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The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 31 March, 2019 02:53PM
I've been reading Lovecraft for 50 years. A few weeks ago, the Tolkien Society published, in their annual journal Mallorn, my article "The Lovecraft Circle and the Inklings: The 'Mythopoeic Gift' of H. P. Lovecraft" (Issue 59, Winter 2018, pp. 18-32, 15,000 words).

In it, my paper being addressed primarily to people whom I did not assume would have read Lovecraft, I say that Lovecraft's "mature Cthulhu Mythos fiction" is these four stories: "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Whisperer in Darkness," [i]At the Mountains of Madness[i], and "The Shadow Out of Time."

I justify this severely limited canon by saying that "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Dunwich Horror," "The Dreams in the Witch House," "The Thing on the Doorstep," "The Haunter of the Dark," and perhaps a few others, seem relatively "incidental" and/or "to lack gravity" as compared to the four I listed. "Someone new to Lovecraft who reads the four I have cited and wants to read more will probably enjoy these stories without feeling that they add much to the lore of the Mythos, and probably will feel that they are relatively conventional horror stories by comparison." All, of course, are "stories that are deliberately related to one another through Lovecraft's use of common references and concepts." I noted the existence of "The Mound."

I said, by the way, that "Tolkien is sometimes said to have desire to create 'a mythology for England.' Lovecraft evidently wanted to evoke a sort of 'mythology for New England,' since the Mythos stories usually have connections to that region," etc.

Anyway, I wondered if the present audience would feel that my canon of four stories that really matter for Lovecraft's mythologizing is defensible.

Dale Nelson

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 31 March, 2019 10:21PM
Hi, Dale.

I would like to be completely sure I understand the point, so please see interleaved comments...

Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I've been reading Lovecraft for 50 years. A few
> weeks ago, the Tolkien Society published, in their
> annual journal Mallorn, my article "The Lovecraft
> Circle and the Inklings: The 'Mythopoeic Gift' of
> H. P. Lovecraft" (Issue 59, Winter 2018, pp.
> 18-32, 15,000 words).
>
> In it, my paper being addressed primarily to
> people whom I did not assume would have read
> Lovecraft, I say that Lovecraft's "mature Cthulhu
> Mythos fiction" is these four stories: "The Shadow
> Over Innsmouth," "The Whisperer in Darkness," At
> the Mountains of Madness, and "The Shadow Out of
> Time."
>
> I justify this severely limited canon by saying
> that "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Dunwich Horror,"
> "The Dreams in the Witch House," "The Thing on the
> Doorstep," "The Haunter of the Dark," and perhaps
> a few others, seem relatively "incidental" and/or
> "to lack gravity" as compared to the four I
> listed. "Someone new to Lovecraft who reads the
> four I have cited and wants to read more will
> probably enjoy these

By "these" do you mean any of the other stories besides the four ones you originally list?

You feel that these other stories are less consequential than the four principal ones, below?

The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Whisperer in Darkness
At the Mountains of Madness
The Shadow Out of Time

Just want to make sure before I start thinking about it and maybe re-reading.

Thanks for bringing this to us! This is very interesting!

> stories without feeling that
> they add much to the lore of the Mythos, and
> probably will feel that they are relatively
> conventional horror stories by comparison." All,
> of course, are "stories that are deliberately
> related to one another through Lovecraft's use of
> common references and concepts." I noted the
> existence of "The Mound."
>
> I said, by the way, that "Tolkien is sometimes
> said to have desire to create 'a mythology for
> England.' Lovecraft evidently wanted to evoke a
> sort of 'mythology for New England,' since the
> Mythos stories usually have connections to that
> region," etc.
>
> Anyway, I wondered if the present audience would
> feel that my canon of four stories that really
> matter for Lovecraft's mythologizing is
> defensible.
>
> Dale Nelson

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 31 March, 2019 10:56PM
Sawfish, the answer to both of your questions is YES.

Tolkien says somewhere that his invention of Middle-earth began with languages. The world came into being for the sake of the languages rather than the reverse. (I might not have remembered just how he put it.) Tolkien remained fascinated by the languages, but also fascinated by the peoples, events, etc. of Middle-earth.

I've wondered if something very roughly parallel was happening with Lovecraft at one stage of his career -- if not at its last stage, then at its penultimate stage. That is, the trappings of what has become known as the "Cthulhu Mythos" (Necronomicon, references to Yog-Sothoth, Shub-Nigguarath, etc.) were originally invented for the sake of something else (namely, the telling of horror stories); but eventually HPL was involved in a bigger project, the elaboration of an imaginary world(s). He continued to employ the template of the horror story, but elaborating his "mythology for New England" was increasingly an object of his effort. It's clear, surely, that in "The Shadow OUt of Time," for example, the elaboration of the imaginary world is "swamping" the horror story element.

