HP Lovecraft’s Birthday

20 August 2012

and how his Horror wove Time into the mix.

Say what you will about HP Lovecraft’s  racism, nazism, and sometimes unmanageable prose, his work influenced a great many modern horror writers, and may even be the catalyst for 20th Century horror in general. HR Giger‘s design of the first Alien film are the most evident example. I have read most of his short stories, his novella the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and his long poem the Fungi from Yuggoth, but not his longest work, a walking guide to Quebec City, and having waded through the quagmire of his work, I was greatly impressed by his perspective on time. In no small part it has influenced my development of the Abyss in theAbysmal Calendar project.

the Cosmic Horror, the Cosmic Horror

On occasion, Lovecraft seemed to pick up on something that was far more prescient than one expects (see American Plutocracy), as if he were tapping into the darker aspects of the collective unconscious of the United States. His work combined themes of racial and genetic degeneration, ancient alien civilization, the dead, occult knowledge, and an inverse of enlightenment, which is best summarized in the opening lines of the Call of Cthulhu:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

He wrote this in 1926, in the time between the two world wars, when he wrote the majority of his work. Despite attempts to enlist, he never served in the military. He only sets one story in the first world war, Herbert West – Reanimator, and then only one episode, part V. As isolated as he was, he nevertheless picked up on a deep undercurrent.

Azathoth

Lovecraft wrote about a number of alien-god beings, including Azathoth, which appears in a number of his tales. In the Dreams in the Witch-House, the protagonist, Gilman, remembers the entity in his dream as:

…the mindless entity Azathoth, which rules all time and space from a curiously environed black throne at the centre of Chaos…

Here, Lovecraft is describing the lord of matter, the centre of chaos, ruling all time and space (or dare I say spacetime). There is no doubt that Lovecraft had interest in the sciences, and was aware of Einstein’s remodeling of the universe. Mind you, the idea of chaos theory wouldn’t come along for some decades. Entropy would have to suffice as a working model based in thermodynamics.

Yog-Sothoth

Yog-Sothoth likewise shows up in a number of stories, including Through the Gates of the Silver Key where it is referred to as:

…an All-in-One and One-in-All of limitless being and self — not merely a thing of one Space-Time continuum, but allied to the ultimate animating essence of existence’s whole unbounded sweep — the last, utter sweep which has no confines and which outreaches fancy and mathematics alike. It was perhaps that which certain secret cults of earth have whispered of as YOG-SOTHOTH, and which has been a deity under other names…

and here from the Dunwich Horror:

Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They have trod earth’s fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread.

Here, Yog-Sothoth seems more to be an atemporal entity, representing a simultaneous model of time.

Although Lovecraft personified spacetime and time as divine entities, he gave them a dark character, a horrific one, which is in keeping with the classical deities with which he was familiar: Kronos and Saturn.

Furthermore, Lovecraft has written his mythology into history, or at least blended historical fact with mythological fiction. When the Stars are Right provides a timeline of dates from Lovecraft’s fiction and historical dates to which he refers.

Aliens among Us

This is one of the first instances I’ve encountered of the mythology of science which grew to prominence in 20th Century USAmerica. Superman, another divine alien in the pantheon of science, wouldn’t be born until 1932. Where other culture created mythologies using archetypal gods, spirits and deities, the sciences used speculation based in fact to create their mythology. We didn’t have angels and demons, but aliens and mad scientists. Our heroes and villains are mutants, either from radiation or more recently, genetic manipulation, the latter of which Lovecraft had already written about in works such as the Lurking Fear, and the Shadow over Innsmouth among others.

Although his prose is leaden enough to line a vault, the ideas contained therein are more valuable than often credited. His work was greatly influential, and if nothing else, coalesced the horror genre into the spawning narratives that continue to ask us to look deeper into the abyss. And as we do, it looks back into us.

123 Days to Dec 21st 2012


Bring out your Bard

23 April 2012

Shakespeare in all his bloody merriment.

Today marks the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth (or the best guess as to his birthday), and also his death 1564-1616. Good day to celebrate all things tragi-comic.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again (but who’s to say?), whoever Shakespeare was or may have been, the collected works of his that have come down to us is the greatest work in the English language. Not all of the plays are of the same quality, however, each contains a use of language that is unmatched. I’ve read plenty from before his time, much more from after, from countries far and wide, in English and in translation, and I contend his playful weaving of language is unmatched upon mine ears.

The travesty is that we’re forced to read his material, instead of watching it performed, either on stage or on film.

Virtual tour of the Globe theatre.


Billions and billions of degrees of Carl Sagan

27 March 2012

the man who could make the infinite accessible.

Carl Sagan was one of my heroes growing up, who still remains one (can’t say the same for Superman). Having gone back to looking at his work, it’s amazing how much have it I’ve kept with me.

“We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”Carl Sagan

Sagan was notorious for his use of “billions and billions” to refer to the sheer immensity of the cosmos. The image above is a representation of the distribution of galaxies (those aren’t just stars). Billions just doesn’t cover it.

It’s this very sentiment that leads me to not suffer fools graciously (and by fools, I mean people who are in a position to know better, but would rather be proud of their ignorance). The more we learn about anything, the more the cosmos knows. In that light, do you think the cosmos is really in need of so many different experiences of “Jersey Shore”? If that isn’t a sign of the end, I shudder to think of what’s yet to come.

Here was a man who really knew his stuff, and yet instead of isolating himself among academics, and his peers, he shared his passion with us plebes – those of us who could benefit from having someone explain scientific understanding of the cosmos in a way that doesn’t require knowledge of advanced physics and mathematics. This skill is undervalued, and a rare thing indeed, especially as we become increasingly specialized. My hat (if I wore one) is off to you (which I guess is always the case).

There’s a tribute series to Carl Sagan on the Youtube, but I’ll embed the first six videos here to share. Science is meant to be a joy. If it is a chore, then you’re doing it wrong.

269 Days to Dec 21st 2012

“We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”
Carl Sagan