Cosmic Dreams Beyond the Mythos

7 01 2011

Cover art of Lovecraft's "Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath"

“Kuranes was not modern, and did not think like others who wrote. Whilst they strove to strip from life its embroidered robes of myth and to show in naked ugliness the foul thing that is reality, Kuranes sought for beauty alone.”

Those words were penned by, ready for this? H.P. Lovecraft, describing the aristocratic hero of his tale, “Celephais”, who rejected the world to dream instead of glorious landscapes of indescribable beauty and mystery. Inspired by Lord Dunsany, Lovecraft’s early stories were an expression of his enchantment with glorious sunset cites built of marble and porphyry, turquoise temples with orchid-wreathed priests, moonlit gardens perfumed by rare blossoms, and emerald hills cut by glittering crystal rivers. Yet he is remembered as the guy who gave us the Great Old Ones, shoggoths, and the fishmen of Innsmouth.

Lovecraft also wrote science fiction. His Mountains of Madness goes into geeky detail about the Pabodie Expedition to Antarctica that discovers the remains of an immense city built by extraterrestrial settlers who are destroyed by the servants they created. Anybody see any well-exercised SF tropes in that premise? And if Shelley’s Frankenstein is science fiction, so is Lovecraft’s “Herbert West: Reanimator”. But if one suggests Lovecraft as a science fiction writer one is generally met with hoots of derision, and cultists waving the Necronomicon.

Ubiquitous Cthulhu

Gods, I wanted to be Lovecraft! (To some degree I’ve gotten my wish: My work does not enjoy a wide audience, nor has it earned me much money.) As a teenager I read everything by him I could get my hands on. A lot of it is dreadfully written, I’ll be the first to admit. But his genius has been vindicated by his sheer staying power. Cthulhu has become an Internet meme. I’ve even made my own contribution to the vast body of the Mythos.

Like my hero, I have written fantasy and science fiction as well as horror (Am I then likewise doomed to ultimate fame only for “Chimera”? Will Morgan Kaiser-Caine become the new horror archetype?). Also like Lovecraft, I am a bit of an elitist, and stubborn about my writing. I am enjoying my greatest productivity and success in my later life (although when Lovecraft was my age he’d been dead for eight years) and there is seven years difference between my age and that of my spouse (although our marriage is quite a bit more successful than Howard’s and Sonia’s).

Lovecraft did not think like others who wrote. He was not modern, and he had little use for modernity. Like Kuranes, he “did not care for the ways of the people around him, but preferred to dream and write of his dreams.” Those dreams were on a cosmic scale, embracing the universe that science was forcing humans to confront, one profoundly vast, incomprehensible, and indifferent to humanity. It makes the anthropocentric SF of other classic authors seem so parochial.

And perhaps therein lies the true element of horror in Lovecraft’s work, that humanity is irrelevant on a cosmic scale. That is the threat of science, which removed us from the center of the universe and continues to marginalize us. It is an existential crisis which we continue to wrestle with and have not yet found a satisfactory collective solution for, nor might we ever.

So, we are all doomed. Now what? Well, like Kuranes, we can dream great dreams. I may not be capable of achieving the cyclopean heights I aspire to, but perhaps that’s just as well. As my hero repeatedly emphasized, there are some things it is better not to know, lest it bring madness and death. And from what I know of the lives of Great Writers, I may be better off remaining blissfully ignorant of literary success.

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4 responses

9 01 2011
Cat Rambo

I first hit Lovecraft in 7th or 8th grade, and his stories made a lasting impression. Great post, thank you!

1 02 2014
Jean Stimmell

Great post. I’m with the Jungians who understand that our imagination is our highest calling, the essence of what makes us human. Without it, we become boring and base, or worse yet, according to James HIllman: terrorists…

“A terrorist is the product of our education that says that fantasy is not real, that says aesthetics is just for artists, that says soul is only for priests, imagination is trivial or dangerous and for crazies, and that reality, what we must adapt to, is the external world, a world that is dead. A terrorist is a result of this whole long process of wiping out the psyche.” page 187

1 02 2014
justinegraykin

As Shirley Jackson, another great influence on me, writes in the opening to The Haunting of Hill House, “No Live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”

2 02 2014
Jean Stimmell

Human beings have a small band width of intelligence out of the whole, elephants another, ospreys another, bass another, larks another, katydids yet another: all combined we represent the grand intelligence of Mother Earth and dream together.

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