Rookie Questions about Lovecraft

  1. HardScienceFan

    HardScienceFan 'what to eat' fan

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    Have you inadvertently given away an ingredient of the story?
     
    Apr 19, 2007
    #21
  2. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Okay, this is a bit of a lengthy one, but for those interested, here are some notes on "The Rats in the Walls":

    Well, let's see... That particular story is a very rich one, I grant you. In fact, Professor Barton L. St. Armand did an entire book analyzing it, The Roots of Horror in the Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft; it's a fascinating and meaty book, by the way, and if you ever run across a copy for a decent price, it's well worth it -- though if you can get it through a library, better yet... that way you can decide whether to spend any money on it or not. Full of thought-provoking ideas, even where I disagree with him on quite a few things.

    At any rate, several literary works influenced this particular tale, from the chapter in Sabine Baring-Gould's Curious Myths of the Middle Ages on "Bishop Hatto" and his tower, and the plague of rats which were sent as divine vengeance on him, to "The Sin-Eater, by Fiona Macleod (from which he got the vituperative bit of Gaelic at the end), to Irwin S. Cobb's "The Unbroken Chain", which uses the themes of hereditary memory and regression. The dream of the daemon swineherd is taken from an actual dream of HPL's, though the real thing was slightly different -- altered to better fit the incidents of the tale.

    Also, the Delapore/De la Poer is a bit of an in-joke concerning Poe and Helen Power Whitman, who Poe courted. She had done some tracing of family lines, and found that they both had ancestors named de la Poer... a rather obscure bit of Poe scholarship that HPL was aware of.

    Now as to the use of language at the denouement of the story: It was intended to show De la Poer's rapid regression ... the "call of the blood" in which the past swallows the hapless individual from the present. In a moment, I'll go through the whole thing. First, here's an excerpt from a letter by HPL to his friend Frank Belknap Long on the subject:

    Quote:
    That bit of gibberish which immediately followed the atavistic Latin was not pithecanthropoid. The first actual ape-cry as the "ungl". What the intermediate jargon is, is perfectly good Celtic -- a bit of venomously vituperative phraseology which a certain small boy ought to know; because his grandpa, instead of consulting a professor to get a Celtic phrase, found a ready-made one so apt that he lifted it bodily from The Sin-Eater, by Fiona McLeod, in the volume of Best Psychic Stories which Sonny himself generously sent! I thought you'd note that at once -- but youth hath a crowded memory. Anyhow, the only objection to the phrase is that it's Gaelic instead of Cymric as the south-of-England locale demands. But -- as with anthropology -- details don't count. Nobody will ever stop to note the difference.
    Well, he was wrong. Six years after writing the tale, when it was reprinted in Weird Tales, Robert E. Howard noted the discrepancy, thought HPL had a theory of the Celtic migrations different from the (then) accepted one, and wrote him asking about it... which led to a correspondence that lasted until Howard's suicide. This was also an unusual (though not solitary) incident of Lovecraft's going against the facts as understood at the time -- generally he was meticulous about his use of scientific (or mythological or legendary) material.

    At any rate, the following is taken from William Scott Home's passage on "The Rats in the Walls", from his essay on "The Lovecraft 'Books': Some Addenda and Corrigenda" (The Dark Brotherhood, pp. 134-152):


    Quote:
    In Lovecraft's best and most important story, which exemplifies his basic theme -- the nearness of the beast-self to the surface of modern man and his capacity to revert to it instantaneously -- the mutterings of the protagonist at the climax supply a key to the immediately preceding, unrecorded act of horror, casting a flicker of light on the steps of that ladder to the black pit of the animal past which the returned De la Poer had descended. The phrases, with the exception of the two final terms of gibberish, are genuine, and successively earlier in time and context, a more striking illustration of the devolutive process than any physical description would have been.

    "Curse you, Thornton, I'll teach you to faint at what my family do!" expresses not so much anterior language as a new identification with the rustic speech of De la Poer's modern, rural (but ancestral) English environment. As he is presented as an elderly manufacturer who, prior to his arrival at Exham Priory, possessed no knowledge of history or its traditions, it is extremely unlikely that he would have had the linguistic background necessary to speak as he does in subsequent lines -- his statements being then certain, physical (not merely mental) manifestations of his reversion.

    "'Sblood, thou stinkard, I'll learn ye how to gust ..." contains three words which characterise Elizabethan speech circa 1600 A.D. 'Sblood, of course, abbreviates God's blood; stinkard is hardly equivocal, but was a rather stronger epithet than its modern cognate, and throws a sinister note into the line as it was generally applied to odorous domestic animals -- such as pigs. Gust means to relish the taste...

    "God's blood, you pig, I'll teach you to like the taste ..."

    The following line is Middle English of Chaucer's and Langland's period -- the mid-fourteenth century. Some of the words are surviving Anglo-Saxonisms, but Lovecraft's use of certain variant spellings over the standards (denoted by moderns for an age which had no standards) were culled from manuscripts dating specifically from this period, leaving doubt neither as to the time nor to the perfectionism and depth of Lovecraft's scholarship.

    "Wolde ye swynke me thilke wys?" means "Would you toil for me in such a manner (wise)?"

    Following the invocations of the Phrygians Atys and Cybele (the Magna Mater) are oaths in Gaelic of Scottish orthography. This is a language which has changed very little in the past millennium, but Lovecraft does what he can to indicate age by the use of archaisms (dunach is old-fashioned as is its English equivalent) and semi-archaisms -- dhonas and dholas in altered form are used in Irish today rather than in Scottish, indicating that HPL intended the speech of a day when the two cultures were not so distinct. The shortening of agus (and) to 's is of immemorial usage.

