8.In my message #14 above I refer to the sense of place and the Machen influence. These two elements come together in Chapter VI of "The Whisperer in Darkness." While some readers may feel impatient about a "travelogue" slowing down the story's motion towards a horror payoff, I enjoy these paragraphs. Lovecraft is probably influenced by Machen's evocation of rural Wales (in "The Black Seal") here. Read again Lovecraft evoking the beauty, antiquarian charm, and suggestions of the strange at the beginning of Chapter VI. Then read from Machen's story. The narrator is the secretary/governess hired by Professor Gregg. She has never seen this Welsh landscape before, just as Wilmarth has never seen Vermont.
e set out at mid-day, and it was in the dusk of the evening that we arrived at a little country station. I was tired, and excited, and the drive through, the lanes seems all a dream. First the deserted streets of a forgotten village, while I heard Professor Gregg's voice talking of the Augustan Legion and the clash of arms, and all the tremendous pomp that followed the eagles; then the broad river swimming to full tide with the last afterglow glimmering duskily in the yellow water, the wide meadows, and the cornfields whitening, and the deep lane winding on the slope between the hills and the water. At last we began to ascend, and the air grew rarer; I looked down and saw the pure white mist tracking the outline of the river like a shroud, and a vague and shadowy country, imaginations and fantasy of swelling hills and hanging woods, and half-shaped outlines of hills beyond, stand in the distance the glare of the furnace fire on the mountain, growing by turns a pillar of shining flame, and fading to a dull point of red. We were slowly mounting a carriage drive, and then there came to me the cool breath and the scent of the great wood that was above us; I seemed to wander in its deepest depths, and there was the sound of trickling water, the scent of the green leaves, and the breath of the summer night. The carriage stopped at last, and I could scarcely distinguish the form of the house as I waited a moment at the pillared porch; and the rest of the evening seemed a dream of strange things bounded by the great silence of the wood and the valley and the river.
The next morning when I awoke and looked out of the bow window of the big old-fashioned bedroom, I saw under a gray sky a country that was still all mystery. The long, lovely valley, with the river winding in and out below, crossed, in mid vision by a mediæval bridge of vaulted and buttressed stone, the clear presence of the rising ground beyond, and the woods that I had only seen in shadow the night before, seemed tinged with enchantment, and the soft breath, of air that sighed in at the opened pane was like no other wind. I looked across the valley, and beyond, hill followed on hill as wave on wave, and here a faint blue pillar of smoke rose still in the morning air from the chimney of an ancient gray farmhouse, there was a rugged height crowned with dark firs, and in the distance I saw the white streak of a road that climbed and vanished into some unimagined country. But the boundary of all was a great wall of mountain, vast in the west, and ending like a fortress with a steep ascent and a domed tumulus clear against the sky. ...
Above the faded house on the hillside began the great forest; a long dark line seen from the opposing hills, stretching above the river for many a mile from north to south, and yielding in the north to even wilder country, barren and savage hills, and ragged common land, a territory all strange and unvisited, and more unknown to Englishmen than the very heart of Africa. The space of a couple of steep fields alone separated the house from the wood ... etc. [end of Machen excerpts]
9.A few years ago I came across an article by John Rateliff (from Tolkien Studies #6), who wrote as follows:
first I want to draw attention to Tolkien’s own description of how his prose works, of what he was trying to achieve. In one of the endnotes appended to “On Fairy-stories,” he includes the following revealing passage setting forth his narrative method, in which he makes clear his goal of writing in such a way as to draw in his readers, making them participate in the creation of the fictional world by encouraging them to draw on their own personal memories when reading one of his evocative passages:
[quoting Tolkien:]..... If a story says “he climbed a hill and saw a river in the valley below,” the illustrator may catch, or nearly catch, his own vision of such a scene; but every hearer of the words will have his own picture, and it will be made out of all the hills and rivers and dales he has ever seen, but specially out of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word. ....
Tolkien’s contrast here of a single image presented to the passive viewer with the internal personalized visualization of a reader, who thus participates in the (sub)creation of the work, is of a piece with his championing, in the Foreword of the second edition to The Lord of the Rings, of what he calls applicability: his refusal to impose a single authorial or “allegorical” meaning on a work. I would argue that the style in which he chose to write, which he painstakingly developed over several decades until it reached its peak in The Hobbit and Farmer Giles of Ham and The Lord of the Rings and some of the late Silmarillion material, is deliberately crafted to spark reader participation. That many readers do get drawn in is witnessed by the intense investment so many people have in these books, the strong personal connection they form with the story, the almost visceral rejection of illustrations or dramatizations that do not fit their own inner vision of the characters, the returning to reread the books again and again to renew our acquaintance with the imaginary world.
[Rateliff quotes a Tolkien passage and a John Bellairs passage. He comments:]
note that in the passage from Tolkien, he does not describe every detail—what color were the rocks? who was on either side of Frodo as he sat huddled against the bitter cold? But Tolkien does tell us everything we need to know, in general terms with just enough specific detail to bring the scene home, to guide the reader’s imagination, to draw on our own memories of being cold and frozen, exhausted and miserable. We do not need to know what Frodo looked like, because we are looking through his eyes; too much detail would actually limit the applicability......
.....he often describes a scene not as you would experience it but as you would remember it afterwards. That is, his prose assumes the tone of things which have already happened, as they are stored in our memory. Thus the “walking bits,” which have so annoyed impatient readers who are only reading for the plot, do not in fact detail every day of Frodo’s year-long journey but instead are rendered down to a relatively few vivid images, such as would linger in the memory long after the event. After you have read these passages and think back on them, they very strongly resemble your actual memories of similar events (in fact, the very ones that provided the mental images that flashed through your mind when reading them) : a general recollection of where you were and what you were doing anchored by a few sharp, vivid, specific details that stand out. Thus the memory of reading the story gains the associations of events in the reader’s own life, because the one has already drawn upon the other.
I don't know that I would say that the above sentences quite nail it for me -- but perhaps they come closer than anything I remember, to suggesting how Tolkien's prose -- and Machen's prose at its best -- works. For years I have circled around the idea that there is some affinity between passages of the "Machen that matters" (to me) and Tolkien, and I think perhaps Rateliff's remarks on Tolkien's prose help with that.
And I'd add that at the beginning of "Whisperer" Chapter VI it seems Lovecraft may have been reaching for something of the same quality. I may try to work up some of this in an article someday, so I suppose I'd better say (c) 2015. But does anyone want to discuss any of these points?