The mid-1960s Panther paperback below, together with the Edgar Allan Poe paperback simultaneously being real-time reviewed on this site, got me started in real literature at that time…
However, I somehow lost that edition, so for current purposes I am using the 1970s Panther edition below, one that I bought as a replacement at that time:
My present day observations upon it will be shown in the comment stream below as and when I re-read each story…
Who remembers that the headquote of THE OUTSIDER:
“That night the Baron dreamt of many a wo;
And all his warrior-guests, with shade and form
Of witch, and demon, and large coffin-worm,
Were long be-nightmared.”
was written by John Keats?
I didn’t even remember it had a headquote, let alone know who wrote it!
But I do remember the major effect the reading of this story had on me, and I have not been the same since then, as if the text was my own mirror reflecting back what I sought rather than what I feared.
I have never forgotten, too, the text itself, like a madly constructed prose incantation that had always been written, would ever seem familiar and meant-to-be however strange and tentacular and neologistic it once must have struck me, something perhaps already written upon the insides of my physically big head, a head that, I now realise, upon this re-reading, had touched the sides of HPL’s tower as I once must have climbed it, too, alongside his ‘monstrous’ protagonist.
Incredibly, these refamilarised scenes today now seem to have retrocausally preternatural bearing on a story I wrote a few days ago entitled ‘The Big-Headed People’, the first story I’ve written for specific independent publication after many many years of not doing so.
My other real-time reviews of older or classic books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/
RATS IN THE WALLS
“The reference to Atys made me shiver, for I had read Catullus…”
I am sure a better name for the narrator’s cat would have been Catullus, or even Atys. This text is more insane than I remember it, as, in manic arabesques of prose, we learn about a house on the brink as the tiered palimpsest of archaeological, architectural and familial history, back to ancient times, as we are presented with visions, nightmares and hallucinations preceding what seems to be a final apocalyptic vision as an actual reality, a reality in the form of a premonition – a premonition as it would have been in 1923 – a dreadful mutant preternatural ill-disguised premonition of future history in 1940s Germany, Poland, etc, with frightening implications. Amazingly written.
But I prefer to call it insanity rather than future history. Otherwise the reader is mad, too. Looked now in the irreversible mirror of time, not in the previous story’s ‘polished glass’.
In 1923, US President Warren Gamaliel Harding suddenly collapsed and died, in California, during the exact course of the dated events in England depicted by the story.
Perhaps significant that I happened to review here yesterday Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.
As an aside, the original Panther paperback of this collection shown above was pointed out and recommended to me around 1965 by my then school friend Michel Parry (who sadly died recently). This was in the Colchester branch of WH Smith and he indicated to me his favourite stories in the contents list by lightly underscoring them with his fingernail. It has only just occurred to me that the book cover itself could have been a premonitory representation of that very event…
“Then there came a subdued sort of clatter which somehow set me all in gooseflesh — a furtive, groping kind of clatter, though I can’t attempt to convey what I mean in words. It was like heavy wood falling on stone or brick — wood on brick — what did that make me think of?”
And, for the first time, I now wonder if the picking-up hand of the man in the above cover of the book where I first read this story is not a depiction of Pickman himself? After the mention of Fuseli, who is also mentioned in Poe’s Usher, it began to dawn on me that the ‘realism’ of Pickman’s painted monsters can only live, as within ‘photographs’ or wherever, via the depicted ‘changeling’ told BY and IN this text ABOUT this text. I avow that Lovecraft IS Pickman, a changeling, like those vile monsters who are seen holding a normal city ‘guidebook’ within the text but are they really holding the above-shown ‘Pickman’ paperbook itself? And I wonder whether I lost this paperback as a thankful mercy that was meant-to-be, as if it might have contained some earlier variations of these words that I (re)read today, variations where the monsters were even more real…!
THE CALL OF CTHULHU
I. The Horror in Clay
“That glimpse, like all dread glimpses of truth, flashed out from an accidental piecing together of separated things – […] …I shall never knowingly supply a link in so hideous a chain.”
…and thus, since 2008, with my gestalt real-time reviews, collating leitmotifs…. And I fear that by thus reviewing this story I will produce such a catalyst.
It is remarkable that when I see the Lovecraftian words like Cthulhu, fhatagn, R’lyeh in this text embedded on 1960s paper printed roughly halfway between the story’s then and today’s now, I wonder what raw, virgin power such words had when first published and read; they seem to me to have that power today as I re-open these pages. Did the words then trigger dreams worldwide? Events that we cannot explain? As today, by opening this can of tentacles, if not worms, I may cause such concertina global reverberations and ricochets of nightmare by simply looking too deeply into this text, as a result of my still on-going reading of a work of supposed fiction.
