Race and Decay (IX)

Thesis I: The Lemming

Thesis II: The Intellectual Lemming

________

Thesis III: The Intellectual, Vengeful Lemming

This will be my second-to-final post on the Race and Decay chapter of my grander inquiry into Lovecraft’s use of race – I will focus on a story of his that I haven’t mentioned yet here: The Shadow over Innsmouth, written in 1931. Earlier that year he had slapped another grand story in the neck and heaved it on the dissecting table of the reading public, At the Mountains of Madness, where it hadn’t fared…at all, neither well, nor bad. Like Shadow it would be published only several years latter. Even these two stories alone make for an outstanding annus mirabilis – it doesn’t get much better than this when it’s Lovecraft who does the writing.

Kenneth Hite, at his place, shares some insights into the story and mentions Robert Price’s edition of The Innsmouth Cycle and Tales out of Innsmouthwith a reading of the Innsmouth community as carriers of a cargo cult. Strange it is. Whatever way you read Lovecraft: the end of all is always sneaking in, somehow or other. Meanwhile, Sheila tries to identify Danvers, MA with the fictional Innsmouth, and also claims that Lovecraft is one of these writers who perform better in audio than in print, because, and I quote here,

“He, like many Victorian and Turn-Of-The-Century writers, write [sic] in a very wordy style.”

That has certainly something to it, it’s just: he was not a turn-of-the-century writer, much less a Victorian writer, and unlike these Victorian writers he invested heavily into atmosphere (and hence: into language, maybe even wordy language), not into plot. He’s not a Dickens or Thackeray to have numbers and godawfully mighty numbers of subplots sprout from the plot. And he was still boasting his vocabulary invasions when modernist literature had long installed sober curtness and restraint as the method de jour. Looking at the output of Hemingway and Lovecraft, you wouldn’t think they were writing on one planet, much less at the same time.

In still another corner my eyes fall on a femininist-inspired segue to the story, composed by the BrownRecluse and run under the title of Daughters of Innsmouthand it delights the reader, me, with such…such…how do you call that?…wonderful? wondersome? wondering? phrases like –

“[…]but most were eventually swayed upon discovering that Dagonism was, indeed, a legitimate spiritual order — a sect whose fundamental principles were comparable to those of Mormons or Mennonites.”

That is, the Innsmouth people, whose odd behavioral patterns will figure in this post a little further down – are odd because they pursue a legitimate sectarian form of established religion. I won’t read the story here. Irrespective of its quality, it’s good to see the continuation (of plot mechanisms, character inventories, stylistic mannerisms, and so on, the whole shebang), as Houellebecque calls Lovecraft’s impressive cultural afterlife, of Lovecraft head into directions that probably would have choked the master into a violent fit. Syndicated religion in a lead role? He would have hated that. Interestingly (and: crucially and beneficially!), it’s being insinuated to him posthumously again and again. Friend and protegé August Derleth, who I mentioned two or three posts back, was the first in that row when he brought his Roman-Catholic faith to his readings of the Lovecraft prose corpus and especially his alien inventory, as figuring in the Cthulhu Cult, Peter G. Epps is behind Derleth in the row through his insightful thesis on Christian Hope in the Horror Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, where he also gets back to Innsmouth. More on that in my summary reading.

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3 Comments

  1. Hey, there! Fascinating to bump into a serious reader of Lovecraft, after a while away from the project. I’m flattered you found my thesis “insightful.”

    If I’m “behind” Derleth, though, it may only be in a backstabbing sense; I criticize “little Augie” and read Lovecraft, not as tending to adumbrate a Christian view through elements of his fiction, but as through inescapable aesthetic necessity deploying the objects of Christian hope as the objects of “fascination,” albeit against his will and with a morally and spiritually upside-down view of their appeal.

    This explains horror literature’s preoccupation with the “fascinating” which is also revolting, horrifying, or terrifying; it represents what we were born to desire, but what we deem horrible for our own (depraved) self-preservation.

    I’m deeply indebted to Dr. John D. Pilkey, emeritus of The Master’s College, for my reading of “The Shadow over Innsmouth”–which, in fact, was the point of origin for my thesis.

    Cheers!
    PGE

  2. Oh, about Lovecraft’s language–I actually put a footnote in the thesis to disclaim any attempt to defend his exceedingly purple prose style (compare Conan Doyle or Bram Stoker, for example, and his deficiency is obvious–even imitation of Poe can’t justify his excesses). Very little can be said to defend the constant recurrence of emotions reported rather than evoked by description, for example: “Oh! It was hideous! And the foetid odour! It was too terrible to describe!” Lovecraft’s excellencies lie elsewhere. 🙂

    Cheers,
    PGE

  3. Hey Peter,

    I’m not so sure I would rate his language as a deficiency – sure, Stoker is more adept at creating dense plots, filled with rich, non-redundant language, but then the horrors he describes are far more conventional, folksy, and well-known to the reader than, say, Lovecraft’s tentacled alien beings: Nyarlathotep & Co. are far harder to circumscribe in words. Also, these caveats, “It doesn’t need description! Oh! It cannot be described!”, are really just that, theoretical caveats, gestures – usually followed by very intricate and detailed and labored passages that do, indeed, describe the horror. Just think of the long-drawn passages in At the Mountains of Madness, giving endless and ever more laboredly detailed descriptions of the Old Ones – or think of the Innsmouth folk and the narrator who’s drooling at great length on their peculiar anatomy.

    So, I think there’s some actual depth to that monstrous unsayability the stories create. And, – I found your thesis insightful indeed, especially your insistence on

    inescapable aesthetic necessity deploying the objects of Christian hope as the objects of “fascination,” albeit against his will and with a morally and spiritually upside-down view of their appeal.

    Much of Lovecraft criticism has been philosophically streamlined, that is, the stories have been paraphrased as direct realizations of their author’s materialist cosmology, almost: as materialist manifestoes, the aesthetic merits of which are almost negligible. To go ahead and bring another, further philosophical, ethical, and aesthetic dimension to the stories is therefore really breaking the mores, in a productive way, and I enjoyed reading the outcome.


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