Well, if there's value in looking at his work thus, with the elaboration of an imaginary world as central to his achievement, then those four stories seem to be the ones in which that elaboration is most evident.

His very last work, from this perspective, suggests something of a falling-off: "The Thing on the Doorstep," for example, being a fairly routine horror story.

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 31 March, 2019 11:47PM
Below:

Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish, the answer to both of your questions is
> YES.
>
> Tolkien says somewhere that his invention of
> Middle-earth began with languages. The world came
> into being for the sake of the languages rather
> than the reverse. (I might not have remembered
> just how he put it.) Tolkien remained fascinated
> by the languages, but also fascinated by the
> peoples, events, etc. of Middle-earth.
>
> I've wondered if something very roughly parallel
> was happening with Lovecraft at one stage of his
> career -- if not at its last stage, then at its
> penultimate stage. That is, the trappings of what
> has become known as the "Cthulhu Mythos"
> (Necronomicon, references to Yog-Sothoth,
> Shub-Nigguarath, etc.) were originally invented
> for the sake of something else (namely, the
> telling of horror stories); but eventually HPL was
> involved in a bigger project, the elaboration of
> an imaginary world(s). He continued to employ the
> template of the horror story, but elaborating his
> "mythology for New England" was increasingly an
> object of his effort. It's clear, surely, that in
> "The Shadow OUt of Time," for example, the
> elaboration of the imaginary world is "swamping"
> the horror story element.

This is very intriguing, Dale.

Like you, I've read Lovecraft for years, and have re-read my favorites multiple times.
I have read almost no criticism, a very few Lovecraft letters, and have exchanged with others occasionally here on this forum. As it turns out, my favorite story is At the Mountains of Madness, and another favored story is Shadow Over Innsmouth. Until I get to reference these, and the other two, I'll be working from memory.

So you are postulating that Lovecraft had a fully coherent alternate "world mythology", like Tolkien did with his Silmarillion? To me, this seems defensible.

I've long tried to get my head fully around Lovecraft's approach and motivation. I certainly do not think he believed his mythos, but that as a very intelligent and imaginative personality, he played an elaborate "what if?", postulating a completely different planetary history based on two criteria that existed during his lifetime, but no longer exist, or at least not with as much mystery, today. They are:

- large areas of the globe that were at that time unexplored or marginally explored, allowing him to postulate that some of the elements of his mythos might still be found there; and

- a less well understood geologic overview, implying that the geological record as we know it is incomplete.

By the former, I mean it was still possible to image a remote island as was the setting for The Call of Cthulu, and by the latter, he postulated that entire previous cycles of biological evolution took place before--or possibly in lieu of--the earliest known geological eras.

Current satellite imagery makes the former unlikely, and knowledge of continental drift and a better idea of the earth's age make the latter less likely, too. But he fostered these ideas and embroidered on them, in much the same way Tolkien, whose actual thoughts and motivations are unknown to me, appears to have done, but within the confines of Celtic/Norse notions of magic and the supernatural.

It is important to note, I think, that the elements of the mythos are not magic, per se, but are closer to science fiction in that they are alien properties that seem to utilize something like an expanded physics. They are "normal" for the Old Ones, or for Cthulu, but not within the realm of earthy experience.

>
> Well, if there's value in looking at his work
> thus, with the elaboration of an imaginary world
> as central to his achievement, then those four
> stories seem to be the ones in which that
> elaboration is most evident.
>
> His very last work, from this perspective,
> suggests something of a falling-off: "The Thing on
> the Doorstep," for example, being a fairly routine
> horror story.

It's clear that some of the time he was writing to make money (The Mound, etc.), while at others, he was as much building his own universe, for his own exploration and satisfaction, as he was writing for a paycheck.

Uniformly, the quality is quite good and consistent. Some have difficulties with his style and diction, but not me. He's largely devoid of humor (unlike Smith), and he seems to me to sometimes be maybe too indirect, but I often find that this comes off as a reluctance by the narrator to directly address the implications of the narrative, they are that disturbing to him. This enhances the terror implicit.

I am eager to hear more of your thoughts on this.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 1 April, 2019 09:09AM
Sawfish asked, "So you are postulating that Lovecraft had a fully coherent alternate "world mythology", like Tolkien did with his Silmarillion?"

I doubt that all of Lovecraft's writings are consistent such that any story is always consistent in its implied lore with any other story.

Probably, at first, the things we lump together as "Mythos" elements (books, locations, geological eras, secret history, planets, entities, rituals) were pretty much just ad hoc touches intended to enhance the effectiveness of a particular story, though no doubt Lovecraft hoped that someone who encountered "the Necronomicon" in a new story might have seen it in an earlier one and get a corresponding impression of its "reality."