    "Dia ad aghaidh 's ad aodaun..." Aghaidh and aodaun (an old spelling for aodann) have the same meaning -- face, visage, or forehead -- so the oath is probably a standard one -- "God in thy face and thy visage!"

    "... Augus bas dunach ort! ..." "... And death-woe on thee!"

    Dholas (grief, desolation, abhorrence) and dhonas (mischief, misfortune, bad luck) are next wished on Norrys, followed by the leat-sa of which the -sa is an adjection of great emphasis -- perhaps rendered best as, "Grief and misfortune on thee, and with thee for ever and ever!" (pp. 149-151)
    Or, in Fiona Macleod's (William Sharp's) own phrasing (taken from Best Psychic Stories, p. 146):

    "God against thee and in thy face ... and may a death of woe be yours ... Evil and sorrow to thee and thine!"

    The rites of Atys and Cybele are complex, and dealt with in Frazer's The Golden Bough at length, but even though they were agricultural in origin, they included self-mutilation (usually self-castration in imitation of Atys), much like some of the Mayan rites involved piercing of the penis with bone needles and such to let the blood fertilize the ground -- of course, it had to be that portion of the body, because that was whence the "seed" issued. So these rites were quite bloody and barbaric by modern standards.
     
    Apr 19, 2007
    #22
  3. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    No, not really. This particular ... character ... crops up quite early on, so the application of my comment should do nothing to spoil the story itself...
     
    Apr 19, 2007
    #23
  4. HardScienceFan

    HardScienceFan 'what to eat' fan

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    I suddenly see that compared to all of you I'm an HPL nitwit.......,which might be a good thing....
     
    Apr 19, 2007
    #24
  5. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Ah, I'll easily cop to being a geek in this department.....:p
     
    Apr 19, 2007
    #25
  6. HoopyFrood

    HoopyFrood What are you gonna do without tides, Peru

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    I think we can put a better spin on it than that...more like...the Great Fountain of HPL Knowledge or He Who Knows HPL Like The Back Of His Hand...something of that sort :D
     
    Apr 19, 2007
    #26
  7. HardScienceFan

    HardScienceFan 'what to eat' fan

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    Knowing much about a particular subject is not tantamount to geekiness,not in my book,anyway.Scholarship is to be admired.
    YEHHEEY,I do have To open the SKy,with JIM BURNS COVER:)
    CHoR
    Everybody,keep well,as a matter of course(groans reverberate
    through the scared halls of the Chronicles)I'll be back(now where did that Austrian accent come from?)
     
    Apr 19, 2007
    #27
  8. ravenus

    ravenus Heretic

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    Hey damn interesting, those notes :)
     
    Apr 19, 2007
    #28
  9. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Thanks, Ravenus....:)
     
    Apr 19, 2007
    #29
  10. HardScienceFan

    HardScienceFan 'what to eat' fan

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    Seeing as there's agreement on the story:Let's synchronize watches!:)
     
    Apr 19, 2007
    #30
  11. HoopyFrood

    HoopyFrood What are you gonna do without tides, Peru

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    I'm all set to go! Alas, I could only find the story online, in horrible white writing on a black background, so if I go blind, you know why! (I may have to do some copying and pasting, if only in order to save my poor eyes! :D)
     
    Apr 20, 2007
    #31
  12. Mollygurl

    Mollygurl The Power of Now

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    Is it too late to join the reading group? I haven't read Lovecraft in over 20 years and I would love the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with him.


    I don't own "The Dreams in the Witch House" so I'll be heading out to buy it :)
    Question for the experts: Am I looking for a single book or a collection of stories such as the one TT is reading?
     
    Apr 20, 2007
    #32
  13. Mollygurl

    Mollygurl The Power of Now

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    Would you be able to share the link Hoopy?:)
     
    Apr 20, 2007
    #33
  14. HoopyFrood

    HoopyFrood What are you gonna do without tides, Peru

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    Apr 20, 2007
    #34
  15. Mollygurl

    Mollygurl The Power of Now

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    Merci Beaucoup Mademoiselle! :D
     
    Apr 20, 2007
    #35
  16. HoopyFrood

    HoopyFrood What are you gonna do without tides, Peru

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    *Salutes* Not a problem!
     
    Apr 20, 2007
    #36
  17. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    There's also this link, which would save your eyes, though it isn't exactly aesthetically pleasing, either....

    Index of /hp-lovecraft

    You should be able to link to the story from there....
     
    Apr 20, 2007
    #37
  18. BeerClark

    BeerClark Member

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    I'm reading that book now but haven't hit The Colour Out of Space" yet. Can you identify what is missing? Can you tell from the page numbers? I remembered seeing this post a while back a wrote to Del Rey (couldn't find this post again at the time) and they did not seem to be aware of the problem.

    Thanks

    (PS - Thanks for the welcome from you and others on my first post the other day!)
     
    Aug 15, 2007
    #38
  19. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    I will have to dig out my copy and look it up, but I will try to get to that this afternoon, and fill you in.....
     
    Aug 15, 2007
    #39
  20. Tets

    Tets Member

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    really interesting, thx very much. do you have any exact sources which point out the relation between Frazers Golden Bough and Lovecrafts Rats in the Walls?
     
    Mar 2, 2012
    #40
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