Excellence in Lovecraft

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#21
I don't have a lot of time tonight, so I'll only lightly touch on a couple of things; I hope to get into this more extensively over the next day or two.

First... I'm a bit confused. When you bring up Wilmarth, I thought you were referring to "The Whisperer in Darkness" (where he is the narrator); then you mention the "wind-creatures" and question whether "Wilmarth" is implicated... do you mean Peaslee here (and below)? Because the "wind creatures", I assume, are what Edmund Wilson scornfully referred to as the "invisible whistling octopus" from that story.... Just trying to clarify, as at the moment, I'm not sure quite what your question applies to....

Now... on the subject of "shock" rather than "confirmatory" endings... I think it all depends on the story, really. The vampiric entity of "The Shunned House", for instance, is finally confirmed in such a way that it is, I think, intended to be a "shock" moment; and unfortunately it hits some people as ludicrous, while others see it as extremely powerful. (I fell more toward the former when I first read this story; that particular phrase was an unpleasant jolt for me which frankly took away from what was -- and is -- otherwise one of my favorites among HPL's tales.) On the other hand, there are those stories where he has been carefully preparing and foreshadowing in such a way that the reader would almost have to be (to quote Rod Serling, "blind or three days dead" to miss what's coming; both "Pickman's Model" and "The Shadow Out of Time" fall into this category. This fits in very well with what he said in a letter (to Smith, if memory serves) about essentially creating a hoax with the same care as a crooked lawyer would cook up testimony to confirm the case he has been stating. Simply put, it is an attempt (and, I think, generally a successful one) to present a reasonable enough case for the outrageous "truth" that readers are given that momentary frisson of "suspension of disbelief" as the last stone is finally laid down and the pattern becomes complete. This is why he so heavily hints at what the final revelation is long before we get there, and why these hints come to be more and more in the nature of slowly revealing that final moment in themselves. For example, the insistence throughout "Pickman's Model" on Pickman's "reverse toboggan" down the evolutionary scale, the utter realism of his art, etc., until we have the photograph itself mentioned, though only in the final line is it actually described. No one could avoid knowing beforehand what it is, but that final line puts the last nail into the edifice he has been building. The same is true for the hints in At the Mountains of Madness which lead to what Danforth has seen. Same with "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", where the narrator's opening statements prepare the reader (albeit unconsciously) for the final moments of the tale.

This is where it is difficult to talk about his development of his tales without getting into his style, for it is in his careful choice of words that he makes this sort of preparation for his endings, so that everything inbetween is building to that final passage in such a way that it is all logically tied together and foreshadowed in each word of the story that has gone before. Looking at his manuscripts, one sees this plainly in his marginal notations and the like to himself to tie this or that together more tightly, to make reference to something that is mentioned on the first page at another point in the narrative (or vice versa) and build on these hints, etc., etc., etc., or else the interlineations where he went back and inserted things to the same purpose, over and over throughout in order to more tightly knit the structure together. In this, he was as obsessive as Cornell Woolrich.

Hence, I strongly disagree with you, for instance, on the final revelation of "The Shadow Out of Time", though I will also admit that I viewed it that way when I first read the tale. It was only on revisiting it some years later that I found it to be an intensely powerful climax which, yes, combined that "ontological terror" with pity for Peaslee, because at that point I was able to see just how awful such a final confirmation would be; a person simply doesn't recover from that sort of complete obliteration of the structure of his or her most fundamental conceptions of reality, and Peaslee is thus completely bereft, isolated in a particularly subtle and horrific way where others can sympathize, yes, but not really comprehend, for it has not happened to them personally. Which is why the reader is given as much information leading to this climax as he is: to bring us as close as possible to Peaslee's own experience, including his alienation when he finds himself (even in dream) in the body of the ancient organism which housed the mind of that member of the Great Race.

