H.P. Lovecraft: “The Doom that Came to Sarnath”

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This post was written in conjunction with the R.I.P. VIII Challenge. See here for more details and here for other participants’ posts.

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H.P. Lovecraft’s mythical city of Sarnath became inhabited by the descendants of shepherd folk when suitable living space grew scarce in the land of Mnar. But they were not the original inhabitants of the region where Sarnath stood. That honor goes to a race of creatures who called their own city on the site “Ib.” Not human, the people of Ib were “beings not pleasing to behold” and from an older race of “a world still inchoate.” Lovecraft describes them: “they had bulging eyes, pouting, flabby lips, and curious ears, and were without voice.” Add to this that the city was situated on a vast lake “that is fed by no stream and out of which no stream flows,” and you have a perfect Lovecraftian dreamscape.

But what is the story here? Well, as is often the case when a more advanced civilization meets a less advanced one, it doesnt turn out well for the less advanced one – the people of Ib were essentially exterminated to make room for the new inhabitants. They were slaughtered without mercy, and a great statue of their water lizard god, Bokrug, was even taken to be displayed as a trophy in the new city of Sarnath. The other great monoliths of the Ib were toppled into the lake, to share its bottom with the shapeless, “jelly-like” bodies of the murdered inhabitants of Ib.

The residents of Sarnath prosper in spite of the unpleasant beginnings of their city, which are in the distant past at the time this story was written. What kind of vengeance will be visited upon Sarnath? We know from the title of the story that “Doom” is coming, but what form will it take? Read the story for yourself at one of the links below. It only takes 15-20 minutes.

Read it at: http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/ds.aspx

Or listen to it at: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Av76oPyQCWw&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DAv76oPyQCWw

Other Lovecraft posts of mine:
The Dunwich Horror
The Statement of Randolph Carter

The story was first published in June, 1920 in an amateur fiction magazine called The Scot. It was also the “title story” of a later collection of Lovecraft’s shorter works. I own it in the volume pictured below, 1995’s “Dreams of Terror and Death” which features an introduction by … Neil Gaiman! I had “never heard of him” when I bought this years ago…

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“The Horror… The (Dunwich) Horror…”

(Post title brought to you with apologies to Marlon Brando…)

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I recently bought yet another new collection of “scary stories” after reading Nina’s “Town of Cats” post at Multo (Ghost)

The book is titled “The Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Scary Stories.”  (I couldn’t resist, as I really wanted to read the “Cats” story that was so similar in title to a Haruki Murakami story I read last year.) Of course, when I began looking through the table of contents, I first alighted on a different story, H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror.”

I’ve read my share of Lovecraft over the years, and it seems I like him best in small servings. Reading this particular story, I think I have decided why. His stories, though among the best in setting a totally creepy, eerie, phantasmagoric atmosphere, rarely seem to get you very deeply sympathetic to the characters in them. This story is like that too.

***Spoilers Follow***

In rural Massachusetts, an old family, the Whateleys, living in a “partially inhabited” farmhouse set against a hillside, have an addition (or two?) to their family. “Wilbur” Whateley’s parentage is vaguely questioned, and he matures at a much faster rate than a true human child would. His grandfather is a known “wizard” and Wilbur is clearly headed toward going into that “family business.” As Wilbur grew (at four and a half, he “looked like a lad of fifteen”), he became hated and dreaded in Dunwich “because of certain youthful disappearances that suspicion laid at his door.” Later, we learn more about how truly inhuman Wilbur was.

As he gets older, it seems clear that Wilbur is “working on something” – apparently having to do with opening a gateway for creatures of an older world to enter and conquer this world. Whatever his task, it involves frequent ‘renovations’ to their farmhouse – renovations whose purpose seems to be to make room for something, something that is… growing… He is aided by ancient spell books of his grandfather and libraries(!) with which he is in regular correspondence concerning even older, profane texts, such as the fabled “Necromicon,” which appears in many of Lovecraft’s writings.

Wilbur is able to nurture/summon/create a harbinger creature (the “Dunwich Horror” is the name which local legend has given to this creature) as a prelude to bringing a host of other “old ones” into this world. Lovecraft’s descriptions of The Horror are consistent with monsters in his other works. A patched-together, likely “tentacled” abomination that can also make itself invisible, it walks in the night destroying livestock and farmhouses, and apparently people. A team of “scholars” who understand from whence the Horror came are able to “save the world” though, partly by using spells, etc. from some of the same unclean sources Wilbur used to summon it.

The story is also remarkable by the presence of whip-poor-will’s throughout. These birds apparently have some link to the “old ones” and can also be harbingers of death, as evidenced by their singing vigil as Wilbur’s grandfather’s life force ebbs away and death approaches. Quite creepy.  I should mention that I’m an amateur ornithologist myself and often go for long, birdwatching walks carrying my trusty binoculars.  Sadly, there are no whip-poor-will’s in the areas I frequent.  I do remember hearing them on summer camping trips my family took when I was growing up, though.  After reading this story, I googled them and listened to their sound for the first time in years, and it is somewhat haunting…

Although I liked this story, it kind of ran out of steam for me, and The Horror didn’t put up enough of a fight when confronted with our heroes. What I liked best was Lovecraft’s setting the stage and describing the locale and it’s supernatural characteristics and history. I think locations that are kind of in the frontier, or “gray area” between civilization and wilderness are fertile ground for legends and stories and Lovecraft takes full advantage of this.

Are you a Lovecraft fan?  What stories of his do you recommend?

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“You fool, Warren is DEAD!” – revisiting H.P. Lovecraft on Halloween

So goes the final line of the H.P. Lovecraft story “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” It was Halloween, and I hadn’t really read anything appropriate for the holiday, so I tried downloading an “ultimate horror collection” anthology to my Nook, but it turned out to be not quite as advertised, so I resorted to my bookshelf and pulled out an old favorite “Dreams of Terror and Death” from Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle.

***Spoiler Alert!*** in this story, Randolph Carter is the friend of a researcher into the occult (Harley Warren). It is the researcher’s theory that – in several locations around the world – there are passageways to the depths of worlds below, and to all the mysteries and terrors that lie therein. How did he come to know this? Well, due to his poring over countless ancient texts, written in a multitude of languages, many of which Carter can neither understand nor even remember having heard of.

Warren and Carter travel to one of these portals to the underworld (not surprisingly found in a cemetery which Lovecraft wonderfully describes as having the odor of “rotting stone”). Warren comes prepared with a telephone wire of some kind so that he (who plans to explore below) and Carter (who is designated to stay on the surface) might communicate. Warren’s initial communications are normal, but soon begin to take on a frenzied, psychotic tone, warning Carter not to follow, but instead to flee, etc. Carter continues at the mouth of the portal shouting down in hopes of hearing Warren reply. Eventually, a doubtless exasperated alien voice speaks back to him saying, “You fool, Warren is DEAD!”

A great, compact story with a lot of creepiness and horror crammed into just a few pages. Have you read any Lovecraft? What do you think of him? (below: H.P. Lovecraft)