Friday, April 13, 2007

Tomb of Lost Lit

I recently discovered this site: Horror Masters , a huge, cavernous warehouse of free, downloadable pdfs of some of the greatest Horror and Weird Fiction ever written, from Lovecraft precursor Lord Dunsany to acolyte/fan-fiction writer made good Algernon Blackwood, to the relatively obscure works of lesser knowns and the lesser known works of the un-obscure.
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-Lord Dunsany

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-Algernon Blackwood

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Clark Ashton Smith remains a personal favorite of mine, owed in no small part to his bizarre artwork, which can be viewed here.

I can't explain properly my new-found obsession with this sort of material. I do know that part of it is the absolute dismissal of the mundane and banal - Lovecraft denies it to the point of refusing to provide any background details, any 'character building' information about any of his (interchangable) protagonists. All of this is eschewed in favor of essentially constructing excuses for these ciphers to experience awesome terror and beauty, so epic that their feeble intellects shatter in the wake. It’s a seemingly pure expression of , or exploration of the only things that interested Lovecraft as a writer and possibly as a man.
And that’s interesting to me; to boil everything away until you’re left with a singular, perfect object ( I think Cthulhu’s brain consists of a single, small diamond). Life isn’t so simple for me, and I know I’m unable to shut out everything I dislike, nor am I able to convert it all into a symbolic screeching chaos that’s bound to render me a babbling idiot ( I’ll get there wihtout that, I imagine.).But, I am able to carry the ideal with me and apply it in certain ways.
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-He did like cats..

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-drawing by unknown, awesome artist.


SEAN said...

I love this stuff, Lovecraft opened me up to a really large, awesome world of Romantic Horror works! Also, his philosophies are quite interesting & fun to read. I should do a write up of all the strange Lovecraft side books i've read. The thing i can't stand though, is the whole "lovecraft ironic nerd" thing that goes on. Stuffed Cthulhus & all that shit, i worked for Chaosium for a bit & they're quite responsible for irresponsible use of the Lovecraftian legacy. Anyhow, if you haven't read Lovecraft's "Supernatural Horror in Literature" you really should! It's one of the best books of its type i've read.

Paleo said...

This made my day.

And one thing i always like to repeat; Lord Dunsany, man of many acomplishments -writer, war hero, champion chess player, hunter- was voted also England worst dressed man!

Luke P. said...

Yeah, I hate that pet Cthulhu thing too. I think these people missaprehend Lovcraft as a nihilist; Lovecraft wouldn't have found his concepts scary if the elder gods weren't out to destroy something he cared about, which I think was Western Civilization.
It's a perverse reading to celebrate that chaos; the human cults in his stories, the ones who worshipped the elder gods, were the dregs of humanity, completely savage and nihilistic..

Aeron said...

That bottom pic looks like Rory Hayes. And I don't know what the deal is with all this pop culture lovecraft shit that's suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the past.. I don't know, 5 years? I think someone put out a Cthulhu something or other that sold really well and it just spiraled out of control from there on.

I was a huge fan of Lovecraft inspired films before I knew who Lovecraft even was. I grew up on Evil Dead and Re-Animator in my pre teen years and understood that the Necronomicon was a dark book of evil from gradeschool on. The actual story that Re-Animator is based upon has some really fantastic imagery that isn't shown in the film version. A scene that's never left my head involves the nightmare experiments, the tied together pieces of flesh that get out of the cellar and parade through the night.

And Luke, you should check out the writings of Thomas Ligotti. You won't be disappointed.

Human Mollusk said...

Cool link Luke, thanks! I've been a great admirer of Dunsany, HPL, Blackwood, Machen, Hodgson and the lot for many years now. C.A.Smith is one of my faves too, although I must admit after reading his stories I found his art disappointing.
I don't think most people who think those stuffed Cthulhus are funny even realize what Lovecraft's stories are essentially about. But personally what i dislike even more is the way you see Cthulhu-oid monsters pop up in popular films and comics like Pirates of the Carribean or Hellboy and they're always just another evil schlock creature which the hero will eventually defeat.
Although I love Mignola's art, I can't stand the way he uses the Lovecraftian context to package his superhero manicheanism. This of course has been going on since right after HPL's death.

"Derleth wrote other stories as "by HPL and August Derleth." They are collected in The Survivor and Others (1957) and The Shuttered Room (1959). Derleth was working on another "posthumous collaboration" at the time of his death. In Lovecraft: A Biography (1975) L. Sprague de Camp notes that Lovecraft's contribution to the collaborations "was merely some of the notes in 'The Commonplace Book.' Derleth did all the real work, elaborating and systematizing the Cthulhu Mythos".
As a way to keep Lovecraft's name before the public or as a commercial enterprise, these "posthumous collaborations" may have merit. But obviously the critic and reader should not judge Lovecraft by something Derleth wrote, though in the confusion they as obviously do so. Fundamental differences exist: Lovecraft was an atheist-materialist, Derleth was Catholic. Richard L. Tierney in "The Derleth Mythos" (found in Essays Lovecraftian, edited by Darrell Schweitzer, 1976) points out this huge philosophical difference. Derleth, trying to systematize the various alien entities in Lovecraft's fiction, saw in them "a parallel of the 'Christian Mythos,' " states Tierney, "with its bad against good, and with humanity the focal point of it all. . . I grant Derleth the right to his view of the cosmos, but the sad thing is that he has made all too many believe that his view is that of Lovecraft also. This is simply not true. . . Lovecraft actually regarded the cosmos as basically indifferent to anthropocentric outlooks such as good and evil""
--from "The Dark Barbarian", a great essay mainly about the Conan mythos and about how it, like the Cthulhu mythos, was changed by the writers who came after the original creators

