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More of the HPL

Holy smokes! Has it really been almost a month since I posted the first part of this? Ah well, busy. Busy culling the vast numbers of submissions at HFQ to bring you the crème de la crème of heroic fantasy fiction! And Lovecraft is getting talked about all over fandom right now (for good or bad).

To continue:

At the Mountains of Madness
I think this is one of his best. It starts off, honestly, fairly dull, and there are delicious hints that "this is what I said in my report, but that isn't really what happened", and as it gets further and further into the realm of weird and fantastic it gets better and better. The great trick that I think he really pulls off in that story is that the Elder Race is presented as alien and horrible and then gradually as sympathetic. They have their troubles (sweet fancy Moses, how would you like to have been the immortal plant-man on the committee to hammer out a treaty with Cthulhu?). And the inevitable decline of their society is powerfully affecting. But then there is that odd glimmer of hope- there are a few left after all (they, uh, killed and ate our dogs and friends, but again, omelets, eggs) but then he takes that away with the shoggoth at the end. Heartbreaking!

It is a similar trick that JRR Tolkien pulls in "Two Towers" when Shagrat and Gorbag come across as being just Average Joes-- dogfaces in a war that nobody really wants. But then their true nature, that Shaggrat can't believe that they really won't torture Frodo horribly just because, at that moment the sympathy is taken away, they are damaged beyond hope. Kinda stings.

I think this story has some weak spots toward the end, though. He has that whole "something even worse" is beyond the next range of mountains, and his lack of description of it comes across as kind of lazy, not really suspenseful. Honestly, he had me at the shambling decrepit shoggoth society. And then having Danforth just recite names of HPL stories? Weak.

Shadow Over Innsmouth

Man... talk about telling! That's pretty much all this story is. The guy at the train station tells about Innsmouth, the drunk old man tells about Innsmouth's history, the narrator doesn't want to believe it, can't believe it. Aaand it's all true.

You know, it's kind of odd that given HPL's real-life racism he didn't just truncate the scene at the train station with some of that. They don't like those half-wit half-breeds inbreds in Innsmouth. Oh, and we're double damn resentful of their success (sort of ) in the fish and gold departments.

He uses the mundanely of the town itself to good advantage, kind of like "ATMOM", then things speed up when he runs into Zadok. Zadok's story is cool, but I think that, seeing how bad things are in Innsmouth that makes you get a perverse enjoyment out of his story. How'd things get this bad? I'll tell you how it got that bad! Plus if you're half-assed travel plans have ever included an unscheduled stay in the bad side of say... Lubock... in a bed that is so filthy you just roll your sleeping bag out on top of it... yeah, SOI brings some of that back!

As I mentioned at the beginning of this essay-- really the Deep Ones seem to be happy to fool with us, or not. Yes, human sacrifice isn't a good thing-- IF that is what they actually do, but it's for a good cause, right? You know, keeping Cthulhu down and all (... I guess... there really isn't a hint given as to what becomes of the people taken out to Devil's Reef).

For that matter, I'm not sure what the relationship between Cthulhu and Dagon and Mother Hydra is, however, I don't really get the feeling that the Deep Ones want Cthulhu awake again, and as mentioned, Cthulhu doesn't like the water. One gets the feeling that after thousands, maybe millions, of years of sacrificing their immortal selves to keep Cthulhu both dead AND dreaming, we owe them a few of our own. Or did you want to be ass-deep in starspawn?

Dreams in the Witch House

Okay, I didn't like this one much. On the one hand, he's pretty short about the telling of the backstory, but then it doesn't make much sense. And the protagonist, even for HPL, is a little dense. Too dense to be likable.

It is very cool how he seems drawn to a point under the earth in the morning, and just over the horizon at noon, and far in the sky at night and finally pieces together that it's a star or planet that he is feeling drawn to. It is cool when he has the dream of meeting the elder race on the three-sunned planet. Although, why they would be hanging around with an earth witch from the 17th century seems a bit odd.

Maybe what turns me off about this one is there is a certain horrible bleakness to it all. The great realms of space and time are ours for the taking, but we have to like murder people and sacrifice children and cut a deal with Nyarlothotep to get to them. Unless our young dislikable mathematician had been on the cusp of figuring out a way to do these things without resulting to sacrifice, and then abandoned it. Either way, it's kind of depressing.

Whisperer In The Darkness

This story is, honestly, pretty dull. Telling. Telling via letters, and then sitting with an old invalid (hah ahah!) and telling some more. Wilmouth is unforgivably dumb for going to Akeley's without telling anybody and unbelievably naive to actually consider staying the night. Akeley is unforgivably foolish for even wanting to stay in his ancestral home.

But again I think you can see the similarities with other stories. The Mi-Go don't make us do anything, they just want the metals and to be left alone. They'll even cut you deal! nigh immortality in a brain-canister. Tour the universe! Stimulating dreams! In fact the Mi-Go are almost completely comical.

You've flown here, on your own muscle power, from Pluto, and you can't get a rock out of an old man's house? The best you can do is stand outside and get chewed up by dogs and shot? Really, not that scary. Yes, eventually you get some agents/cultists to come and help and they finally get things moving again. And I suppose the idea of having your brain stuck into a canister against your will would kind of suck, but hey Akeley, you damn near got us all ass-deep in Mi-Go ya old fool!

Also HPL again recycles the idea that even on Yuggoth there are ruins of a far older race that even the Mi-go fear.

The Thing on the Doorstep

Although many people seem to dislike this story quite a bit, I kind of like it. It has, for HPL, a fairly strong start. Upton, while not an action hero by any means, at least takes some agency. And by having the story told through Upton's POV instead of Derby's, I think he gets around the problem he has in Whisperer in Darkness-- that if this had been from Derby's POV he would have been such a remarkably weak and unlikable character that most readers would have skipped it. While at the same time some of the really good stuff-- waking up in possession of your body and mind again, and having no idea where you are and how to get back-- he just has to tell us that happened.

While this is a sequel to Shadow Over Innsmouth, I'm not really sure if that is done very well. The Man knows all about Innsmouth by now, but the Waite family just gets a free pass? It doesn't 100% jive.

He actually has a female character for once... well... kinda, Asenath Waite. There is a sort of expansion on the dream/mind connections hinted at in Shadow Over Innsmouth, which is kind of cool, but then there isn't any kind of precedent for being able to re-animate the corpse you find your mind transported into.

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