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the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 8 September, 2020 01:39PM
In my opinion there is a significant difference in the nature of fright, and hence "threat" (or maybe I should say this in reversed order) between the two named authors.

To me, for the most part, the nature of the threat in CAS is vicarious, but not direct. You, as the reader, may identify with the main POV--though I hasten to add that the identification is not necessarily positive--and while their fate may be just awful, you seldom feel that you, personally, might share in it.

But a good deal of HPL is truly existence threat: e.g., if Cthulu wakes up and has his way, *everyone* and *every thing* on Earth, as we know it, is in deep trouble.

So, in a way, CAS-type threat is an observed individual threat, while HPL's threat is observed but unversal. It's a matter of scope. If the typical story for each author was a popular film, CAS's stuff would be The Panic Room, while HPL's is Cloverfield.

Naturally, exceptions can be found (especially in HPL), but I'm now discussing their most characteristic and prominent work.

Your thoughts/observations?

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



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 8 Sep 20 | 01:40PM by Sawfish.

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 September, 2020 02:19PM
I wrote a fairly long essay, "Lovecraft's Comfortable World," for Fadeaway a few years ago.

[efanzines.com]

It seems relevant tot his thread.

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 8 September, 2020 04:10PM
OK, done, Dale.

I enjoyed your paper. This sort of mental exercise is something I've always enjoyed, and since retirement it's of much more value to me than at any previous time, if simply because I need something enjoyable to do.

Now there's a lot in the paper I'd take exception to, and in some cases strongly, but expansion and further discussion would be best done as either separate threads or private correspondence, either of which would be fine by me.

But I'd like to focus on one or two points you've made in the paper.

You make the point that Lovecraft is "comfortable" to read and to re-visit. I agree with this. You also mention the creation of anxiety in the reader by certain other author that are more effective in doing this. I recognize this as a valid statement as it relates to my own enjoyment of literature.

And in thinking about these aspects, it caused me to really--and I mean *really*--think about how I read escapist fiction. And to me, CAS, HPL, Le Fanu, James, Poe, etc., are most certainly escapist fiction, the way that I consume their works. They are, at their best (not all of the named authors will share this in the distinction I'm about to make), like Raymond Chandler, and a few other "period authors" for me.

I read certain authors repeatedly because it works for me much the way a vacation works for many other people.

Now, I'm far too cheap to take real vacations, the last one that could be considered a traditional vacation was in 2006, and in truth, I, myself, get more enjoyment out of spending a couple of days in 1940's LA, or in Hyperborea, than forking out a lot of money to be physically uncomfortable for much of the time I'm away.

What this means in my attachment to these kinds of books is that I'm NOT personally invested in them enough to actually feel anxiety, lasting or otherwise, or even anything approaching the simulation of fear, any more than standing in line to get on the Santa Cruz boardwalk roller-coaster.

What I'm looking for in terms of cheap thrills is to be momentarily and convincingly "creeped out". Cheap thrills, indeed... ;^)

So the closest to any lasting frightening impression that I've felt in CAS is more like the queasiness that I feel, when reconsidering the manner of the execution of Calaspa in The Chain of Aforgomon---"Wow. To be cooked-off in what amounts to a giant, robust lightbulb filament...YEOW!".

For HPL, it is the dénouement of The Statement of Randolph Carter...

"YOU FOOL, WARREN IS DEAD!”

Contrast this with my personal involvement in reading McCarthy's The Road. This book, I think, has its most profound effect on a parent, and this is because the POV is a parent, with all of the instinctual parental drives to optimize one's child chance for survival and to ensure their future success, but it's in a world completely devoid of any hope for the future. It becomes apparent to the POV that he'll die, leaving his child, aged about 8 or so, alone in this desolate and very threatening world.

The father's sole valued legacy to his son, after all this, is a revolver with one bullet left, and the knowledge of how and when to use it to end one's life, should reality become so horrible (and we are given every reason to think that it will) that death is a welcomed option.

This was impossible for me to detach from, either as I read it, or even now.

And a further contrast on reader involvement. I'm lumbering thru Caesar's Commentaries and should be done soon, and it's no vacation. But it is wryly amusing in that you realize that not only did Julius Caesar give himself all the best lines, but the volume appears to have been hagiographically (if there is such a word...) revisited by subsequent editors. But you also get to see that, as those Frenchmen like say to say, "the more things change, the more they remain the same"---you see where one of Caesar'a rivals hopes to gain voter approval by--get this--forgiving all debt, public and private.

