Robert H. Waugh: The Monster in the Mirror

Wanna read a real cool book on Lovecraft? How about Robert H. Waugh’s The Monster in the Mirror, published on Hippocampus Press in 2006? It’s one of the finest Lovecraft critiques ever, of all times, and easily so – well researched, on sound theory, and he’s even tackling and mastering that most notorious of Lovecraft stories, The Outsider, an ominous, slim short story most of his colleagues routinely mess up in their interpretations. He’s doing that, brings a lot of love to his readings, and makes those useful links that lift Lovecraft from the quagmire of freakishness. Hell, he even establishes a firm literary link from Lovecraft to Keats’ delicate verse art, quite an achievement on its own.

In short – he’s the state of the art when it comes to Lovecraft scholarship, with simply more depth to his textual work than you would normally find in a Lovecraft scholar. I turned the backcover, read through it…and almost choked when I read its concluding sentence, : “In all, the essays demonstrate that Lovecraft’s multifacted [sic; is it facetes they were looking for?] work is a virtually inexhaustible treasure-trove for the scholar and analyst.”

Years and years of work, and that’s all his publishers can come up with as a raison d’être for his work – that it’s opening a treasure trove. What are stories like The Outsider or At the Mountains of Madness? A pirate’s bounty? To me, the metaphor sounds incredibly cheap, cheap and tragic, and probably it wasn’t more than an innocent and misguided attempt at an compliment – still, it annotates the one essential dilemma: Lovecraft’s work cannot properly be described or made to be productive under any categories that would attract not only the sequestered ranks of Lovecraft scholarship, as it is, but a wider academic circle, as well. He’s a crackpot, a hodgepodge, a buffet you can pick from as you wish: just not so much as a serious object of inquiry for academic criticism.

I guess what I am complaining the lack of is some sort of metanarrative to unite Lovecraft scholarship, the same way that Poe, or Shakespeare, or Yeats scholars have it, a sort of shared identity, that is not so much exclusive as it is inclusive. It’s a sad fact – Lovecraft scholarship, that tight, tight, tight community of Lovecraft fans (and ain’t they all – Joshi, Faig, Burleson, Mosig, even Waugh: fans in defense of their idol, whenever they write a word on Lovecraft and his works) that painfully does not reach out…to anyone. There are these occasional instances where an academic critic will give him a shot, but you don’t see Lovecraft scholarship take the chance and search the contact: are they afraid? Or just unaware that, in order to wake the attention of magna mater Academia, you need to feed it, with honest, open scholarship that is theoretically up to date and sharp…the way Waugh’s is.

I can’t say how glad I was to read The Monster in the Mirror.

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