is clear enough. There have been lots of hints, throughout Dyer and Danforth's wanderings through the city, that there is something of great horror beyond those OTHER mountains (the ones that Danforth and Dyer can't see because of the haze, until the very end) -- something that frightened even the Old Ones. Danforth's glimpse is a hint that the shoggoths are actually the lesser threat.

    Huh? He bothered to type the manuscript himself, in spite of the fact that he loathed typing. And he appears to have done this twice, since there is one typescript at JHL and one must have gone to Astounding. (1) is definitely true, but not (2).

    Joshi presents pretty strong textual evidence in Unutterable Horror that those ghosts are indeed ghosts.
     
    Mar 1, 2013
    #42
  3. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    [1] Yes, it is clear enough that something worse than shoggoths may have been glimpsed by Danforth, but it seems to me that, in writing the story, Lovecraft himself (see evidence of his letter quoted by JD) was unsure of what it was and of how to present it to the reader. If one rereads the bit actually provided in the novel, especially if one does so without recourse to Lovecraft's other writings to try to flesh out these hints,* one may question (as Lovecraft did) whether he has been completely successful here.

    I hope I won't be written off as unfair to Lovecraft. I don't want to take his intention or aspiration for the accomplishment. Mountains is certainly impressive, but it seems to me imperfect in a way that "Colour" is not.

    [2] Perhaps I am taking the HPL letter that JD quoted too seriously. But at any rate, whether HPL saw one or both of these Mountains typescripts to be a fully polished, final, unimprovable draft or not, I think the story has noticeable problems.

    [3] Oh, yes, the ghosts in The Turn of the Screw are ghosts. Readers sometimes forget the story's opening, which indicates that, after the terrible events at Bly, the governess has continued to be employed as such, or in some other way (I don't have the text at hand) is doing well. At the end of the main story, one child is dead and the other hysterical or recovering from hysteria. There cannot not have been inquiry into what on earth happened. Clearly the governess was not found to be insane or evil.

    *This remains an important question. Is this story indeed a "Mythos" story in the sense that Lovecraft is writing it "for" readers who will "know" something about, say, Yog-Sothoth -- mentioned once at the end but not otherwise? If you read the story as requiring recourse to "information" outside the text, then, yes, you can entertain yourself with the idea, since "Yog-Sothoth is the gate," as we know from "The Dunwich Horror" or some other story, that Danforth has glimpsed some living transdimensional portal through which nameless horrors may spill into our defenseless world. If that is a genuine element in your interpretation of the story, then, yes, that works as a worse-than-shoggoths climax all right. But then you are bringing something to the story that is not in the text. Lovecraft himself doesn't seem to have made up his mind about what the text is saying or should say at the end.
     
    Mar 1, 2013
    #43
  4. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    First, I have little doubt that HPL rethought what he wanted to achieve with the novel more than once during its initial planning... but by the time he wrote that letter, he had already sent it off to Wright, and this was something he simply did not do with something unless he felt it was finished. The doubts he had about whether his choices were the best is hardly unusual among writers in the post-compositional reaction... in fact, I would say, from my reading (as well as my own experience), it is quite the opposite. But as for the other questions... if you are referring to those, I think you are misreading the letter. From the context, I would say that it is fairly obvious that these are questions he wanted raised in the reader's mind; the sort of ambiguity which he so prized, and which one encounters in a fairly large number of his fictions; that classic tension concerning the narrator and his tale which runs throughout his career.

    Now I had meant to post a response giving a fairly thorough list of the hints that what I referred to was indeed the more significant climax of the two, but to do so would require going through the entire novel again; something I simply don't have the time for at present. However, even a fairly quick glance through it provides numerous examples. For instance: the first such occurs on p. 249 (of the Penguin edition, since that is the one you have just read) -- just three and a quarter pages in:

    Now, this serves both to highlight the impression that this is a region where the laws of nature are distorted (or perhaps even circumvented entirely), hence allowing the continued existence of the relics of such a vastly remote period, and their influence, as well as the idea of the irruption into our world of the other... in this case, the blurring of the lines between the world of dream and that of "reality", with hints of Kadath (the "unimaginable cosmic castle").