But I think that he eventually did become fascinated by the elaboration of a "mythology" (which he intended to be consistent with his materialism as a rule). Thus I would guess that, within the four stories of the "canon" that I have mentioned, the details were intended to be consistent. In these, sure, he wants to tell a horror story, but he's also doing what Tolkien called "sub-creating," making a secondary world into which the reader enters and, while he or she is in it, "believes" in. Or so I suspect. And this would be the basis for a case that Lovecraft could be considered a "mythopoeic" author.

To simplify my experience, I got started on this line of thinking when I read reprints of some old (circa late 1960s-1970) fanzines from the Mythopoeic Society. the founder, Glen Goodknight, invited people to contribute to the fanzines, suggesting articles on acknowledged mythopoeic authors such as Tolkien and C. S. Lewis (who created two multi-book cycles of invented mythology, not just the well-known Narnian one for young readers, but the cosmic trilogy of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, and an abortive novel called The Dark Tower). The authors whom Goodknight named generally had obvious affinities with Lewis and Tolkien -- Charles Williams, G. K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, &c. But he also named Lovecraft! Now, as far as I can tell, the Mythopoeic discussion groups and fanzines didn't get into Lovecraft (until a very recent issue of their journal Mythlore). But I thought it was interesting that it crossed the mind of the founder to mention Lovecraft.

I went on to apply insights into mythopoeia from Tolkien and, especially, Lewis, to Lovecraft. The relevant Lewis texts include his enlightening little book An Experiment in Criticism, essays "on Stories" and "On Science Fiction," his review of a biography of the author of King Solomon's Mines and She (the review is called "The Mythopoeic Gift of Rider Haggard), etc. I thought that Lewis's remarks helped me to see why Lovecraft can be compelling despite evident faults as a stylist, storyteller, etc. I concluded that Lovecraft was not as good as Lewis and Tolkien, but that he was of the rank of David Lindsay (A Voyage to Arcturus), Rider Haggard, &c., and that he -was- doing something demonstrably akin to what Tolkien did in creating his vast secondary world of Middle-earth and that Lewis did in creating the planetary trilogy. (In the article for Mallorn that I mentioned, I also pulled together what I know & what I surmise about whether members of Lovecraft's circle had read anything by the Oxford authors, whether any of the Oxford authors had read things by members of the Lovecraft circle, etc. But that's a matter for a different thread.)

DN

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 1 April, 2019 09:36AM
I'd really encourage anyone interested in such things to read Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-stories," where he wrote about this matter of "sub-creation" and secondary world, and the Lewis items I just mentioned -- and to see if they shed light on Lovecraft's most imaginative and mature works.

It's interesting that Tolkien originally connected real-world English locations with the nascent legendarium. I would have to look up some of these things, but, as I recall, an example went like something this: a. There was a town that was particularly meaningful to Tolkien because he associated it with his romance with Edith, whom he married. b.He postulated that a man living centuries ago had come to this place and there had learned the traditions of the elves. c.That same location had, much longer ago than that, been a chief location for events of the "mythology." If that's correct, then there'd be some affinity with Lovecraft associating some of his stories with various locations that are founded upon real places in New England that were known to him -- Marblehead, Massachusetts, and so on. There's a real affinity between Lovecraft and Tolkien in regard to their being inspired by actual locations -- and this is an element of Lewis's planetary trilogy too, especially in the final book (which is also the one that is most Gothic) -- That Hideous Strength.

About inner consistency in stories -- from material late in the 12 volumes of The History of Middle-earth, we know that Tolkien exercised his wits over various topics that had come to trouble him that were found in various phases of his writing, e.g. the physical shape of the earth (originally supposed to have been flat, originally) or the nature of the Orcs. I wonder, supposing Lovecraft had lived for another 25 years and had found a good market for stories in the vein of At the Mountains and Shadow Out of Time in the science fiction magazines or even in books -- if Lovecraft would have run into issues relating to consistency. Would he have wanted to revise some of his other stories with "Mythos" elements in order to bring them more closely into relationship with the ones that had most elaborated his "legendarium"? We know that he held a pretty low view of some of his stories as too much influenced by "cheap" pulp conventions, etc. But I don't suppose he thought of the four "canonical" stories as basically "cheap" -- even if he might not have been satisfied by them. Well, I'm saying, what was it that his stories needed in order to BE satisfactory to him? -- I think one key thing probably was that they should possess literary integrity, including a well-worked-out history, geography, cosmology, etc. But this is, of course, speculation. But conversely: does anyone think that Lovecraft would have been content, had he lived and been able to afford the time and effort of serious literary craftsmanship, just to keep writing entertainments like "The Haunter of the Dark"?

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 1 April, 2019 10:15AM
Terrific stuff, Dale!

Is there any way I can easily access your article, e "The Lovecraft Circle and the Inklings: The 'Mythopoeic Gift' of H. P. Lovecraft"?

