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yock's Lovecraftathon: The Quest of Iranon

This story starts off much better than the previous one, written directly, and to the point, with plot and movement. It's clearly set in a similar quasi Dream Cycle world. And the description is rich and imaginative.   The idea of a singer recounting his memories in song greatly appeals to me, even if the first audience in the story is less enraptured. It also gives Lovecraft another opportunity to describe in words a magical Dreamlands type world, filling the reader's mind with images of a strange city and its people. Yes, I like this.   I also like the imagery of a wandering singer, going from city to city, seeking the one he had lost, but being ejected in varied ways. It's very effectively written.   Though there's a very strong message of the corrupting power of drink here too. I wonder what Lovecraft's attitude to alcohol was?   Gosh and a twist ending! I definitely hadn't expected that.   Yes, a very nice story. If you're open to reading Lovecraft's Dreamlands stories this one is a little gem.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Other Gods

Back now to some of Lovecraft's own stories, not revisions / collaborations. And first up is The Other Gods.   This one seems very like a Dream Cycle story, with Kadath and Ulthar etc. though it is based on Earth. I'm also minded of the Greek gods as I read, remembering how many stories Lovecraft wrote with Greek mythological elements.   The writing is often clumsy, though. For example Lovecraft repeats "they are grown stern" within quick succession. And other things are repeated awkwardly. It definitely needed a judicious further edit. As I go on I find it more of a chore to read, at least until the end, when dialogue breaks up the cumbersome prose somewhat.   It's satisfying for a Lovecraft story that in the end the gods that have the upper hand are not the traditional ones that people would think of, but darker, less seen ones. But it felt such a laboured read to get there. Not recommended.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Trap

Moving on to this one, another collaboration, this time with Henry S. Whitehead.   The start with a mysterious antiquarian mirror, which is the engine behind the plot, feels almost MR James like, as do some other aspects of the story.   Lovecraft seems to have left little sign of his hand in any revisions he did in the story. I'm assuming that it is almost entirely Whitehead's work. The narrative is somewhat clumsy, and needed tightening in many places. The dialogue though, where it is, is strong, and of course not Lovecraft's work.   Where Lovecraft may have contributed most, I think, is in the sections about the alternative mirror world, and some of the quasi scientific descriptions of how things worked in that other dimension. These parts feel more like his ideas, words, and images.   Sadly the ending of the story is a disappointment, rather fizzling out, and lacking any sort of surprise twist or shock ending. It's a shame, because the central idea of the story is a strong one. But it deserved to be better developed.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Electric Executioner

Pushing ahead with this, I wasn't relishing it, because it's another collaboration with Adolphe de Castro. It was published in Weird Tales in 1930, and I'm assuming that Lovecraft revised it, and it's essentially de Castro's work. And from Wikipedia I see that's it a revamped version of a much earlier story by de Castro first published in the 1890s. So I'm not holding up much hope, after the last story by him I read. But here goes ...   The story starts as a hunt for a missing man and the papers he's stolen. But it seems odd as a reader to envisage the pursuer make a laborious and slow journey - even if speeded up in places, e.g.  as with the boss's private car - to chase someone with such a head start before the pursuer even gets to the starting point. And to compound that the pursuer is doing this with a deadline of his own wedding, back home, in just a few days!   However things quickly change into a train journey of terrors. And I'm pleased to say this is a really effective. The writing is a little clumsy here and there, but nothing as bad as the other de Castro story I read which was also revised by Lovecraft. It's a minimal setup, with pursuer and a strange man in a train carriage. And it's all quite gripping.   The use of Mexican mythology (Aztec etc) is also good, and effective. It's peppered throughout with Lovecraftian elements like Cthulhu and R'lyeh. These do add, and are nice to see, but I really liked the Mexican elements.   The ending is rather predictable, but still satisfying. I also like that the narrator reflects back on whether the events happened in one way or another, or if his account isn't reliable.   So thumbs up! A good de Castro / Lovecraft story, which is such a relief after the last one I read.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Last Test

