The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft is a collection of loss. Two stories — The Rats in the Walls and At the Mountains of Madness — described failed attempts to return home while the other two — The Dunwich Horror and The Colour Out of Space — tell of fathers unable to provide for their sons. Each story is carefully concealed in archaic vocabulary and fantastic imagery, but the gut-wrenching sadness of lost inheritance is everywhere in these pages. The alternate reality they paint, including fantastic amalgamations of previous mythologies and religions, would doubtless be familiar to that other fantastic horror writer, Mohammed ibn Abdullah. Indeed, that absurdly named character constantly referenced yet never featured, Abdul Alhazred (Abdullah [who] all has read?), may be a conscious homage to Lovecraft‘s predecessor.
Yet this post is only have about that and half about the brilliant editing of S.T. Joshi. His helpful footnotes are the perfect implementation to that educational methodology I learned at UNL — SOAR. So now let us SOAR into Horror in this blog review…
Dr. Ken Kiewra of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln described the SOAR learning methodology as a four-step process.
- Selection highlights major and minor points from a lecture. This is the first step of any hermeneutical process, but most learning will stop here.
- Organization ties selections within a lecture together. This term describes building internal connections in a text. The building of these connections mimic the building of the human mind, tying together information to give it a semantic meaning.
- Association involves creating external connections between a lecture and analogous information. To associate means that information is not just internally coherent within some context, but goes along with other texts. If you imagine a text as a domain, organization is vertical learning while association is horizontal learning.
- Regulation involves challenging one’s knowledge, forcing one to actively construct again the learning structures. A well designed question can do this. Regulation exploits the brain’s complex adaptive system ability to reform in a way most useful. Make recall of learning useful, and one will recall better
The difference between these stage is not always solid — merely selecting a term, for example, defines it as important within the context of a text and immediately makes the learner think of what it means outside the text — but the methodologies is. The upcoming tdaxp special feature on Coming Anarchy (part of SummerBlog ’06) SOARs mightily, and I now recognize the academic use of my blogging as intellectual SOARing. I have also become annoyed when I see other instructors willfully violate SOAR principles, and thus delighted when educators use them.
Joshi’s brilliant footnotes illustrate all four SOAR stages. I will use examples from the final pages of the novella At the Mountains of Madness, though I promise known of the quotes give away any plot points. When necessarily, I will edit or slightly reword the sentence, to further prevent any loss of freshness if you read this volume. Each of the passages contains a selection from Lovecraft followed by a use of SOAR by Joshi.
Selection – highlight key passages
Lovecraft: The inner antarctic is a waste as utterly and irrevocably devoid of every vestige of normal life as is the sterile disc of the moon.
Joshi: The sentence is printed as per Lovecraft’s manuscript. In the original published version, it reads “waste utterly and irrevocably devoid of normal life.” Lovecraft has failed to correct this reading, but it may be an oversight.
Organization – tie a text to itself
Lovecraft: We could soon reconstruct in fancy the whole stupendous thing as it was a million or ten million or fifty million years ago.
Joshi: Cf. a similar usage in “The rats in the Walls”: “… the events which must have taken place there three hundred, or a thousand, or two thousand, or ten thousand years ago.”
Association – tie a text to another text
Lovecraft: run back, before we had seen what we did see, and before our minds were burned with something which will never let us breathe easily again!
Joshi: A frequently expressed sentiment in Lovecraft’s fiction. Cf. “The Call of Cthulhu”: “I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me” (The Dunwich Horror and Others, 154).
Regulation – force active construction by the learner
Lovecraft: “the nameless cylinder,” “the elder pharos,” “Yog-Sothoth” …
Joshi: See note 42 to “The Dunwhich Horror”
Joshi’s use of SOAR is extremely effective. I had read all of these stories before, yet I understood each better with Joshi’s method. Lovecraft described The Dunwhich Horror, one of his most successful stories, as a juvenile blunder and now I see why. The atmospheres of The Rats in the Walls and The Colour out of Space is infinitely distinct now, while before they blended together. And At the Mountains of Madness, which I previously enjoyed as an imaginitive fantasy, now speaks to me its sadness, and loss, and lonliness, as it never did before.
Joshi accomplishes this not be insisting on a certain perspective, or by force-feeding his interpretation, but by Selecting, Organizing, Associating, and Regulating the reader. His work is marvelous, and nearly every academic text could be improved with a hand such as his. I doubt that Joshi has learned the SOAR methodology under that name, and his learning may have been practical and not at all academic, yet The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft provides the best use of SOAR in book form that I have ever seen. Previously, SOAR (with its natural application to the world of presentations) appeared to be a way to make “Powerpoint better than Powerpoint.” It is now a way to make books better than books.
Besides the four stories, Joshi provides an introduction, a selection of letters, and an overview of Lovecraft in the media. I purchased my copy for $13.50 from Barnes and Noble, thought it is also available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.