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Dabbler

Notes on ''The Statement of Randolph Carter''

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Dabbler
I apologise for bungling and listing the ''Terrible Old Man'' as prior to the ''Statement'', it is actually chronologically later.

 

1. ''Randolph Carter'' – the wistful antiquarian, author, scholar and dreamer Randolph Carter occurs in many of the works of H.P. Lovecraft. He is the principal figure in the work presently under consideration, in ''The Dream-Quest of  Unknown Kadath, and in ''The Silver Key''. He is of great importance in ''The Unnameable'' (assuming that the ''Carter'' of the story is one and the same with the Carter of the others – which, on internal evidence, I think extremely likely), in the collaborative stories ''Through the Gates of the Silver Key'' and ''Out of the Aeons'', and is referred to in passing in ''The Case of Charles Dexter Ward'').

 

2. ''Harley Warren'' – allusion is made to Harley Warren and to the events of this story is made in ''The Silver Key'' (Once he heard of a man in the South who was shunned and feared for the blasphemous things he read in prehistoric books and clay tablets smuggled from India and Arabia. Him he visited, living with him and sharing his studies for seven years, till horror overtook them one midnight in an unknown and archaic graveyard, and only one emerged where two had entered), and in the collaborative ''Through the Gates of the Silver Key'' (His [Randolph Carter's] association with Harley Warren, the South Carolina mystic whose studies in the primal Naacal language of the Himalayan priests had led to such outrageous conclusions, had been close. Indeed, it was he who—one mist-mad, terrible night in an ancient graveyard—had seen Warren descend into a dank and nitrous vault, never to emerge.)

 

The Naacal language is an allusion to M. Augustus Le Plongeon, who claimed the existence of hidden Mayan wisdom later brought to Asia by the ''Naacal'' missionaries (Naacal denoting ''exalted'') who acquired the name ''Nagas'' in the Dekkan and of whose teaching Brahminism was but a poor shadow. These Mayans were seen as the originators of civilisation.

 

Further claims were made by one James Churchward, who, perhaps borrowing from the title of M. Le Plongeon's book ''Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx'', placed the Naacal on the lost continent of Mu which, thirteen thousand years ago, was the seat of an Aryan civilisation. Apparently the tablet records of this lost civilisation were found by Churchward in India, through the medium of a priest who was one of but three who could read the old tongue.  

 

In Churchward's 1926  book, entitled, ''The Lost Continent of Mu, Motherland of Man'',  ''Naacal'' was the primordial language of Man.

 

It must be noted, however, that the association of Harley Warren with Churchward's Naacal postdates the ''Statement'' by thirteen years and is perhaps no part of Lovecraft's conception, though it is entirely plausible he was aware of Le Plongeon's book of 1896 when he wrote the ''Statement''.

 

3. ''the Gainsville pike'' – a ''pike'' is a toll-road, but the name often survives in roads that are so no longer. The allusion is to the turnpike or gate used to close the toll-road, opened on payment of the fee levied. I cannot trace a Gainsville in South Carolina, but there is both a Gainsville and a Big Cypress Swamp in Florida. I refuse to draw any conclusions from the coincidence, being ignorant of the geography of America.

 

3. ''charnel'' – pertaining to a death and decay, by way of charnel-house, cf. French charnel from  barbarous Latin carnale, carnalis, fleshly.

 

5. ''effluence'' – outflowing, Latin effluere.

 

6. ''miasmal'' – from ''miasma'', a noxious effusion of rotting organic matter, a modern Latin coinage from a Greek original (μίασμα, pollution). Cf the obsolete miasmatic theory, according to which diseases were caused by such ''bad air''.

 

7. ''nitre'' – a crystalline nitrate of potassium, KNO₃, which forms on the walls of e.g. tombs, caverns if alkaline solutions of potassium and the nitrate anion seep into the rocks. 

 

8. ''necrophagous'' – feeding upon the dead. 

 

The following observations do not deserve to be erected into notes. Firstly, Warren cannot describe what he finds. Secondly, Carter fails to describe the horror that precipitated his fainting fit – essentially concluding that it was unnameable, that our perceptions, which are not, as we arrogantly think, a measuring-stick against which we can reckon the Universe, but are merely more efficient perceptions than any other existing on Earth for the purpose of bludgeoning our evolutionary competitors, that there are horrors humans cannot actually perceive. From this springs my inclination to associate him with the Carter of the latter story, though I do not wish to degenerate into systematisation and world-building, preferring the acute atmospheres of horror.

 

Secondly, I connect ''necrophagous'' faintly with Warren's question – why do some corpses remain firm and fat? It is the mark of very fine weird fiction that the  terror is ambiguous, something particularly keenly practived in HPL's earlier and more obscure works.

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TMS

I have a couples notes of my own to include here, derived from Lovecraft's letters rather than the story itself.