    And just a few paragraphs down (pp. 249-50), we encounter this:

    This serves as the first intimation of the presence of the Elder Beings and shoggoths, but also is the first mention of the "fabled plateau of Leng", so closely related to Kadath. And the mention of Roerich also plays into this association, given Leng's "prehistoric stone monastery", and his later descriptions of Roerich's paintings.

    Also on p. 250 we encounter a mention of Fujiyama which specifically notes its sacred nature... again forming a vague association with Lovecraft's own Kadath, albeit this foreshadowing is likely to only be picked up on in retrospect. Nonetheless, it is precisely the sort of very subtle association he played on throughout his work.

    Three pages later, he makes the connection between this dead realm of ice and snow and that of dream, when noting how their flight

    Again, that indication of the breaking down of barriers: past and present; reality and dream; and so on; as well as a deliberate nod to the associations with Dunsany... whose work had served as the original inspiration for Lovecraft's own mythology (or, as it had largely become by this point, anti-mythology).

    This sort of connection even appears in the bulletins from Lake:

    Those subconscious mnemonic associations make themselves felt even in what are essentially a series of somewhat dry, factual statements. While the "gateway" can (and almost certainly does) refer to the region of the city of the Old Ones, it also may be a reference to that region which even they feared.

    More striking is the resemblance between another passage and the descriptions of the latter stages of Carter's journey to the forbidden regino of Kadath:

    (p. 257) This is strongly paralleled by the mountain range which blocks off the "Cold Waste" from even Leng, with all its weirdness and mystery.

    The first actual mention of Kadath by name occurs quite a bit further on in the novel, early in Chapter VIII, with the very significant passage beginning:

    and extends to

    (pp. 307-08) Here the relationship is made quite explicit, yet we are seeing (as I mentioned earlier) the reality behind the myth as interpreted through the eyes of science... or at least the first fumbling attempts to do this.

    This connection is reinforced in the final chapter (and the only other direct reference to Kadath), pp. 336-37, where both of them experience the chill from a glimpse of that further region beyond those further mountains (and the description of those witch-like peaks again calls up the violation of those "fixed laws of Nature" which Lovecraft saw as the ultimate aim of the truly weird tale.

    The objection to having to have read the other tales has some truth to it... though this is, again, a complex issue. For the reader who has not, these references and allusions serve much the same purpose as the similar references Chambers uses in The King in Yellow: to hint at mysteries and secrets just out of reach, but which feel naggingly familiar. For those familiar with Lovecraft's other work, that knowledge adds a multitude of layers of association and significance, giving an even further chill. Nor do I see this as a fault; this sort of intertextuality plays a large part in literature as a whole, from the Bible (at least) on; think how many resonances would be missing from Dante, or "Faust", without such reliance on other texts (particularly the Book of Job, in the latter case). And with someone who is gradually creating an enormous structure of "myth", such as Lovecraft, Tolkien, Moorcock, Ballard, William S. Burroughs, etc., this sort of thing, really, justifies itself, as it is part of a growing tapestry which simply becomes increasingly richer by the interrelationship of all these parts. It may be difficult for a reader to be aware of them all... but that is not a fault in the work. Again, think of Ulysses, or The Waste Land, and how a broad knowledge of general literature deepens the experience of reading these. This is one of the ways in which Lovecraft oddly was more of a modern (or even Modernist) writer than most readers realize.
     
    Mar 2, 2013
    #44
  5. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    JD wrote, "The objection to having to have read the other tales has some truth to it... though this is, again, a complex issue."

    I suppose it's an objection if one takes it that Mountains should be fully achieved as a stand-alone story and if it can be shown that it isn't fully effective on those terms.