Which is what we have occasionally heard from current politicians, so there's apparently nothing new under the sun.

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

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 8 September, 2020 08:48PM
I guess HPL set out to terrify people? I don't really get the impression that was ever CAS's primary motive; he seemed chiefly interested in the exotic and the strange for their own sake. It's one reason why I prefer him to HPL.

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 8 September, 2020 09:24PM
Yep. In a sense they're fables, with exotic and fantastic elements.

Someone a few days back mentioned Morthylla. You've also got Xeethra. These are strange and wistful stories, not intended to frighten, in any sense.

These are just two off the top of my head. Likely there are others.

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

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 September, 2020 10:32PM
Sawfish, I'll start a thread (since you suggest it) on "Lovecraft's Comfortable World."

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 September, 2020 10:43PM
That's done...

Now to your comment here, Sawfish. Yes, I found The Road got under my skin too. The fears McCarthy evokes lie deeper and are more serious than those I think HPL generally evokes. It is worth saying that Lovecraft's best story, "The Colour Out of Space," actually is like an early version of The Road, though I don't assume McCarthy was actually inspired by it. Maybe he was...!

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 8 September, 2020 11:02PM
Dale, I'm having trouble remembering Color...

This was the possessed rustic who used the strange and threatening statement about how he'd been promised benefit by unearthly beings (Cthulu and the like) "when the Earth was cleared off"?

If so, not sure I see the connection between it and Road.

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

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 September, 2020 11:49PM
Sawfish, I think you're remembering "The Whisperer in Darkness."

"Colour" is the story in which a meteorite lands in the New England countryside, and from that spot a weird wasting gradually proceeds, turning a widening circle into grey lifelessness. Human beings are liable gradually to lose their minds from proximity to the "blasted heath." It's some years since I read The Road, but my impression is that we do not know what struck the earth and brought greyness and death, etc. In both stories, the effects are shown upon a decent family -- there is real pathos in their undeserved fate. Lovecraft tells the story deliberately, keeping his tendency to verbal excess under control with only one brief lapse, and of course McCarthy's prose is restrained too.

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 9 September, 2020 04:24AM
I got my old mother interested in Ray Bradbury and Lovecraft. She has no general interest in supernatural literature or science fiction. She now considers Bradbury one of her favorite authors. She thinks Lovecraft one of the greats of literature, and cannot accept that he was limited to pulp magazines at newsstands. But when she read "The Colour Out of Space", and came to the part where the mother is locked up and crawls around on all fours, she could not go on reading. She had worked in psychiatry in young years, and had seen more than enough of such things. She was badly shaken by that scene.

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 9 September, 2020 10:40AM
Thanks, Dale. I'll re-read it. I don't recall it, or only vaguely.

In a sense this is also like J. G. Ballard's apocalyptic novels, Burning World, Drowned World, Wind From Nowhere, etc. None of these use a family to provide the narrative POV and subsequent changes to their lives, if I'm remembering correctly. Most are kinda heavy-handed, too.

Not Vermilion Sands, however. Last summer by odd circumstance my interest was temporarily diverted to the old Manson/Tate case. There are entire websites devoted to this, and about 85% of the participants are great examples of extremely sloppy thinking based largely on vicarious emotional attachments: they start with a conclusion and any new information is made to fit that conclusion, rather than taking the information, as much of it as you can get, and sorta summing it up, and the answer will be the most sound conclusion.

Anyway, if you can get past the baggage, and simply look at all the evidence and compare it to the testimony, it's an intriguing mental exercise. And after I spent maybe 2 months on the site, I left, thinking:

"The ambiance place and the characters of the Polanski/Tate crowd might equally apply to Vermilion Sands."

Here's the thing about McCarthy: I'm not all that sure that a bit of commercial hucksterism doesn't sneak in with a book like No Place for Old Men. The novel, while very good and well-paced, is disturbingly like the typical Elmore Leonard crime novel. So I need to think about each book, whether it's "tainted", and if so, to what degree.

Not that tainted is a bad thing, in good literature, but it's always good to assess what you're reading, I think.

