Race and Decay (II.5)

Lovecraft’s characters may not feel time passing, but I do, violently, fast, in a rush.

The London Lovecraft event, or in more precise terms – Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Theory – is drawing close enough for me to see myself packing the bags…but than can wait a little while longer. In his blog at Whispers from the Ghooric Zone, Justin Woodman has the grace to link to his talk for the event, appropriately but not very handily titled as ‘All dimensions dissolve in the absolute’: Magick, modernity and the horror of indetermination in Through the Gates of the Silver Key

which, of course, happens to be the story that I am trying to read here, under an angle that does not include theoretical concepts of chaos magick, on which, I confess, my knowledge is less than thorough. I’ll cover the event in this blog & will try to frame some of the inspiration it will, inevitably, be for me.


Randolph Carter, protagonist of the above story, set in 1928, is a time traveller, and as such he is not bound to the mores of historical people – unlike them, he cannot just look back, but go back –

It must have been these whispers plus Carter’s own statement to Parks and others that the queerly arabesqued silver key would help him unlock the gates of his lost boyhood – which caused a number of mystical students to declare that the missing man had actually doubled back on the trail of time and returned through forty-five years to that other October day in 1883 when he had stayed in the Snake Den as a small boy.

A number of mystical students – he’s a cause celebré in nerdish students circle, a fleeting existence travelling between this world and the world beyond, the dream land he’s hiking at great length in that most oddballish of Lovecraft stories, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath – one of the “few audacious, abhorred, and alien-souled men [that] have blasted through titan walls betwixt the world and the outside absolute.” Timelessness becomes a stigma – cherished, for all it is worth, and carried to its extremes, but still a stigma, producing an anthropic alien(-souled) other. The consequences are palpable – Lovecraft is setting up a tiny sphere of confidantes that Randolph Carter may navigate through at ease, peopled with those very few who are in the know that time may indeed be bent, not in a formulaically concrete sense bearing the label “Einstein” in some prominent place, but in such a way that supernatural states like immortality may be realized –

“Gentlemen, I say to you that Randolph Carter is not dead; that he is temporarily in an anomalous condition, but that within two or three months at the outside he will be able to appear in proper form and demand the custody of his estate. I am prepared to offer proof if necessary. Therefore I beg that you will adjourn this meeting for an indefinite period.”

Of course, it’s not called immortality proper – no need to bring in the transcendental to account for a thing as organically a part of Lovecraft’s materialist world as is time (and dream-) travel. Also, it is Carther himself who is pleading his cause here, hiding his face behind a mask.






  1. Confession: I get my Lovecraft through Neil Gaiman (great Lovecraft tribute/parody in his 1st short story collection) and Alan Moore (whose Promethea series seems to be both an attempt to outdo Gaiman’s Sandman series and a thinking-though of Lovecraftian and other mysticisms). But if you keep it up I’m going to have to read him for myself.

    New digression: the funniest time-travel story I’ve ever read is by Stanislaw Lem, where an astronaut gets into ever more absurd fights with future versions of himself. I’m pretty sure the creators of Sealab 2021 (inventors of bebop cola, by the way) are fans of this story, too. My least favorite time travel novel is Orson Scott Card’s Pastwatch (although overall I like more of his works than most left bloggers, it seems).

    Have fun at the conference!

  2. But if you keep it up I’m going to have to read him for myself.

    Yeah, do that…and then tell of your experience. I’m still not really familiar with either Gaiman or Moore, so I can’t judge, as yet, how faithful their parodies/pastiches are. I’ll reserve them a slot on the list.

    It’s…I don’t know. L doesn’t seem to use time travel in an Sf-ish way (as Lem), to operate SF plot mechanisms – it’s more part of his overall cosmology of cultures finding their “right” place in time – and the mighty big cultures may then relocate their whole civilizational existence into time stages vastly different from their own.

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