There are posters here who are more deeply studious than I am; I tend to look at the evocative effects of the writers mainly, and their apparent state on mind when creating their works. I know very little of their external influences or personal lives.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 1 April, 2019 10:28AM
Sawfish, I have emailed the site editor to ask him to forward my email address to you, so that you can email me about the article.

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 1 April, 2019 10:45AM
Thanks!

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 1 April, 2019 02:59PM
For anyone who would like to get in touch with me about the article, here's a suggestion: join (if you are not already a member) the Science Fiction and Fantasy Chronicles community:

[www.sffchronicles.com]

There's no fee.

You can then send me, Extollager, a private message there, to which I can reply.

But, in any event, I would like to come back to my question to the present community, about whether or not it makes sense to identify the four HPL stories ("The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Whisperer in Darkness," At the Mountains of Madness, and "The Shadow Out of Time") as those that provide what counts for assessment of Lovecraft *as creator of a "secondary world" mythology*. It seems to me that these do. The element of imagined worlds, entities, books, locations, and so on is so strong in them, that they are the basis for a claim about Lovecraft as a "mythopoeic" writer.

To agree with me about this is not to sign on to some implication that would say the other stories are not worth bothering with on any account. (In fact, "The Colour Out of Space," which is not a Mythos story, seems to me HPL's best. The outstanding Tolkien scholar John Rateliff, who also relishes Lovecraft, regards "The Strange High House in the Mist" as Lovecraft's best short story, and surely that is marginal if it's a "Mythos" story at all.)

I'm among those who has reservations about the idea of "the Cthulhu Mythos," I should say. I don't believe it was HPL's term, and I take it that he was -- most of the time -- *not* all that serious about elaborating a secondary world of geography, history, cosmology, etc. I do think that, in the four stories mentioned above and perhaps in "The Mound," he was evidently drawn into a rather prolonged engagement with the construction of a "legendarium," to use a word from Tolkien studies. He might have been influenced by Olaf Stapledon.

It would be interesting to see some more discussion here.

Also, if the moderator can correct my mistyping of "Mythos" in the thread title, that would be appreciated.

Dale Nelson

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 1 April, 2019 03:38PM
It might be useful to define the elements of mythos, and its limits.

Again, working from memory, The Shadow Over Innsmouth (SOI) may be a part of a multi-story thread that contains a unifying mythical basis, but does it relate to the same myth cycle that is exposed in At the Mountains of Madness (ATMOM)?

I may be erroneously viewing it this way...

There is a central myth cycle that revolves around the idea of Cthulu's arrival and dormancy, and inter-related incursions by other extra-terrestrial forces; this is what I understand to be the Cthulu mythos. So I see ATMOM as being directly related to The Call of Cthulu (COC) and other such tales, and I see SOI as perhaps being related to these, as well if there is anything tying the fish mutation to Cthulu worship.

But there's that story of the strange, abandoned church in Providence, the one that housed a departed sect of some kind. There seems to me to be direct references to Cthulu worship in that one, and hence would be part of the mythos group.

Similarly, Dreams in the Witch House (DITWH) is thematically related to The Picture in the House; (PITH) these are, indeed, New England supernatural tales and no more.

And The Mound (TM) seems structurally related to ATMOM in that they are each very long revelatory, almost historical, accounts of unknown civilizations--but there is no actual relationship between the civilizations themselves, nor their separate myth cycles.

Now, SOI seems related to that story about the fishmen descending from the moon, and I cannot recall the title (What the Moon Brings?). But this does not seem related to the main Cthulu mythos.

So just in the groupings I've created, I see a unified underlying myth cycle for ATMOM and COC, and maybe the Providence church story. Then I see "local supernatural tales" like DITWH and PITH.

Further, there is the entirely separate cycle of TM, which uses the same narrative device (extended historical revelation) to convey its story.

Again, this is all off the top of my head, and I'm by no means wedded to these ideas.

Maybe I need to get up and look over some of HPL's stories.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 1 April, 2019 04:04PM
Good points, Sawfish. I suppose that, at this point, I don't have something much better than this to offer, that my impression is that the four "canonical" stories feel -- to me -- like they add up to an imagined milieu that is consistent as depicted in them. They are alike, in my reading, as conveying an exceptional degree of energy invested in the evocation of a "secondary world" in which the reader's world is an element -- as Tolkien establishes a link between "Middle-earth" and our world by positing that the former is our distant past, record of which has survived in the Red Book of Westmarch, etc. The four Lovecraft stories, and works by Tolkien, both seem to me preoccupied with "lore." Readers might set the appendices in Tolkien's Return of the King alongside the account of the elder world that comes across in ATMOM.

