Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Under the Pyraminds

Under the Pyramids”, first published in Weird Tales, May-July 1924.

This is  the  This is the the eleventh entry in my read through of the commemorative edition of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

As discussed with Tom in the comments for “The Rats in the Walls”, HPL and Houdini is one of the great pulp fantasy pairings. It's been addressed before, unsurprisingly, in comics, mostly, it seems including Necronauts, a series from 2000AD (I vaguely remember this one from my very late days as a squaxx dek Thargo) and I'm sure that wasn't their first fictional team up. It's a little ironic that these sorts of adventure always portray the protagonist against the supernatural, as Lovecraft and Houdini were avowed materialists.

HPL and Houdini did have some kind of acquaintance, according to Joshi in A Life and An H P Lovecraft Encyclopedia. A few months after the story was written Houdini introduced HPL to a newspaper man in hopes of helping him get a job, but no job was forthcoming. Later, he paid HPL $75 to write an article attacking astrology, and agreed to put his name to a debunking of spiritualism that HPL was to write. Before this could go ahead, though, Houdini died and and the project was called off. Something in all this makes me wonder if Houdini didn't see HPL a bit of a charity case, and perhaps Bess, now a widow, had to be a bit more careful with her deceased husband's estate.

Houdini was apparently well-pleased with the story, which was based on an obviously fictitious anecdote about being kidnapped in Egypt; maybe it was part of the patter for his show. HPL takes the route that writers will later take with him, and turns of Houdini's tale of derring do into an uncanny encounter with eldritch forces.

Joshi also praises the story, while admitting that it's slow to get going. That's an understatement, I would say. Joshi says it draws heavily on The Tomb of Penneb, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which HPL owned, but especially at the start the long scene-setting paragraphs read almost like unedited copy taken straight from guide books and magazine articles.

The action's not bad when it gets going, with a particularly vivid passage where Houdini is lowered into the Temple of the Sphinx at the end of a rope, and I also liked the parade of mummies through the stygian depths with their horrible offerings. I found the twist at the end a little predictable, though perhaps because it reminded me a little too much of the end of Swamp Thing #50.

ETA: And today - March 24 -  is Houdini'd birthday! He would be 137 had he not been so cruelly taken from us.

Next up “The Unnameable


  1. I think it is one of HPL's more enjoyable stories and a bit unusual in the protagonist being more active in seeking to avoid the supernatural beasts. Well worth reading despite the weaknesses that you've noted.

  2. I discussed the problem of motivation in regards to The Lurking Fear, where you have to wonder why the protagonist hangs around. In this one Houdini has a very clear motivation - to escape - and this certainly gives the story a little more drive than what we've seen so far. It's just a shame it's nearly halfway through before it all kicks off!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.