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"Lovecraft's Comfortable World"
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 8 September, 2020 10:38PM
In the thread on the level of threat in the stories of CAS and HPL, I posted the paper linked below. Sawfish suggested a separate thread for it. The paper was published in the fanzine Fadeaway, edited by Bob Jennings, where several articles by me have appeared. Lovecraft has been one of my favorite authors for something like 50 years. I wanted to try to get at something important in my enjoyment of his main stories, things I have revisited over the years -- particularly because I think my experience isn't unique, even though the factor I focus on isn't usually specified as a source of the appeal of these works.

This thread, if people participate, will probably elicit some thoughtful responses: if Lovecraft's stories possess long-lived appeal for you, wherein does that appeal really lie?

[efanzines.com]

The article starts on page 12.

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - HUMOR IN LOVECRAFT
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 9 September, 2020 12:46PM
Ok, Dale. I went back and annotated the paper and identified eight aspects contained in it, either directly and explicitly, or else implicitly and this stimulated some tangential thinking.

Not real sure I'll actually get to all eight...

Starting with your observtions on humor, this is an area in which we mostly agree:

Quote:
DN
Let me further ask veteran readers of Lovecraft who read him first as youngsters: Didn’t you, like me, indulge in “Lovecraftian humor”? I did almost as soon as I began to read him. Classmates still remember, too, the social studies class period during which the teacher was called away and I strode to the chalkboard and offered a spontaneous lecture on Cthulhuism. I remember a fanzine ad that mentioned “The Dumb Witch Horror.” Peter Cannon’s Scream for Jeeves combined Lovecraft and P. G. Wodehouse. Lovecraft parodies have abounded over the years. But do people write parodies of Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson, or Arthur Machen? The extravagance of Lovecraft’s fiction makes it the inevitable target of affectionate parody and, of course, of affectionate imitation. I suspect that some of those reading this piece have tried to work up some of that fun Lovecraft feeling by writing Mythos tales of their own. It may not be easy to write a really convincing Lovecraft pastiche, but it’s very easy to get the hang of Lovecraft’s fiction. As readers of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories may attempt pastiches, so Lovecraft readers have a phase as “Lovecraftian” writers.

I came to HPL late; I already knew about CAS. There was in the 1960s a band called "H. P. Lovecraft". I never heard any music by them, but hearing the name of the band I already had some idea that he was a writer of horror, although I don't know how.

Anyway, I took a date to see The Dunwich Horror at the drive-in, down in San Diego (FWIW) while in college and it was an awful film. But later, when I saw HPL books in the same section with the Ballantine Adult Fantasy books, I bought one, no doubt.

I think maybe you've raised elsewhere the idea that HPL injects humor *by intent*, and also simply unintended, by use of overwrought dialog (and dialect!), phonetic renderings of sounds, etc. If not, my apologies, but I'd like to expand here a bit, if you don't mind...

HPL's narrators seem very dry, indeed, so we can't expect much laugh-worthy stuff out of them, either when they describe something directly, or the narrative limited omniscient POV tells us what they are thinking, or what may occur to them.

Nor are there many intended yuks in the descriptions.

But two instances of intended humor, understated, of course (but that's often the best kind!) occur to me:

In The Picture in the House, the narrator, a guy riding his bike along a NE backroad, gets caught in a rainstorm, and ducks into what he thinks is an abandoned farmhouse.

But he is wrong...


SPOILERS

...





In spite of the unkempt and frankly unclean interior, a decrepit and yet strangely youthful old codger, disturbingly robust, too, comes down the stairs and proceeds to show the biker an old book. There's a place in the old book where there's an illustration, and it's apparent that the old boy has looked at this page hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

It's a rendering of a cannibal market place, as related by early explorers. It's pretty disturbing to note that *anyone* would repeatedly view it, but the old boy rather innocently (truly--he was a rustic innocent, socially; had no idea how what he did/said would affect interlocutors) tells the biker how he indeed was fascinatd by the image--and worse: what, exactly about the illustration appealed to him--and how, over time, it made him wonder about what a cannibal meal would be like.

The old man was becoming increasingly animated as he blythely relates all this, and even goes so far as to begin to intimate that he had done away with various local characters and, ostensibly, eaten them.

All this is related in the thickest possible--and maybe beyond "possible"--old Yankee accent. And you can well imagine how nervous the biker might have been while listening in horrified silence.

Then, as if the old man first noticed some squirming, he interjects sternly:

"Set still! What ails ye?" or something like that.

Well, duh!!! OF COURSE we, the readers, know "what ails" the biker! He's getting scared witless by a confessed murderer/cannibal who appears to have lived for more than 150 years!

The second example comes in the prose poem, Nyarlathotep, and I believe that another posters her at ED identified this, because I sure missed it.

As most HPL readers know, this is essentially the end of the world, and it's presaged by "signs", one of which is:

Quote:
HPL
...And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare. Never before had the screams of nightmare been such a public problem;...

The idea that the screams of those who intuit by dreams that all are doomed is viewed in the same light as, say, littering, or loud music, i.e., "a public problem", seems to comically understate the situation. I mean, they've got *lots* worse problems coming... :^)

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - HUMOR IN LOVECRAFT
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 9 September, 2020 01:10PM
Sawfish -- and anyone else so inclined -- I would love to see your responses one by one to whatever strikes you in the paper. I had hoped it would initiate some dialogue at the fanzine where it appeared -- well, frankly, I'd have liked a storm, a mother lode, of letters of comment. Maybe something like that will happen here.

