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A Lovecraft Sampler

June 2024
2min read


Lovecraft introduced one of the central characters of his so-called Cthulhu Mythos in the prose poem “Nyarlathotep” (1920):

“Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences —of electricity and psychology and gave exhibitions of power which sent spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished, for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare.”

A vivid sense of place pervades almost all of Lovecraft’s work. In “The Festival” (1923), he describes the eerie New England town of Kingsport :

“Then beyond the hill’s crest I saw Kingsport outspread frostily in the gloaming; snowy Kingsport with its ancient vanes and steeples, ridgepoles and chimney-pots, wharves and small bridges, willowtrees and graveyards; endless labyrinths of steep, narrow, crooked streets, and dizzy church-crowned central peaks that time durst not touch; ceaseless mazes of colonial houses piled and scattered at all angles and levels like a child’s disordered blocks; antiquity hovering on grey wings over winter-whitened gables and gambrel roofs; fanlights and small-paned windows one by one gleaming out in the cold dusk to join Orion and the archaic stars. And against the rotting wharves the sea pounded; the secretive, immemorial sea out of which the people had come in the elder time.”

In his quest for horrific effects, Lovecraft never confined himself to understatement. He lets it all ooze out in this passage from “The Shunned House” (1924):

“Yet after all, the sight was worse than I had dreaded. There are horrors beyond horrors, and this was one of those nuclei of all dreamable hideousness which the cosmos saves to blast an accursed and unhappy few. Out of the fungus-ridden earth steamed up a vaporous corpse-light, yellow and diseased, which bubbled and lapped to a gigantic height in vague outlines half human and half monstrous. ... It was all eyes—wolfish and mocking—and the rugose insect-like head dissolved at the top to a thin stream of mist which curled putridly about and finally vanished up the chimney.”

Earth’s once and future masters, the Old Ones, are described in this excerpt from the Necronomicon, Lovecraft’s fabricated tome of forbidden occult lore, quoted in “The Dunwich Horror” (1928):

“As a foulness shall ye know Them. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold. Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now.”

Only a few years later a more reflective, less xenophobic Lovecraft takes a gentler view of the Old Ones in perhaps his finest tale , At the Mountains of Madness (1931):

“Poor devils! After all, they were not evil things of their kind. They were men of another age and another order of being. Nature had played a hellish jest on them—as it will on any others that human madness, callousness, or cruelty may hereafter dig up in that hideously dead or sleeping polar waste. . . . God, what intelligence and persistence! What a facing of the incredible, just as those carven kinsmen and forbears had faced things only a little less incredible! Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-spawn—whatever they had been, they were men!”

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