If you have any interest in Tolkien, I urge you to hurry and get hold of the volume of The History of Middle-earth that is called Sauron Defeated. In it you will find an unfinished "science fiction" novel by Tolkien called The Notion Club Papers -- its second half being a surprisingly "Lovecraftian" performance that Professor Tolkien worked on in the mid-1940s. (I wrote about this in an article called “'Almost Pure Energy': The Irruption of the Archaic into the Present in Tolkien and Lovecraft (and Garner)," which was published in Beyond Bree April 2014: 4-5. Beyond Bree is the monthly newsletter of the Tolkien Special Interest Group of North American Mensa. The back issue is available from editor Nancy Martsch.) Highly recommended to Lovecraft fans, even those who perhaps don't regard themselves as greatly interested in Tolkien. It takes plenty of time to get going, and I relish every page.

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 2 April, 2019 09:59AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> In it, my paper being addressed primarily to
> people whom I did not assume would have read
> Lovecraft, I say that Lovecraft's "mature Cthulhu
> Mythos fiction" is these four stories: "The Shadow
> Over Innsmouth," "The Whisperer in Darkness," At
> the Mountains of Madness, and "The Shadow Out of
> Time."
>
> I justify this severely limited canon by saying
> that "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Dunwich Horror,"
> "The Dreams in the Witch House," "The Thing on the
> Doorstep," "The Haunter of the Dark," and perhaps
> a few others, seem relatively "incidental" and/or
> "to lack gravity" as compared to the four I
> listed.

I'm having trouble parsing any of this. For what purpose are you trying to "justify a severely limited canon"?

Is it just about telling people where to start first? If so, they I guess everyone will have their own opinion.

Nor do I understand what you mean by incidental. Incidental to what? To the Cthulhu mythos"?

What does "mature" mean in this context? What is the definition of "Cthulhu mythos", and why do we necessarily care if a story is "Cthulhu mythos" or not? I doubt the distinction had much meaning for HPL.

I like all 8 of the stories. I would put "The Thing on the Doorstep" and "The Haunter in the Dark" near the bottom of the 8 (and below many other of HPL's works as well). If I had to favor 4 out of the 8, it would be "Dreams in the Witch-House", "The Shadow over Innsmouth", "The Call of Cthulhu", and "At the Mountains of Madness".

Among his longer works, there's also "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward". There's also "Through the Gates of the Silver Key", which features an encounter with Yog-Sothoth, and incorporates by reference the entire so-called "dream cycle", including "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" and the Randolph Carter stories. "Dream Quest" climaxes in an encounter with Nyarlathotep.

"Dreams in the Witch-House", by the way, features a significant amount of "world-building". HPL sketched out a map of Arkham, in preparation for writing the story.

> Anyway, I wondered if the present audience would
> feel that my canon of four stories that really
> matter for Lovecraft's mythologizing is
> defensible.

I agree that all 4 are good stories. Beyond that, I cannot go.

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 2 April, 2019 11:15AM
Platypus, my article took as its starting-point the musing of Glen Goodknight around 1969, that the Mythopoeic Society might concern itself not only with Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, &c, but even with Lovecraft.* In the event it did not, although (for the first time so far as I know) a very recent issue of their journal Mythlore did have an article on HPL.

My article was addressed to people versed in Tolkien and interested in the Inklings, and who might be interested in an assessment of Lovecraft as a creator of a "legendarium" somewhat as Tolkien was, though of much less scope and depth. It seemed to me that, in the four stories I identified, Lovecraft presented almost everything that matters for making the claim for him as a "mythopoeic" or "myth-making" author. And they are "mature" fictions" in the sense, on one hand, of showing him at the height of his powers as a maker of a "secondary world," and, on the other hand, of being less constrained by pulp horror fiction conventions or other limitations than he is in many of his stories.

I'm afraid that I found myself unable to complete a second reading of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath a few years ago (the first having been when I was a teenager and would read anything by Lovecraft). My impression is that few readers would contend for its being a "mature" work (or that Lovecraft would have). That's not to say people might not enjoy it or that I might not enjoy it myself on some future occasion.

In my article, I related Lovecraft as an arguably "mythopoeic" author to points made by C. S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism. I think there are some rather interesting lines of discussion opened by that book. For example, Lewis says that, in works of mythic imagination, human "sympathy" is minimal. (We don't feel an intimate understanding of the psyches of, say, Orpheus and Eurydice.) It's possible to write "horror" with a lot of attention to individuals' psychology, as Shirley Jackson does in The Haunting of Hill House, but it is not necessarily a fault that Lovecraft doesn't do so in, say, ATMOM. And so on.

I concluded that HPL was not a peer of Tolkien and Lewis, but is a peer of David Lindsay and Rider Haggard. I think that the "case for Lovecraft," as a "mythopoeic" author, probably is best made on the basis of the four stories mentioned (and, perhaps, "The Mound," though I don't like that one). If -those- stories don't make the case, it will not become convincing by adding others, or so it seems to me. What other stories do, as regards "mythopoeia," the four stories at least mostly do & do about as well as anywhere: that characteristic Lovecraftian synthesis of alienation and familiarity (the New England milieu), of adventurous expectancy, of dyscatastrophe, etc.

