Is even one of Lovecraft's narrators insane?

Extollager

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#1
The standard Lovecraftian situation is that of the narrator who claims either than he is regarded as insane by people who don't know the horrible truth, or that, if people find out the horrible truth, they will go insane.

But offhand I recall only one of Lovecraft's narrators who exhibits actual signs of what could loosely be called insanity, and his condition coexists with lucidity. I refer to the narrator of "The Rats in the Walls," who, as I recall, complains that he still hears the sounds of rats scuttling around although we are to understand there are no rates present.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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#2
Wasn't Lovecraft intentionally ambiguous? Aren't we meant to wonder if the things the narrators tell us are true or whether they are delusional? And the rats in the walls . . . just because there are no rats is it meant to follow that there is nothing else there, either, making rat-like noises, meant for him alone to hear?

But I suppose one might say that the ambiguity only applies on a story-by-story basis. Since so many of his stories touch on the same mythology, and have different narrators, are we to conclude from the evidence of all these independent accounts taken together, that there must be a great deal of truth in what they tell us?

Then again, in some of these stories there are truths so hideous that knowing them might drive a man mad. Even if he is mad, it doesn't mean that he's not telling the truth about what he knows.

So we are back to intentional ambiguity.

I don't think it is possible to answer your question, Extollager, because I think the author meant for us to be unable to do so.
 

lynnfredricks

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#3
But offhand I recall only one of Lovecraft's narrators who exhibits actual signs of what could loosely be called insanity, and his condition coexists with lucidity. I refer to the narrator of "The Rats in the Walls," who, as I recall, complains that he still hears the sounds of rats scuttling around although we are to understand there are no rates present.
I think the narrator of Dagon is bonkers from too much dope as he's imagining a monstrous hand at the window and hearing a slippery body against the door - both of which are unlikely.
 

HareBrain

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#4
Non-expert opinion ahead. I think this business of "go insane if you see a giant dude with a squid nailed to his face" was based on dubious understanding of mental trauma. I've sometimes questioned this when playing Call of Cthulhu -- when you lose all your sanity points, you acquire a random affliction like paranoia or phobia, which seems nonsense, but probably no more so than what's in the fiction. I guess the kind of insanity we are meant to envisage is what you might call "gibbering cartoon hysteria", but I'm not sure this even exists in reality. Lovecraft's other problem is that sufferers of the kind of withdrawal that might really follow that kind of trauma are unlikely to be writing a memoir of it.
 

Extollager

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#5
Wasn't Lovecraft intentionally ambiguous?
I'd have to go back and check, but my sense is that we are virtually always led, as readers, to "get" the baleful meaning of things, and any suggestion that perhaps they didn't happen as described is insincere. Yes, Arthur Jermyn really had an ape ancestor. Yes, the consciousness of the narrator of "The Shadow Out of Time" really did inhabit a bizarre body in the primordial past. Yes, the Haunter of the Dark really did burst out of the old church. And so on. I don't think I have ever even for a moment thought that Lovecraft wanted me to wonder: "Oh -- maybe this narrator is just crazy; maybe something freaked him out, and he had a lot of bizarre hallucinations like the man who mistook his wife for a hat." Except, again, for the "Rats" narrator, who experienced all the bizarre stuff he describes -- no doubt of that -- but now has some degree (apparently!) of mental impairment in the form of auditory hallucinations (Maybe!).

Lovecraft was imaginative, certainly, but he did tend to rely on some repeated situations, and the narrator who is supposed to be insane but isn't was one of them ... I think.
 

lynnfredricks

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#6
Non-expert opinion ahead. I think this business of "go insane if you see a giant dude with a squid nailed to his face" was based on dubious understanding of mental trauma. I've sometimes questioned this when playing Call of Cthulhu -- when you lose all your sanity points, you acquire a random affliction like paranoia or phobia, which seems nonsense, but probably no more so than what's in the fiction.
Right, but that's the CoC sanity resolution system, not the stories.

I guess the kind of insanity we are meant to envisage is what you might call "gibbering cartoon hysteria", but I'm not sure this even exists in reality. Lovecraft's other problem is that sufferers of the kind of withdrawal that might really follow that kind of trauma are unlikely to be writing a memoir of it.
Which stories are you referring?
 

HareBrain

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#7
Right, but that's the CoC sanity resolution system, not the stories.
True, but my impression was that they had nothing much more realistic to work with from the stories themselves.

Which stories are you referring?
The ones that spring to mind (though again, this is my impression based on imperfect memory, so feel free to rubbish) are At the Mountains of Madness and The Call of Cthulhu.
 

lynnfredricks

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#8
True, but my impression was that they had nothing much more realistic to work with from the stories themselves.
CoC's sanity system is kind of its own thing. There are a lot of sanity simulation systems now, but when CoC was new there wasn't anything else to compare it with. I honestly think its not very good, with the exception of the rule that your sanity is throttled by your knowledge of the Cthulhu Mythos. Other than that, it seems more system for system's sake than simulation.

The ones that spring to mind (though again, this is my impression based on imperfect memory, so feel free to rubbish) are At the Mountains of Madness and The Call of Cthulhu.
Ill rubbish just one :sneaky: You need to do more work supporting the other.

The Call of Cthulhu wraps up three separate accounts into a single collection of the old prof's "late" nephew:

- the old professor's research into dreamy artist's visions (and death later made suspicious)
- the hard-boiled cop's visit to a professor convention, what he heard and retelling of his cult raid and interrogation
- a Norwegian's really, really bad accidental holiday

Only our Norwegian sailor saw things which are truly beyond the pale, and his response was to go completely Die Hard and plow a boat into Cthulhu. He had some time to digest his experiences, wrote about then in English, and then died mysteriously. He may have gibbered a bit, but he had a very long trip back to Norway in which to compose himself.
 

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