So am I right, by the way? Were any of y'all young enough when you first read HPL to write truly sophomoric parodies of HPL, like me?

That's a topic of its own.

Then there's the topic of humor in Lovecraft's stories, intended or not. I'm sure I originally read "The Picture in the House" is a not terribly fast-witted kid and took it at face value, rating it as one of HPL's less interesting stories (I cottoned to the Cthulhu mythology right away). But since then it has seemed to me kind of a funny story, as the narrator gets increasingly wound up while the cannibal too is getting more excited -- ''ef 'twas more the same'" -- and then the thing has two climaxes, the narrator's eyes bugging out as he sees the blood dripping through the ceiling, and then the lightning bolt that blasts the horror-house to bits. It's like those kid campfire stories that get you wound up tighter and tighter... "'Now I'm at the bottom of the stairs....now I'm on the landing.... Now I'm at the top of the stairs.... Now I'm walking down the hallway.... Now I'm at your bedroom doorrrrr.... Now I'm in your room.... Now I'm at the foot of your bed.... Now I'm standing over you: GIVE ME A PIECE OF THAT CHOCOLATE CAKE!!'" and everybody laughs.

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - HUMOR IN LOVECRAFT
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 9 September, 2020 01:27PM
Hah!

you know, this comparison is interesting in terms of how old we were when first reading HPL. As best I recall I was maybe 23-25. I had had such formative classes as "Bible as Literature" and "An Introduction to Satire" at the undergrad level. I had been trained to actively *look* for stuff like that, so I tended to see it.

...sometimes when it wasn't really there...GULP!

I'll wait a bit before starting on my second identified point...

Most enjoyable.

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - HUMOR IN LOVECRAFT
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 9 September, 2020 02:36PM
I might have read HPL and CAS for the first time in the same book, Carter's Young Magicians anthology, in the second half of 1969, as a youngster turned 14 not too many weeks ago. That was the age at which I first read Edgar Rice Burroughs and Two-Gun, so it was eventful, but these fellas never did unseat Tolkien as my favorite...

I'd like to press that point, though, about parody a little more. My impression, again, is that parodies of Lovecraft are a feature of many fans who first read him as youngsters -- but kids (like me) who read Machen and Blackwood at the same time never wrote parodies of them; and I think that holds true for adults also. Do kids write Poe parodies?

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - HUMOR IN LOVECRAFT
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 9 September, 2020 02:56PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I might have read HPL and CAS for the first time
> in the same book, Carter's Young Magicians
> anthology, in the second half of 1969, as a
> youngster turned 14 not too many weeks ago. That
> was the age at which I first read Edgar Rice
> Burroughs and Two-Gun, so it was eventful, but
> these fellas never did unseat Tolkien as my
> favorite...
>
> I'd like to press that point, though, about parody
> a little more. My impression, again, is that
> parodies of Lovecraft are a feature of many fans
> who first read him as youngsters -- but kids (like
> me) who read Machen and Blackwood at the same time
> never wrote parodies of them; and I think that
> holds true for adults also. Do kids write Poe
> parodies?

This part about comparison of HPL and Machen, et al, touches upon one of the annotations I made. But let me ask, prematurely: did Machen, Blackwood, and the others listed in your article, write regularly for the weird pulp market?

Sometimes, reading HPL, I get the feeling that he may have been paid by the word, and I also recognize and respect that he exerted a decent level of artistic control, but his explicit descriptions of monsters, as per the examples in your article, lead me to think that maybe, when push came to shove, he tended to retain verbiage that might better have been either restated using less copious and precise descriptive language, or else having much of it cut, entirely.

So I'm now guessing that some of HPL's tendency toward unneeded verbosity was an artifact of the market he was trying (successfully) to tap.

BTW, I agree with what seems to me to be your overall view of HPL: a very effective writer of specialized prose for a small niche market. He straddled being just a bit too thrill-oriented with at least the ability to "take you away" (like Doyle) and to present you with a fairly original--and threatening--cosmos.

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - HUMOR IN LOVECRAFT
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 10 September, 2020 01:54PM
Lovecraft complained about the rubbish published in the pulps, but the fact is that he immersed himself in WT, reading it, I suppose, cover to cover every month. It's likely he would be influenced. A lesson for us all! -- what you read and watch becomes a part of you, and is that where you want to be? As a writer, occasionally, of ghostly stories, I would want generally to avoid pulp stuff. Conversely, I've been conscious of a little influence of the movies of Kurosawa and maybe Tarkovsky, to the benefit of my work.

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - HUMOR IN LOVECRAFT
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 10 September, 2020 02:11PM
Hi, Dale.

Befoe I send my next response to my annotated sections of the article, did any other the authors whom you note as being likely unparodied, write for the weird pulps on any regular basis? These were: Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson, or Arthur Machen?

I'm now entertaining the idea that conformity to the parameters required for weird pulp publication may tend to expose one to parody. Not the main reason, but a contributory one.

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - HUMOR IN LOVECRAFT
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 10 September, 2020 07:48PM
Sawfish, I don't think the other three authors wrote for pulp magazines -- I'm not sure those pulp mags even appeared before the 1920s or so. Although Machen's "White PeopleA" is said to have been published in a magazine that promoted malted milk (!), Horlick's, if that's relevant!

