Tag Archives: lovecraft

Impressions of “Dissecting Cthulhu: Essays on the Cthulhu Mythos,” edited by S.T. Joshi

I purchased this volume to read one piece recommended to me by a friend: “Higher Criticism and the Necronomicon,” by Robert M. Price. We had been talking about the higher criticism of the Koran,” and the subject of Arab poets receiving visions naturally came up. But while “Higher Criticism” is the stand-out piece, the soul of the book is its editing, as several strands of Lovecraft criticism comment on each other, and a few are notable by their missingness.

Before reading this volume, I did not realize the deep gulf that existed in interpreting the Cthulhy Mythos. H.P. Lovecraft (1890 – 1937) was a pioneering horror writer whose writings have been an influence across the American horror spectrum, from Stephen King to Thomas Ligotti. In the same way that some Catholics and Protestants can loudly disagree after reading “The Letter to the Romans,” Lovecraft scholars (including the aforementioned Biblical scholar, Robert M. Price) disagree as to the heart of Lovecraft. Multiple pieces emphasize this passage as the hermetical key to his writings,

“Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large…. To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all.”
Selected Letters, Volume II: 1925-1929

while Lovecraft’s popularizer, August Derleth (1909-1971), often cited a qutoation based on the following line

Having formed a cosmos pantheon, it remains for the fantaiste to link this “outside” element to the earth in a suitably dramatic & convincing fashion. This, I have thought, is bets done through glancing allusions to immemorially ancient cults & idols & documents attesting the recognition fot he “outside” forces by men — or by those terrestrial entities which preceded man. The actual climaxes of tales based on such elements naturally have to do with sudden latter-day intrusions of forgotten elder fores on the placid surface of the known — either active intrusions, or revelations caused by the feverish & presumptuous probing of men into the unknown.
Selected Letters, Volume IV: 1932-1934

One paints a cosmos bleakness like that of Ligotti’s fictions, while the second is much closer to King’s fictional universes.

But beyond this axis, one can view the Lovecraft mythos as essentially romantic. This is the feeling that I was evoking in my now old post, A City of Lovecraftian Dreams. Two other lines, I think, might also be included, but they are beyond the debate of Dissecting Cthulhu. The passages that I remember most, that for me would form the basis of criticism, are

Remote in the desert of Araby lies the nameless city, crumbling and inarticulate, its low walls nearly hidden by the sands of uncounted ages. It must have been thus before the first stones of Memphis were laid, and while the bricks of Babylon were yet unbaked. There is no legend so old as to give it a name, or to recall that it was ever alive; but it is told of in whispers around campfires and muttered about by grandams in the tents of sheiks so that all the tribes shun it without wholly knowing why. It was of this place that Abdul Alhazred the mad poet dreamed of the night before he sang his unexplained couplet:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.
The Nameless City (1921)

Lovecraft’s world to me extended from that cosmos perspective, that death itself will face the second death, to the world of love and adventure. I can’t be the only one to think that “Old Man Marsh” has the most interesting life of any of Lovecraft’s characters

That refinery, though, used to be a big thing, and Old Man Marsh, who owns it, must be richer’n Croesus. Queer old duck, though, and sticks mighty close in his home. He’s supposed to have developed some skin disease or deformity late in life that makes him keep out of sight. Grandson of Captain Obed Marsh, who founded the business. His mother seems to’ve ben some kind of foreigner—they say a South Sea islander—so everybody raised Cain when he married an Ipswich girl fifty years ago. They always do that about Innsmouth people, and folks here and hereabouts always try to cover up any Innsmouth blood they have in ’em. But Marsh’s children and grandchildren look just like anyone else so far’s I can see. I’ve had ’em pointed out to me here—though, come to think of it, the elder children don’t seem to be around lately. Never saw the old man.
The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1931)

Dissecting Cthulhu is tilted toward the reading the first of these four passage as the essential Lovecraft. You’ll notice that I’m not describing the individual pieces in this book much. That’s because Dissecting Cthulhu transcends its constituent parts. The pieces are primarily rhetoric or strident academic argument. But editor S.T. Joshi’s accomplishment here is to show the reader that such debate exists, adn force for the reader to ponder for himself the meaning of these books many of us first read long ago.

