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Question on The Festival


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#1 Angelman

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Posted 07 November 2017 - 04:29 PM

Hi all,

 

I’ve been studying The Festival for years now, researching several Kingsport projects I’ve got going, but while I’m starting to get a really good grasp of the short story and related tales and topics there is one scene I just can’t wrap my mind around. Can anyone help with this?

 

The narrator has found the “seventh house on the left in Green Lane” and is lead into the house’s living room by the waxy-faced old man. HPL goes on to describe the room in his usual baroque detail, including noting that…

 

“The high-backed settle faced the row of curtained windows at the left, and seemed to be occupied, though I was not sure.”  <-- HPL fails to indicate what the significance of this is, instead continuing by describing the old man’s face and such. (This sentence is also strange in that the definite article “the” indicates the settle bench has already been introduces and is therefore known to the reader, which in fact it is not. A more natural description would have read “A high-backed settle faced…” Still, I put this down to HPL’s idiosyncratic writing style).

 

At this time there seems to be at least 3 people in the room beside the narrator; the “old man” with the vax face, the “old woman” at the spinning wheel, and the unseen person(s) sitting on the settle-bench with the back to our narrator.

 

“Pointing to a chair, table, and pile of books, the old man now left the room; and when I sat down to read”

 

And then there were 2 people in the room beside the narrator.

 

“No one spoke to me, but I could hear the creaking of signs in the wind outside, and the whir of the wheel as the bonneted old woman continued her silent spinning, spinning.”  <-- I don’t know if this is relevant in some way, but I include it as the windows become important next.

 

“I disliked it when I fancied I heard the closing of one of the windows that the settle faced, as if it had been stealthily opened. It had seemed to follow a whirring that was not of the old woman's spinning-wheel. This was not much, though, for the old woman was spinning very hard, and the aged clock had been striking. After that I lost the feeling that there were persons on the settle…”  <-- The unseen person(s) on the settle sneakily (opens and?) close a window by masking the sound to the noise of the old woman’s spinning wheel, possibly in collusion with the old woman who is spinning very hard now.

 

Now there’s only the old spinning crone in the room with the narrator.

 

“[I] was reading intently and shudderingly when the old man came back booted and dressed in a loose antique costume, and sat down on that very bench, so that I could not see him. It was certainly nervous waiting…”

 

So, what the hell is going on here? I cannot figure it out. Who is the unseen person or persons sitting on the settle bench? Why are they there, why do they leave by window, and what purpose does all of this serve in the story? What is the significance of the old man sitting down on the settle when he returns fully dressed, waiting for the clock to strike 11? As far as I can tell, the unseen character(s) are never mentioned or references again (or before for that matter).

 

Either HPL had a sub-plot going at one point but chose to drop it only to forget to cut this one enigmatic-exit-by-window scene, a mistake that then slipped past his editors, OR (and I think this is far more likely) I simply fail to grasp some subtle aspect of The Festival. Can anyone of you great minds here connect the dots for me? What am I missing here and how is this all relevant to the overall story?

 

Thanks in advance for any help you guys can offer :)


Edited by Angelman, 07 November 2017 - 04:33 PM.

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#2 Ningauble

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Posted 09 November 2017 - 01:28 PM

About the settle: HPL does note that "not an attribute was missing", so presumably the settle is such a typical piece of furniture that HPL thought he could start by referring to it as "the".
 
The whirring: The "whirring that was not of the old woman's spinning-wheel" probably refers to the sound of wings (that is how HPL uses it in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath", IIRC), so presumably a winged creature has landed outside, and the person in the settle (too hideous to be seen?) gets out through the window, closes it, and rides off.
 
Presumably this is another one of the worm cultists, but maybe one that couldn't pass for human (unmasked, unlike the old man and woman). At least that is how I interpret it in hindsight. The narrator could have had the shock of his life if he had got up and walked round the settle, but fortunately for him, he never did, and that saved his sanity.
 
I doubt that HPL left it in by mistake. He (or someone else) retyped the manuscript at some point and he had to proof it again, so he must have left it in by design.

#3 Angelman

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Posted 09 November 2017 - 01:53 PM

About the settle: HPL does note that "not an attribute was missing", so presumably the settle is such a typical piece of furniture that HPL thought he could start by referring to it as "the".