But the problem with Lovecraft's "vision" I think is ultimately that it isn't really there. The cosmic existential horror which he tries to express escapes all visual description, in fact, any kind of descritpion. HPL himself always avoids characteristics of the respective "unholy thing" and mostly resorts to adjectives which are more about the effect the described thing has on the viewer.
Now if even he shied back from using abstract language to portray the unimaginable how is an artist supposed to show it without robbing it of it's most important feature, the fact that it defies all description. I guess orthodox monotheism understands this and it's the reason for it's prohibition against depictions of the respective deity, only in my view this isn't an ideological problem but instead an aesthetic one. Sure, you can always add another few tentacles and a bit of slime here and there, but you always end up creating just another shlocky monster. Don't get me wrong, i love shlock monsters, and I do think there have been very successful attempts to visually represent aspects of Lovecraft's "non-vision", like H.R.Giger for example. But even these must ultimately fail because what they achieve is an gradual banalization of the cosmic existentialism which in my view is at the heart of HPL's prose. A cuddly plush Cthulhu is at the very end of this process.

Human Mollusk said...

I have to say though that not all ironic takes on Lovecraft annoy me. The HPL Historical Society's "A Scary Solstice" (a collection of Cthulhu christmas carols) as well as their "Call of Cthulhu Movie" are really good IMO. Although they're really funny you sense a great veneration for HPL's creations.
Also reading Lovecraft's letters to his homies you very often get the feeling that they had a lot of fun with the mythos themselves. They constantly address each other with fake mythical names like "Ech Pi'El" and "Klarkash'Ton". These guys were the Über-Nerds. If Lovecraft were alive today he surely would never leave his computer and only interact via email and possibly meet his possy online in an MMOPRG.

On a related tangent, check out "The Mountains of Madness", a musical performance by Alex Hacke (of Einstürzende Neubauten) and the Tiger Lillies. They have it on Karagarga.
Also, "Possession" by Andrzej Zulawski is a really weird and intersting film of psychological horror featuring some lovecraftian elements.

Noah Berlatsky said...

I love Lovecraft. But I find stuffed Cthulhus pretty funny, I must admit. I mean, Lovecraft is really, really, really earnest. That is a large part of his charm...but it's also more than a little ridiculous. I mean: giant blind albino penguins feature prominently in "At the Mountains of Madness". I'm the only one who finds that funny?

Anyway, thanks for posting this, Luke. I've been trying to find some Dunsany on the web to read and wasn't very successful, so I'm looking forward to checking it out.

Luke P. said...

Thanks for that post Fufu- you learned me there.

SEAN said...

I've always felt that the Futurist style of showing all dimensions in a painting would work quite well for depicting Lovecraftian ideas. Really well actually. Some of Lovecraft's creatures are more obviously science fictiony monsters, the Fungi from Yuggoth for example... but ultimately, it must all be viewed wearing kaleidescopic glasses from behind the veil of various mind altering substances. Not so sure if Lovecraft would be an RPG nerd today, given that he is was an antiquarian then, he would be still today. I think he'd've done the same thing & no one would know who he was, & maybe he'd post some stories on a blog, but only because his friends cajole him into doing it.

SEAN said...

Also, if you haven't seen DAGON, this is the best Lovecraft movie i've seen, mostly because it deals with the people surrounding the insanity going on. Speaking of which, the solution to using Lovecraft monsters is to not show them, but show the reaction to them & distorted shadows.

Luke P. said...

Good ideas Sean.
Dagon is really good. Stuart Gordon is the man; he did another Lovecraft story - Dreams in the Witch House - for that Showtime Masters of Horror series that is pretty good too.

Human Mollusk said...

Sean, yes, some visual approaches from the modernist traditions seem like promising ways for depicting the undepictable - after all, that is something many modernists were trying to do anyway. Alberto Breccia used an amazing array of styles and techniques in his various Lovecraft adaptations. I'm not sure there's a collection of them out in english, but here's a gorgeous one I bought a few years back in France. It should be still available.
But then again, the types of horrorific phenomena in HPL's stories often have something very visceral to them and somehow an abstract or psychedelic rendering of a tentacle often significantly takes away the horror. I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just saying this is a general problem with visualizing this stuff.
I totally agree on what you said about not showing those "vile unholy cyclopean abominations" at all, or only indirectly, but it actually prooves my point.

I haven't seen DAGON, but I've heard good things about it. I'll make sure to watch it soon. Same goes for DREAMS IN THE WITCHHOUSE. I used to really dig Stuart Gordon's FROM BEYOND back in the day but I'm not sure how well it has aged. I still fondly remember Jeffrey Combs with that wormlike gland growing out of his forehead...
I also kinda liked Carpenter's "Into the Mouth of Madness" which is clearly also heavily Lovecraft influenced.
There's rumors of Del Toro doing an adaptation "At the Mountains of Madness" soon and I'm still curiously awaiting the indie-movie CTHULHU. ( They had a cool trailer on their site a few months ago but for some reasen they took it off...
Last but not least, has any of you played the Cthulhu computer game? ("Call of Cthulhu - The Dark Corners of the Earth") I can only recommend it. The graphics are really outdated but the atmosphere and storyline is very true to the source.

Human Mollusk said...

Uhm, horrific phenomena, NOT horrorific... there should be an edit function for this.

SEAN said...

Also, i think that art by unknown artist is by Virgil Finlay, given the stippling & cosmic swirls.