The second best piece in the collection, “Toward a Reader-Response Approach to the Lovecraft Mythos,” concludes with a comment from the audience and an old World Fantasy Convention discussion. I’ll conclude with it as well

“I think that’s the magic of Lovecraft. I can still remember reading the first story; I didn’t understand who the creatures were, and the names were strange to me, but that’s what made it exciting.”

Review of “The Cult of Alien Gods: H.P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture,” by Jason Colvato

The Cult of Alien Gods is the worst book I’ve read all year.


Colvato’s basic claims is that much of modern UFO pop culture is concerned with the twin ideas of lost civilizations and alien visitation. Colvato claims bot of these ideas were created by H.P. Lovecraft, and that the modern UFO flap is a confused retelling of these stories.

It’s easy to prove this wrong, because he completely ignores pre-20th century expressions of these ideas. For instance, Mormonsim. Colvato seems completely ignorant of this tradition. I don’t know how old the ideas of lost civilizations and alien visitors are, but they are at least as old as Mormonismi, and when Colvato traces these ideas, he seems ignorant of that fact.

For instance, on he lists “racists” pseudo-scientists who theorized of pre-Columbian contact with “Vikings, Druids, or wandering Irish monks.” He ignores Jews, who both Mormons (like Joseph Smith) and pre-Mormon thinkers (like Solomon Spalding) claimed visited America.

Colvato also claims that Ignatius Donelly, an American politician, “planted the seed” for the idea that “the gods were not mental creations but were once flesh-and-blood features.” As Mormons believe this, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are spiritually advanced space aliens, this cannot be true

Colvato’s writing is highly repetitive, and he makes many sloppy mistakes along the way. He also comes across as mean. He accuses others of racism and sexism, he is ignorant of philosophy (confusing Nietzsche’s philosophy on the acceptance of personal suffering with aryan supremecacy) and explains only the footnotes that he’s had prior professional involvement with some of the writers hes criticizing.

I don’t believe that paleo-SETI, the idea we might find aliens by looking at our own history, has been successful. Or that “ancient alien” researchers have produced serious research. But that doesn’t make lazy and dishonest criticisms of them valid. Nor does it make Colvato’s ignorance of philosophy, theology, and history anything but painful to slog through.

I read The Cult of Ancient Aliens in the Kindle Edition.

Dreaming 5GW, Part I: The Dream-Quest of Unknown 5th Generation War

A Vision of Unknown Kadath (from okoun.cz)

Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it. All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between delicate trees and blossom-laden urns and ivory statues in gleaming rows; while on steep northward slopes climbed tiers of red roofs and old peaked gables harbouring little lanes of grassy cobbles. It was a fever…”The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Howard Philips Lovecraft.

Earlier I argued that war is evolving “deeper into the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act loop

I also argued

If traditional war centered on an enemy’s physical strength, and 4GW on his moral strength, the 5th Generation of War would focus on his intellectual strength. A 5th Generation War might be fought with one side not knowing who it is fighting. Or even, a brilliantly executed 5GW might involve one side being completely ignorant that there ever was a war. It’s like the old question of what was the perfect robbery: we will never know, because in a perfect robbery the bank would not know that it was robbed.

I kept trying to imagine what this would look like. Besides a vague inkling that it would be fought by some combination of George Friedman and Peter Wiggin, no picture came to me. Like Randolph Carter looking for Unknown Kadath,

Fortunately, I got in communication with a genius who helped me understand that the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act look might be better pictured as

The original analysis is still valid. The “arrows of attack” I used still fall earlier and earlier in the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act power-line. Just now it is clear that not most actions are not decided upon. They are implicitly guided and controlled by orientation, based on our observations.

Then a comment by Mark Safranski hit me like a hammer

We all have a tendency to some degree to run on a mental ” autopilot” – whether you want to call this phenomena ” framing”, worldview, paradigms, schemas, ideological constructs, etc. – the precise meaning vary but the effect is to shape our perceptions of the world ( highlighting or omitting data) and to an extent predetermine our responses in a large picture sense. Ideological blinders concentrates our vision but they distort our view of reality.