Lovecraft seems to have loved and hated Weird Tales -- he liked to think of it as a venue for the advancement of his beloved genre, but was honest enough to admit that it was basically a magazine filled with cheap rubbish.

I'm not sure he ever rewrote any of his stories to get them sold -- and I'm not sure he was ever given the chance.

But I'm wandering from the point about parody. Non-pulp, indeed highly literary authors can be parodied -- Max Beerbohm did a lovely parody of Henry James! Here is "The Mote in the Middle Distance."

[en.wikisource.org]

So, again: why teeming Lovecraft parodies but not Machen/Blackwood/Hodgson parodies? Inquiring minds want to know.

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - HUMOR IN LOVECRAFT
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 10 September, 2020 08:13PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish, I don't think the other three authors
> wrote for pulp magazines -- I'm not sure those
> pulp mags even appeared before the 1920s or so.
> Although Machen's "White PeopleA" is said to have
> been published in a magazine that promoted malted
> milk (!), Horlick's, if that's relevant!
>
> Lovecraft seems to have loved and hated Weird
> Tales -- he liked to think of it as a venue for
> the advancement of his beloved genre, but was
> honest enough to admit that it was basically a
> magazine filled with cheap rubbish.
>
> I'm not sure he ever rewrote any of his stories to
> get them sold -- and I'm not sure he was ever
> given the chance.
>
> But I'm wandering from the point about parody.
> Non-pulp, indeed highly literary authors can be
> parodied -- Max Beerbohm did a lovely parody of
> Henry James! Here is "The Mote in the Middle
> Distance."
>
> [en.wikisource.org]
> /The_Mote_in_the_Middle_Distance
>
> So, again: why teeming Lovecraft parodies but not
> Machen/Blackwood/Hodgson parodies? Inquiring
> minds want to know.

Well, to start with, we know it's possible to parody anyone, but we're talking not abut the exception, but if I understand you, the parodies of HPL were comparatively common.

Too, how many Hemingway parodies have you read? So far as I know there used to be an annual event, with a prize for best Hemingway parody.

Sooo....

What this may point to is that:

1) You have to be fairly widely read, or else, face it, who cares enough to parody you? Who would ever get the joke you so carefully crafted if they werem't already familiar with the author being parodied?

2) You need to have a readily identifiable style.

I know the answers to neither of these as relate to Blackwood, Hodgson, or Machen.

So you can have a Bored of the Rings, but is there a market for a parody of The Great God Pan?

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - HUMOR IN LOVECRAFT
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 11 September, 2020 04:38AM
Not sure if pulps were as big in the UK as they were in the US? I don't think Blackwood, Hodgson or Machen would have been household names, anyhow.

Machen had a funny career arc. He wrote the stories which defined him in his youth, but had difficulties getting them published and spent most of his middle years as a jobbing actor.

Dale - I'm guessing you've seen that Beerbohm cartoon of Henry James staring at his hand (in a fog)? It made me laugh out loud the first time I saw it.

I've only read a handful of HPL stories, but my impression is that they are characterised by a couple of tropes that leave them wide open to parody - usually the MC finds a book or some talismanic device that enables him to see the veil that separates our world from the tentacled horrors that lurk in the abyss. And yet - as somebody on another forum pointed out - despite staring doom in the face, the MC still maintains enough sang froid to pen a couple of thousand words on the whole experience.

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - HUMOR IN LOVECRAFT
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 11 September, 2020 10:02AM
Cathbad Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Not sure if pulps were as big in the UK as they
> were in the US? I don't think Blackwood, Hodgson
> or Machen would have been household names, anyhow.
>
>
> Machen had a funny career arc. He wrote the
> stories which defined him in his youth, but had
> difficulties getting them published and spent most
> of his middle years as a jobbing actor.
>
> Dale - I'm guessing you've seen that Beerbohm
> cartoon of Henry James staring at his hand (in a
> fog)? It made me laugh out loud the first time I
> saw it.

There are some guys I just have a lot of trouble reading. James is one, Faulkner another.

I'll not mention Joyce, since I have yet to talk to *anyone* who said he enjoyed Joyce's writings.

Then you get Dreiser, whom I had *assumed* I would not like, and I'm surprised that no one was teaching him in all my Lit classes in the 60s. In my opinion, this guy told a very good story.

>
> I've only read a handful of HPL stories, but my
> impression is that they are characterised by a
> couple of tropes that leave them wide open to
> parody - usually the MC finds a book or some
> talismanic device that enables him to see the veil
> that separates our world from the tentacled
> horrors that lurk in the abyss. And yet - as
> somebody on another forum pointed out - despite
> staring doom in the face, the MC still maintains
> enough sang froid to pen a couple of thousand
> words on the whole experience.

That's a kind of narrative frame: the related tale. It does a couple of things: it all but *ensures* us that come what may in the story, the narrator, if he takes part in the action, survives it. This affects the level of threat perceived by the reader.

(BTW, CAS's The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis are an exception, with that odd codicil at the end...)

Yep, HPL does a lot of that: a related story rather than a participatory one, or one told at some point after the completion of the action.

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - LEISURE TIME OF THE NARRATORS
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 11 September, 2020 11:51AM
Hi, Dale.

If it's OK with you I will move on to my next annotated section; please feel free to comment on the "HUMOR" subthread.