 

That is a good point. I totally Accept that; thanks!

 

The whirring: The "whirring that was not of the old woman's spinning-wheel" probably refers to the sound of wings (that is how HPL uses it in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath", IIRC), so presumably a winged creature has landed outside, and the person in the settle (too hideous to be seen?) gets out through the window, closes it, and rides off.
 
Presumably this is another one of the worm cultists, but maybe one that couldn't pass for human (unmasked, unlike the old man and woman). At least that is how I interpret it in hindsight. The narrator could have had the shock of his life if he had got up and walked round the settle, but fortunately for him, he never did, and that saved his sanity.
 
I doubt that HPL left it in by mistake. He (or someone else) retyped the manuscript at some point and he had to proof it again, so he must have left it in by design.

 

Yes, something like this must be going on but it doesn't add anything (but confusion) to the story so I was wondering if I've missed/misunderstood something. Why is the unseen presence there and what does it signify? It is not like the narrator meets a previously unseen cultist later in the story, for the high priest of the subterranean festival is the old vaxy-faced man himself (weilding the Necronomicon etc.). This sub-mystery seems rather pointless to me. At one point, I was playing with the idea that perhaps it was the narrator himself -- his sleeping body or something -- occupying the settle, and that it was his dream-form that flew out of the window, but that doesn't add up spatially either (since the narrator remains in the room and never indicates any kinship with the unseen presence. Weird stuff....


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#4 cjearkham

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Posted 09 November 2017 - 02:17 PM

I agree that a settle would be such an expected attribute that one might refer to "the" settle, like "the fireplace" -- although HPL does write "a fireplace". :-(

 

Why is the unseen presence there and what does it signify? It is not like the narrator meets a previously unseen cultist later in the story, for the high priest of the subterranean festival is the old waxy-faced man himself (weilding the Necronomicon etc.). This sub-mystery seems rather pointless to me.... Weird stuff....

 

I think "Weird stuff" is precisely why this incident appears.  The presence has had some purpose there previously but now is done and is apparently awaiting winged transportation to another location. The narrator cannot guess what that purpose might be, which makes the event unsettling.

 

But might it be to return the cultists to their former home? The presence might be a "higher priest" or something like the Black Man of a witches' gathering, an intermediary to higher powers. "He" visits the homes of cultists and prepares them for the Festival. Remember that the Kingsport the narrator sees on his way in turns out not to be the Kingsport he sees from his hospital room, and that none of the cultists leave any footprints in the snow. The presence may have arranged this time-displacement to allow the Festival to be held. And perhaps he visited that house knowing the narrator was on his way there, to provide the necessary props to encourage the narrator to participate.

 

HPL is already making references to other stories of his, bringing back Kingsport from "The Terrible Old Man" and mentioning the Necronomicon. We can speculate this presence might be a known (if here unnamed) entity such as Nyarlathotep. Nyarlathotep is associated with the underground in "The Rats in the Walls", published just under a year previously. N. is not explicitly tied to the Black Man until the much later "The Dreams in the Witch-House", but who knows how long the idea might have been in his head before he wrote it down?


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#5 Nick Storm

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Posted 09 November 2017 - 02:22 PM

great thread!
 

you are probably aware of this...but if not...

 

http://www.hplovecra...cles/mrblhd.pdf


'Sure, as long as the machines are working and you can dial 911, But you take those things away, you throw people in the dark, you scare the shyte out of them, no more rules. You'll see how primitive they can get' . 


#6 Angelman

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Posted 09 November 2017 - 03:06 PM

@cjearkham: The unseen presence could be an undercommunicated appearance of Nyharlathotep, or something to that effect, but it still doesn't have any purpose in the story (that I can see). But your thinking makes me wonder, could the unseen presence be one of the "fathers [that] had called me to the old town", present in the flesh so to speak. After all, "I was eager to knock at the door of my people, the seventh house on the left in Green Lane". So perhaps one of his forebears, who had (magically) called the narrator to Kingsport and the house was sitting there on the family home's settle and left for some reason through the window ahead of the celebrations starting? I have always assumed that the calling forefather, whose clock and ring the vaxy-faced man shows the narrator, is actually the vaxy-faced high priest himself, but perhaps instead the old man is not the narrator's great-great-great-great grandfather at all, but "just" the priest who officiates at the Festival and the things he shows the narrator belonged to the unseen presence (his true forebear) who occupied the settle back in the family home earlier? It's a bit convoluted an explanation, and it doesn't explain why the presence on the settle wasn't shown or otherwise explored in the story (i.e. it doesn't explain the point of putting those sentences in the text), but still...