A critical skill is to be able to periodically attempt to step outside one’s worldview and look at an event from multiple perspectives other than one’s own. You have become a strategic thinker when you know *when* to do this as well as *how*.

Now it’s clear exactly what

If traditional war centered on an enemy’s physical strength, and 4GW on his moral strength, the 5th Generation of War would focus on his intellectual strength.

means. The beautiful sunset city has been found.

Dreaming 5GW, a tdaxp series
1. The Dream-Quest of Unknown 5GW
2. The Uncaring War
3. Lessons from Software Development
4. 5th Generation Networks
5. A Boydian Approach to 5GW
6. A Dream of 5GW

Review of "H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life" by Michael Houellebecq

Michael Houellbecq’s (pronounced “Wellbeck”) Against the World, Against Life is a literary manifesto. Neither a literary biography nor an annotated anthology, Against the World is rather a vehicle for spreading the Lovecraftian voice in literature. Lovecraft’s writing style, and not just his written thoughts, are held up as examplars for all future writers. We should be so lucky.

H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life

Some deeper words are below the fold, but to keep your attention I’ll say a few words about sex and money. Or rather, Houelbecq’s interpretation of Lovecraft’s odd view of sex and money. Sex is never directly referenced in anything Lovecraft wrote, and has only two purposes in his universe: as a vehicle for the propagation of the human species (hardly a worth cause) or (infinitely worse) a vehicle for miscegenation. Money is known only by its absence: the declining fortunes of late ancestors which allow the narrator some measure of intellectual freedom.

Many critics of Lovecraft argue that the position of sex and wealth in Lovecraft’s work are merely the author’s quirks, and that Lovecraftian fiction can be written that incorporate different views. Houelbecq would disagree, and quotes Lovecraft (page 58):

“When I contemplate man, I wish to contemplate those characteristicks that elevate him to a human state, and those adornments which lend to his actions the symmetry of creative beauty. ‘Tis not that I wish false pompous thoughts and motives imputed to him in the Victorian manner, but that I wish his composition justly aprais’d, with stress lay’d upon those qualities which are peculiarly his, and without the silly praise of such beastly things as he holds in common with any hog or stray goat.”

If the point is unclear, a second point is given on the same page: I do not think that any realism is beautiful.

Against the World meditates mainly on eight stories that Houllebecq calls the “great texts”:

  • 1926’s The Call of Cthulhu,
  • 1927’s The Colour out of Space,
  • 1928’s The Dunwich Horror,
  • 1930’s The Whisperer in the Darkness,
  • 1931’s At the Mountains of Madness,
  • 1932’s Dreams of the Witch-House,
  • 1932’s The Shadow over Innsmouth, and
  • 1934’s The Shadow out of Time
  • These great texts serve as a deliberate rejection of reality. In every one, the real world is revealed to be terrible and those who are truly protected and loved do not know about it. Decline is everywhere, but the lucky do not know about it. The fortunate live only in nostalgia. Witness the Norwegian wife in the Call of Cthulhu, and the unlucky star-headed things who awoke At the Mountains of Madness.

    Against the World also addresses Lovecraft’s racism. And Lovecraft was a racist in the true sense. His hierarchy seemd to be headed by Anglo-Saxons, then other north-western Europeans, then “Italico-Semitico-Mongoloid” (Italian, Jewish, and/or Asian) persons, and lastly blacks. Yet Lovecraft’s racism was odd, as it centered on his fondness for the Puritan rejection of humanity. He saw no people in history more determined to separate themselves from Creation as the pilgrim settlers. No people, it seemed to him, were more clean or hygienic than those who did not wish to be people.

    H.P. Lovecraft was a philosopher and a writer of literature, and is perhaps best complemented by C.S. Lewis. Lovecraft’s stance against the world and against life is nearly identical to the mission of the National Institute of Coordinate Experiments from Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. And Lovecraft and Lewis agreed on the nature macrobes — the larger, stronger, and smarter creatures which must exist if the universe is hospital to life: they would be against us, in the way that we are against flies. Ultimately, what separates Lovecraft from Lewis, who recognize the failure of time and space to exist at a human scale, is Christianity. God grace to flesh is central to the Christian faith, but Lovecraft, like Jonah, consciously rejects it because of what such grace implies.