At any rate, that's all I have time for tonight. I'll try to get back to more of this tomorrow; as it is, I'm going to be getting an extremely short night's sleep; but I thought I'd put this in while finishing my supper before going to bed. Hope it proves of interest....
 

w h pugmire esq

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#22
I am pressed for time due to a large work-load of two new books in ye making, but I wanted to comment, in brief, on "Pickman's Model," a favourite story, and one that has inspir'd several other writers to pen stories that comment on it. The story has great power for me because of the creation of its alluring and sinister figure, the painter Pickman. Lovecraft has a genius for creating fascinating characters and revealing just enough about them that they are essential to the tale and yet live beyond it as well. This is part of what I see as excellence in Lovecraft, his creation of characters that are perfect for the tales in which they figure. Everything we learn about Pickman is intriguing and darkly enchanting. The artist embodies the story's core themes: the seduction of darkness, the allure of antient things. Linked to the past by Salem ancestry, he dwells in places where the past seems almost to live a supernatural existence. Lovecraft insisted that, as a writer, he was a realist; and Pickman is also a realist, shewing that which exists in darkness, beyond darkness. Unlike some of the early tales, wherein we find a hazy borderline betwixt reality and dream, "Pickman's Model" is rooted in solid reality, in life, as its final line emphasizes. The hints of Pickman's essential inhuman nature, which he cannot cloak and which others find disturbing and grotesque, link the artist not only to the past, but to the fabulous darkness itself, of which he seems a kind of spawn. It's brilliant.
 

Extollager

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#23
First... I'm a bit confused. When you bring up Wilmarth, I thought you were referring to "The Whisperer in Darkness" (where he is the narrator); then you mention the "wind-creatures" and question whether "Wilmarth" is implicated... do you mean Peaslee here (and below)? Because the "wind creatures", I assume, are what Edmund Wilson scornfully referred to as the "invisible whistling octopus" from that story.... Just trying to clarify, as at the moment, I'm not sure quite what your question applies to....
It's the narrator of "Shadow Out of Time" whom I meant -- sorry.
 
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#25
Have we discussed Lovecraft's management of plot as much as, for now, anyone wants to do?
As I said, I'll undertake to address "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" on this point -- for which I am rereading the story -- but I won't be able to do much on this until Sunday. However, for the meantime, we may go on with other aspects of the general theme of Lovecraft's excellence or lack of same....

In the meantime, one (I hope) brief point:

We might feel something approaching that emotion if Lovecraft's plot were different. For example, Wilmarth could be forced to realize that he has unwittingly committed a terrible transgression.

I would argue that this particular difference, for instance, would be a grave mistake. What makes Lovecraft's stories so powerful, and made him almost unique up to his day, is that there often is no transgression.* These protagonists do not deserve any such fate; they are not in any way morally culpable; they are simply random people who get caught in the mechanism of the universe to their detriment, but with the added stroke that what they learn almost always has broader implications, implications concerning the very nature of reality and our very inability to understand, let alone cope with, what that nature truly is. This, in turn, makes them almost infinitely pitiable and sympathetic, because they are not deserving of any such fate, but in fact often apparently good men who are in fact engaged in the extension of human knowledge for the sake of knowledge (hence the dubiousness that even Charles Ward is actually culpable); or, as in the case of the Gardners, simply average people just going about their business. In this sense they are emblematic of the human race itself, shorn of the idea of some sort of "fall" for which we deserve punishment. We (and they) are simply organisms who fall afoul of some of the lesser-known aspects of the universe. That is both an horrific and pitiable thing; much more effective, I would argue, than any idea of transgression no matter how unknowing, which, ultimately, still places the blame (or at least a part of it) on the protagonist.

Dale: I don't know if you've seen the thread I began a short while ago on Lovecraft's themes, but if not, you may find it of interest in relation to the current discussion:

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/548485-lovecrafts-themes.html

*The ones which come to mind almost immediately would be such things as "The Hound", "HYpnos", "The Other Gods", etc. (and, possibly -- though this is arguable -- The Case of Charles Dexter Ward).
 

Extollager

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#26
I would argue that this particular difference, for instance, would be a grave mistake. What makes Lovecraft's stories so powerful, and made him almost unique up to his day, is that there often is no transgression.
I should have used a different word. What I meant was that Peaslee could realize that he has ignorantly blundered into stirring up serious trouble for the human race.
 