The next aspect concerns a part of your article that listed the lack of the necessity of daily commitments to work and the like, in the narrator. I think you were using this as a minor point of support for your thesis--that Lovecraft creates a sort of "comfortable" environment for the reader, much as the Holmes stories of Doyle do. So in singling it out, I'm actually artificially raising its importance to your thesis--and I recognize this--but it brought forth two important points concerning the narrator and/or main POV in a short story of this type, and I'd like to explore them with folks here at ED.

I'll include the section of your article, but with the middle section elided for brevity. People can refer to the full article to see this section in its entirety.

Quote:
DN

Now let’s consider Lovecraft’s typical main characters and another aspect of Lovecraft’s comfortable world. Lovecraft's Mythos stories often have rather more in common with “The Wind in the Willows” (think of Rat, Mole, Badger, and Toad) than they are given credit for.

Lovecraft's protagonists do not have to show up for a boring or physically demanding day’s work. To the extent that money is mentioned or implied, it's just there as needed. The protagonists have ready access to interesting places to go, so as to satisfy their curiosity. They have no onerous responsibilities to employers who expect them to show up for work and who might demand that they be productive on the job.

For example, in “The Call of Cthulhu,” Francis Wayland Thurston of Boston becomes curious about the Cthulhu cult and some weird coincidences. Just happening to see a newspaper clipping from New Zealand that intrigues him, while visiting a friend in New Jersey, Thurston doesn’t post a letter or send a telegram asking for more details. Rather, calling upon ample funds of unspecified origin, he takes a train to San Francisco. From there he sails to New Zealand and reaches Dunedin a few weeks later. He finds out little but Johansen’s address in Norway. Off he sails for London and Oslo. He talks Johansen’s widow into giving him her husband’s secret papers and, presumably, sails back to America, thus completing the circling of the globe. Whatever he may be anxious about at the end of his narrative, he’s not worried about money or being behind in his work after his long vacation.

[MUCH ELIDED!!! See: [efanzines.com] for complete text.]


“The Dreams in the Witch-House” may be a Mythos story, but its central character, Walter Gilman, is unusual in being a relatively impoverished student – although one who is well-regarded by his professors and, I think we may assume, might have achieved a comfortable academic position if not for his premature death. “The Thing on the Doorstep,” like “The Dreams in the Witch-House” an effort usually regarded as one of the lesser stories of Lovecraft’s maturity, doesn’t align with my exposition of Lovecraft’s comfortable world, but I didn’t intend to argue that everything he wrote did so, only that his Mythos stories typically exhibit the “comfortable” characteristics I’ve described, and owe some of their appeal to that fact.

First off, I agree with the main thrust of your observation: that the narrator, unlike the reader, has what appears to be complete access to his own time, and sufficient money to indulge his interests. I also agree that this, in a near-subliminal sense, makes the reader a part of this personal freedom, and hence "comfortable".

It's like how I've described participating in ED: to me, a comfortable British gentleman's club of equals in the early 20th C, comfy chairs, a fire in the hearth, good conversation. All we lack are servants, cigars, and brandy... ;^)

But here's what interests me: within the confines of the short-story form, can we reasonably expect either of these two facets: a) day-to-day accounting of the narrator's (or POV's) normal occupations; and b) any significant character growth or development?

I'd suggest that with few exception the answer is "no" to both. The brevity of the format precludes these sorts devices. For day-to-day stuff, it would be seen as a digression that dilutes the impact of the central theme, and for character development, again, there's just not that much time AND...

...in a short story, the focus is often a singe event or alternatively, a *snapshot* of a particular character of interest, but there's again no time--nor reader expectancy--to go much beyond this.

For writers like CAS or HPL, they usually tell us about a single event that is extraordinary, either in the nature of the event (being lectured to, and eventually eaten by, an extraordinary being, as in The Weird Avoosl Wuthoqquan), or the setting the collapsed necropolis of Chaon Gacca in Weaver in the Vault, or often both.

Of the "other kind" of short story, the snapshot of a character, without any real development (no time!) I can't think of any in fantasy right off the bat, but for mainstream I'd say Barn Burning (itself a part of a series) is about the POV's father, who can best be described as embittered white trash, or Nick Adams in any of the Nick Adams coming-of-age stories. In the latter, the *series* may show character growth, but not any single story, which are like snapshots in a family album.

This is sure fun for me, Dale, and I hope that my questions and observations do not come off as too pushy or pointed. I have opinions, clearly, but I also realize that that's *exactly* what they are: opinions, and not definitive answers.

I don't think that many definitive answers can be found in the discussion of fiction. It's just not possible, given the notions of artistic freedom rightly employed by an author.

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



Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 11 Sep 20 | 12:38PM by Sawfish.

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - LEISURE TIME OF THE NARRATORS
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 12 September, 2020 02:30PM
I know it sounds ridiculous, but I always reckoned there was an element of wishful thinking here, on the part of both CAS and HPL. CAS was no stranger to hard physical work, but his stories are populated by sorcerers whose work - when they do any work at all - is of a largely cerebral nature. HPL's characters never seem to have a day job; they are gentlemen of leisure, whereas HPL died in poverty. In that respect, I guess I can see where Dale is coming from!

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - LEISURE TIME OF THE NARRATORS
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 13 September, 2020 06:26PM
Sawfish, I'd hoped the essay on "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" would spur discussion -- responses such as yours.