    Patrons of Lovecraft’s art have never had it so good. Many of his stories and poems are available online, and descriptive works (such as The Annotated HP Lovecraft) are now on the market. Even the Library of America has a pretentious Tales edition of some of the great works. Against the World is a brilliant addition to this companions of the literature.

    H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life is a beautiful defense of Lovecraft, quirks and all. Anyone who has felt drawn to the world that HP wrote into existence — R’lyeh, Innsmouth, Arkham, and all the rest — should buy this book.

    Houllebecq doesn’t much address Christianity — that last paragraph was more addition — but he does add some more thoughts on literature and life. The commandment, “Attack the story like a radiant suicide; utter the great NO to life without weakness; then you will see a magnificent cathedral, and your senses, vectors of unutterable derangement, will map out an integral delirium that will be lost in the unnameable architecture of time,” can be assembled from Against the World’s chapter headers, as the book’s prologue (by Stephen King) points out.

    H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life is available for $12.24 from Amazon.com.

    Other reviews are particular. Rick Kleffel emphasizes Houllebecq’s line, “Absolute hatred of the world in general, aggravated by an aversion for the modern world in particular. This summarizes Lovecraft’s attitude fairly accurately.” Lee Rourke ties the book into Hollebecque’s own writing style, and his run-ins with French censors. Emerald City compares Lovecraft to Tolkein while pointing out the book’s flaws. Dr. Pedro Blas Gonzalez advocates Against the World even for those who have never read Lovecraft. Michael Crisco pens a passionately critical attac on Houellebecq that misses the point, I think, but is still worth reading.

    Lastly, for those considering buying the book, translator Robin Mackay posted a draft translation on his blog (pdf).)

    Glowing Review of "The Call of Cthulhu" DVD

    Spent this beautiful Indian summer evening watching an amazing film, The Call of Cthulhu. Distributed the Howard Philips Lovecraft Historical Society, directed by Andrew Leman, and written by Sean Branney, The Call of Cthulhu is a triumph of art, literature, and film.

    The Call of Cthulhu (Found Among the Papers of the Late Francis Wayland Thurston, of Boston) was written by H.P. Lovecraft in 1928. Lovecraft, a horror writer, amateur astronomer, and blogger (well, actually “amateur journalist”), was first and foremost a poet. The story, which threads the shorter tales The Horror in the Clay, The Tale of Inspector Legrasse, and The Madness from the Sea, was inspired by Lord Tennyson’s The Kraken:

    There hath he lain for ages and will lie,
    Battening on huge seaworms in his sleep;
    Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
    Then once by man and angels to be seen,
    In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die

    And indeed, the entire tale is poetry amidst poetry, as in the narrator’s second-hand description of a third author’s couplet:

    Of the cult, he said that he thought the centre lay amid the pathless desert of Arabia, where Irem, the City of Pillars, dreams hidden and untouched. It was not allied to the European witch-cult, and was virtually unknown beyond its members. No book had ever really hinted of it, though the deathless Chinamen said that there were double meanings in the Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred which the initiated might read as they chose, especially the much-discussed couplet:

    That is not dead which can eternal lie,
    And with strange aeons even death may die.

    Ironically for a tale by a poet, the movie The Call of Cthulhu is silent. Completely. It is made in the style of a silent movie from 1928. Some music videos over the past few years have tried this style — Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Otherside, for example, and Smashing Pumpkin’s Tonight, Tonight — but none have done it this well. The movie is not knowingly ironic, it is not a comedy, it is not take itself lightly. The Call of Cthulhu is a serious attempt to recreate a horror tale from the 1920s in the style of 1920s Hollywood. It succeeds brilliantly.

    That’s why it was a Seattle International Film Festival Selection.

    Book Cover

    The Call of Cthulhu is the best Lovecraft adaptation I have ever seen, it is the best silent film I have ever seen. The Call of Cthulhu is a masterful executed labor of love. Watch it.

    The Call of Cthulhu is available for rent from greencine or purchase from Amazon.com . It runs 47 minutes, and includes an excellent “making of” documentary.

    More reviews are available from the HPLHS. A trailer is also available.

    Of course, there are humorous adaptations, too.