Sunday, October 20, 2019

Fortnightly Book, October 20

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.

Some years ago, I got from the clearance shelf at Half Price Books the Collected Stories, Volume One, of H. P. Lovecraft, entitled The Whisperer in the Darkness, a title that it takes from one of the stories in the collection. Ever since, I've intended to do it as an October fortnightly book -- something Halloweenish -- but I've never gotten around to it. So let's remedy that, and do a bit of Lovecraft for the next fortnightly book.

The collection includes nine stories all in some way associated with the Cthulhu Mythos-- human beings coming into some tangential relation with the eldritch horror of the Great Old Ones who now sleep in their interregnum between ruling the universe, and finding it less than congenial to their sanity of mind. The Mythos is often said to have begun in 1919, with the publication of "Dagon", although this is to some extent backdating, based on the fact that Dagon gets mentioned in a later tale, "The Shadow over Innsmouth"; some people prefer to date the beginning of the Mythos to "The Nameless City" (from which the couplet above comes), published in 1921. In any case, the collection at hand starts out with "Dagon" and then "The Nameless City". The next story in the collection, "The Hound", published in 1924, explicitly introduces the Necronomicon; Lovecraft eventually came not to like it, but the Necronomicon he kept, and it is, after Cthulhu, his most enduring creation. Next is "The Festival", published in 1925. Then we have "The Call of Cthulhu", published in 1926, and the saying, "In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming." This is followed by "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", which was written soon after but only published posthumously, which introduces Yog-Sothoth. "The Dunwich Horror" was published in 1929, and is often considered his best; even Lovecraft, who was often very harsh in his judgments of his own work, seems to have thought it one of his better ones. Then we get the titular novella, The Whisperer in the Darkness, published in 1931, which is an attempt to write something more science-fictiony, but still drawing on some of the same elements. And finally we get another novella, At the Mountains of Madness, published in 1936, which is another central pillar of the Mythos.

It's a mixed group. I don't know exactly why M. J. Elliott chose these nine in particular; the idea seems to have been to pick early stories that introduce some notable element of the Mythos, regardless of any notion of centrality or importance. But it's the book I have, so they're the stories I'll read; I'm pretty sure I've read them all, but some of them not since high school, which is an increasingly distant age ago. I think "The Dunwich Horror" inspired a Suspense radio episode, so I might do that, as well. Someone has put up a "Nearly Complete Lovecraft Collection" at Internet Archive of audio versions, although some of them look like they are audiobook versions rather than dramatizations; it has The Whisperer in the Darkness, "The Call of Cthulhu", "The Festival", and "The Hound", so I might dip into them at some point to see if they would be worth adding as well. In any case, I'll definitely be reading some purple prose in the darkness of an uncaring and hostile universe.

Cthulhu sketch by Lovecraft
(A sketch of Cthulhu by Lovecraft)

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