Another collaboration, and I gather in this case that this was another story that Lovecraft revised, for Adolphe de Castro, before it was published in Weird Tales in 1928.   The writing is often strange, with an odd grammar throughout. This doesn't feel as though it's been revised as much by Lovecraft as I might expect. Perhaps he was reluctant to change too much. But it reads oddly.   And, more worryingly for me, it is grossly over long. Not because it has a lot of plot to tell, but because it tells what there is over and over repetitively. It's frustrating. I think there is a good story potentially in here, but it needed to be considerably edited down and revised far more than it was.   I do like the account of the epidemic taking off, and the reaction of the city outside the hospital. But it's just so long winded. I find myself skim reading and skipping chunks, just to get to something moving things on. For example the argument between the prison board chief and Clarendon is agonisingly clumsily written, with terrible dialogue, and so drawn out. I skimmed that part especially.   And Georgina's constantly fainting! I'm used to SAN losses in Call of Cthulhu, but honestly, this was just too ridiculous for words.   The argument between Surama and Clarendon is also plagued with terrible dialogue. There are some smatterings of references to things like Nyarlathotep etc. which perked up my interest, but oh it's so laboured. And of course Georgina faints again ...   But I did rather like the ending. And I liked the Atlantis mythology, and what happened to the library.   But otherwise a truly terrible story for me. Probably the worst Lovecraft related one I've read yet.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: Two Black Bottles

Another collaboration, this time with Wilfred Blanch Talman. The story follows the narrator investigating the death of his uncle, the clergyman of a remote country church.   It's a curious opening, feeling very direct, and to the point. Not very Lovecraftian at all. I'm also intrigued by some of the language used. In Scotland in the past a "Dominie" would usually be the schoolmaster. Here it seems to apply to the clergyman too. But doing a quick bit of digging online I see it's a term used for a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. And Vanderhoof certainly sounds Dutch. As it goes on I'm also curious about how the Dutch Reformed Church compares to Scottish Presbyterian. It seems remarkably similar in its capacity to preach sermons of dire things to terrify the congregation! Similarly Calvinist I suppose.   Reading comments by others I gather that Lovecraft revised this work for Talman, so it is mostly written by Talman. It definitely feels as though it's written by someone else other than Lovecraft. Though the middle section seems more Lovecraftian in approach and language. S T Joshi has written of evidence suggesting Lovecraft wrote this part.   It's a nice story, and well developed. I particularly like the characterisation of Abel Foster, which I guess is Talman's work. One thing Lovecraft was not very good at was developing strong, three dimensional characters. But this character jumps out of the page, and is remarkably vivid. The story also has a marvellous description of what happened to him. I'd really like to see that visualised on screen! It reminded me quite a bit of Raiders of the Lost Ark ...   I see that the story was published in Weird Tales in 1927, in Talman's name. Curiously another story that sprung to mind as I read it was published that very same year: John Buchan's little-known novel Witch Wood. This novel has many elements in common with Talman's story, but is a fuller tale, set in 17th century Scotland, and arguably better written. I recommend checking it out, to anyone interested in the intersection of religion and weird goings on, especially those centred around a remote country church.   For some more detail on Talman's life, including a photo of him, see his entry on the FindAGrave website.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

Update about my interactive fiction games

I wrote an article for the first issue of Yoggie’s Patron zine IOTSOTOT about interactive fiction games, including how to write your own games in Inform 7, and various games I’m writing at the moment.

As an update to that, here is the current status of all three of my current games, all parser games in the traditional text adventure style:   John Napier one (“Napier’s Cache”) now - today! - entered into the 2018 IntroComp, for the opening portions of games. I would be aiming to finish the full version of the game within the next year. This is set in 16th century Scotland, and is based on a true story in my family history, of mathematician John Napier being employed to search for hidden treasure in a castle using occult methods. Hermitage Castle one (“Border Reivers”) in final finishing stages, to go into the 2018 IF Comp, which opens for voting on 1st October or thereabouts. This is another historical game, set in the 15th century. And it’s a full game. Conversation based, as you try to solve a murder mystery. My Lovecraftian one (“Bibliomania”) trickles along, but has been put to one side as I focus on the time-critical competition games. This is based on various entries in Lovecraft’s commonplace book, and is episodic, and I’m creeping my way through writing it, while learning Inform 7 too.
And I’m about to start brainstorming for a 4th game, set in Arthurian Britain. It’s a time and place I’m rather fond of, and thought I’d give it a go. Actually I’ve been meaning to write a text adventure set in that setting for about 35 years ... I have a nice new notepad for note taking / brainstorming, and the Pendragon RPG rules to read through to see what ideas they spark off.

I will report back on how my two competition games get on. Fingers crossed!