Extollager

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#28
Have we discussed Lovecraft's management of plot as much as, for now, anyone wants to do?
By the way, I think my observations above

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/548494-excellence-in-lovecraft.html#post1818186

pretty much remain. It was what I said before the remark about readers who read HPL for the first time as youngsters vs. as adults that mattered most to me.

I'm not saying that HPL never wrote a story with a well-constructed plot. I do say that plot difficulties arise in some of his best-known stories.
 
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#30
Didn't know Edmund Wilson spent time on Lovecraft. Found this if anyone's interested: Grim Reviews: Edmund Wilson: H.P. Lovecraft's Best and Worst Critic

Wilson's article can be found in his own Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties and in H. P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism (the latter edited by S. T. Joshi). It is interesting to note that, according to de Camp's biography, a close friend of Wilson said that, when the first volume of Lovecraft's letters came out, Wilson was tremendously excited by it, and talked about it with considerable interest and intelligence. He may have had little regard for Lovecraft's fiction at the time, but he certainly found Lovecraft himself quite interesting; something which also emerges to some degree in that essay.
 
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#32
Dale: I may have gone about this the wrong way for what you're looking for, but this is the way I see it:

On "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" plot... as with many of Lovecraft's plots, the protagonist is seldom an active participant or instigator of much of what occurs, but rather one who experiences a set of incidents, which gradually move him into the final transition which is the climax of the story... that "moment" you mentioned.

In this case, we do open with a statement of an active moment on the narrator's part (his going to the government with his tale, thus precipitating the government's raid on the town and wholesale imprisonment of the inhabitants as well as the attack on Devil Reef), along with a hinted further action which we only gradually come to understand as the choice between suicide and accepting the implications of his ancestry. (This last, too, is a common theme in Lovecraft, tied to the "illusory appearances" theme Burleson mentioned, which I quote in the other thread.) But this is, again as is common in Lovecraft, presenting the reader with some of the outcomes of his experiences first -- his idea of the second synopsis relating events in the order of narration rather than occurrence.

From that point on, the bulk of what happens to him is (seemingly) pure happenstance: he is on travels which take him through various towns and cities in New England, resulting in his accidentally being introduced to the obscure seaport town of Innsmouth by a ticket agent in response to his frugality concerning the price of passage elsewhere, and his decision to explore this odd backwater (first fortifying himself with information on the town and a look at one of its antiquities, the tiara) is among the few instances of his actively initiating events in the main body of the tale. Even at the beginning, what he comes across leaves him with more questions than answers, provoking his curiosity and a feeling of vague familiarity coupled with both attraction and dread; the bit of "Innsmouth jewellery" furthers this. His first exposure to the denizens of Innsmouth on the bus, driven by the peculiar Joe Sargent, solidifies these impressions, yet he continues to more or less passively accept what the journey brings. It is at the point where the bus climbs the hill and he first looks out over the town he uses the peculiar phrase "face to face" with regard to his first glimpse of the town, a foreshadowing of the prominence of the "Innsmouth look" and his final decision of the tale.

All that follows are a set of impressions, wherein the architecture and decrepit state of the town and its inhabitants act as slowly accumulating challenges to his views of reality, the gradual wearing down of the personality he has had until this point. Even as he has a final chance to leave the town -- something he contemplates but does not pursue -- he makes the second active choice of the story proper: he pursues the aged Zadok Allen in quest of knowledge of the past and a clue to the riddle of the town. It is in this lengthy monologue that, unknowingly, he also confronts his own past as well. The return to the hotel, the lack of ability to leave the town (the purported breakdown of the bus), and his forced stay at the Gilman House with his later being pursued by the town's inhabitants, are all impositions from outside which push him from a merely passive figure to one who actively resists occurrences, only to finally find that the shadow he has been combatting is not merely without but within, and this final recognition coincides with the final change in the character: he becomes the very monster he fears. As with so many of Lovecraft's stories, the past reaches out into the present and engulfs the protagonist. Every incident of the story leads him to this point, for whether he is aware of a factor or not, each plays its part in his ineluctable destiny (Lovecraft's deterministic schema).