But it's not that I was saying the stories necessarily suffer from a literary defect in having main characters who have the personal liberty and financial independence to come and go as they please, etc. My main point there is just that I think the appeal of a situation like that is a part, probably an important part, of many readers' enjoyment of the stories without their realizing it. They think they are enjoying cosmic horror -- and maybe they are, but they are also, quite likely, enjoying an escape from quotidian obligations.

Lovecraft rose above himself in "The Colour Out of Space" in his writing style, in his evocation of pathos, etc. He does so also in this story in that the narrator is (as I recall) a surveyor. He has a reason for being on the scene other than gentlemanly curiosity.

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - LEISURE TIME OF THE NARRATORS
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 13 September, 2020 06:31PM
Yes, I imagine that's true, Cathbad, but I would put the emphasis not on the authors' wishes but on yours and mine! We might well 'fess up and admit we relish that notion of personal liberty, financial independence, etc. that would let us roam as we please, with a home base that's cosy, well-furnished with books, etc. in an interesting old neighborhood. It's fun to set out with Holmes on a foggy night, with a revolver in one's pocket -- knowing that in a few hours we'll probably be back in Baker Street.

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - LEISURE TIME OF THE NARRATORS
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 13 September, 2020 07:13PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish, I'd hoped the essay on "Lovecraft's
> Comfortable World" would spur discussion --
> responses such as yours.
>
> But it's not that I was saying the stories
> necessarily suffer from a literary defect in
> having main characters who have the personal
> liberty and financial independence to come and go
> as they please, etc.

No, I understand that, Dale; in thinking about what you were saying, it also came to me that not only might the portrayal of mundane daily activities be purposefully avoided, as a conscious way to provide the reader vicarious "cosiness", but that in point of fact there isn't much time in a short story to add much about these daily activities, either.

Not a criticism so much as me clumsily trying to open a new line of consideration.

> My main point there is just
> that I think the appeal of a situation like that
> is a part, probably an important part, of many
> readers' enjoyment of the stories without their
> realizing it. They think they are enjoying cosmic
> horror -- and maybe they are, but they are also,
> quite likely, enjoying an escape from quotidian
> obligations.


Yes, and now I'm also going to jump to a very distantly related example of *the opposite* intent in an author.

B. Traven wrote a novel, La Carreta, that's all about the misersble routine existence of a Mexican cart driver. This is THE OPPOSITE of joining an adventure with Holmes and Watson, as you so aptly observe.

>
> Lovecraft rose above himself in "The Colour Out of
> Space" in his writing style, in his evocation of
> pathos, etc. He does so also in this story in
> that the narrator is (as I recall) a surveyor. He
> has a reason for being on the scene other than
> gentlemanly curiosity.

Yes, and now that I've read Ligotti, I can see what "uncomfortable horror" might be like, by comparison. (Still unsure whether Ligotti is writing horror any more than de Sade was writing horror. There's a consciously sickening element to both, it seems to me.)

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - LEISURE TIME OF THE NARRATORS
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 14 September, 2020 01:07PM
Any other comments on "Lovecraft's Comfortable World"?

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - LEISURE TIME OF THE NARRATORS
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 14 September, 2020 01:17PM
I've got a few more point-by-point questions/comments/observations, Dale.

I'll try to get another one up today.

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World"
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 14 September, 2020 02:21PM
This discussion can easily slip into hot-headed political territory. I want to avoid that, because it doesn't lead anywhere, nothing is gained by it. There is no one here to convince politically.

But I can say this much. Lovecraft may not have been humorous in his stories (he was in his letters, and real life), but he had a great sense of beauty, especially of the landscape and architecture. The comfort in Lovecraft, I attach to his sense of home — caring for traditions, for his historical, geographical, genealogical, and cultural roots — and the stability this means. Lovecraft was partly a conservative. People who are liberals, who welcome constant change and upheaval, are generally not attracted to the comfort in Lovecraft.

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World"
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 14 September, 2020 02:47PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> This discussion can easily slip into hot-headed
> political territory. I want to avoid that, because
> it doesn't lead anywhere, nothing is gained by it.
> There is no one here to convince politically.

Right, but I know this and intend to resist it.

I've spent time on groups that are nominally focused on a given topic, but over the years have drifted into politics, or worse.

There was long ago a group, sci.archaeology, that was based largely on arguing over disagreements over the importance and validity of certain sites ad artifacts, but gradually drifted to politics and degenerated to ad hominem attacks as de rigueur behavior.

This offers none of the mental stimulation and comaraderie that I find here, and I'll leave if it gets that way, for no other reason that it would be extremely sad to witness ED's demise.

>
> But I can say this much. Lovecraft may not have
> been humorous in his stories (he was in his
> letters, and real life), but he had a great sense
> of beauty, especially of the landscape and
> architecture. The comfort in Lovecraft, I attach
> to his sense of home — caring for traditions,
> for his historical, geographical, genealogical,
> and cultural roots — and the stability this
> means. Lovecraft was partly a conservative. People
> who are liberals, who welcome constant change and
> upheaval, are generally not attracted to the
> comfort in Lovecraft.

Yep. I see personality types as falling into two major ideological tendencies: traditionalists and progressives. Traditionalists would like things to remain the same, and in instances of change within their lifetimes, would like to see a retreat from any such changes. This is not really workable when taken to that extreme.