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Green Meadow

Ah another collaboration, this time with Winifred Virginia Jackson. My limited understanding is that Lovecraft wrote all of the text, which was based on a dream that Jackson had.   Written as a supposedly real account of an event in Maine, the story starts with an introduction, explaining that a meteorite crashed to Earth, and was retrieved by fishermen. Upon examination the meteorite was found to contain within it a notebook, about 5x3 inches in size, 30 sheets within. The main part of the story then recounts the story recorded within this miraculous notebook, seemingly written in Classical Greek in a script that looks to date to the second century BC or thereabouts. I'm presuming that the framing story is an invention in addition to the dream, probably thought up by Lovecraft. It certainly feels very much of his style.   The main story starts very atmospherically, in a landscape surrounded by sea and mysterious trees. This certainly feels dream like, more about feeling and sense of place than any plot. Then the narrator spies the titular Green Meadow, and shortly afterwards the piece of land that they are standing on breaks away, and starts moving over the sea. This definitely feels dreamlike, like some of the weirder dreams I've had!   The narrator leaves the menacing trees behind, and then notices singing coming from the Green Meadow. Though inspired by a dream this reminded me of the many Lovecraft stories where music - usually not so welcoming - plays a part. I very much like the description of the Green Meadow as the narrator draws near:     That's a very nice piece of writing, not over flowery, or difficult to read, but simply, and nicely expressed.   The ending is quick but effective. The narrator remembers that they have been transformed, and will live forever, yearning for death. They also mention the city of Stethelos, which I don't think I've read of before, but is a city where "young men are infinitely old". Some might wish for immortality, but certainly not the narrator of this story,   So rather a nice piece. Slight, but well done. And a nice framing story added.   To read much more about Winifred Virginia Jackson see http://winifredvjackson.blogspot.com  
 

yock's Lovecraftathon: He

The opening part of this story is over written, and hard to read. Too long sentences, and too many words. Lovecraft is hardly known for simple writing, but he can do better than this.   I know that it's set in New York, but I guess New York has changed since Lovecraft's day, with curving streets replaced, old buildings knocked down, and replaced by more modern buildings. Or at the very least I don't recognise the New York I've seen on the television in this description. That television depiction may, of course, be very misleading.   It is worthwhile, I think, to compare this story's approach to Lovecraft's "The Horror at Red Hook", which I greatly disliked, for its racist overtones and general mean spiritedness. This has some elements of that at the start, but it's more toned down. Though again I have problems with any phrase like "a blue-eyed man of the old folk", given that the people Lovecraft is praising were, themselves, immigrants. But at least the main problematic section in this story is quickly passed over, and doesn't linger in the same way as in Red Hook.   It does feel very autobiographical. I can't remember from what I've read of Lovecraft's life, and time in New York, but was he plagued by sleeplessness when there, and took to walking the streets at night?   I'm quite captivated once he meets the cloaked stranger. My edition of the story has a wonderful illustration of him, and I'll attach it at the end of this review. It's a marvellously evocative journey back through time, and something that I bet Lovecraft wished he could have experienced himself, not just conjure up in words.   I'm not sure I like the change of theme in the house though. And I'm definitely not keen on "half-breed red Indians" or "mongrel savages". I'm struck again by the thought that these vilified red Indians were the earlier inhabitants of this part of America, and moved off their lands by the early European immigrants.   I do like the reveal of the curtain falling though, showing the house and its occupant for what it is. Decrepit and decayed, something from the past, now only a pale shadow of its former glory. And the description of what happens to the old man is almost like a special effect from an old Hammer film, or similar gothic horror.   I do like the ending, so typical Lovecraft, with a narrator barely escaping some horror with his life, just about. But I'd not take the same lesson from the story that Lovecraft does. For me the horror is as much in the legacy of the past, and the early European settlers that Lovecraft admires so much. And such a horror can also be found, as seen so often in his other stories, in his treasured New England. And no, modern immigrants are not the enemy. But this is never something Lovecraft and I would have agreed on. So a slightly problematic story for me, but marvellously evocative, with some gory special effects visualisations at the end. Generally good.
 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Moon-Bog