*I have a particular interest in fantasy fandom around the time of the "hobbit craze" on campuses and the launching of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series (1965-1969). Another topic that was discussed or not, back then, was whether the Tolkien Society (British) should explore fantasy in general, including sword-and-sorcery. That was the era not only of the R. E. Howard reprints, but of "Kothar, Barbarian Swordsman," Thongor, Brak, &c. Basically sentiment was in favor of keeping a focus on Tolkien. The Mythopoeic Society did, from its early days, focus on other authors and books too, in what soon became known as "high fantasy." So E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros and Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn are high fantasy, but Howard wrote sword-and-sorcery (which was discussed in the fanzine Amra, etc.) and there was the "horror" genre too. The Mythopoeic Society also gave some attention to children's fantasy fiction, marginal fantasy fiction such as Marty Stewart's The Crystal Cave, and work with affinities to the Inklings, though not what we'd usually call "high fantasy," such as the supernatural thrillers of Charles Williams, the novels of Chesterton, & so on.

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 2 April, 2019 11:35AM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Again, working from memory, The Shadow Over
> Innsmouth (SOI) may be a part of a multi-story
> thread that contains a unifying mythical basis,
> but does it relate to the same myth cycle that is
> exposed in At the Mountains of Madness (ATMOM)?

"At the Mountains of Madness" mentions the city of Arkham, Miskatonic University, the Pnakotic manuscripts, the plateau of Leng, Kaddath in the Cold Wastes, the Necronomicon of the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, and the octopoid alien enemies of the Star-head aliens, called "Cthulhu spawn", whose stone city R'lyeh, sank beneath the waves. It also features a climactic encounter with a Shoggoth.

"The Shadow Over Innsmouth" references Shoggoths, R'lyeh, Great Cthulhu, Arkham. Also, the "Church of Dagon" creates a connection between Cthulhu and Dagon. See HPL's story "Dagon", which also involves lands in the Pacific rising and sinking.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2 Apr 19 | 12:03PM by Platypus.

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 2 April, 2019 11:44AM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Similarly, Dreams in the Witch House (DITWH) is
> thematically related to The Picture in the House;
> (PITH) these are, indeed, New England supernatural
> tales and no more.

I'm thinking maybe you need to re-read "Dreams in the Witch-House".

It includes, among other things, visits to other worlds, and a direct encounter with the Starhead Aliens from "At the Mountains of Madness". It also plays heavily with the idea that witchcraft may in fact be a form of alien science.

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 2 April, 2019 01:37PM
Here's something from Mythlore #1 (dated Jan. 1969), the journal of the Mythopoeic Society:

Mythlore, the quarterly journal of The Mythopoeic Society, is primarily interested in the fictional works of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams. It is also interested in general aspects of fantasy and myth, by themselves and in relation to literature. Mythlore is also interested in other writers, who in some way are related to the three authors, such as George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, E. R. Eddison, Olaf Stapledon, Dorothy Sayers, William Morris, Arthur Machen, Owen Barfield, H. P. Lovecraft, to mention a few."

Also: "the word Mythopoeic is derived from myth and the Greek infinitive po-ein, which means to make, thus the word means to make myths or mythmaker."

Back in those days, you might see artwork by Tim Kirk illustrating Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, and Lovecraft in various fanzines.

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 2 April, 2019 02:56PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Platypus, my article took as its starting-point
> the musing of Glen Goodknight around 1969, that
> the Mythopoeic Society might concern itself not
> only with Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, &c, but even
> with Lovecraft.*

The Inklings were indebted to G.K. Chesterton, not so much because Chesterton was a great fantasist, but rather because Chesterton vigorously defended fantasy, and escapism, and mythmaking, as valuable and valid forms of art.

Chesterton did not view escapism as a solipsistic exercise. As he saw it, a person who indulged in escapism was analogous to a person trying to escape a prison, in search of something ultimately greater and more real than the prison walls in which he was trapped. It was not about the self-worship of the human imagination. That way, he would have said, lay madness. It was about reaching outside of oneself for something greater than oneself. He of course presented these ideas in the context of his Christian belief, which the Inklings shared. To him, fantasy was not or should not be a rejection of reality, but was fundamentally loyal to reality. Chesterton thought that it was everyone's duty to be a patriot, loyal to "the Flag of the World."

We see such ideas, for instance, in C.S. Lewis' The Silver Chair, in the debate between Puddleglum et al. and the Emerald Queen. This debate can be read on many levels, but on one level, it is a debate about "escapism" between a jailer and her prisoners. This core idea -- this "joke" -- is one that Lewis took directly from Chesterton.

HPL and Chesterton were contemporaries. I doubt HPL read much Chesterton, and the one time I recall him mentioning Chesterton, he dismisses him with a sneer.