As mentioned earlier in the thread, a lot of the plot (which is, of course, the inevitable working out of a predetermined set of events -- predetermined not only by the writer, but by the very structure of the universe in which the story takes place) takes place on different levels, some of which are reliant on the phrasing of this or that passage, a phrasing which hints without necessarily becoming explicit about, some of the factors at play influencing the character. This is why I say it is difficult to separate plot from style when it comes to Lovecraft, for much of the plot actually hinges on the way in which the story is written. This is not uncommon, of course, in weird works (one of the most notable being Machen's "The White People"), but it does make plotting a weird tale somewhat different from most other types of fiction or drama.
 

Extollager

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#33
Your comments on "Shadow Over Innsmouth" are at least on the way to what I was asking for, JD. You're getting at the integration of plot and theme in the story. I'm not sure about your case for materialist, mechanistic, determinist "inevitability." That is how Lovecraft himself would have read the story, I daresay. I'm not sure, myself, that we know enough about the protagonist for any reader really to feel, in retrospect, that the protagonist's whole life has led up to this moment. Is it really integrated into the story in such a way that it transcends the need of the horror story to devise one last appalling shock for the reader and be revealed as something of more serious purport?
 

Extollager

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#34
Over at the Lovecraft's Themes thread

http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/548485-lovecrafts-themes.html#post1819834

I said I would go here to raise a matter for discussion.

Good readers would readily grant that one of the things that makes Shakespeare great is that he does so much so well. Suppose we had the great tragedies -- Othello, Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear -- but that the comedies had not survived. What a loss! Indeed, suppose we had all the great tragedies except one of the ones just mentioned. Or suppose we had everything -- except Measure for Measure, or -- You see my point. So many of the plays are indispensable. Even admittedly minor works (for Shakespeare, that is) show the playwright accomplishing things that he hadn't done elsewhere, e.g. his handling of the origins of the Wars of the Roses in Parts 1-3 of Henry VI.

Of course, Shakespeare is Shakespeare! -- so let's step down to the achievement of an author such as H. G. Wells. Even if we dismiss his non-sf work (which perhaps readers of Kipps and some other things will be unwilling to do), still, within his sf writings, he accomplishes varied things. Having read The War of the Worlds for the first time, one would not feel one was treading the same ground if one then took up The Invisible Man or "The Crystal Egg," etc. Each of these stories does more than provide a plot variation on pretty much the same themes. There's a freshness to each one. I could go on to allude to Dr. Moreau, The First Men in the Moon, "The Time Machine," etc. If we had all of the others except one (your choice) of these, we would really be missing something.

You'll have seen where I'm leading. Can a similar claim be made for HPL? Sure, the Lovecraft devotee wants to read everything by this author. Why he inspires such dedication, and whether that fascination is found in readers who did not begin reading him during their own "golden age" of youth, is another topic. But can it be claimed that Lovecraft's stories conquer new territory with each successive composition, or that many of them do, in the way that one may argue Wells's stories do?

If anyone responds to this posting, he or she may argue that each story presents some new bit of lore about the Dreamland Mythos or the Cthulhu Mythos, or about the ultimate unity of the two. I'm not getting at that. Take Tolkien: I'm well familiar with the kind of appreciation that cherishes new writings, such as the comments at the end of The Road Goes Ever On once were for us back in the late 1960s, because they afford new glimpses of "lore." Fine! But I'm thinking of something more. Tolkien added new territory to his achievement, something more than mere additional data about his imagined world, in additions to the "Middle-earth Mythos" such as The Adventures of Tom Bombadil or "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" (in one of the volumes of The History of Middle-earth. It's more than just "more of the same."

So I invite measured discussion of the idea that Lovecraft's works conquer new literary territory, that there's an indispensabilty to his major works (however you see this) comparable to that of Wells. You can see that I, myself, have doubts about that. I would say that the loss of "The Whisperer in Darkness," "The Haunter of the Dark," "The Dunwich Horror," and others would not be much of a loss from whatever it was that HPL achieved, if we had the other stories -- nothing like so much of a loss if we had The War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon but had lost "The Time Machine" and The Invisible Man.
 