Getting off to a rather mixed start with this one. On the one hand I like the Irish setting. I can't remember reading another Lovecraft story set in Ireland. But I don't like the feudalism overlord-ness of it re grateful peasants happy to see their quasi ruler back. I can't help myself but I already want something bad to happen to that character! That says as much about me as anything else, I'm sure. Sorry. It's also problematic in the context of Ireland breaking away from Britain around this time, the idea of bringing in labourers from the north etc. I'd be interested to know what a southern Irish person who read it in 1926 might have thought, especially if they knew it was written in 1921.   The next bit about the narrator going to visit Denys is clumsily written and repetitive, and needed an edit down. I don't know if Lovecraft was trying to write to reach a number of words here, for publication. But this seems to me very much a case where less would be more appropriate.   I do like the description of the legends of the bog though. That's quite evocative. I'm not so taken with the dream descriptions, which feel a bit too familiar, having read many Lovecraft stories now. But I do like the Greek elements in there. There are a number of Lovecraft stories which are Greek Myth inspired in some elements, rather than, say,  Arabic or New England or English, and this definitely fits into that category.   There is something rather satisfying about Lovecraft's use of groups of mysterious barely seen figures, whether in procession as in "The Festival" or dancing, as here. And even more so if these figures are not acting of their own volition, but possessed. It's a very satisfying image, that always works for me. I'm using something similar in a text game I'm writing at the moment, inspired by one of Lovecraft's Commonplace Book entries.   I don't think I have ever seen any writer before use the word "fulgently", though I am, of course, familiar with the word "effulgent" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as Lovecraft's fondness for it. Oh and my goodness, he also uses "refulgence" in this story. Another first for me, and not necessarily in a good way!   I'm also struck, as I read, that the piping in this is reminiscent of the strange music that Lovecraft uses in other stories like "The Festival". Reuse can be successful, including for me sequences of strange figures as discussed above. But sometimes it's not so good, and just makes me think he's recycling ideas and elements a little bit too much.   I'm also puzzled why the curse struck, and in such a deadly fashion, before the work to drain the bog began properly? Yes the labourers were already in place, but they were idle, waiting for the work to start the next day. I suppose the dreams and images before were warnings, to stop the bog being drained. But if so they weren't very effective, since they don't seem to have affected Denys at all, or if they did he certainly didn't believe in them.   I do rather like the ending. But generally it's not a great story for me, with some problematic elements, and needed editing and more rework.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Temple

Oh this one has an intriguing start, with a German WW1 U-boat commander, and location somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. I sort of want to get out a map, or fire up Google Earth, to see exactly where it is.   There's something very appropriate about a submarine as a setting for a Lovecraftian story. The potential for terror in a confined space is increased greatly, and the ways in which people could die numerous and nasty. Though I am rather amused, in a black comedy kind of a way, that going mad, so typically Lovecraftian, is the main issue here. Also as more and more of the crew are killed I can't help but think of a Call of Cthulhu RPG sanity score tumbling, one by one. I sort of wish I knew how many crew a typical U-boat had, so that I could keep score.     Mmm. Delightful isn't he, not, in so many ways. If they weren't in a dire state before they certainly are now! Though to be fair the boat isn't responding to controls, so they're stuffed anyway.   And yes, dolphins as menacing creatures is certainly a novel approach for any story to take.   I find the section underwater overly long though. And I'm struggling to visualise some of the things described, both the black rock thing and the shape of the temple. But it is a nice image, of a submarine drifting at the bottom of the ocean, moving inexorably towards a mysterious lost city.    Thank goodness for my Kindle's built-in dictionary for another archaic word used by Lovecraft: "fane", meaning temple or shrine.   Would a WW1 U-boat really have had a diving suit that could be used safely at that depth though? I know the German sailor wasn't worried about safety so much by this point, but I honestly expected him to leave the submarine and die instantly. Fatal realist me.   But I did like the ending. I was wondering how the message would get out of the submarine, and a message in a bottle - again assuming that the water pressure doesn't crush it - is one solution.   Oh and my edition has a particularly gruesome illustration, which, sorry, I couldn't resist including as an attachment.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Festival

I thought I might have read this before, but no, it's new for me.   I really like the imagery of Kingsport in the snow. There's a descriptive passage in there that is one of the most evocative pieces of writing I've ever read by Lovecraft. I'm almost sad to leave that part, and go into the building. I wish I could wander around the town as described and explore it more.   The household with the strange inhabitants is well described too, and there's a nicely growing sense of menace and unease there. Though for me this part goes on too long. I'm clearly still missing the town outside!   The same issue is a problem with the underground sections. I like the walk to the church, and descriptions of the throng of people who leave no footprints. But once things are underground it's less successful for me. And I find the description of the creatures particularly disappointing, though I like the part where the narrator dives into the river.   But I do like the time shift at the end, to a more modern Kingsport, and the idea that it may all have been a vision in the narrator's mind. Obviously I'll side with the no it all happened viewpoint. But it's a nice ending. I'd just like to see some of the earlier sections tightened up a bit, to my taste anyway.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Horror at Martin's Beach