    I've offered the "evidence" of one reader's rereading to suggest that the second climax (first: shoggoth seen by both men; second: something seen by Danforth only) isn't fully effective, at least if the novel is supposed to be self-sufficient. (This doesn't mean I don't like the novel or don't like this climax.*)

    If one takes it that Mountains should be interpreted with reference to other HPL stories, or even to letters also, or even to Mythos stories by other authors (?!), then the issue of "canon" that I raised comes up. My impression has been that Lovecraft improvised his way for quite a while. He didn't write his first Mythos story, whatever that was, with a systematized view of Yog-Sothoth, the Mi-Go, the Pnakotic Maunscripts, etc. all in view. But then if he did, eventually, want to have a systematized "mythology" on hand, did he try to make sure everything fit together? Or would some stories "fit" and others not? I imagine that such discussions are old hat for dedicated Mythos readers. I've never stopped reading Lovecraft, but have not studied his writings with a view to figuring out a systematic view of his "lore" as I might with Tolkien, who did want everything published to fit together. (Hence he rewrote part of The Hobbit.) I'm not aware of any place where Lovecraft indicated even the desire to revise the text of a published story in order to make it fit better with an evolving vision of the Mythos, but then nor do I think he had the Mythos all worked out from the start.

    *I wonder if I could liken my response to the second climax in Mountains to a high point in the final episode of The Prisoner. Number 6 unmasks Number 1 at last, and sees a gibbering ape-face. He unmasks the ape and sees his own face, laughing insanely. The teleplay continues while members of the audience are left with something to debate after the credits roll. The incident is something that demands to be interpreted. An obvious interpretation is that Number 6 -- and all of us -- are prisoners of ourselves, i.e. a false sense of identity or something like that. However, in the context of the series as a work of art, it's debatable whether this is wholly satisfactory. Really we are to take it that everything that has happened was somehow Number 6 imprisoning himself? Or -- ? I like this sequence and yet I'm not quite sure it works. I like better the long final sequence with Number 6's journey to London (on a truck flatbed) and his arrival there, and note with interest Number 2's entering the Houses of Parliament.
     
    Mar 2, 2013
    #45
  6. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    In raising these issues, I don't mean to seem to imply that the story as it stands is unclear as regards this strategy:

    1.The Old Ones' civilization, which, though it became decadent, lasted millions of years, radically relativizes human civilization;

    2.Something glimpsed at the end radically relativizes the Old Ones' civilization.
     
    Mar 2, 2013
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  7. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    On systematizing the Mythos: Actually, HPL made it quite clear he wanted to avoid doing this, as to do so would violate the feeling of a genuine mythology, which tends to have numerous variant tellings of different tales or points of belief. Thus, even with very educated and perceptive narrators, things can end up with quite different conclusions being drawn. And then when you add the "de-mythologizing" aspect of his later work, it becomes even more complex (some would say confusing), and that lack of a concrete "dogma" (so to speak) has, I think, proven to be one of the great strengths of his own work... as opposed to, say, the attempts of Derleth, Carter, etc., to pin these things down and create a singular, self-consistent whole. (Lumley once made the argument that, contrary to Derleth's take being deleterious, to the Mythos, it allowed it to continue to the present day. As he put it, "At least it hasn't stagnated, yeah?" Though I tend to like Lumley's matter-of-fact take on things, I have to vigorously disagree with him here; had the dogmatic view of the Mythos which Derleth propounded continued, it would have been the death of the form. Only by going back to the much more open vision Lovecraft created has it been able to remain a viable sub-genre of weird writing.)

    It is interesting you use the analogy of The Prisoner episode "Fall Out", for this points up one of the difficulties with that series. On a literal level, that aspect doesn't tend to make much sense (though I've seen some quite ingenious science fictional attempts to rectify that); it is only on a metaphorical level that it works with the full impact intended (or at least what I believe to be such), and such a reading is indicated by the name of the production company for the series, "Everyman Productions". I, personally, find that "reveal" to work at addressing several things, but it certainly isn't going to be successful for everyone. The same, I think, is true with MM, as a number of people seem to miss that second climax altogether, and see the final chapter as simply empty verbiage tagged on; a further indication of Lovecraft's supposed overly-verbose style.