 

As most people probably know, it was inspired by a dream Lovecraft had, and is a pretty much verbatim account of that dream, though originally Carter was Lovecraft and Warren was his friend/correspondent Samuel Loveman. Interestingly, Loveman also played a role in the dream that inspired "Nyarltathotep," sending Lovecraft a letter recommending that he see Nyarlathotep's presentation, though he didn't appear as a character in the story himself.

 

As for the entities Warren encounters under the earth, we get some hint of what they might be in a letter from Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, in which he says that the creatures from Smith's "The Nameless Offspring" (which are evidently ghouls like those in "Pickman's Model" and "Dream-Quest") would seem by implication to be the same things that killed Harley Warren.

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Dabbler

Most interesting, on both counts.

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skaye

There's also a Gainesville, VA and a nearby road that goes all the way to Florida, but I don't think it ends near the Big Cypress National Preserve. The Warrenton Turnpike I believe became part of U.S. Route 29, and was east of Gainesville. It played a role in the Civil War, which might increase the odds Lovecraft was thinking of it, perhaps. 

 

From Wikipedia's article on U.S Route 29:

 

The portion of what is now US 29 from the North Carolina state line to Warrenton was named the Seminole Trail by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on February 16, 1928. Although it was apparently not part of the National Auto Trails initiative early in the 20th century, the Seminole Trail is believed to have originated as part of an effort to promote the road as a through-route to Florida, home of the Native American Seminole tribe. Many road maps of the 1930s and 1940s list the Seminole Trail on highways in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and ultimately Florida.

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Dabbler

Always tremendously welcome to have American information.

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Nescio

Further claims were made by one James Churchward, who, perhaps borrowing from the title of M. Le Plongeon's book ''Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx'', placed the Naacal on the lost continent of Mu which, thirteen thousand years ago, was the seat of an Aryan civilisation. Apparently the tablet records of this lost civilisation were found by Churchward in India, through the medium of a priest who was one of but three who could read the old tongue.

 

Actually, Le Plongeon theorized both a woman named Moo and a continent named Mu. He placed the latter in the Atlantic - it is Atlantis by another name - and would presumably have been perplexed by Churchward's moving it to the Pacific. The name comes from a thoroughly mistaken attempt to translate a Maya text with the help of the so-called de Landa alphabet.

 

(De Landa was a Spanish priest who tried to elicit the Maya equivalent of the Latin letters. Since the Maya script was not alphabetic but syllabic, what he actually got was signs for syllables sounding similar to the letters' Spanish names.)

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Dabbler

Once again, I bungled through excessive speed, relying on synopses when a fortnight and reading both texts would have been better!

 

I am, incidentally, very deeply in your debt. ''Ars magistri minuitur discipuli stultitia.'', especially when the discipulus is running at full tilt!

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Manitou

Do we have a very good description of what the silver key looked like?

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TMS

Lovecraft describes it like this.

 

"Inside, wrapped in a discoloured parchment, was a huge key of tarnished silver covered with cryptical arabesques; but of any legible explanation there was none."

 

"He fumblingly laid on the table, with his large, white-mittened hand, a heavy key of tarnished silver—nearly five inches long, of unknown and utterly exotic workmanship, and covered from end to end with hieroglyphs of the most bizarre description."

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Nick Storm

Excellent post / thread...just excellent HPL scholarship in a sea of Role Playing gaming here on the Yogge. Much appreciated.

 

Dunno if this is 'too easy', but:

 

Randolph Carter was written to be Howard Himself

 

Gainesville is meant to be the namesake city in North Central FL....swamp and all. Now a 'Gainesville Pike' / Turnpike as you say, well that's a little harder to source. 

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Dabbler

You are most kind, but my part at least is no scholarship -- as I say I am a dabbler. I was aware of the association between Carter and Lovecraft, but do you perhaps possess a letter-quote confirming it? Poverty keeps the letters of H.P.L. out of my hands -- as children used to recite:

 

Barney Boko broke his nose,

Without feet we can't have toes,

Want of money makes us sad,

Crazy folks are always mad!

 

Incidentally, I am dabbling around ''Celephais'' presently, a great deal of cross-referencing.

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TMS

I'm not sure if Lovecraft ever outright said that Randolph Carter was a stand-in for himself, but in the case of this story he certainly was, since it was based on a dream in which Lovecraft was the one playing Carter's role. Funny enough, there were two Lovecraft stand-ins in "Through the Gates of the Silver Key," in which both Randolph Carter and an "old man" named Ward Phillips (who is the in-universe author of "The Silver Key") play a role.

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Dabbler

A most useful post, many thanks indeed. Yes, you are quite right. I shall eventually get to the stories of the Silver Key -- many thanks indeed for the connection with them.

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Nick Storm

I don't think there is any corroborating correspondence - re Howard admitting to writing himself as Randolph Carter, but the Dream sequence , as you say, is well documented so there is little doubt. 

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