HPL was, in his own way, very much preoccupied with escapism. However, he was unable to put these ideas in the context of a Christian framework. For him, the lure for escapism, though perhaps healthy by itself, was also, under his materialist philosophy, logically, a lure towards solipsism. And of course, that way lies madness. HPL struggled with these contradictions in his fiction,, without, I suppose, ever fully resolving them. But one does see certain curious developments.

One of the most solipsitic of HPL's works is an early piece called "Celephais" (1922), wherein the hero, Kuranes, retreats from dreary reality into the world of dreams. This is, however, quickly followed by "Hypnos" (1923) where a retreat into dreams leads to horror and madness.

Similar (sort of) to Celephais, is "The Silver Key" (written 1926, published 1929), where Randolph Carter, the hero, retreats from dreary adulthood into the world of his boyish imagination. But HLP's later exploration of this issue suggest that, this too, is a dead end.

> My article was addressed to people versed in
> Tolkien and interested in the Inklings, and who
> might be interested in an assessment of Lovecraft
> as a creator of a "legendarium" somewhat as
> Tolkien was, though of much less scope and depth.

> It seemed to me that, in the four stories I
> identified, Lovecraft presented almost everything
> that matters for making the claim for him as a
> "mythopoeic" or "myth-making" author.

HPL was definitely infected, to some extent, with the world-building bug. He certainly did not carry it to Tolkien's extreme, but, on the other hand, I don't know why one would want to limit its scope by keeping it to four narrow works.

HPL was more inclined to expand his world-building, by incorporating by reference other works he liked, such as certain tales of R.E. Howard or Clark Ashton Smith or Robert Chambers. This was one way of rejecting the solipsism implied by "Celephais". He wanted his imaginary world to be something that was ultimately bigger than himself.

> And they
> are "mature" fictions" in the sense, on one hand,
> of showing him at the height of his powers as a
> maker of a "secondary world," and, on the other
> hand, of being less constrained by pulp horror
> fiction conventions or other limitations than he
> is in many of his stories.

HPL was never "restrained" by pulp fiction conventions. He might have been influenced, however, by the sort of stuff he enjoyed reading as a boy.

> I'm afraid that I found myself unable to complete
> a second reading of The Dream-Quest of Unknown
> Kadath a few years ago (the first having been when
> I was a teenager and would read anything by
> Lovecraft).

"The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" is ultimately a rejection the solipsism of "Celephais" and "The Silver Key". For one, the dream world is made so vast, that is is hard for the reader to imagine that it is all in Randolph Carter's head. One can suspend disbelief in this mystical realm, in a way one cannot do with the disappointing "Celephais".

During his quest, Carter meets Kuranes in his city of Celephais, and we learn that things have not worked out that well for Kuranes. This is a direct rejection of the implied solipsistic message of "Celephais".

Finally, the dream-quest leads Randolph to the brink of hell and madness. Carter ultimately saves himself by hurling himself off the Shantak, and falling to the green earth of New England below. Thus does Carter (and HPL) declare his allegiance to "the Flag of the World", as Chesterton might put it.

This reminded me strongly of a similar scene in Chesterton's "The Ball and the Cross", where a hero saves himself by leaping from Prof. Lucifer's flying machine, as it heads for the dark mad stars. I don't think HPL was influenced by the earlier book. But I still find the analogy striking.

> My impression is that few readers
> would contend for its being a "mature" work (or
> that Lovecraft would have).

"Dream Quest" certainly has transitional aspects to it, as far as his approach to "escapism" is concerned. IIRC it was the last thing he wrote in the "dream cycle", until E. Hoffman Price nudged him into writing a sequel to "The Silver Key". But the sequel, "Through the Gates of the Silver Key", also sends Carter to hell and madness, and ends with him, perhaps unsuccessfully this time, trying to return to the green earth of New England.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2 Apr 19 | 03:03PM by Platypus.

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 2 April, 2019 05:39PM
Wow, Platypus, that's one of the richest replies I have ever received to anything I have posted. Thank you.

You incline me to revisit some of those earlier HPL stories with your thesis about escape in mind. Too bad you didn't have it to shop to Mythlore back in 1970!

There's a related notion that I have had in mind for a while. I think C. S. Lewis and Lovecraft both were confronted by an inner division in as young men. They loved realms of imagination -- their reading and writing was of enormous importance to them. At the same time, they believed in intellectual rigor. They wanted to accept the facts (as they understood them to be) about life that science had revealed. They had considerable ability to see the intellectual failings of other people. "Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless," Lewis wrote. Now isn't that exactly what Lovecraft might also have written? Lovecraft loved sunsets, antiquities, etc.; but he believed that these loves were ultimately nothing but effects of personal development and chance etc. on the "grey matter." They were -not- signs of transcendence.