    It is true that the Mythos did not exist originally in HPL's imagination; it is something which emerged over time, in part as he began to recognize repeated themes and motifs in his work, and began to take more or less conscious control of what largely had been unconscious aspects of his creations until then. (Not that they were not consciously chosen and retained with each tale, but that the underlying concerns which drove his use of these symbols were less so.) Again, this is something which one sees with a number of writers, both fantastic (Moorcock, Asimov, Heinlein, Hawthorne, etc.) and (chiefly) non-fantastic (Balzac, Maupassant, etc.). I suppose, too, this is one of the things which fascinates me about such work -- the evolving vision and the philosophical and aesthetic complexities inherent in such a wide-ranging tapestry.

    As for whether MM is successful on its own or not... of course, that is up to each individual reader. Myself, I find it extremely so, and have done since I first read it some forty years ago. But it is not unusual for others to disagree with that assessment.
     
    Mar 2, 2013
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  8. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    J. R. R. Tolkien probably read Lovecraft's "Doom That Came to Sarnath," in L. Sprague de Camp's anthology Swords and Sorcery, a copy of which he gave to Tolkien. (This appears to be the sole source of the claim that occasionally surfaces, thanks to an inaccurate remark by Lin Carter, that Tolkien had read and liked Howard's Conan stories. There is a Conan story, "Shadows in the Moonlight," in the book.) I doubt that he ever read any other stories by HPL, though it's possible.*

    http://www.tolkienbookshelf.com/inquiry.php?record=971

    Anyway, I was thinking that one might wish Tolkien head read and commented on At the Mountains of Madness.

    Tolkien said, of another long story involving subterranean exploration (Joseph O'Neill's Land Under England), that he'd read it with "some pleasure," and that he was "extremely fond of the genre" of "a vera historia of a journey to a strange land." (See Letters, p. 33; letter of 4 March 1938 to Stanley Unwin.)

    I'm tempted to say that Mountains is more "Tolkienian" than Lovecraft's straight-out fantasy. The latter is apt to be "Dunsanian," and I see Dunsany as almost an anti-Tolkien, in the sense that Dunsany often emphasizes that his famous short fantasies are "dreamer's tales" -- just the opposite of what Tolkien (and Lovecraft in Mountains) wants to do, which is to create a convincing sense of a secondary world, consistent with itself, and free from the sense of an author inventing things. I'll have to reread "The Shadow Out of Time" from this perspective too.

    Mention of Dunsany reminds me that one thing that's surfaced from this discussion of Mountains is that some careful readers of HPL don't see a compartmentalization of "Dunsanian" HPL stories and "Cthulhu Mythos" HPL stories. It never occurred to me, so far as I remember, to think that the "Kadath" references in Mountains should be taken to suggest that the Dream-Quest etc. could shed light on Mountains. Perhaps I was unduly influenced by Lin Carter, who, as I recall, drew a pretty firm line between the two categories.

    But what does anyone think about Tolkien etc.?

    Interesting to think that they were almost exactly the same age, by the way.
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    *It is more likely that Tolkien's friend C. S. Lewis had read HPL stories other than "Sarnath." Lewis simply read a lot more than Tolkien did, so far as I can tell, and this included an enthusiastic interest in American science fiction magazines. Lewis married an American woman who was part of Fletcher Pratt's circle of friends, I believe, and she also connected with the London science fiction scene when she moved to England. She was virtualy bound to know of HPL. Several years after Lewis's death, a catalog of his books was made. It included Robert Bloch's collection The Opener of the Way, which contains a few Mythos-type stories. I assume this was a book that Lewis's wife brought to their library. Could it have included books by Lovecraft or at least with stories by HPL?
     
    Mar 3, 2013
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  9. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Yes... HPL was not quite two years older than Tolkien (Aug. 20, 1890 for HPL; Jan. 3, 1892 for JRRT). Interestingly, I think HPL would probably have liked a great deal of LotR, though he might or might not have taken to the opening portion, with the similarity to The Hobbit. (Then again, he did have some kind words to say about children's books within their intended sphere at least, as I recall.) From what I understand, Smith did have a favorable reaction to Tolkien....