Extollager

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#35
To elaborate on my previous message above:

An analogy with the Shakespeare plays: it's like one's friends. I delight in Joan, Nick, Jim, Marie -- but would hardly say that, having Nick as a friend, Marie is "dispensable"!

An analogy with the Wells stories: it's like the Vaughan Williams symphonies. I delight in #2 (London), #3, #5, #6 (Pastoral), and #8 -- and to lose any one of them would be to miss something the others cannot give, excellent as they are.

For contrast, imagine having a gold ingot. Wealth! Now: imagine two gold ingots -- twice as many as we started with, but nothing is added but more of the same.

So imagine a scale of decreasing indispensability, from the friends situation to the ingots situation. A literary-artistic parallel to the ingots situation? I don't know, maybe a series of Far Side cartoons? I'll have my favorite Far Side cartoons and you'll have yours, but we might find it pointless to get into a discussion about the relative superiority of my choices vs. yours or vice versa. They are (aren't they?) pretty much the same. Having enjoyed these, you would enjoy those, but if you never saw those, you wouldn't be missing anything much.

So what kind of analogy would work with Lovecraft's stories?
 
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#36
Your comments on "Shadow Over Innsmouth" are at least on the way to what I was asking for, JD. You're getting at the integration of plot and theme in the story. I'm not sure about your case for materialist, mechanistic, determinist "inevitability." That is how Lovecraft himself would have read the story, I daresay. I'm not sure, myself, that we know enough about the protagonist for any reader really to feel, in retrospect, that the protagonist's whole life has led up to this moment. Is it really integrated into the story in such a way that it transcends the need of the horror story to devise one last appalling shock for the reader and be revealed as something of more serious purport?

You and I may use the term "shock" in quite different ways, but it is my impression that Lovecraft very seldom (save in some of his earliest works) sought to "shock" his readers -- in fact, from what I've read of his opinions on such things, he found this to be a meretricious quality in any kind of fiction, particularly the sort of atmospheric weird work he was attempting. This is why he so carefully inserted material to -- albeit on a subtle level -- prepare the reader for the final revelation, which is more often a confirmation of building suspicions than a genuine revelation as such. Thus, for example, from the earliest passages on, we are given hints as to the narrator's final dilemma and even indications of what that decision will be, both in his own mention of "making up [his] mind regarding a terrible step which lies ahead of [him]", and in the phrasing mentioned above of coming "face to face" with Innsmouth. So Lovecraft is weaving into the fabric of the text abundant hints that the protagonist is himself a scion of the Marsh line (e.g., Zadok's reference to his having the "true Marsh eyes", among other things) and that "blood will call to blood", as it were. Of course, it is only upon having read the ending the first time that one can go back and spot these various adumbrations of this theme of the inevitability of heredity, but they are most definitely there, from nearly the first page on. The final horror thus becomes the natural outcome of all that has gone before, both the overt and the covert influences on the protagonist, the latter of which he is unaware of until the final moments, but which a careful reader may indeed pick up throughout the text.
 
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#37
On the queries you pose here: I will have to give it some thought to give it a decent answer, but I will say this: whether or not I agree with your positions on things concerning Lovecraft, I love the way you come up with challenges to consider regarding his work -- both its value and its aesthetic or philosophic properties. Good questions to pose, and I hope we have some others join in with some good, thoughtful responses here as well....

For the moment, I will only say this: While I, like so many, do find his adding to the "lore" an attractive aspect of his developing oeuvre, I think that what he does goes well beyond this; it may not be analogous to what Wells did, but more in the nature of a gradual developing of themes or concepts, broadening their implications and exploring their ramifications as he went along. As such, I think that very few of his works could be seen as "dispensable"... even such a "minor" piece as "The Quest of Iranon" deals in quite a striking fashion with the loss of innocence, the theme of disillusionment, the contrast between love of beauty and sensual pleasure, the loneliness of the idealist, and even includes a critique of the Puritan work ethic. Some of these, of course, are also tackled in other of Lovecraft's tales, albeit from a different angle or with different implications or resolutions, so that the ones which do not contribute in their own fashion to the development of his concerns are really quite few.
 