“It was from the artists and poets that the pertinent answers came, and I know that panic would have broken loose had they been able to compare notes.”
Mountains now become madness as result of delving too far?
II. The Tale of Inspector Legrasse
“These Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead bodies had told their secrets in dreams…”
A seminal, phonetically synaesthesic, archaeologically angst-anguished text, this chapter, a Lovecraft as the earth, or a Hatecraft? There are some ignitions here of important Cthulhu and Necronomicon / Nemonicon implications, but dare we collate them?
The almost Jungian spreading to all corners of the globe of, say, ‘tornasuk-angekok’ Eskimos inuited or intuited towards the miasmas of New Orleans, and elsewhere, collating mongrel races, squatters et al as recurring love-hate ‘foreigner’ references of HPL throughout his literature and letters, and the concept that horror comes from within. And, in this context, I would like to cross-reference my own brief ‘Inside the Bud’ (published in Crypt of Cthulhu in 1991). Those mongrels and squatters as ourselves, cross-referencing HPL’s own future history (mentioned above) with, say, IS State today? A state from within the Earth, spreading upon the Earth: Erbil as Hawler (the latter being that city’s alternative name in reality)…
“Only poetry or madness could do justice…”
Cf Legrasse above and Legrand in the Gold Bug here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/tales-of-mystery-and-imagination-edgar-poe/#comment-4324
III. The Madness From The Sea
“Without knowing what futurism is like, Johansen achieved something very close to it…”
From the triangulations of Longitude and Latitude towards the non-Euclidean angles of Lovecraftian cosmicity, this is a Hodgson-like sea adventure terror of common sailors combined with that unspeakable Jungian correlation of what we still dredge today – or harvest.
This ‘siege of mankind’s soul’ by cross-breeds as HPL has it or this group hug as alert by internet flashmob? New Orleans or Oslo? [Below is my photograph of another stone edifice I myself discovered in Oslo in 2008.]
“What wonder that across
the earth a great architect went mad, and poor Wilcox raved with fever in that telepathic instant?”
THE DUNWICH HORROR
Unlike the other stories in this book, I read this one and reviewed it (here) relatively recently, and I copy and paste below what I then said about it in the context of the VanderMeers’ mighty THE WEIRD anthology…
The Dunwich Horror – H. P. Lovecraft
I, II, III, IV & V: “The bent, goatish giant before him seemed like the spawn of another planet or dimension; like something only partly of mankind, and linked to black gulfs of essence and entity that stretch like titan phantasms beyond all spheres of force and matter, space and time.”
This story is probably beyond any review, any real-time. There seems to be an annexe or attic or “vacant abyss overhead” being constructed anew or simply strengthened like bespoke parts of a forgotten building to house something beyond the reach of today’s mature gestalt. I return, today, to this classic – with the syllables of ‘Yog Sothoth!’ like some personal Todash echoing within my ancient youthful voice: a memory of my readings-aloud over forty years ago – and I realise I have been “half insane” half my life and now it is time to climb my own Sentinel Hill to find the other half before it is too late. Or just to find hungry stones? (9 Nov 11 – another 2 hours later)
VI, VII, VIII, IX & X: “…issued warnings of the keenest intensity to all librarians having charge of the dreaded volume.”
…and, this morning, some news arrives electronically (invisibly) that soon there will be an American edition of the book (hard copy as well as ebook!). Meanwhile, the piping of whippoorwills (playing the same part as a gong does in the book earlier), and an entity that does not belong to a monstrous zoo but is a zoo of once discrete creatures in itself, judging how the various multi-blended-creatured descriptions are made in an admixture of plain speech and Lovecraftian indescriptivities and elided common speech and disjointed Willow-code. An invisible monster, too (a la Dharma Lost). Whateley had “no skull“, so where is it? Things softening off like the Wyrak into spewy nothingness. A “sprayer” like a ‘prayer’. But this is a mighty, cosmic tale of “earth brain” and a vacant space for something simultaneously at both magnetic poles, “inner earth”, “foetor”, “ichor“, all the words and ideas and Lovecraftian indescriptivities I recall from my first pre-mature experience of this blinding narration 47 years ago in youthful pre-cataclysm times – so I shall “no more concoct a humorous paragraph about it” other than with “haff faces” of today’s new-fangled genealogy: we never had the internet then to seek back into ourselves as well as into our own perhaps even stranger, then unknown and unknowable, nameless and unnameable, ancestors! Ill-begotten sounds, smells, visions, non-visions – Gawd! “…the memorable Dunwich horror”, will it come back, via this Weird-Eclectic book, this new Necronomicon in disguise?… the invisible book at last made visible only, it seems, today, to be made invisible again … creating crop-circle trenches in the previously uniform grasslands of our pre-maturition, nay, pre-gestation, imaginations. “Help! Help! … ff — ff — ff..” A seriously great story. Can anyone buying this book not have read it before? It needed to be included, whatever the answer to that question. (10 Nov 11)
THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS
I, II, III
“It was really remarkable how closely the reports from various sources tended to coincide;…”
A Vermont of strange words of Mythos, words now so familiar to us, but unfamiliar then. My memory of this novelette from reading it in the 1960s is one of it being my favourite HPL work from this book, or the one that creeped me out the most – and reading it again today in the cold dark of the future, that feeling stays with me.