    I'm not sure where exactly that division between the "Dunsanian" and "Mythos" tales comes from, save perhaps, originally, Derleth, who quickly seemed to have set up such an arbitrary line... and one which, really, doesn't make much sense, as Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath tells us a heck of a lot more about Nyarlathotep than nearly any other tale, yet Derleth left it out, while including "The Colour Out of Space", which has no overt Mythos elements. (Though to my mind, it is perhaps the most Mythos tale of all, thematically speaking.) He also included The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, though the connection there would seem to be simply the use of the term "Yog-Sothoth", itself a complete mystery until two years later, when he wrote "The Dunwich Horror". In Ward, it is even questionable whether this is an entity, a place, or simply an esoteric word from a magical system, with some other meaning.

    HPL himself, on the other hand, made it clear he saw no such division, at least in any rigid sense. He did see a division between those which were heavily influenced by this or that writer, but otherwise, no: "There are my Poe pieces, and my Dunsany pieces; but alas -- where are any Lovecraft pieces?" (The quote is generally misquoted as "my", but consultation of the original letter shows that "any" is the correct reading.) Recall his letter to Farnsworth Wright, when resubmitting "The Call of Cthulhu": "Now all my tales are based on the fundemental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large.... To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all." He may be speaking of the work he was producing at that point (and beyond), or he may be stretching a point a bit (e.g., "The Quest of Iranon", "The Outsider"), but in general it would appear that he himself saw all his work as connected thematically, and would utilize elements from one "set" of stories in a different "set" if they seemed appropriate to what he was attempting to convey.

    And certainly, as noted, he himself claimed Dunsany's cosmogony as the inspiration for his own, and evolved much of that later work from the earlier tales, incorporating many elements of those tales into the later ones, albeit often with a different emphasis or modified significance. Another thing to keep in mind is that, with a very few exceptions, Lovecraft's "Dunsanian" pieces aren't really dream pieces, but posited as having taken place in a world predating history. When he came to write Dream-Quest, and transferred much of this material lock, stock, and barrel into his "Dreamland" setting, he caused a fair amount of confusion, but I've always argued that, as per so much of his work, he was simply continuing his long-standing tendency to deliberately blur the lines between "dream" and "reality"... what Donald Burleson has since called his theme of

    ("On Lovecraft's Themes: Touching the Glass", from An Epicure in the Terrible, p. 116)​


    Hence the "Dunsanian" tales often hold hints which can help in understanding the complex symbology of other works, whether "Mythos" or more straightforward "horror", whether that be Gothic or Poesque. ?The same can be said for that bit in "The Haunter of the Dark", where Blake makes the reference "Roderick Usher" in his final entries... an odd thing to throw in in the midst of what is going on, until one recalls Lovecraft's analysis of Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" and its theme being that of "a brother, his twin sister, and their incredibly ancient house all sharing a single soul and meeting one common dissolution at the same moment", at which point it becomes both terrible and poignant. (Without this reference, it seems an obscure bit of mad raving from a mind steeped in such associations, hence still working, but on a different level. With the association, it works on both.)
     
    Mar 3, 2013
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  10. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I'll have to save your comments, JD, and keep them in mind when interpreting HPL stories. It seems that it would be appropriate, in some cases, to offer two interpretations: one, of the story as a stand-alone work, and one that freely draws upon any of HPL's writings, including letters (although I don't anticipate owning those), and noting, and perhaps attempting to rationalize, inconsistencies or "inconsistencies" between them.

    I'll say that, from a traditional literary critical view, I think the former interpretative approach has and ought to have priority; the latter could easily deteriorate into "fannishness," a kind of game akin to the "Wold Newton" buffs' activities. I could also imagine a restrained sort of intermediate position between these two approaches. I'd probably be uncomfortable with interpretive ploys that slipped back and forth between the two with the intention of making amends for possible perceived weaknesses in a given story.

    It seems, too, that one wants to be a bit tentative about offering interpretations based on "systematized" Mythos-readings since HPL himself distinguished between an agenda he was serious about (as in what you quote) and a sometimes tongue-in-cheek attitude to the "Mythos" inventory that appeals so much to fanboys and fangirls.