Conversely, progressives tend to like change, and there are some who like the *idea* of change more than the actual result of the change, I suspect.

The former will like HPL, etc.

I would like to flatter myself to think that I'm a moderate traditionalist. Maybe so, maybe not; that's for others to judge.

Now that's about as close to politics as I'd like to get... :^(

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - THE ENDING OF THE CALL OF CTHULU
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 14 September, 2020 03:31PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Any other comments on "Lovecraft's Comfortable
> World"?


OK, here's a simple one that we agree on, and I'd like to extend it orthogonally to follow a very minor, but to me, interesting thing HPL does. There are two (at least) ways to look at it and I'd like to engage your opinion (and others!) as to one which seems most likely.

This response is to your specific observation on "The Call of Cthulu", where you note:

Quote:
DN

Lovecraft builds up the suspense in “The Call of Cthulhu,” only to dissipate it rather catastrophically by having the second mate Johansen run down the malevolent entity with his boat. We are told that Cthulhu pops like a seaweed bladder – a simile that is liable to remind those readers whose childhoods included seaside rambles, of long-ago vacations.

Such unintentionally funny bits would bother me as major defects if they were inserted into a tale by Blackwood, Machen, or M. R. James, but I relish them in Lovecraft.

This particular incident is one of the very weakest plot manipulations I've seen in HPL because what happens is so contrary to everything anyone who has read the Mythos has come to expect from Cthulu, a very potent interdimensional entity whose interests seem inimical to those of humanity.

I mean, I had always viewed him more along the lines of the creatures in the Cloverfield film trilogy, not like something you might encounter in a funhouse in a cheap carnival.

By simply turning the boat around in desperation and bull-rushing the Scourge of the Cosmos, he very quickly resolves the biggest conflict in the plot.

It's also sort of a funny image of Cthulu as he swims in pursuit, just before he loses the head-butting session to the Alert, Johannesen's boat...

Quote:
HPL

Then, bolder than the storied Cyclops, great Cthulhu slid greasily into the water and began to pursue with vast wave-raising strokes of cosmic potency.

I sorta get the picture of Johnny Weismueller in a sort of rubber monster suit in a 1950s Japanese movie.

And...

Quote:
Briden looked back and went mad, laughing shrilly as he kept on laughing at intervals

...I was damned close to copying Briden's behavior, up to that point.


It's hard not to burst out laughing aloud. At the very least, it was the definition of "anticlimactic".


OK, Here's the divergence...

It's where Cthulu first emerges from the aperture...

Quote:
HPL

The Thing cannot be described—there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled. God! What wonder that across the earth a great architect went mad, and poor Wilcox raved with fever in that telepathic instant? The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim his own. The stars were right again, and what an age-old cult had failed to do by design, a band of innocent sailors had done by accident. After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight.

Three men were swept up by the flabby claws before anybody turned.

Right away the use of "flabby claws" caught my attention, and if HPL purposely used it in the way I suspect, which is to throw together two words that are never seen to exist in common usage, with "flabby" modifying "claws"--which in the normal world is patently inappropriate if not impossible, it emphasizes and heightens the sheer alien-ness of the very material of Cthulu's corporeal existence.

I think he did this purposefully and effectively.

But it also occurs to me that one might use the term "claws" generically, metaphorically, to mean those appendages that might be used in lieu of claws (as we know them), for catching and grasping, and so were never really intended to be taken literally as earthly "claws". In this case "claws" is a stand-in for "tentacles" or something along those lines.

He certainly could have done either, by I'd much prefer to think that he chose the former, because it's a subtle and near unique touch.

But I'd like to hear the views of others on this minor point.

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - THE ENDING OF THE CALL OF CTHULU
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 15 September, 2020 11:38AM
"Flabby claws," in context, combines danger with disgust.

I think Lovecraft used "flabby" at least once or twice in other stories, with similar intent.

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World" - THE ENDING OF THE CALL OF CTHULU
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 15 September, 2020 12:21PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> "Flabby claws," in context, combines danger with
> disgust.
>
> I think Lovecraft used "flabby" at least once or
> twice in other stories, with similar intent.


Right. That would work. If I recall, only a few lines prior he referred to Cthulu using the terms "green" and "sticky", and in this context it's pretty loathsome. However, these are conventionally used descriptors, and send an unmixed message. I think it's important to note that there's a difference between using two descriptors, one indicating disgust and another indicating danger--that are complimentary, and not conflicting.

For example, you could use something as simple as "filthy claws" or "unclean claws", or even "squalid claws", which are complimentary (or at least not conflicting) and raise no eyebrows. You've combined disgust with danger, and that's the end of it.

By adding the conflicting element, he's bringing more to the description--something that patently cannot be, and yet *is*.

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World"
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 17 September, 2020 11:13AM
Hi, Dale.

It looks as if we're ready to move on thru my annotations, if you are interested.

I have these subtopic area annotations left. Below each, I'll list whether in my notes I agree/disagree/expand with your stated stance--although my "disagreement" is more along the lines of "not sure; have further questions":

CONCRETENESS OF DESCRIPTIONS OF “MONSTROSITIES”

expand


USE OF DIALECT/PHONETIC RENDERINGS OF SOUNDS (ALIEN/HUMAN EXCLAMATIONS)

agree


COSMIC INSIGNIFICANCE

disagree



STATE OF MIND OF HPL NARRATORS

expand


LACK DEEP HUMAN ATTACHMENTS

agree


If you are still interested, which of the above would you like for me to put out there next?