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#38
I've been kept so busy with other things that I've not had time until today to devote to even thinking about this much, let alone formulating a reply. However, I think a point I made above is germane:

For the moment, I will only say this: While I, like so many, do find his adding to the "lore" an attractive aspect of his developing oeuvre, I think that what he does goes well beyond this; it may not be analogous to what Wells did, but more in the nature of a gradual developing of themes or concepts, broadening their implications and exploring their ramifications as he went along. As such, I think that very few of his works could be seen as "dispensable"... even such a "minor" piece as "The Quest of Iranon" deals in quite a striking fashion with the loss of innocence, the theme of disillusionment, the contrast between love of beauty and sensual pleasure, the loneliness of the idealist, and even includes a critique of the Puritan work ethic. Some of these, of course, are also tackled in other of Lovecraft's tales, albeit from a different angle or with different implications or resolutions, so that the ones which do not contribute in their own fashion to the development of his concerns are really quite few.
I think, essentially, we're comparing apples and oranges here; there are two different types of "excellence" at play. One deals with an undeniably broader range of human experience, while the other deals with an ever-increasing depth of exploration of a more narrow range. Each, I think, is intensely valuable; each contributes to our experience of life by causing us to examine more deeply the significance and profundity of that experience.

This is not to say that Shakespeare or Wells couldn't or didn't have depth to them as well -- a demonstrably false statement -- or that Lovecraft's range was all that narrow* -- also demonstrably false -- but rather that in general they develop their art in different directions. One of the things which Lovecraft did was to question the very nature of knowledge and perception about things; this includes even science, the nature of reality, the reliability of language (among which would be our readings of literature), etc. This is a theme which runs throughout his work, really; it is something which I "got at" slightly in that essay I wrote on "Polaris", for example by quoting those passages from his letters where he tweaks Moe's nose and also where he describes that intensely realistic set of dreams and his continuing doubt whether he was awake or asleep during part of it, and so on. As I attempted to suggest in opening that discussion about Lovecraft's themes, I see him as continually redefining and expanding on these (and other) concerns, sifting and shifting the current view of the significance of varying aspects based upon the best information available at the moment... a rather "scientific" approach to art, to be sure, but one which has had a long history (not least of which would include Poe); and, of course, informed in turn by the impact of that information on the imaginative and aesthetic faculties of the writer.

I had fallen far behind in my reading of the Lovecraft Annuals the last few years, and am currently reading the sixth in the series; and several of the essays within that issue touch upon some of these points, perhaps most notably (so far) Lynne Jamneck's "Tekeli-li! Disturbing Language in Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft". It is interesting to see someone raising some of the same points I've made elsewhere, from a different (but often related) perspective. One (or two) such involves, for instance, Lovecraft's (necessary, given what I say below) reliance on intertextuality and how this can "rewrite" what has gone before (as well as how what has gone before can inform and "rewrite" later works in their significance and meaning). The following gives an example of what I'm talking about:

Danforth's psychosis, elicited when he and Dyer are being chased by a shoggoth, is expressed in phrases and names from other Lovecraftian stories. This intertextual appropriation reflects the liminal nature of fantastic narratives. Fantasy explores the gap between information given to the reader and associations made by related, insinuated information. In doing so, the text makes accessible all narrative layers (uincluding the ones that are hidden) and bonds the experience of the external reader to that of the diegetic reader, with each intertextual reference acting as a moment of forced subjective doubling (Dillon 111).** Mountains becomes a conduit for transferring hidden knowledge; once it is read, it exists outside itself. With access to all narrative levels, overlapping themes and characters, the reader is placed in a privileged position of being able to connect all intertextual references, in charge of a greater interpretative agency than the diegetic reader (111). We become agents of the uncanny through whom the text reveals itself extradiegetically , furthermore exemplifying its indeterminate nature.