Ah, a collaboration with his wife. I wonder how much of it was by HPL and how much by Sonia.   There are passages that are typical Lovecraft, some of the horrors described. But the way the story gets on with things, and is full of plot, is very atypical for him, so I'm guessing those aspects were mainly done by Sonia. The writing is rather clumsy here, and needed a polish. It's also very unusual for a Lovecraft story to start at the end of the story with a survivor, and then look back. It's far more normal to move inexorably forward.   The images are really disturbing in this story. Again not typical Lovecraft, because he would usually leave things undescribed rather than described. The exact nature of the horror at the end isn't fully explained. Was it an adult monster, or what? And how were the people effectively glued to the rope? But it's really effective. In a horrible kind of a way.   Checking Wikipedia I see the article there also mentions the 1961 B-movie Gorgo as similar in some respects. I've been meaning to watch that for ages. But knowing some things about it already I don't think it would be nearly as horrific as this short story!   And in a cheerier vein I really like this related sketch by Jason Thompson.
 

yock's Lovecraftathon: What The Moon Brings

Pushing ahead quickly onto this very short piece.   It's all about atmosphere, and I'm not sure the writing fully works. There are clunky sections for me, and bits which seem to have strange phrasing. For example Lovecraft writes "strange oceans that are not in the world", whereas, rightly or wrongly, I'd rather expect his take on that to end "of this world". I know the meanings are different, but it was a slightly jarring moment for me on first reading.   I do like the idea of the terror of a moonlit landscape though, especially one that is transformed, not just in subtle ways, but also stretches without daytime limits. It reminds me of my terror as a child in the 1980s watching the BBC TV adaptation of the novel Moondial. A very scary experience, and this story captures a similar feeling.   I don't know if it's intentional, but the description of spires revealed among the sea water sounds like the story of English Dunwich. I'm presuming Lovecraft knew of Suffolk's Dunwich, and that was the source for his place name. But I'm also now wondering if its legends could have inspired the "dead, dripping city" here too.   The ending is a bit poor for me, but generally I rather enjoyed the story. Even with very arcane language throughout, even more so than Lovecraft often uses, it was successful in building an evocative atmosphere, and satisfyingly disturbing. And all done in a small amount of words. Good stuff.
 

yock's Lovecraftathon: Hypnos

I'm finding the opening paragraph hard to read. It's quintessentially densely-written Lovecraft, but I do rather prefer a more straightforward form of writing, which he does use some time. I thought things were improving in the railway station, but it's still floridly written.   Much of the early section is strangely reminiscent of his story "The Tree", not just with the idea of a sculptor, but also much of the imagery and descriptive allusions. I see that the two stories were written two years apart. Also another story set in England, in Kent and London. The characters don't feel very English though.   I'm afraid that from "Of our studies it is impossible to speak ..." I started skipping big chunks. Yes I know that Lovecraft was a huge fan of the indescribable, but there's only so much writing about it I can take. I want plot! At the very least more characterisation would be nice. And while I know he's expounding a world view in this section, I just don't find it compelling or interesting, hence skipping hefty portions.   I rather like the idea of drug-induced voyages of the mind though. But I'm finding the narrator's motivations a constant struggle. This friend sounds dangerous, someone who he stumbled across at the railway station, and took up with for no particularly rational reason. Just why?! Also he doesn't know his name?   And then there's more indescribable stuff, and specifically "perceptions of the the most maddeningly untransmissable sort". Aarrggh! Yes maddening.   I do like the narrator waking in the tower room though, and then fainting from the horror of his friend's screams. That's plot, action! I am also bemused by the spelling "phrensy" that I've never seen before.   And there's more plot from this point onwards, which I approve of. I like the rapid ageing, and also the terror in the sky in the vicinity of Corona Borealis.   I'm unsure what happens at the end. Was there really a friend or was it all a hallucination? Or an aspect of Hypnos before the statue appears? But I did rather like that bit. It's just a shame the story took so long to get going.
 

