Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Statement of Randolph Carter

“The Statement of Randolph Carter”, first published in The Vagrant No 13, May 1920.

This is the second entry in my read-through of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

This was one of the first HPL stories I ever read. It was in an old Del Rey collection At The Mountains of Madness, the first of them I owned. I read this first because it was the shortest story in the collection and I was impatient to understand what the legendary Lovecraft was all about.

When I finished it, I was slightly disappointed by how conventional it was: maybe even at thirteen, thanks to TV and horror movies, I was already a more jaded horror reader than Lovecraft had been at thirty! I was expecting weird creatures and psychedelic imagery, and this little story follows a fairly familiar pattern for the reader who's seen a lot of Twilight Zone or read a lot of old EC comics.

But that last line still packs a punch. It's not just the line itself, but the careful build up of sensible planning and dark hints from Harley Warren's extensive occult library. All the implications of that last line are implied through what's come before. The climactic action  happens off-scene – just like in a budget-conscious horror movie of the 1970s – and we never see the awful creatures that live under the graveyard.

Dagon used a similar device. Both both stories are based on dreams, and in my experience bad dreams are all about feeling, and never really resolve in the way we want stories to. I've had bad dreams myself; one time my wife had to wake me because I was crying out as a spectral Carol Vordeman, chased me through a haunted castle, make of that what you will! I have no idea what might have happened if she caught up with me... maybe I would fade to madness like the characters in these stories.

An H P Lovecraft Encyclopedia tells us that Lovecraft dreamed it was his friend Samuel Loveman who descended into the grave to suffer a terrible fate. Loveman was a poet that Lovecraft got know through the amateur press that he so keenly pursued and later, when HPL was living in New York, introduced him to Hart Crane and his circle of modernist poets. One of the poets was gay, which offended Lovecraft so much who later wrote cruel things about him in his letters.

I don't think HPL was gay (although it's not easy to speculate about his sexuality given the sparse evidence and his apparently repressed nature) but, well, it makes you think. Lovecraft, Loveman, gay poets and HPL so offended. I'm sure it wouldn't take much to construct a suitable metaphorical association for the descent into the grave, perhaps a symbol of repressed desire or maybe Warren is devoured by a giant vagina. You've got to wonder!

Coming next: "The Doom That Came to Sarnath"

The photo accompanying this piece is by flickr user Alexander Dulanoy and used the terms of the creative commons license.

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