Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Loving H. P. Lovecraft

{Photo and jack-o-lantern by flickr user coldways, used under a Creative Commons license.}

A weekend of air travel--whose horrors are all too real to offer any of the pleasures of the season--allowed me finally to cross from Volume I to Volume II of the Library of America's new American Fantastic Tales. The break between volumes coincides with World War II and the concomitant shift from agrarian America to our modern, mechanized nation--but it could also be seen as representing the passing of H. P. Lovecraft, the godfather (or is it demonfather?) of American weird tales; fittingly, the second volume includes a pair of meticulous, loving homages to Lovecraft that could serve as an appropriately obscure, mildewed, and mossy grave marker.

For a fan of uncanny tales, I've read relatively little Lovecraft. He's always seemed the sort of author who is best approached as a lifetime project rather than a Roman-style feast--the post-Lovecraft visit to the vomitorium being far too grotesque for sustained contemplation. What I have read, however, has been so dense, so singular, so organically, compellingly strange, that I'm convinced of his genius* despite his uncomfortable obsessions with ethnicity and race (which, if memory serves, are well covered in this New York Review of Books piece by Luc Sante**).

So when Thomas Ligotti writes of the mysterious, Lovecraftian Professor Thoss's writings in "The Last Feast of Harlequin" (1990),
For him, the very words "New England" seemed to be stripped of all traditional connotations and had come to imply nothing less than a gateway to all lands, both known and suspected, and even to ages beyond the civilized history of the region. Having been educated partly in New England, I could somewhat understand this sentimental exaggeration, for indeed there are places that seem archaic beyond chronological measure, appearing to transcend relative standards of time and achieving a kind of absolute antiquity which cannot be logically fathomed.
--I feel that yes, yes, this is the proper back side of Thoreau's and Whitman's effusions, this is the New England I want to show rocketlass some blustery autumn. And when T. E. D. Klein's haunted, isolated narrator laments in "The Events at Poroth Farm" (1972),
[S]at down to read Lovecraft's essay on "Supernatural Horror in Literature." It upset me to see how little I've actually read, how far I still have to go. So many obscure authors, so many books I've never come across.
--I not only share the reliable despair of the reader whose quest is inevitably neverending, but also find myself reminded of the way that the ever-ramifying vista of books one ought to read mirrors the paralytic horrors of short-breathed nightmare.

Both stories are spooky, atmospheric, and memorable--honorable homages to Lovecraft. But even those efforts pale next to the work of the Propnomicon, whose meticulous constructions of Lovecraftian artifacts--as well as Miskatonic University swag--must be seen to be believed. If ever Cthulhu passeth through the land, executing judgment, surely the Propnomicon's door will be considered safely daubed.

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