It probably has the first explicit description of a selfie photograph in all literature, together with the background, by hint and written epistle between correspondents, of an accretive terror, descried from marks in the ground and from sounds like buzzes in the air, descried, too, by a collaboration between certain men and certain monsters, or something, like Poe’s Purloined Letter gone missing – as, here, does the stone with hieroglyphs go missing, then hidden in Plain Sight?
Some monsters mining or hawling within the earth, others from above in the Solar System’s far reaches, or they were monsters created by certain men to scare off summer people buying up houses in the area, but I don’t believe that, do you?
The text itself is today crazily yet monumentally meant-to-be, but back when I first read it, it was simply crazy. Whichever the case, it was and still is awesome. Still is, so far.
“…a pleasant-faced man with a close-cropped grey beard who I took to be Akeley himself — his own photographer, one might infer from the tube-connected bulb in his right hand.”
— from THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS (1931) by HP Lovecraft
Is this the first SELFIE in Literature? Or do you know of an earlier one?
IV, V, VI
“The thing was reaching out so. Would it suck me in and engulf me?”
There is something presciently or preternaturally Internet-savvy about all this, the correspondence, some dependable, others not, a passive-aggressive world between one sent text and another, the photographs, the earlier selfie, now the idea that there are things that cannot be photographed, although they can make marks in the ground outside one’s gate or float in the river or make buzzing noises (on future screens?)…
We readers, as well as the narrator, are sucked in, although we recognise the fabricated or concocted purple prose of words for what it is, words, though, that still suck and engulf us, cosmic terror one minute, pastoral faery (“…touching deep violstrings of ancestral emotion”) the next, like people posting for us pussy cats and modern monsters within a single breath. You see, the Outer Ones are arcane monsters, old not modern, threatening, but then they can be civilised-seeming like Noyes who strikes me as some grooming highwayman of the web. The whisperer in darkness. Or someone above with picky fingers poised over a keyboard.
“Word-choice, spelling – all were subtly different.”
“…the unending chain of cosmos-atoms which makes up the immediate super-cosmos of curves, angles, and material and semi-material electronic organization.”
The super-highway itself; I rest my case.
Yet this last section of the novelette is a coda, one that you can discard as some Mad Scientist romp, spoiling the earlier accretion of fear, then terror – OR a culmination of what I was propounding above about a prescient Internet and its machinations? Still buzzing and whispering and, now, ‘hacking’.
I sense the ending is both a disappointment and a culmination. Meanwhile, the first ever selfie in literature now seems even more significant by the very last paragraph of this novelette!
As for myself, I am one of the fairly few people in the world who had Pluto (aka Yuggoth) in conjunction with their Ascendant degree at the point of birth (checkable, in my case, by birth data of 5.40 pm GMT, in UK, on 18 Jan 1948)… “…and I felt nothing now but a wish to escape from this net of morbidity and unnatural revelation.”
THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE
“…and it was only by analogy that they called it colour at all.”
I vaguely recall that fifty years ago, when I first read this story in this particular collection, I saw the story itself as a form of the meteorite that it described, having fallen into the book, infecting all the other stories around it with unwholesomeness, with things that shouldn’t be spoken of, grey brittleness, stoic furtiveness and aimlessness, windless trees shaking and the story’s explicit reference to euthanasia and the law’s antipathy toward it — and our world is still infected by this meteorite, even more so, despite the huge reservoir of time in between. The infection spreads more easily now, for obvious cybernetic reasons. But back 50 years ago, I imagined the story’s own real reservoir expunging the meteorite’s effect and then all the other stories in the book would have lost their cosmic terror or entropic torpor or unhealthy growth of leitmotifs as my future’s gestalt. In many ways, part of me is not sorry that never happened. Fiction feeds into history, and vice versa. One without the other is nothing at all. Yet, I know even reviews can seem more like fiction than the reviewed fiction itself does. And I have relished today this astonishing text of such stoically rich language, and without such decadent literature, the rich tapestry of life itself would have been diminished. Lovecraft as a necessary symbiotic force. Or am I being fictionalised myself, brain-drained like Nahum and his family? Each a husk of self.
“In her raving there was not a single specific noun, but only verbs and pronouns.”