    -- CAS read Tolkien? Hmm! I'd be interested in knowing more about that. Also, if you read this book

    http://www.patrickcurry.co.uk/papers/TLS review of Saler.pdf

    (I haven't) I'd be interested in what you think of it.
     
    Mar 3, 2013
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  11. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Yes, CAS read Tolkien, with, apparently, a favorable eye. I found out about this at The Eldritch Dark forum, but I can't seem to find the post(s) at the moment. At any rate, several of the people there are Smith scholars, including at least one who knew Smith (Dr. Farmer, to whom Smith left some of his manuscripts), and know the subject quite well.

    While I would, in the main, agree that any literary piece should work, at least on some levels, on its own (and would argue that, given the response over the years before the wider publication of his letters, poetry, and essays, Lovecraft's stories certainly fulfill this), I also firmly believe that no such work either exists or emerged from a vacuum; hence all such elements as contribute to its origin and creation (and even, to some degree, its later history and reception) add to the interpretation and the success as art* of that work. It is, of course, impossible for any reader to have access to all this, but the more one does, the more one is likely to be able to understand and appreciate any such work; the more one gets out of the experience... though this does not, of itself, ensure said work is a genuine piece of art.

    As to whether the traditional view should have priority... I think, ultimately, it of necessity will have, as so much of literature we have is, so to speak, missing its matrix, either altogether or in large part. Beowulf, for example, obviously draws on and even relies on, many things which are lost to us, as well as a number of which we only have hints or the bare facts, shorn of their numerous implications for the people for whom the poem was originally intended. Yet it still succeeds in addressing the human experience in an honest, meaningful way, and thus retains at least some of its power. How much more, though, it would have were we to fully understand that matrix! Or The Iliad or Odyssey, were we to have the complete Homerica which was around at that time, rather than the fragments we still possess (not all of which are themselves notable works, by any means).

    I suppose, too, that I am very much in agreement with the quote Ellison has cited (I wish I could find the specific reference, so I could give the original source) that a writer isn't engaged in writing a particular piece, but rather "putting down his life, reporting 'This is where I am today, and this is what it looks like'". In many ways, Lovecraft, despite being a conservative in most ways when it came to literary theory, was very much of this type, as all his work adds up to a coherent whole. It changes, of course, over time, as his ideas grew and matured; but it nonetheless forms a remarkably consistent body of work in a number of ways.

    George Wetzel once made the remark "The more one studies the Mythos stories of H. P. L., the more convinced one will become as to their close unity despite their separate fictional frameworks; which brings me to conclude that the Mythos stories should actually be considered not as separate works but rather the different chapters of a very lengthy novel"** ("The Cthulhu Mythos: A Study"). There is, I think, considerable truth to this; but Wetzel also drew on other, quite "non-Mythos" works, such as "To an Infant", and HPL's astronomical essays, for clarifying or addressing certain points in the stories.

    However, as I noted, I don't think Wetzel went far enough, in that Lovecraft himself connected together a very disparate set of things into what might be called his continual "work in progress"... just as Balzac did with his Comédie humaine. Incidentally, though it is not -- at least to my knowledge -- much addressed anywhere, I'd say that Balzac and several other French writers also formed important influences on HPL and the development of his work. Not by specific references (save occasionally, as with Baudelaire and "Hypnos", for instance), but in the actual development of his writing itself. Someone really should do a good examination of this topic at some point; all the more interesting because the initial suggestion of his perusing their works met with a very facetious response, while he later said that he felt they were some of the most significant figures in literary history.

    All of which, I suppose, is a rather lengthy way of saying that I think a number of approaches, rather than one, prove very fruitful when approaching not only Lovecraft, but literature -- and, indeed, the arts -- in general. Compartmentalization can be useful within certain frameworks, but is as deadly beyond those limits as simply viewing literature through its "practical" uses.


    *by which term I mean something which is not only honest aesthetic self-expression, but that which resonates with "the human heart" in a significant way.

