I never cease to be amazed by literary language, specifically words wrought in English, that being the only language in which I am fluent.
Wrought as in deftly formed and finished, or intently delineated, styled, ornamented, disturbed or excited, or shaped by hammering and beating. Though the works differ, all my favorite writers are crafters of this sort.
I periodically experience word cravings. I’ll search the shelves for something to satisfy, and indulge in words with a pleasure akin to savoring champagne or chocolate, or champagne and chocolate. I’m a compulsive re-reader compelled by a lust for the language of favored authors, and sometimes only Lovecraft will do, and sometimes the compulsion is compounded by an obsession with an edition, a longing for the particular vintage and composition and feel of a particular book. Such is the case here.
This time I opened to The Thing On The Doorstep, and I’m not making it up when I say it was a dark and stormy night. It was a dark and very stormy night and I was reading in bed by lamp light, as in flame, because the power was out. The raised windows rattled like cranked speakers broadcasting thunder and rain, and the air smelled of ozone and smoke. Shadows flickered on the walls all around, and myself and my pillows and cats cast a curiously monstrous semblance as I read:It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to show by this statement that I am not his murderer. At first I shall be called a madman, madder than the man I shot in his cell at the Arkham Sanatorium. Later some of my readers will weigh each statement, correlate it with the known facts, and ask themselves how I could have believed otherwise than I did after facing the evidence of that horror – the thing on the doorstep.
Ah, horror! As a genre it’s a real mixed bag, everything from gothic romances to gore porn. I skew gothic, and Lovecraft sets the standard for me; if horror appeals, it’s a variation on Lovecraft in premise, theme and style. Not an attempt at imitation, which is bound to fail, but one way or another: the premise will be strange and the language spectacular; the story will be a character study of person, place and/or thing; an alien will be encountered (whether invasive or as some hidden aspect of the familiar); and the theme will resonate with the following tenets, and I quote:
- "From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent."
- "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
- "Memories and possibilities are ever more hideous than realities."
- "No madness of mine can account for all the evidence."
- "Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them. With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend the boundlessly complex cosmos, yet other beings with wider, stronger, or different range of senses might not only see very differently the things we see, but might see and study whole worlds of matter, energy, and life which lie close at hand yet can never be detected with the senses we have."
In sum, the key questions are always what the hell
just happened, what is that,
and am I losing my fucking mind,
the intractable problem being that you’ve got to do something
despite all the shit you can’t figure out or control, the central concern being oh lord please don’t let me be misunderstood. So I say that I have not murdered Edward Derby. Rather have I avenged him, and in so doing purged the earth of a horror whose survival might have loosed untold terrors on all mankind. There are black zones of shadow close to our daily paths, and now and then some evil soul breaks a passage through. When that happens, the man who knows must strike before reckoning the consequences.
Psychic deterioration and despair are givens in gothic horror, but so are valor and sorrow, qualities that make it romantic in the classical sense and, in my opinion, the most interesting sort of horror.
As for this edition, it’s one of two favorite Lovecraft collections. The other is Tales of . . . selected and edited by Joyce Carol Oates, whose commentary is essential reading for anyone interested in Lovecraft himself.
This, the perfectly titled commemorative British edition, is a beautifully bound and fine presentation of stories as originally published, with an afterward of fun facts about the original publications. For pure aesthetics and sheer heft, you can’t beat it for piling up with the cats after the lights go out on a dark and stormy night.