yock's Lovecraftathon: Celephais

It's been too long since one of these reviews. Apologies folks! Hoping to get back into the swing of things with a more regular schedule. And first up is this one, again from the Eldritch Tales collection.   I really like Lovecraft's Dreamlands stories, though I know they're not to everyone's tastes. For me they are a wonderful mix of the exotic east, very evocative descriptions of places and peoples, and hints of magic.   It's interesting to me that this story's narrator lives in London, I presume the English one, and not e.g. in Ontario or elsewhere. The description of the narrator's writings being mocked and retreating into dreams does sound almost autobiographical, and at the very least something that Lovecraft himself could probably relate to. I almost wondered if it was late in Lovecraft's career, but no, I see it was written in 1920.   I really like the imagery of the dreamer walking through childhood memories, retracing steps from his old home, through the surrounding landscape, until he drops, rather dramatically, into the dreamworld proper.   Things drift a bit much for me when the narrator goes on the galley. Maybe it's because I enjoy reading about Celephais so much, and don't want to leave it. I'm rather like a dreamer myself at that point, unhappy about being pulled in a direction other than the one I want to go! Though I do like his repeated attempts to get back to the city, and the descriptions of the other landscapes he dreams about instead. Lovecraft can be very, very good at building up a sense of place, with a deft and compact turn of phrase.   The ending is strange though. I guess there could be various readings of it. I interpret it as the narrator dying, and in his final moments being carried away in his mind to his dreamworld. Though whether this was for a perpetual time as the story says, Heaven like, or if it was an illusion isn't clear. And then there's the bit with the tramp, and the brewer, and Innsmouth of all places. I thought the story was set in the UK! That very last bit jars for me, and I think doesn't work. Though I do rather like the story up until that point.
 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Tomb

Pushing ahead with one more story review before the end of this month it's nice to get to a longer piece again. I like short stories, but often they are just too short for me, too slight, or too thin an idea padded out. This one looks like a good length, though whether it uses that length well I'll find out shortly as I read.   Again first person narration, so typical of Lovecraft. I like the way the narrator raises the issue of a questionable narrator right at the very start. That seems very meta.   And again the narrator seems very reminiscent of Lovecraft himself, in his account of his lonely childhood, spent in dusty old books and the like.   I'm not making many notes as I read most of the story. It's quite gripping, though little happens for a long time. I'm not surprised at the narrator having a genealogical link with the family in the tomb, though how direct this is remains to be seen.   In some ways this feels like a precursor to the story of Charles Dexter Ward, with the combination of genealogical connections uncovered, and a young protaganist adopting an archaic way of speaking.   I do like the vision of the mansion and its guests brought back to life though. It's very evocative.   And again I make few notes, right up to the end. I really enjoyed that. It's well written, nicely developed, not too predictable, and a good ending. Great stuff.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Tree

Pushing on in the hope of a better experience I reach "The Tree", which seems to be set in Greece, long ago.   The opening descriptive passage is evocative, but also rather clumsily written for me. I find it a hard read in places, and the text doesn't flow as it should do. But things improve after then for me, as the story moves on to recount the story of sculptors Musides and Kalos. Though I am finding them a little hard to visualise, and distinguish between. I wish Lovecraft had described them physically, maybe one dark haired, one fair. As it is the only obvious distinction between them early on to the reader is their differing choices of places to go to.   Could the statue really take so long to sculpt though i.e. the time before Kalos's death and a further three years afterwards? I know the proposed statue is described as "of great size", and the sculptor is carving it without the help of his slaves. But it still seems somewhat incredible.   Thank goodness for my iPad Kindle app's built in lookup facility for "proxenoi". Though to be fair this term would be more familiar, probably, to readers a century ago, when classical education was more widespread.   I'm not entirely sure what happened at the end. Was Musides captured by the tree, or does it represent Kalos, or both of them? But I still think it's a rather nice story. Very different from Lovecraft's usual settings.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Terrible Old Man

From the beginning this story feels reminiscent of "The Street", and not in a good way. Although the three criminals are referred to as "Messrs" and "gentlemen", which is somewhat respectful, their names clearly suggest immigrant families, even before this is made clear later, and the association with them of crime is uncomfortable to this modern reader. I'm also guessing I'm supposed to side with the "Terrible Old Man", but I'm not exactly feeling that sentiment at the moment.   I do like that it's set in Kingsport though - an area I'd like to read more about, and don't feel is nearly as well developed in Lovecraft's fiction as other locations such as Arkham and, of course, Providence. Though even this setting is scant here. I'm also intrigued by the seemingly sentient lead bottles and pendulums inside them. But the writing seems to be often laboured, and repetitive, and I'm thinking this story could be told in a much shorter version, even though it's already very short. Or not told at all.   The ending is predictable, and I found it disappointing. After a repetitive and padded build it didn't deliver the goods for me, and the story just died away. I do not recommend this story, on almost any grounds.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Crawling Chaos