@Nick Storm: I was not aware of this. Thanks!


Edited by Angelman, 09 November 2017 - 03:08 PM.

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#7 yronimoswhateley

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Posted 09 November 2017 - 08:18 PM

It's no mistake, Lovecraft wrote it into the story deliberately, and I think it does make a reappearance later in the story, though Lovecraft is subtle about it.

 

What happens in the scene involving the window is that something, think of it as a witch's familiar spirit, is in fact hidden in the seat facing the window - the narrator senses its presence and is disquieted by it - and, while the narrator is reading, the thing opens the window, leaves through it, closing it behind it, whirring off into the night on its errand as the clock strikes, while the old woman seems to be spinning more loudly (true to Lovecraftian tradition, I think our unreliable narrator is trying to find a rational explanation for the unearthly whirring noise that accompanies the familiar's departure - but, soon enough, the nightmarish truth will undermine that explanation!)  The thing is definitely gone at this point - the narrator no longer senses its presence in the room, and, if we need any further proof, the strange old masked "man" re-enters the room, and sits on the empty seat.

 

The old woman barely gets mentioned again for the next few paragraphs, except for the short descriptions of the weird old "man" with the wax mask helping her to don her cloak, and then leading the party as it sets off into the darkness.  The only further direct and significant reference to her, I think, is just after the appearance of the strange winged things in the cavernous vaults beneath the church:  the weird hybrid monsters which the celebrants climb onto and ride deep into the depths of the Earth (what Chaosium refers to as 'Byakhees'):  after the winged things depart, the narrator seems to remember the old woman, and mentions what she is doing at that moment (she has already left with the throng, riding away into the shadows on one of the winged horrors!)

 

It's not conclusive - after all, Lovecraft (thankfully) never explicitly described anything in the settle, leaving much to our imaginations and plenty of room for the narrator to try to convince himself that nothing strange was going on, and so it could be just about anything - but I feel reasonably sure that what was sitting on that settle was one of those tame, hybrid, winged horrors, just one of many familiar monster collaborating with the witches and wizards in their celebration... the thing flew ("whirred") off ahead of the party at an appointed time, returning with enough others of its kind during the festival to carry the throng of celebrants away into the unspeakable nightmares of inner earth.

 

Even if Lovecraft had a completely different horror in mind for the occupant of the settle, i doubt there was anything accidental about including its description in the story:  that scene helps build a weird, unearthly, ambiguous, ominous, and dream-like atmosphere, adding to Lovecraft's understated references to time travel (the narrator, again, dismisses all the evidence he sees that he is not in modern Kingsport as simply the town being remarkably well-preserved or strangely missing evidence of modern conveniences he knows should be there, such as modern trolley facilities!)  The narrator is no longer in the mundane world, but in a strange time and place where sinister festivals can be celebrated fairly openly during Christmas, ancient ancestors still walk the earth in monstrous forms hidden behind wax masks, and strange, flying horrors can occupy the furniture across the room from you and nobody but you seems unsettled by its presence!

 

And, this is a high-backed settle, for those of us who weren't quite sure what such a thing looks like (I certainly wasn't!):

 

High_Back_Farmhouse_Settle_as565a056b.jp

 

Such a thing is a holdover from more ancient times:  the high back and wings helped protect someone sitting in it from chilly drafts, and it would usually be positioned towards a fireplace to block the heat around the occupant, rather than toward a drafty window which would only chill the occupant - however, in Lovecraft's story, this settle is indeed facing the window, and the narrator notes that the fireplace is curiously not lit: the room's occupants do not seem to mind the cold, and this settle seems to be far more conveniently placed to hide its occupant and its activities from the rest of the room than for protecting the occupant from drafts....


Edited by yronimoswhateley, 09 November 2017 - 08:20 PM.

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