From what I know of Lovecraft, he resolved the division between intellect's picture of cosmic meaninglessness and the charms of imagination basically by saying that he knew the latter meant nothing, finally, but they had their interest and personal meaning for him and so he would continue to enjoy them. Lewis resolved the matter as narrated in Surprised by Joy, or one could read "Yearning for a Far-Off Country" by Malcolm Guite in C. S. Lewis and His Circle (Oxford UP 2015) -- and this isn't really the place to go into that.

But this is part of that "escape" topic that you mention, which is so important for Lovecraft as, arguably, a mythopoeic author.

More to say later!

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 3 April, 2019 11:22AM
Platypus wrote, "HPL was definitely infected, to some extent, with the world-building bug. He certainly did not carry it to Tolkien's extreme, but, on the other hand, I don't know why one would want to limit its scope by keeping it to four narrow works."

I wanted to offer to readers a manageable corpus of Lovecraft stories according to which my contentions about Lovecraft could be evaluated, and those four works seemed representative of Lovecraft's mature achievement as writer. It's in those four stories, it seems to me, that Lovecraft elaborates his lost history most thoroughly.

In them, Lovecraft expresses the desire to survey depths of time and space and to communicate with other living creatures. It's his variation on something Tolkien writes about in "On Fairy-Stories."


Platypus also said, "HPL was never 'restrained' by pulp fiction conventions." Wasn't he? Don't we sometimes feel that he falls back on a pulp horror-story template because he doesn't know what else to do -- since there has to be *some* kind of narrative?

Here I would urge the reading of C. S. Lewis's "On Stories." Lewis says there that you sometimes get imaginative works in which the sequence of invented events is present since a story is the only way available to an author to try to catch or evoke something that, in its essence, isn't essentially narrative. He refers, as I recall, to William Morris and The Well at the World's End in this connection.

It would be interesting to press Lovecraft on this matter: *why* do you keep on writing horror stories? Does the horror story, with its buildup to a dyscatastrophic ending, really do everything you want to do as an author?

(Tolkien's essay talks about the "eucatastrophe," the joyous ending that evokes the reality often obscured by the dull film of familiarity, etc. Lovecraft's stories end with the narrator doomed and/or expecting the imminent doom of humanity, or with a drastically and downward-revised view of humanity, etc. Lewis's Perelandra climaxes in a vision of reality as a Great Dance, while Lovecraft's imagery suggests that things are really like an idiotic dance enacted in ungainly wise to the discordant sounds of moronic musicians.)

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 3 April, 2019 12:34PM
Hi, Dale.

Concerning this last part...

"...while Lovecraft's imagery suggests that things are really like an idiotic dance enacted in ungainly wise to the discordant sounds of moronic musicians."

A clear example would be the narrative in "Nyarlathotep", is this correct?

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 3 April, 2019 12:42PM
Certainly, Sawfish, or this:

"the ancient legends of Ultimate Chaos, at whose center sprawls the blind idiot god Azathoth, Lord of All Things, encircled by his flopping horde of mindless and amorphous dancers, and lulled by the thin monotonous piping of a demonic flute held in nameless paws" ("Haunter of the Dark")

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 3 April, 2019 02:03PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Certainly, Sawfish, or this:
>
> "the ancient legends of Ultimate Chaos, at whose
> center sprawls the blind idiot god Azathoth, Lord
> of All Things, encircled by his flopping horde of
> mindless and amorphous dancers, and lulled by the
> thin monotonous piping of a demonic flute held in
> nameless paws" ("Haunter of the Dark")


Hah!

As I wrote my response this AM, there was in my mind a scene in a story whose name I could not remember. The specific image was of mindless piping as keyed by sub-human hands.

In short, it was the very fragment you have supplied.

Dale, I'm ill-prepared to exchange in any form of historic or academically critical analysis. While my degree was in English literature, it was taken nearly 50 years ago, and I was, and still am, fixated on the aesthetic effects achieved, and the techniques used to achieve them. More like appreciation than scholarship.

I may chime in from time-to-time, but I would be out of my depths in relation to your specific subject line.

Very enjoyable and informative posts!

(Hmmm.... Interesting thought just now...

CAS has a story in his Hyperborea cycle, The Seven Geases, in which the main character encounters the source of all creation (as I recall) and it is portrayed as chaotic, random, and primordial.

There is, too, a story called Ubbo-Sathla, and as I recall, it too is primordial and chaotic.

I think the concept is related to, but not congruent with, HPL's existential chaos.)

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: The "Cthulhu Mythose" Stories That Matter
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 3 April, 2019 02:47PM
I've read those two CAS stories, Sawfish, but wouldn't be prepared to take that particular discussion farther.

Feel free to register at Science Fiction and Fantasy Chronicles Forums and to send me (Extollager) a private message there (since the moderator here hasn't linked us up so far), & I can get back to you with the Lovecraft-Inklings paper and the one on Lovecraft & Tolkien's Notion Club Papers.

[www.sffchronicles.com]

DN



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