Friday, 18 July 2014

Dagon and other macabre tales

H.P. Lovecraft Dagon and other macabre tales (1967)

Lovecraft undoubtedly wrote some wonderful stuff, but in our rush to overcompensate for the obscurity in which his work languished whilst he was alive, we tend to overlook that he also wrote some utter fucking stinkers, to which end this second Grafton collection does much to redress the perceptual balance. Here we find many short stories, some juvenilia, fragments of shopping lists, and Supernatural Horror in Literature, which I already read and very much enjoyed back in April. Most peculiar and fascinating is In the Walls of Eryx, Howie's extensive expansion and revision of a much shorter work by Kenneth Sterling whom Wikipedia describes as a precocious Providence high school student who had befriended Lovecraft the previous year; peculiar and fascinating because it's full blown proper science-fiction with rockets on the front cover and set on a version of Venus reminiscent of that described by Edgar Rice Burroughs; and it's very, very good.

The other tales are similarly blessed with narratives happily lacking in spooky houses inherited from uncles whom no-one likes to talk about too much, but unfortunately that's about it for the good news. The writing is adequate, although of such portent that my inner ear heard many of these read out loud by Tony Hancock, with occasional customary asides to the obligatory nameless horrors feeling as though they should actually refer to either some bloke down the Dog and Duck, or the inland revenue, or at least someone played by Sid James.

Stone me. I might have known it would be you.

There are some interesting and unexpected Gernsbackisms in Beyond the Wall of Sleep and The Evil Clergyman, and Herbert West - Reanimator hints at having been written by someone alive in the age of electricity, automobiles and Harold Lloyd. This would be great if it didn't read like something plotted by an eight year old boy with a crayon, notably around the point at which Herbert decides he must commit murder so as to obtain a corpse sufficiently fresh as to allow him to bring it back to life. I mean aside from outgrossing himself, why is he even bothering? Does anyone actually know?

Then we have a further helping of those Dream Cycle tales in the vein of The Dream-Quest of Uninteresting Kadath, apparently influenced by Lord Dunsany and mostly sheer arseache. There's the weirdly self-referential The Unnameable which achieves the not unimpressive feat of somehow failing to take its own advice; and last but not least, the casual racism of Polaris and the aforementioned Herbert West; and not forgetting the formal evening wear racism of He and The Horror at Red Hook, in which the horror is specifically identified as immigration. Fancy that.

As an aside, I can't help but notice certain parallels with that whole neofolk thing, specifically the raging misanthropy, fear of an ethnically diverse present, and the forever harking back to some lost because it never existed in the first place Aryan Eden whilst mining the same as a source of even more terrible horrors. The message seems to be hey all you dole scrounging porch monkeys, my horror is bigger and more pure than your horror, or something of that order. Part of what makes In the Walls of Eryx such a refreshing change is its adopting an overtly anti-imperialist stance and siding with the oppressed natives, in effect taking the opposite view to that usually expressed by Lovecraft.

All that cosmic horror was great, but let's not get carried away here. Regardless of Lovecraft's supposed later and somewhat elusive refutations of earlier racist views, very little of what is found in this particular five-hundred page collection is really that great. Much of it is overwritten and turgid, very much the work of the man who bought us The Street in which our narrator pines for the days before all those blackies ruined everything; and whilst we're here he can shove The Transition of Juan Romero right up his arse too. So many of these tales seem sadly typical of the pampered only child sat in his darkened room as doting aunts cut the crust from his McDonald's hamburger for him, and he pens yet another veiled ode to mighty whitey, oblivious to his own distance from the wholesome Caucasian ideal being even greater than that of even those swarthy types who bring their thumpa-thumpa music and smelly food to the land of his fathers, or at least to the land his fathers stole from all of those red guys that no-one likes to talk about.

What a complete wanker.

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