This AM I'm starting in on an expansion of the discussion about the points contained within your paper. As always, I *know* that I'm going to get a lot of this discussion. Even when we don't agree, I gain a lot.

I'm a consumer of literature: a food critic of the mind... ;^)

You are both a consumer of literature and an exceptional scholar. Perhaps the only professional in the field that I know.

OK, my head's warmed up: I've had a bolt of coffee. I'm ready to focus now... :^)

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

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 9 September, 2020 02:38PM
Knygatin wrote, "But when she read 'The Colour Out of Space', and came to the part where the mother is locked up and crawls around on all fours, she could not go on reading. She had worked in psychiatry in young years, and had seen more than enough of such things. She was badly shaken by that scene."

Yes. That is one of the most powerful images in Lovecraft, and that must be because it has a strong element of pathos as well as of horror.

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 9 September, 2020 02:43PM
Yes, Sawfish, I also felt that No Country for Old Men was a well-written thriller, much more an entertainment than The Road, the only other novel by McCarthy that I have read. I wonder if, in his mind, he makes a distinction between Entertainments and Novels as, if I recall aright, Graham Greene did.

I do like the sheriff in No Country, and particularly was struck by his thoughts on the blood-on-their-hands that users of illicit drugs have, who are complicit in that terrible, bloody business. Steely Dan singing about "the fine Colombian" -- and you need to think of what a hellish place Colombia is for the peasants thanks to the drug mafia down there. The combination of moral censoriousness (often for trivial matters) combined with ghastly moral obtuseness of many of our cultural warriors can vex one's soul if one lets it.

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 9 September, 2020 03:20PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Yes, Sawfish, I also felt that No Country for Old
> Men was a well-written thriller, much more an
> entertainment than The Road, the only other novel
> by McCarthy that I have read. I wonder if, in his
> mind, he makes a distinction between
> Entertainments and Novels as, if I recall aright,
> Graham Greene did.

For some reason, I do not trust any of his statements about motivations, etc. not sure why, but...

So yeah, I think Country is commercial, and you know what: I suspect that The Road has commercial elements to it--specifically the ending, which to my mind is ambiguous, as in The Life of Pi.

He's very, very good at capturing regional values systems. This statement make no sense on its own, but reading Suttree or Child of God, and considering some of the characters, you scratch you head at "how could there *be* such people", just as you might in Faulkner, but also as in Faulkner, the answers are definitely supplied within the story.

Or if not "answers, exactly, the the rationale for their existence.

>
> I do like the sheriff in No Country, and
> particularly was struck by his thoughts on the
> blood-on-their-hands that users of illicit drugs
> have, who are complicit in that terrible, bloody
> business. Steely Dan singing about "the fine
> Colombian"

"Hey, Nineteen". !!!

> -- and you need to think of what a
> hellish place Colombia is for the peasants thanks
> to the drug mafia down there. The combination of
> moral censoriousness (often for trivial matters)
> combined with ghastly moral obtuseness of many of
> our cultural warriors can vex one's soul if one
> lets it.

Yes, absolutely.

But you know what I *really* liked in the sheriff's expository narration? It was, I suspect, the key to *why* he's basically throwing in the towel as it gets real, real tough.

He keeps saying that it's no country for old me, and that he's old. And there's an element of believability in that, for sure.

But like a masterful author who likes to mess with your head, McCarthy introduces the reminiscence about the sheriff's war experience. to cut quickly to the heart of it, he abandoned his comrades-in-arms--waited for night and ran out on them--and for that cultural segment, west/central Texas male--that's a BIG NO-NO.

So then we are left to ponder: why, really, is he throwing in the towel with Anton? Oh, sure, his thoughts on the direction of modern society are valid--the old man in the dog collar--but...

(Sorry I diverted, but I get few responses from the McCarthy forums, the Chandler forums, etc. I would like one for Nathaniel West, etc... :^( )

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

Re: the "level of threat" posed by HPL, CAS
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 10 September, 2020 11:08AM
I read 'Blood Meridian' years ago - the only novel by McCarthy I ever read. It's pretty good, mainly in terms of how it's written, as there isn't much of a plot per se: a bunch of bounty hunters on a killing spree. It does have a cumulative force though, largely as a consequence of what these guys are doing and the inevitable moral degradation this entails (although I think the mc was a pretty nasty piece of work from the get-go).

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