Or, if you like, we can move on to new topics.

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World"
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 17 September, 2020 10:15PM
Sawfish, I'd be interested in your discussion of any of these topics that you'd like to take up, and it's OK if you would druther not, too.

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World"
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 18 September, 2020 02:01PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish, I'd be interested in your discussion of
> any of these topics that you'd like to take up,
> and it's OK if you would druther not, too.

Hi, Dale.

I'm thinking that I'm kinda beating this one to death, so I'd like to move on. I will sum up how I felt about the article, the effect it had on my thinking, and then I'd like to ask you some specific stuff about Machen, if you are willing. If so, I will start a new thread.

Prior to reading the article I had never really given any thought to the idea that HPL provided many readers with a comfortable place to go for a while. It had never occurred to me to think of it that way.

So, at first glance my response was uncommitted skepticism--but that's what I do with everything, trying to let the evidence that supports a proposition lead me to a conclusion, rather than the other way around.

But reading thru your supporting points for your thesis, I found that I agreed that *all* of them were valid, and they combined to make HPL's narrative ambience very much like Doyle, in Holmes stories, etc.

I had in mind points of departure that really did not bear on your thesis, but more along the lines of raising additional--and thinly related--areas of interest, to me, and that's where I was going with those annotations.

Now, seeing this ("comfortable space") for the first time, I applied it to some of the other authors I enjoy reading when I want to "take a vacation". This would include M. R. James, le Fanu, Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, George MacDonnald Fraser, with his Flashman series, etc.

These all provide the same comfortable ambience.

Then, by coincidence, Knygatin introduced me to Thomas Ligotti, and he is not an author of this type, so in seeing him as a concrete counter-example, it strengthened my agreement with your main thesis.

Let me know if you are interested in helping me to begin to understand and perhaps attach to Machen. I have been unable to truly make a connection, and am unsure why.

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World"
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 19 September, 2020 02:05PM
Whoa -- I see I somehow overlooked several messages here! Apologies if I seemed aloof.

But, first, I'd be delighted to participate in a thread on Arthur Machen, Sawfish, if you would like to start one.

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World"
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 19 September, 2020 02:22PM
Knygatin wrote on 14 Sept., "Lovecraft may not have been humorous in his stories (he was in his letters, and real life), but he had a great sense of beauty, especially of the landscape and architecture. The comfort in Lovecraft, I attach to his sense of home — caring for traditions, for his historical, geographical, genealogical, and cultural roots — and the stability this means."

This seems to me concise and insightful. I don't think I said anything specifically about Lovecraft's love of beauty in landscape and architecture in the "Comfortable World" essay, which was long enough, but maybe I should have, if I'd thought to do so!

For some reason I think of some lines from the Led Zeppelin song --

“There's a feeling I get when I look to the west,
And my spirit is crying for leaving.
In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees,
And the voices of those who standing looking.
Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it really makes me wonder.”

That's actually a bit awkward ("I have seen...the voices"), but perhaps sunset-gazers will respond.

Because here's the thing: isn't it true that, when Lovecraft writes about the beautiful, he generally is not writing about something beautiful that he wants to possess? He's not writing about beautiful objects he could put on a shelf, or a beautiful woman he could marry or have erotic relations with.

Rather, he writes of beautiful things that he would like to "go to." The sunset draws him emotionally, psychologically ... I might say spiritually. He wants to be united to something of which the sunset is a sensory emblem. However, his materialist commitments scotch that; oh no ya don't, he might say, uh uh, not having it, I don't believe it... and so he writes a horror story.

Again, he responds lovingly to the sight of architecture that is always old. He seems never, that I remember, to perceive beauty in new architecture. So part of his response to the architecture that he does love is that it is redolent of the old, the bygone. Now I think it would be easy to relate this, too, to a spiritual desire, to a desire to go into a wider, better place than that of the common world. This too, for me as a religious person, it is easy to see as evidence of a religious type of desire in Lovecraft.

Lovecraft is resolutely anti-religious, but he manifestly does draw comfort from experiences of the beautiful that, it seems to me at least, probably relate to the spiritual or (overused word) the "mystical."

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World"
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 19 September, 2020 02:27PM
Sawfish mentions finding "comfort" in HPL, Doyle, MRJ, Hammett, Chandler...

Would you say that there's an attraction, with all of these, that comes out of an evocation of bygone places? There is for me. (G. M. Fraser I've not read.)

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World"
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 22 September, 2020 12:45PM
OK, Dale. I'm going to clone off the Machen Super Thread now...

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World"
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 25 September, 2020 11:50AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
>
> Rather, he writes of beautiful things that he
> would like to "go to." The sunset draws him
> emotionally, psychologically ... I might say
> spiritually. He wants to be united to something
> of which the sunset is a sensory emblem. ...
>
> Again, he responds lovingly to the sight of
> architecture that is always old. ... So part of his response to the
> architecture that he does love is that it is
> redolent of the old, the bygone. Now I think it
> would be easy to relate this, too, to a spiritual
> desire, to a desire to go into a wider, better
> place than that of the common world. ...
>
> Lovecraft is resolutely anti-religious, but he
> manifestly does draw comfort from experiences of
> the beautiful that, it seems to me at least,
> probably relate to the spiritual or (overused
> word) the "mystical."