Returning briefly to Nicholas Roerich, Joshi suggests that Lovecraft's references to the painter may, besides being inspirational, serve the purpose of explaining a textual anomaly in Mountains. The vast superplateau that Dyer and Danforth discover in the Antarctic is equated in Mountains with Lovecraft's fictional Plateau of Leng, a location he first mentions in the short story "The Hound." "The Hound" places Leng in Asia, but Joshi suggests that Lovecraft's admiration for Roerich's images may have had him shift the plateau to the Antarctic (2.784).*** This intertextual correction mimics the destabilized perceptions of Pym and Dyer and adds to the notion of texts as changeable, conflicting, and unstable, perhaps even wrong.
This is something I have also addressed elsewhere, and ties in with Lovecraft's constant questioning of knowledge; the nature of his work being epistemological terror or horror (as I noted above, this is even the theme of something like "The Quest of Iranon", though there the terror is commingled (as in "The Colour Out of Space") with pathos as well. My own take on it leans toward the idea that, as Lovecraft's conceptions developed and grew, the idea of Leng being somewhere in central Asia became too limiting; it placed the locus of the origin of this preternatural world within the context of the "mysterious East", and all too human associations. Later, when he had Carter encounter Leng in the Dreamlands, in such close conjunction with the thoroughly unhuman Cold Waste surrounding (and not unimportantly containing) Kadath, he began to expand on its significance and associative resonance, ending with the concept of it being something which far predates humanity, a memory of something which lies in the vast geological past, in the Antarctic, and which holds within it our own origins, and in the Cold Waste beyond it something which is truly numinous, and which totally escapes language save for a jumble of cognitive associations such as Danforth spouts in the final paragraphs of the novel; a jumble which only hints at the very edges of the nature of the thing.

In other words, in his shifting conceptions and his willingness to directly refer to the earlier texts, he destabilizes our view of the universe by making even such basic requirements malleable and uncertain. In this, I think, Lovecraft has done something which no other writer has come close to doing, and by his continually revisiting his themes and concerns of this nature, he has done considerably more than simply add to the "lore" of his Mythos, but addressed one of the most pressing and important of human concerns -- the nature and reliability of knowledge and our perceptions of reality, and the fundamental nature of that reality itself.

So, yes, in this respect -- and in his extremely careful matching of expression to the conveying of this sort of (really quite difficult) theme or concern -- I would say that Lovecraft does exhibit the same degree of excellence as Wells, and perhaps even Shakespeare. Again, it is a very different type of artistic approach, but it also has strengths (as well as weaknesses)which the other lacks (just as the other has weaknesses HPL's lacks).

To be frank, the more I read HPL, and the more I consider what he did, the more I come to agree with Professor Airaksinen that he is a particularly difficult writer in many respects. What he attempted is, to be blunt, almost superhuman; and that he succeeded as well as he did is really quite amazing. Unfortunately, I also think it goes over the head of the vast majority of readers -- something which was noted as early as 1921, by the way, by one of the members of the Transatlantic Circulator group he participated in -- which means that his achievement often goes unrecognized or belittled. (I refer less to your questioning of his merits, which are generally couched in respectful though not uncritical -- which is a good thing, in my view -- terms, than to so many comments I see which relegates him to merely a spinner of outrageous yarns in what is perceived as a clumsy, artificial, clunky, and old-fashioned style or manner. I have also become convinced that Lovecraft seldom missteps in his choice of words; he chose too carefully and with far too much thought before making the final decision; it is just that his mode of expression is incredibly complex and dense, packed with more layers of intentional -- let alone unconscious -- information than is encountered even in supposedly "denser" writers.)

I hope all the above is clear. As I say, I haven't had a chance to actually formulate my response as carefully (given what I cover) as I might like, so any confusion in terms or impressions may be counted up to the press of time....

*As has been pointed out by many, humor (not overtly comic, but what has been called "ironic impressionism") is a notable feature of even Lovecraft's starkest horrific or terrific or most cosmic work; in fact it is almost a prerequisite for its success; and then there are his gentler pieces, his essays, letters, etc., which I include because, as I (as well as others) have argued elsewhere, Lovecraft is a very notable example of the writer all of whose work is interconnected, as he is developing in an artistic manner a worldview rather than creating truly discrete and totally independent works of art.

** He is referring to Sarah Dillon's David Mitchell: Critical Essays.

*** Joshi, I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft.
 
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