    ** I am reminded here of that rather odd, seemingly formless yet compelling novel, The Manuscripts Found in Saragossa, by Count Jan Potocki... which, in part, Washington Irving "copied" (to use a polite term) in one of his tales.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2013
    Mar 3, 2013
    #51
  12. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I didn't mean this in an extreme sense, by the way, as if we would pretend that no other literary works, no other historical background, etc. existed, but that, as reflective readers, we'd try to receive what the work is saying on its own and how its "parts" relate, etc. Let's suppose I'm reading one of Arthur Machen's stories and it features a character named Meyrick. It would not compromise the self-sufficiency of the story, supposing it mentioned the Roman legions at Caerleon, for me to look in a reference book to see when the Romans were in Wales. Even though I didn't know this info, let's suppose, it would be something that Machen could assume was known to an educated reader. But it would be another matter if I were to look at other stories with a "Meyrick" character in them and try to interpret ambiguities in the one at hand by reference to material in those others. I wouldn't assume that, just because Machen used the name in more stories than one, there's a "Meyrick mythos" (I'm being a bit facetious!) according to which the story at hand was intended to be interpreted.
     
    Mar 3, 2013
    #52
  13. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    If you can track that down, I would like to share it with readers of the Tolkien newsletter Beyond Bree, with a hat-tip to you of course.
     
    Mar 3, 2013
    #53
  14. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Not necessarily "intended" to be interpreted -- the troublesome question of authorial intent versus reader experience (or, for that matter, the autonomy of the text, with its mutability and slippery language; yep, I do have something of a regard for deconstructionism:p). But if a writer has a series of tales which are closely interlinked, yet which can each stand as unique reading experiences when taken alone, then the added material can very importantly inform the reading of a piece, and add layers to it that any work, taken solus, simply cannot have.

    As you say, it should not be necessary to have this web of intertextuality in order to enjoy a piece, or for it to make a notable aesthetic or philosophic impression; but, despite the long-standing critical emphasis on such, huge swaths of literature depend on that web for their full impact. Again, to return to an earlier example: the various books in the Bible, though individual works (or in some cases compilations of pre-existing works), nonetheless work together to reinforce what might be called the overall story of the Bible, from the creation to the new heaven and new earth. The death of Christ, for example, would not only be unnecessary, but pointless, without the Fall; it would lack much of its power without the prophecies which it apparently fulfilled. Or to take a (relatively) contemporary example: each of Heinlein's juveniles (with the possible exception of his first, Rocket Ship Galileo) can easily stand on its own as a reading experience; yet taken as a series, with the development of various themes, and the interconnections with his "Future History" series (e.g., the mention of Johnny Dahlquist of "The Long Watch" in Space Cadets), gives a much wider scope not just to the series as a whole, but to each individual work within that series. Sort of like taking all three panels of Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, or the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso altogether, rather than one. The picture is much larger, the relationships more complex, the symbology deeper and more meaningful, and the overall experience richer as a result.

    Machen, really, is a good example, with his recurring theme of "the Little People", which takes on tremendous power when the various stories dealing with that theme are taken together; much more chillingly impressive than any of them (even "The White People") when taken alone. It isn't necessary to read them all to enjoy or appreciate one, no; but the totality makes it a breathtaking, sublime concept. And when one relates it, in turn, to the theme of "The Great God Pan", "The Inmost Light", and even "A Fragment of Life", then the vista becomes greater still; something Burke would certainly have recognized. And, as I've said elsewhere, when one reads the entirety of Moorcock's multiversal tales (which, like Cabell's Biography of the Life of Manuel, includes a surprising variety of genres, here including sf, fantasy, mystery, comedy, western, "mainstream", the memoir novel, etc. -- whereas Cabell's includes essay, novel, poem, play, short story, genealogy, and so forth), it is difficult not to be impressed with the richness and complexity of the vision, which would be diminished were even the least of these pieces not included. As noted, each can stand on its own, but it would seem that this sort of "grand tapestry" concept is as old and multiform as literature... though it is by no means the only approach, nor should it be.

    Again, the use of the "classical" approach to a piece remains a very valid (not to mention practical) one, but it reveals only a part of such works, and is therefore necessarily limited.
     