I agree. I have this impression too.

I think a more mundane explanation could be used, to the same effect. I think Lovecraft missed the days of his childhood, and therefore was a conservative. During the time his father, who was a business man, still lived, the family's economy was good: they all lived in a big nice house, with a library, they had servants, and on the backside was a yard and field with horses. But after his father's sudden early death, as H. P. grew, the family assets gradually dwindled.

My theory is, that people who look back upon their childhood with fondness, tend to be conservative. While people who mostly remembers poverty or misery, tend to be more liberal; they look for change, strive for compensation in life. This is of course a very general deduction, and I don't think it works consistently. And there are all kinds of combinations in background. So based on that, I guess a person may be conservative in some aspects, and liberal in other aspects.

A religious person may interpret Lovecraft's longing for beauty past the present and the common (which partly found satisfaction in magnificent sunsets hinting of dreamy beauty hidden below the horizon, in admiring classic architecture, from his historical excursion trips, in strolling the pastoral fields with their old cultured remains), as spiritual yearning. Lovecraft himself would likely have described it more scientifically in terms of subtle nerve stimuli applied to the brain, causing a pleasurable sensation. I embrace both perspectives, although they need not necessarily be related or be present simultaneously.

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World"
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 25 September, 2020 01:46PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Dale Nelson Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> >
> > Rather, he writes of beautiful things that he
> > would like to "go to." The sunset draws him
> > emotionally, psychologically ... I might say
> > spiritually. He wants to be united to
> something
> > of which the sunset is a sensory emblem. ...
> >
> > Again, he responds lovingly to the sight of
> > architecture that is always old. ... So part of
> his response to the
> > architecture that he does love is that it is
> > redolent of the old, the bygone. Now I think
> it
> > would be easy to relate this, too, to a
> spiritual
> > desire, to a desire to go into a wider, better
> > place than that of the common world. ...
> >
> > Lovecraft is resolutely anti-religious, but he
> > manifestly does draw comfort from experiences
> of
> > the beautiful that, it seems to me at least,
> > probably relate to the spiritual or (overused
> > word) the "mystical."
>
>
> I agree. I have this impression too.
>
> I think a more mundane explanation could be used,
> to the same effect. I think Lovecraft missed the
> days of his childhood, and therefore was a
> conservative. During the time his father, who was
> a business man, still lived, the family's economy
> was good: they all lived in a big nice house, with
> a library, they had servants, and on the backside
> was a yard and field with horses. But after his
> father's sudden early death, as H. P. grew, the
> family assets gradually dwindled.
>
> My theory is, that people who look back upon their
> childhood with fondness, tend to be conservative.
> While people who mostly remembers poverty or
> misery, tend to be more liberal; they look for
> change, strive for compensation in life. This is
> of course a very general deduction, and I don't
> think it works consistently. And there are all
> kinds of combinations in background. So based on
> that, I guess a person may be conservative in some
> aspects, and liberal in other aspects.

Maybe.

I see it more as do you want things to change or remain the same *in the present*? Therefore, if a person came up out of poverty, or at least tight times, as I did, but manage to acquire some level of security beyond what one had in the past, they tend to want things to remain the same.

Similarly, one who grows up secure, loses that, they'd maybe want stuff to change.

But that's just how I see it, who knows?

>
> A religious person may interpret Lovecraft's
> longing for beauty past the present and the common
> (which partly found satisfaction in magnificent
> sunsets hinting of dreamy beauty hidden below the
> horizon, in admiring classic architecture, from
> his historical excursion trips, in strolling the
> pastoral fields with their old cultured remains),
> as spiritual yearning. Lovecraft himself would
> likely have described it more scientifically in
> terms of subtle nerve stimuli applied to the
> brain, causing a pleasurable sensation. I embrace
> both perspectives, although they need not
> necessarily be related or be present
> simultaneously.


I have a personal hypothesis on this phenomenon.

When viewing natural spaces that seem appealing, it conveys to the viewer, subliminally, the idea of possibility for personal improvement--here is a good hunting ground. Here I can farm, etc. There is no, or little, direct human competition.

Similarly, in seeing man-made artifacts, whether modern or ancient, it also subliminally conveys the idea of plenty--not natural plenty to be exploited, but social plenty that may be tapped into for benefit.

Not sure of any of this, though, still working thru it.

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

Re: "Lovecraft's Comfortable World"
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 25 September, 2020 02:16PM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
>
> I see it more as do you want things to change or
> remain the same *in the present*? Therefore, if a
> person came up out of poverty, or at least tight
> times, as I did, but manage to acquire some level
> of security beyond what one had in the past, they
> tend to want things to remain the same.
>
> Similarly, one who grows up secure, loses that,
> they'd maybe want stuff to change.
>

Maybe, yes. Although I think our basic behavior and drive is formed very early in life. The earlier, the more deeply things are impressed upon us. (Actually, most of our behaviors we are already born with, according to astrology.)

Another important factor, is how we are socially brought up, if we are taught (or not) to struggle for personal advancement. What role models our parents play.
Then again, some seem suis generis, individuals rising out of nowhere. (But I suspect, if one digs deeper, there will some be important influences for these too.) Like CAS, for instance, just where the hell did all that imagination come from?! I can't see it but other than a supernatural phenomena.



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