(with Winifred Virginia Jackson - based on her dream, text written by Lovecraft)   Pushing straight on, this is a relatively short story, but at the start I'm finding it a really hard read. The text doesn't flow for me, and I need to work hard to read each sentence. To be fair it is describing an opium dream, but I feel that should be more dreamlike, and transporting, rather than hard work to wade through.   But things do improve as the opium dreamer opens their eyes in the dream. The room where they find themselves, full of furnishings and with many windows, is vividly described, and I can picture it as I read.   I do have a problem with the implication in this part, and earlier in the story too, that all opium takers follow a similar route in their dreams, and could potentially reach the same dream destinations, including this one. I just find that really implausible. Probably just me, but each reference to it takes me further out of the story, and means I don't buy in to its central thesis, but rather look from outside, sceptically.   But I do like the vision of a house on a precipice of land, with tumbling cliffs on either side, and the waves attacking. It reminds me of some of Lovecraft's writings of Kingsport. I guess I like sea stories. Oh and did Lovecraft know about coastal erosion? I think he knew the history of English Dunwich, for example.   Why bother to lock the door on fleeing though? It's a nice detail, but seems like a totally useless activity for someone for whom time is of the essence, before the sea gobbles the land underneath their feet. Yes I know it's the dreams of an opium taker, so rationality goes out the window. Ditto for the thought that a certain book would be found back in the dream cottage, if they just turn round and go back there.   The ending is strange. I'm not quite sure what happened there. I guess the Earth is destroyed, and the Moon. The Sun is described as dying, but I don't think it went nova or anything. Bit puzzled. I'd have found it simpler to follow if the narrator on looking back - reminiscent of Lot's wife in the bible - had just fallen back to the dying Earth. So yes, I'm not entirely sure what happened. But I think overall I enjoyed it.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: Facts concerning the late Arthur Jermyn and his family

I know very little about this story in advance, except that it has a lot of genealogical content in it. I'm expecting dodgy ancestral lines to show up too. I do know that Lovecraft had problematic family history, in terms of mental health, so it will be interesting to see where this story goes with things.   I'm curious about the collection of Wade Jermyn, but wonder how much more extreme it was than other collectors of the time. There was often a tendency for collectors then to collect trophies and specimens that would be abhorred nowadays, and I find it hard to believe that Wade was significantly worse than others in his day. But I do find it plausible that his ravings alarmed others, indeed they're very reminiscent of other Lovecraft stories.   I do like the account of the family history, but then I'm a genealogist, and never object to a story that inspires me to start drawing up a family tree.   The story rambles on too much for me though. The second portion goes on far too long, and needed judicious editing. And it's far too obvious to the reader who was what in the story of the ape goddess.   But worst of all I find the underlying idea of a degenerate line descended from Africa troubling at best, and racist at worst. It disturbs me in ways that are not a good measure of it as a story, and I wouldn't want to reread it. Having said that, the African chief Mwanu is presented with sensitivity and respect. But I still find the story distasteful overall. Even the passing idea of a European being required to find things precisely, when the Africans couldn't pinpoint it, combines with other elements to be objectionable. Just no.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

Reading two Hugo Award shortlisted Lovecraftian stories

I’m currently judging shortlisted items for the Hugo Awards presented at the World Science Fiction convention each year, and in 2017 to be held in Helsinki, Finland. Note that "scifi" reference there is a bit misleading: the awards cover fantasy and horror too, and are not just pure scifi.   In this year’s awards the Novel category does lean heavily towards traditional scifi. But in the Novella category, for slightly shorter works, there’s a strong leaning towards fantasy and horror, and two of the six shortlisted novellas are Lovecraftian.   The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson is obviously inspired by a Lovecraft original. In this new version the traveller is a Dreamlands inhabitant trying to travel to our world. Much of this journey is a mirror of Lovecaft’s original story, including travelling through forests with strange beasts, and underground journeys with ghouls etc. I did enjoy this book a lot, especially its different perspective starting from within the Dreamlands. But I did find the ending disappointing.   The other Lovecraftian shortlisted novella is The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle, which reworks Lovecraft's very problematic The Horror at Red Hook. This version is told largely from the perspective of an African American character. In doing so it strays true to the racism of the period, but provides a quite different take on it from Lovecraft's original, and an extremely refreshing one. It's also a very exciting read - far more so for me than the original story it's based on. It's action packed, and a real page turner. Though I found the second half of the novel less successful, it was still very good overall.   Both these novellas are in my top three favourites in the ballot this year, and it will be interesting to see how they place when the results of the Hugo Awards are announced on 11th August.   Meanwhile I'm pushing on to judge other categories, like Novelette and Short Story. I don't know if I'll encounter anything more Lovecraftian though.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: Ex Oblivione