    Mar 3, 2013
    #54
  15. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    I know it was in a discussion in which I took part a few months ago, but I'll be darned if I can recall what the title of the thread was. I think, though, that it was Dr. Farmer who brought in the actual information concerning this. If I can't find it, perhaps Martin Andersson (Ningauble) may recall exactly where it was, and what was said. Should I track it down, I'll be happy to provide the link....
     
    Mar 3, 2013
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  16. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Lest there be any question -- yes, I agree that Lovecraft's stories in general do "work fine" on their own.

    I'd questioned specifically whether the Danforth conclusion in MM does all that HPL wanted it to, if the novel is read without being supplemented by "lore" from other stories, etc. I would say that, at the very least, the reference to "Yog-Sothoth" is not clear enough, in the novel at hand, if HPL means to hint that Danforth has glimpsed that entity, which is "the gate" and "the opener of the gate." For what that query is worth. I think that it would be an enhancement of MM if the text had suggested a bit more clearly the idea of a transdimensional portal, through which things far worse than shoggoths might encroach upon our hapless globe. But certainly the novel is very impressive as it is, even without this element. Similarly, I don't think there is much we can do, given the text we have, with the pharos reference, other than to wonder what kind of a "beacon" -- placed by whom, for the benefit of whom? -- this could be. But just that is creepy enough, isn't it?
     
    Mar 3, 2013
    #56
  17. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Lovecraft's Tragédie Unhumaine? Hmm.
     
    Mar 3, 2013
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  18. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    So should I understand you to be saying that all of Lovecraft's stories, plus poems such as the Fungi from Yuggoth sequence, should be read as if they comprise a "canon" or a many-faceted single work? Let's say I'm teaching a college course on sf and fantasy and include Lovecraft's "Colour" -- I should make sure that students should see this story -- effective as it undoubtedly is as a self-contained work -- as one portal (or many possible ones) into the whole body of his interrelated work?
     
    Mar 3, 2013
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  19. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    First: I found the thread:

    http://www.eldritchdark.com/forum/read.php?1,8133

    The specific information (such as it is) can be found in the sixth post, by canlonlan (Dr. Farmer). How about that -- I'm not quite as senile as I thought....:rolleyes:

    Indeed it is... and I think that is where such terms are effective in a work such as this, even if one is not aware of the connections to other works. Like the Chambers references, they cause the reader to ask questions which lead to uneasy (at least) speculations... and thus enhance the atmosphere and scope. As for the pharos... well:

    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Fungi_from_Yuggoth#XXVII._The_Elder_Pharos

    *chuckle* Perhaps. Or, more sardonically, you might keep the "comedie"....

    I think that, for certain bodies of work, this is likely the most fruitful approach, yes. It is not, however, the only approach; I would posit it as one of many to take when faced with such a corpus. I would also bring in its relationship to some of the Biblical tales, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the (perhaps ironic) significance of the tongues of flame during Pentecost....
     
    Mar 4, 2013
    #59
  20. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    One thing I should add here: Several commentators have, over the years, made a reference to Lovecraft being a difficult writer... and I don't think I'd object to that choice of words, either. This refers not only to his extremely precise but uniquely individual use of language (which can require a reader to view various words differently than they are accustomed to in order to get the full range of associations), but also because he was so painstaking in his choice of every element in a story -- as much as Cornell Woolrich (or so I understand) was. Hence, no reference, no epigraph, no choice of word, was haphazard or simply because it sounded impressive. It was for, again, precise yet very individualistic significance and resonance each was chosen, and that can make his work very challenging for those who go below the very surface.

    This was noted as far back as 1921, when Elyse Tash Gidlow, one of the members of the Transatlantic Circulator wrote that he "makes one think" and "Mr Lovecraft does not write for lazy readers" (cited in In Defence of Dagon, p. 4). This is not to say he cannot be read and enjoyed at the surface level -- the very fact he appeals to so many young readers as well as older ones speaks to that -- but rather that the more one pays attention and delves into his work, the more one finds what an excellent craftsman he truly was, and how deep his work actually goes beyond mere "horror" fiction.
     
    Mar 4, 2013
    #60
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