The famous book list from the next story, a recurring incantation or refrain that haunted my younger life and has since trickled down as literary wealth till now:
[[They were the black, forbidden things which most sane people have never even heard of, or have heard of only in furtive, timorous whispers; the banned and dreaded repositories of equivocal secrets and immemorial formulae which have trickled down the stream of time from the days of man’s youth, and the dim, fabulous days before man was. He had himself read many of them—a Latin version of the abhorred Necronomicon, the sinister Liber Ivonis, the infamous Cultes des Goules of Comte d’Erlette, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, and old Ludvig Prinn’s hellish De Vermis Mysteriis. But there were others he had known merely by reputation or not at all—the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the Book of Dzyan, and a crumbling volume in wholly unidentifiable characters yet with certain symbols and diagrams shudderingly recognisable to the occult student.]]
THE HAUNTER OF THE DARK
“Someone roused Father Merluzzo of Spirito Santo Church, and he hastened to the dismal square to pronounce whatever helpful syllables he could.”
There is something extremely haunting – even more haunting than what haunts me today from first reading this story 50 years ago – about Robert Blake viewing the shape of the distant church on Federal Hill, long daring not to go there. I wonder if when people who live on Federal Hill look back at the distant place where Blake lives they have similar frissons? The ending makes this wonderment seem darkly ironic. Through a series of bravado or perverse actions (reminding me of my reading yesterday of Poe’s ‘Black Cat’), we eventually enter with Blake the church followed by all the Blakean outcomes that seem paradoxically both set free and set in stone, immemorial blakes or blochs or blocks of hieroglyphs, ‘wild twitterings’, ‘gibbering gables’, foetor trickledown, ‘flopping and bumping around in a viscous, altogether dreadful way’, ‘Roderick Usher’, ‘the blind idiot god Azathoth’ from the centre of nemonymous night, the ‘Shining Trapezohedron’ collider, ‘the three-lobed burning eye’ looking back at the reader, the real haunter of the dark… This story is pervasively monumental, not accidentally eponymous for this collection. A meteorite outwitting even the previous meteorite.
THE THING ON THE DOORSTEP
“Who locked in whom?”
From this book’s changeling ethos to this story’s incubus-succubus of the father-daughter switch and intermarital transgender of Poean premature burial within each other…involving dubious sexual politics of a man’s brain being stronger than a woman’s, and earlier euthanasia on the cusp of Arkham and Insmouth. The victim of all this is Edward Derby, and I had not remembered his middle name is Pickman, that hand’s picking-up or keyboard-poised man’s fingers….
“They have tried weakly to concoct a theory of a ghastly jest or warning by discharged servants,…” “…a crowning rage…”
The story is, as it itself says, ‘tugging at my brain’, come close to my own doorstep, as each story in this book’s printed style of publication is butted up next to its neighbouring story without space to breathe, each on its own textual doorstep. And the ‘old code’ of Edward’s doorbell ring? Just like an Internet password or captcha. All of us butted up together, waiting for our own premature burial in hyperlinks.
” There was, I thought, a trace of very profound and very genuine irony in the timbre — not the flashy, meaninglessly jaunty pseudo-irony of the callow ‘sophisticate’, which Derby had habitually affected, but something grim, basic, pervasive, and potentially evil.”
Pickerman now ringing the doorbell?
THE MUSIC OF ERICH ZANN
“The houses were tall, peaked-roofed, incredibly old, and crazily leaning backward, forward, and sidewise. Occasionally, an opposite pair, both leaning forward, almost met across the street like an arch;…”
…like the doorsteps of the stories themselves. This close-ordered book itself — a straight reprint of the one with the picker-man on its front except for replacing that cover with a relatively more wholesome one — is my own Rue d’Auseil, whither I should never have returned, even thus partially. Yet, it was a meant-to-be thing, just like the words themselves within it. The original dead monument to once ancient hope. But if once ancient hope, no longer ancient?
Using at one point the word ‘unversed’ that I momentarily misread as ‘universed’, this story about the mute musician Erich Zann, his shrieking viol (compare and contrast the “touching deep violstrings of ancestral emotion” I quoted earlier above), and my visit to his garret, a living space that, beyond its closed curtain, is said to command the only view of the city and its wholesome lights beyond the building’s ‘summit wall’. Zann’s music I heard that night has left me with a life-long obsession with atonal music of a certain kind, an obsession that I have not kept hidden from my blogs and forums, facebooks and wild tweets. This story is not a coda so much as the meat of the symphony. Today, after 50 years, I now intend to open those curtains again…
My earlier review of THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH; https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/the-dream-quest-of-unknown-kadath/
my review of the AGE OF LOVECRAFT academic book – https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/07/13/the-age-of-lovecraft/
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