27 October 2011

Post 441: Double Feature (H.P. Lovecraft)

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward* 
At the Mountains of Madness*
by H.P. Lovecraft.

According to these two stories, which happen to be the only Lovecraft I've read so far, curiosity kills and/or drives the humans mad, which is unfortunate since it's a pretty strong natural adaptation the cat. This is terrifying because it means even the most well meaning of humans could unleash unspeakable terrors before the rest of mankind could even step in and say, "PER ADONAI ELOIM, ADONAI JEHOVA, ADONAI SABAOTH, METRATON. Bitches."

Lovecraft himself incites a curiosity in me, where even though I know Bad Things Are Going to Happen, I can't help but want to learn more about Joseph Curwen from The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (henceforth CDW) and the abandoned civilization from At The Mountains of Madness (AtMoM). Lovecraft's near detached narration style, while dry at first, actually lends itself quite well to the sense of unease I felt while reading the stories. By recounting information in a factual, but detailed manner, Lovecraft removed any emotion from the narrative, instead making it read almost like a scientific observation.  The fact that the details themselves are so interesting and draw the reader in make his stories powerful in a way that a more "readable" style of writing wouldn't. Let's take a look at the individual stories.

Poor Charles Dexter Ward is your average upper class gentleman, highly intelligent, with a tendency toward eccentricity and an interest in history. Replace his gender and make him about 60 years old and you have every librarian's challenging genealogy problem, because as humans we feel like we have to know who and where we came from and if you found a big, dark family secret, wouldn't you dig deeper? For instance, in my family there's suspicion that my paternal grandmother was hiding Native American blood; someday I will probably attempt to track that down despite the fact that she would never, ever, ever want to be associated with being Native American anymore than I really want to be associated with someone who happens to be a bigoted Southern Baptist (and yet I am, and I claim her anyway). That's because ignoring the problem only dooms your ancestors to repeat mistakes or unknowingly defile or insult a cultural heritage that they rightfully ought to have claim to. Because Charles Dexter Ward's ancestor was erased from history, he was doomed to the same actions as Joseph Curwen simply out of curiosity. Had he been forewarned as to why Joseph Curwen was blacklisted in his community, the curiosity to seek out hidden knowledge and perform secret rites might not have been so strong.

Meanwhile AtMoM actually attempts to correct this problem. At first attempting secrecy, William Dyer and his surviving compatriots remain mum on what they found in the frozen Antarctic depths, but as new expeditions are gearing up they have come to the decision to reveal all. Yet the very details Dyer reveals of the incredible city he found only made me want to see it for myself. It was like being given a very fuzzy photograph of what you can tell is an incredibly beautiful location and then being told that it's located on a planet with an arsenic heavy atmosphere. Just because I know I can't go there for safety reasons doesn't mean I still don't want to see, it just means I have to be off my rocker to actually do it.

By the way, Lovecraft provides an excellent quote for leaving Shit Where It Is in the earth. I'll share it with you and imply that if he knew about fracking, Lovecraft would have definitely written a story about it.

"It is absolutely necessary for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth's dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be left alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests."  Page 94.

I'm not saying that oil companies want to wake the Elder Gods, but... I'm pretty sure if they did they'd still find a way to profit.

Goodreaders Chris and SoL did an excellent job of reviewing The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Goodreader Brian gets points for his review of At the Mountains of Madness. Yes, I was lazy and decided not to try to find blog reviews, okay.
LibsNote: Most, if not all, of H.P. Lovecraft is in the public domain. I downloaded my copies from Many Books.
--Wonky header, because well, I didn't have any better ideas for how to do this and I don't get paid enough to spend hours on it.


  1. I read HPL on occasion, but have managed to miss the whole Tin Tin thingy entirely. That said, I found this really bloody amusing:

  2. Oh yeah, there's also this: http://www.hello-cthulhu.com/?date=2003-11-30

  3. Awesome links Bishop. Thanks for sharing. By the way, did you ever catch the Amityville Horror post? I know you were interested in that.

  4. So is AtMoM a horror-centric story, or is it more of a "Journey to the Center of the Earth" expedition?

  5. Tim, it's got a good balance. I would say the first third of the story starts out pretty tame and then builds into a sense of awe and horror. If you can handle the somewhat dry language, you would probably like it.


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