This is a really short one, so I'm going to push straight on and do it too.   I'm curious about who the narrator is, from the word go. They don't seem to be identified positively, but it's quite a leap into the short story, without fuller introduction, and I rather like this. But if I had to guess I'd assume it was an older person, near the end of their life, who finds comfort in dreams, and in revisiting past memories. Though as they recount their memories I do rather feel I should know who they are from my past reading of Lovecraft stories, especially Dreamlands ones. Blame a rotten memory!   I do like Dreamlands stories, and this recap of memories, albeit short, is very evocative. I also want to know what's through that bronze gate. And dream-sages is a lovely idea.   But I'm not sure I like the ending. I'm not keen on the idea of a "white void of unpeopled and illimitable space", and certainly wouldn't be as happy about going into it as the narrator is. But, still, a rather nice story.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: The Street

Mainly just jotting down notes this time. Crikey he really likes Britain (yes I already knew) - the "Blessed Isles" Intriguing sense of space evolving over time, though as I read I can't help but think of the "Anno" series of city-building computer video games ... I'm also thinking of Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" and incomers bringing their ideologies with them Also nice evocation of cultural improvement of the locality Oh but I really don't like the way it's going with "New kinds of faces appeared in the Street, swarthy, sinister faces with furtive eyes and odd features, whose owners spoke unfamiliar words ..." Mmmm! He's also not very keen on France, I assume: "a dynasty had collapsed, and its degenerate subjects were flocking with dubious intent to the Western Land" And more: "Swarthy and sinister were most of the strangers"

I really dislike the rest of this story, but then given the content it would never be a hit with me. It's a shame, because it started well for me. If he'd kept it as more supernatural / typical Lovecraftian other worldly foes I'd have been happier. As it is it's a rant against immigration, and that would never sit well with me, especially given the context of an American society originally founded by immigrants who subjugated the native inhabitants, and all relatively recently. Ah well, can't win them all.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

 

yock's Lovecraftathon: Polaris

First thought is wondering about what sort of light pollution levels - or not - Lovecraft had in Providence, and what sort of views he got of the night sky relative to modern-day viewers. I know he has written a lot about his astronomy experiences, and in newspaper articles. But it can be difficult at times to reconstruct the clarity with which people in the past could view the night sky, unlike today's heavily light-polluted era.   And although the narrator clearly isn't Lovecraft, it's hard not to view this astronomical story as a personal one for him, given his enthusiasm for astronomy. I had to look up "Charles' Wain" though, because that's not a name for the Plough (as it is known the UK) or Big Dipper (as in the US) I was familiar with.   And now I'm looking up the latitude of Providence, wondering if it ever saw the aurora borealis. It's 41 degrees north. I live somewhere 56 degrees north, and we rarely see aurora, though in my city today there is much light pollution. Aurora are much more visible further north in Scotland, including in the Orkneys and Shetlands. Researching further I see there was an aurora in New England in 1918. Chris Perridas has written extensively about its links to this story.   Frustratingly though I don't find the story flows that well. The opening section re the astronomy is a bit heavy handed with stars etc, even for astronomically-inclined me. And then the shift to the description of the city is too jarring, and also surprisingly repetitive. This section also has an unusually fantastic bent for Lovecraft, though that's perhaps to be expected for a quasi Dreamlands story. But the series of fantastical names - of places, people and creatures - doesn't pull me into the story, so much as push me away from it.   But I do rather like the ending, where the narrator returns, of a sort, to the real world. Or is it real? I don't always like to see stories structured like this, but it can be an effective way to wrap things up, while still leaving some questions unanswered.

yockenthwaite

yockenthwaite

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